For Israel, the prime inheritor of Genesis, an expanding global chaos portends a very unusual, and also ironic, kind of fragility. A relentlessly beleaguered microstate, and always the individual Jew writ large, Israel could become the principal victim of international disorder. In view of the exceptionally far-reaching interrelatedness of all world politics, this could be true even if the actual precipitating events of war and terror would occur elsewhere.
In a strange and paradoxical symmetry, global chaos may reveal both sense and form. Generated by explosions of mega-war and mega-terror, disintegrations of world authority could still have a discernible shape.
How, precisely, should this shape, this particular “geometry” of chaos, be deciphered and understood by Israel? As a corollary and utterly vital question, Israel’s leaders must also inquire: “How, exactly, shall we deal with potentially irrational nuclear adversaries, both state and terrorist groups?”
The world, like the individual nation-states that comprise it, is best understood as a system. What happens in any one part of this system, therefore, always affects what happens in some or all of the other parts. When global deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one country to another, the effects can undermine international stability in general. When deterioration is sudden and catastrophic, as it would be following the onset of unconventional war and/or unconventional terrorism, the unraveling effects could also be immediate and overwhelming.
The State of Israel, a system of interdependent and interpenetrating parts like every other state, exists precariously in a larger world system. Aware that an incremental collapse of world authority structures will, in one way or another, impact its (few) friends as well as its (many) enemies, leaders of the Jewish state must now advance informed expectations of collapse (social scientists would call these expectations “plausible scenarios”) in order to prepare suitable forms of response. Finally, recognizing that rapid and far-reaching global collapse could even spawn a more or less complete return to “everyone for himself” in world politics, what the philosopher Thomas Hobbes called a “war of all against all,” Israel’s leaders must now consider even how they should respond to possible life in a global “state of nature.”
Such consideration will be all the more critical to the extent that the triggering mechanism of collapse would originate within the Middle East, from massive chemical, biological and, in the future, even nuclear attacks, against Israel.
Chaotic disintegration of the world system, whether slow and incremental, or sudden and catastrophic, will dramatically impact the Israeli system. In the clearest manifestation of this impact, Israel will have to orient its military planning and doctrine to a variety of worst-case possibilities, focusing much more on the whole range of self-help security options than on traditional forms of cooperative alliance guarantees. Within the imperiled country, any diplomatic processes still premised on outdated assumptions of reason and rationality would have to be curtailed in recognition of now fully apparent regional limits to civilization.
Israel’s judgments about a “Two-State Solution” will soon need to be made in consequence of anticipated world-system changes. From the standpoint of Israel’s overall security, such a reorientation of planning, from anticipations of largely separate and unrelated threats to presumptions of interrelated dangers, could provide an essential framework for facing the increasingly uncertain future. The conceptual or philosophic origin of this framework would be a prior Israeli government willingness to extract pertinent policy implications from the emerging geometry of chaos.
There is also an important “feedback loop” here. Israel’s particular reactions, as a system within a system, to growing expressions of worldwide chaos, will themselves impact these expressions. Should Israel’s leaders react to unstoppable disorder by hardening their commitment to all relevant forms of self-reliance, including appropriate and lawful resorts to preemptive military force, Israel’s enemies would surely respond, individually or collectively, in similarly self-reliant ways.
What are these ways? How, exactly, should Israel respond to such responses? These are primary dialectical questions that should now be raised by Israel’s most capable strategic planners. It is, therefore, now time for these planners to consider the crucial feedback implications of creation in reverse.
By likening both the world as a whole, and their own mini-state in particular, to the biological concept of system, Israel’s leadership could learn, before it is too late, that states die not only because of a direct, mortal blow, but also in reaction to a series of distinctly less than mortal blows. This is because, after a time, even multiple “minor” insults to an organism can produce a breakdown of “immunities” that pave the way for life-endangering “pathogens.” Taken by itself, any one such insult; e.g., a local infection, an injury, an impediment to vision or hearing or memory, will not cause death. But, cumulatively, over time, these attacks can be fatal, either by affecting the organism’s overall will to live, and/or by making it possible for a “major insult” to take place without any adequate defense.
Taken by themselves, Israel’s intermittent and still-planned surrenders of land for nothing, its probable and continuing reluctance to accept certain indispensable preemption options, and its misdirected adherence to always-asymmetrical peace agreements may not bring about national disappearance. Taken together, however, these insults, occurring, as they do, within a far broader worldwide pattern of escalating chaos, could have a decisively weakening effect on the whole Israeli organism. Whether the principal injurious effect here would be one that impairs the Jewish State’s commitment to endure, or one that would actually open Israel to a devastating missile attack, or to a calamitous act of terror, is presently still unclear.
What is already clear is that Israel’s leaders must now ask forthrightly: What are the true sense and form of chaos in the world system, and exactly how should this discoverable geometry of chaos affect the Jewish state’s comprehensive national survival strategy?
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.