The views expressed in these six columns are those of Professor Louis René Beres, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other members of Project Daniel, or of any government.
Israel’s Survival Amidst Growing Worldwide Anarchy
In our age of Total War, Israel must always remain fully aware of those harms that would threaten its very continuance as a state. Although the Jewish State has always recognized an overriding obligation to seek peace through negotiation and diplomacy wherever possible, there are times when its commitment to peaceful settlement will not be reciprocated. Moreover, as noted by Project Daniel, there are times when the idea of an existential threat may reasonably apply to a particular level of harms that falls well below the threshold of complete national annihilation.
Examining pertinent possibilities, The Project Daniel Group noted three distinct but interrelated existential threats to Israel:
1. Biological/Nuclear (BN) threats from states;
2. BN threats from terror organizations; and
3. BN threats from combined efforts of states and terror organizations.
To the extent that certain Arab states and Iran are now allowed to develop WMD capabilities, Israel may have to deal someday with an anonymous attack scenario. Here the aggressor enemy state would not identify itself, and Israeli post-attack identification would be exceedingly difficult. What is Israel to do in such a confused and urgent crisis situation?
The Group recommended to the former prime minister that “Israel must identify explicitly and early on that all enemy Arab states and Iran are subject to massive Israeli reprisal in the event of a BN attack upon Israel.” We recommended further that “massive” reprisals be targeted at between 10 and 20 large enemy cities (“counter-value” targeting) and that the nuclear yields of such Israeli reprisals be in very high range. Such deterrent threats by Israel would be very compelling to all rational enemies, but − at the same time − would likely have little or no effect upon irrational ones. In the case of irrational adversaries, Israel’s only hope for safety will likely lie in appropriate and operationally feasible acts of preemption.
A policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which once obtained between the United States and the Soviet Union, would never work between Israel and its Arab/Iranian enemies. Rather, the Project Daniel Group recommended that Israel MUST prevent its enemies from acquiring BN status, and that any notion of BN “parity” between Israel and its enemies would be intolerable. Accordingly, The Group advised the Prime Minister: “Israel immediately adopt − as highest priority − a policy of preemption with respect to enemy existential threats.” Such a policy would be based upon the more limited definition of “existential” described above, and would also enhance Israel’s overall deterrence posture.
Recognizing the close partnership and overlapping interests between Israel and the United States, the Project Daniel Group strongly supported the American War Against Terror (WAT). In this connection, we had urged full cooperation and mutuality between Jerusalem and Washington regarding communication of intentions. If for any reason the United States should decide against exercising preemption options against certain developing weapons of mass destruction, Israel must reserve for itself the unhindered prerogative to undertake its own preemption options.
Significantly, in view of U.S. inaction since 2003 on the Iran front, and also in direct consequence of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian nuclearization, it now looks very much like this particular prerogative may have to be exercised. It should go without saying, simply from the standpoint of comparative force size alone, that the United States Air Force would have been far preferable to the Israel Air Force in undertaking any essential acts of anticipatory self-defense against Iranian nuclear assets and infrastructures. To be sure, the IAF is exceptionally capable, but it is also very small.
The Group began its initial deliberations with the following urgent metaphor in mind: Israel could face the hazard of a suicide-bomber in macrocosm. In this scenario, an enemy Arab state or Iran would act against Israel without any ordinary regard for expected retaliatory consequences. Here, in the fashion of an individual suicide bomber who acts without fear of personal consequences − indeed, who actually welcomes the most extreme personal consequence, which is death − an enemy Arab state and/or Iran could launch WMD attacks against Israel with full knowledge and expectation of overwhelming Israeli reprisals. The conclusion to be drawn from this scenario is that Israeli deterrence vis-à-vis “suicide states” would have been immobilized by enemy irrationality and that Israel’s only recourse in such circumstances would have been appropriate forms of preemption.
Israel’s Preemption and Nuclear War-fighting Doctrine
Project Daniel understood that international law has long allowed for states to initiate forceful defensive measures when there exists “imminent danger” of aggression. This rule of “anticipatory self-defense” was expanded and reinforced by President George W. Bush’s issuance of The National Security Strategy of the United States Of America. Released on September 20, 2002, this document asserted, inter alia, that traditional concepts of deterrence would not work against an enemy “whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents….” As Israel is substantially less defensible and more vulnerable than the United States, its particular right to resort to anticipatory self-defense under threat of readily identifiable existential harms is beyond legal question.
Following the Bush doctrine expansion of preemption, The Group suggested to then Prime Minister Sharon that such policy should pertain as well to certain nuclear and/or biological WMD threats against Israel, that this policy be codified as formal doctrine, and that these actions be conventional in nature. Such preemption could be overt or covert, and range from “decapitation” to full-scale military operations.
Further, the Group advised that decapitation might apply to both enemy leadership elites (state and non-state) and to various categories of technical experts who would be essential to the fashioning of enemy WMD arsenals, e.g., nuclear scientists. The Group reminded Prime Minister Sharon that any forcible prevention of enemy nuclear/biological deployment would be profoundly different from an Israeli preemption of an existing enemy nuclear/biological force.
Attempts at preemption against an enemy that had already been allowed to go nuclear/biological could be far too risky and could even invite an existential retaliation. It was also recommended that any preemption be carried out exclusively by conventional high-precision weapons, not only because they are likely to be more effective than nuclear weapons, but also because preemption with nuclear weapons could be wrongly interpreted as Israeli nuclear first strikes. If unsuccessful, these preemptive strikes could elicit an enemy’s “counter-value” second strike; that is − a deadly intentional attack upon Israeli civilian populations.
The Group advised emphatically that Israel should avoid non-conventional exchanges with enemy states wherever possible. It is still not in Israel’s interest to engage these states in WMD warfare if other options exist. Israel’s Strategic Future did not instruct how to “win” a war in a WMD Middle-East environment. Rather, it described what we, the members of Project Daniel, considered the necessary, realistic and optimal conditions for non-belligerence toward Israel in the region. These conditions still include a coherent and comprehensive Israeli doctrine for preemption, war fighting, deterrence and defense.
The Group advised the prime minister that there is no operational need for low-yield nuclear weapons geared to actual battlefield use. Overall, we recommended that the most efficient yield for Israeli deterrence and counterstrike purposes be a “counter-value” targeted warhead at a level sufficient to hit the aggressor’s principal population centers and fully compromise that aggressor’s national viability. We urged that Israel make absolutely every effort to avoid ever using nuclear weapons in support of conventional war operations. These weapons could create a seamless web of conventional and nuclear battlefields that Israel should scrupulously avoid.
The Group considered it gainful for Israel to plan for very selective regime targeting in certain distinctly residual instances. With direct threats employed against individual enemy leaders and possible others, costs to Israel could be very much lower than alternative forms of warfare. At the same time, threats of regime targeting could be even more persuasive than threats to destroy enemy weapons and infrastructures, but only if the prospective victims were first made to feel sufficiently at risk.
The Group advanced a final set of suggestions concerning the lawful remedy of anticipatory self-defense. Israel must be empowered with a “Long Arm” to meet its preemption objectives. This meant long-range fighter aircraft with capability to penetrate deep, heavily defended areas, and to survive. It also meant air-refueling tankers, communications satellites, and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles. More generally, it continues to mean survivable precision weapons with high lethality; and also incrementally refined electronic warfare and stealth capacities.
Copyright ©, The Jewish Press, September 12, 2008. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES, Chair of Project Daniel, is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.