Continuing turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa signals important and potentially catastrophic transformations. For Israel, the greatest danger stems from the interpenetrating and largely unpredictable effects of war, terrorism and revolution in the region. In essence, these plainly destabilizing effects could spawn an unprecedented and historically unique kind of chaos.
Expressed as a geostrategic condition, chaos in any form can play havoc with the best-laid plans of nations. By definition, at least from the standpoint of national military planning and international studies, it is a condition that can preclude any normal or indispensable security preparations. For Israel, an always-beleaguered mini-state that is half the size of San Bernardino County in California, the plausible survival implications of chaos could be existential.
The most obvious and immediate dangers to Israel concern the prospect of abrogated peace treaties in Cairo and/or Amman. Following any such abrogation, which, ironically, could be the result of either regime change, or regime preservation in those countries, old battlefronts could reopen. Convergent threats of war and terror would then reemerge and harden, possibly impacting any newly emergent state of Palestine.
The corollary power positions of both al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood could also be affected. For the moment, at least, al-Qaeda is in a primarily adversarial stance vis-à-vis the Brotherhood, while Hamas, recently re-bonded with Fatah, is itself a direct offshoot of the Brotherhood.
In the presumably worst case scenario for Israel, and, significantly, also for the United States, Jihadists would take high command in several of the crumbling Arab governments. Ultimately, these martyrdom-driven leaders could conceivably get their hands on nuclear weapons. This prospect should bring to mind the dreadful scenario of the suicide-bomber in macrocosm. Outside of the immediate Arab world, it is already a scenario that needs to be taken seriously – in coup-vulnerable Pakistan and in nearly nuclear Iran.
As the once-vaunted “Arab Spring” deteriorates into a not-so-democratic “Arab Summer,” Israel might have to face nuclear and ideologically Islamistenemies on both the Iranian and Arab fronts. Even in the absence of old enemies with new nuclear arms, nuclear and biological materials could find their way to Hizbullahin Lebanon, and/or to Hamas, not necessarily by way of al-Qaeda (always the prevailing expectation, until now), but, rather, as a determinable consequence of chaos, by way of a newly-energized Muslim Brotherhood.
Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to allenemy states must remain an immediate and overriding Israeli strategic objective. This prevention, of course, has always been a core objective for Israel’s military planners, but now, with potentially more regional players, both state and sub-state, it is becoming an increasingly complex and difficult task. To a considerable extent, this growing problem is the result of Israel’s now probable failure to preempt its Iranian enemy from going nuclear. Refusing to embrace critical preemption options while there was still time, options that could have been sustained under international law as altogether proper expressions of anticipatory self-defense, Jerusalem must now bear at least part of the blame for allowing such a threat to materialize.
The seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes recognized that although international relations always exist in a “state of nature,” a condition of anarchy, not necessarily of chaos, these relations are still more tolerable than the stance of individual human beings in anarchy. This is so, said Hobbes, because nations simply lack the capacity of individuals to utterly destroy one another.
Now, proliferation of nuclear weapons, especially in the Middle East, could reduce the usual and more-or-less tolerable anarchy of international relations to the singularly intolerable chaos of nature between individuals. As more and more nations came to share what Hobbes had called a “dreadful equality,” the equal capacity to render mortal destruction, the portent of regional nuclear calamity could then become correspondingly more likely.
William Butler Yeats wrote prophetically of a time in which “the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Here, the great Irish poet revealed what still eludes historians, diplomats and scholars. In the not-too-distant future, we must now understand, there could come a moment wherein there will be no safety in numbers, treaties or armaments; no help from civilizations, no counsel from public authority, and no last-minute rescues from science.
This dreadful “moment” may rage a long while, perhaps until every flower of human culture has been trampled, and until entire human communities have been leveled in a vast chaos. Ominously, from this seemingly resurrected medieval darkness there will be neither escape nor sanctuary. Instead, it will envelop whole nations in a single, suffocating pall.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law. In Israel, he has been involved with national security, military and intelligence matters for almost forty years. Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.