William Butler Yeats, the great Irish poet, wrote prophetically of a time in which “the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Here he revealed what still seems to elude historians, diplomats and scholars: In the not-too-distant future, there will come a moment in which there will be no safety in treaties or in armaments, no help from “civilization,” no counsel from public authority, and no rescue from science.
This dreadful “moment” may rage a long while perhaps until every flower of human culture is trampled and until entire communities of humankind are leveled in a vast chaos. Ominously, from this resurrected medieval darkness, there will be neither escape nor sanctuary. It will envelop whole nations in a single, suffocating pall.
Among the nations, none is more vulnerable to this impending time of raw power and planetary disorder than Israel. Less than half the size of a county in California, Israel – more than any other nation – will need to make unique provisions for its basic physical survival.
What, exactly, will worldwide anarchy mean for this nation? For Israel, the prime inheritor of Genesis, an expanding global chaos portends a very unusual and also ironic kind of fragility. The relentlessly beleaguered Jewish microstate, always the individual Jew in macrocosm, could become the principal victim of international anarchy. In view of the far-reaching interrelatedness of world politics, this is true even if the actual precipitating events of war and terror should occur elsewhere, far away from Israel itself.
In a strange and paradoxical symmetry, global anarchy may reveal both sense and form. Spawned by explosions of war and mega-terror, the disintegration of world authority will still have a discernible shape. How should this shape, this “geometry” of chaos, be deciphered and understood by Israel? It is a critical question.
The world, like the individual countries that comprise it, is best understood as a system. What happens in any one part of this system, therefore, always affects what happens in 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 would also be immediate and overwhelming.
The State of Israel, a system of interdependent and interpenetrating parts like every other state, exists precariously in our 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 (scientists would call these “plausible scenarios”) in order to prepare suitable forms of response. And recognizing that rapid and far-reaching global collapse will spawn a more or less complete return to “everyone for himself” in world politics – what the seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes called a “war of all against all” – Israel’s leaders must now consider exactly how they should respond to life in a global “state of nature.“
Such a consideration is all the more critical to the extent that the triggering mechanism of collapse could 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 foolishly premised on outdated assumptions of reason and rationality will have to be curtailed in recognition of now fully obvious regional limits to “civilization.” Israel continues to live in a very bad “neighborhood,” one in which any imprudent optimism in Jerusalem is certain to be severely punished.
Israel’s judgments about U.S. President Obama’s “Road Map” 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, would provide an essential framework for facing the uncertain future. The 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 anarchy 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 questions that should now be raised by Israel’s most capable strategic planners. It is 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 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, or by making it possible for a “major insult” to take place without adequate defense.
Taken by themselves, Israel’s intermittent and still-planned surrenders of land for nothing, its probable reluctance to accept certain indispensable preemption options, and its always-misdirected adherence to Washington-based “peace agreements” may not bring about national disappearance. Taken together, however, these insults, occurring, as they do, within a broader worldwide pattern of escalating chaos, would 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 calamitous act of terror, is presently unclear.
What is already clear is that Israel’s leaders must now ask plainly: What are the true sense and form of anarchy in the world system, and how should this discoverable geometry of chaos affect our own country’s 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 is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.