web analytics
November 26, 2015 / 14 Kislev, 5776
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘deterrence’

Palestine, Iran And Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: Critical Notes for an Essential Strategic Policy in Jerusalem (Part II)

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

“For By Wise Counsel, Thou Shalt Make Thy War”

Proverbs 24, 6


            What is Israel to do? Confronting a new enemy Arab state that could act collaboratively and capably  (thanks, largely, to the U.S.) with other Arab states, or possibly even with non-Arab Iran, and also potentially serious synergies between the birth of Palestine, and renewed terrorism from Lebanon, Israel could feel itself compelled to bring hitherto clandestine elements of its “ambiguous” nuclear strategy into the light of day.  Here, leaving the “bomb in the basement” would no longer make strategic sense.


             For Israel, of course, the geostrategic rationale for some level of nuclear disclosure would not lie in stating the obvious (merely that Israel has the bomb), but rather, inter alia, to persuade all prospective attackers that Israel’s nuclear weapons are both usable/secure, and penetration-capable.


             Palestine, too, even if it would not actively seek collaboration with other Arab or Islamic countries, could still be exploited militarily and geographically against Israel by different regional enemies of the Jewish State. Iran and Syria represent the most obvious candidates to carry out any such exploitation. During May 2010, Iran reportedly transferred an undetermined number of Scud missiles to Syria. In Damascus, plans are already being made to smuggle these Scuds into northern Lebanon, from where they could then strike any major city in Israel.


            Israel’s core nuclear strategy, however secret and ambiguous, must always remain oriented toward deterrence.  The Samson Option refers to a presumed Israeli policy that is necessarily based upon an implicit threat of massive nuclear retaliation for certain specific enemy aggressions. This policy, to be sure, could be invoked credibly only where such aggressions would threaten Israel’s very existence. For anticipated lesser harms, Samson threats would likely not appear believable.


            In Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv, the main point of any Samson Option would not be to communicate the availability of any graduated Israeli nuclear deterrent; that is, a deterrent  (resembling what was once called “flexible response” in the U.S.) in which all possible reprisals would be more or less specifically calibrated to different and determinable levels of enemy aggression.  Rather, it would intend to signal the more-or-less unstated promise of a counter city (“counter value in military parlance) reprisal.


            The Samson Option, then, would be unlikely to deter any aggressions short of nuclear and/or certain biological first strike attacks upon the Jewish State.


            In essence, Samson would  “say” the following to all potential attackers:  We (Israel) may have to ‘die,’ but, this time, we don’t intend to die alone.”


            A Samson Option could serve Israel better as an adjunct to particular deterrence and preemption options than as a core nuclear strategy. The Samson Option, therefore, should never be confused with Israel’s main security objective. This principal objective must always be to seek effective deterrence at the lowest possible levels of conflict. 


            To suitably strengthen Israeli nuclear deterrence, visible preparations for a Samson Option could help to convince enemy states that aggression would not be gainful.  This would be most convincing if: (1) Israeli Samson preparations were coupled with some level of visible nuclear disclosure (i.e., ending Israel’s posture of nuclear ambiguity); (2) Israel’s Samson weapons appeared sufficiently invulnerable to enemy first strikes; and  (3) Israel’s Samson weapons were recognizably “counter value” in mission function. 


            Samson could also support Israeli nuclear deterrence by demonstrating a greater Israeli willingness to take existential risks. In matters of nuclear strategy, it may sometimes be better to feign irrationality than to purposefully project complete rationality.  Earlier, in IDF history, Moshe Dayan had genuinely understood this strangely counter-intuitive injunction: “Israel must be like a mad dog,” said Dayan, ” too dangerous to bother.


            Dayan was right. He knew what he was talking about.


             In our topsy-turvy nuclear world, it can be perfectly rational to pretend irrationality.  But in any given Middle East conflict situation, the precise nuclear deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality would have to depend in large part upon a prior enemy state awareness of Israel’s counter value targeting posture. Rejecting nuclear war-fighting as a purposeful strategic option, the Project Daniel Group, in its then-confidential report to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon more than seven years ago (January 16, 2003), recommended exactly such a deterrence posture.


            To strengthen still-possible strategies of preemption, preparations for a Samson Option could help to convince Israel’s own leadership that certain defensive first strikes would be cost-effective. These leaders would then expect that any Israeli preemptive strikes, known under international law as expressions of “anticipatory self-defense,” could be launched with reduced apprehensions of unacceptably damaging enemy retaliations. This complex expectation would depend upon many pertinent factors, including: (1) previous Israeli decisions on nuclear disclosure;  (2) Israeli perceptions of the effects of such nuclear disclosure on enemy retaliatory intentions;  (3) Israeli judgments about enemy perceptions of Samson weapons vulnerability; and (4) a presumed enemy awareness of Samson’s counter value force posture. 


            As with Samsonbased enhancements of Israeli nuclear deterrence,any identifiably last-resort nuclear preparations could support Israel’s critical preemption options by displaying a bold national willingness to take existential risks. In this connection, the steady and undisturbed nuclearization of Iran should come immediately to mind.



LOUIS RENÉ BERES  was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971),  and is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli security matters.  Born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945,  he was Chair of Project Daniel, and, in Fall 2009,  published “Facing Iran’s Ongoing Nuclearization: A Retrospective on Project Daniel,”  International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 22, No. 3., pp. 491-514. Recent related publications include:  Louis René Beres, “Understanding the `Correlation of Forces` in the Middle East: Israel’s Urgent Strategic Imperative,”  The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 4., No. 1, 2009, pp. 77 – 88;  Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Project Daniel,” a Working Paper for the Ninth Annual Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security and Resilience, Israel, February 2-4, 2009; Louis René Beres, “Israel’s Uncertain Strategic Future,” Parameters: U.S.  Army War College Quarterly, Spring 2007, pp. 37-54; and Louis René Beres, “Israel and the Bomb,”  International Security (Harvard), Summer 2004,  pp. 175 – 180. Professor Beres is also the author of occasional opinion columns in such newspapers as The New York Times; The Washington Post; The Washington Times; Los Angeles Times; The Christian Science Monitor; USA Today; The Boston Globe; Chicago Tribune; Ha’aretz andThe Jerusalem Post. He is Strategic and Military Affairs analyst for The Jewish Press.

Preserving Israel At The Eleventh Hour: Nuclear Deterrence, Enemy Rationality and ‘Palestine’

Thursday, August 26th, 2010
            Faced with the daunting prospect of seemingly endless terrorism, and with staggering global opposition to any of its essential and altogether permissible forms of self-defense, Israel now requires a complex and capable counter-terrorism strategy merely to survive. Simultaneously, the major threats to Israel’s physical survival lie in certain mass-destruction (biological and/or nuclear) attacks by enemy states.  Ultimately, therefore, the Jewish State’s actual continuance rests upon even more than successful counter-terrorism. It rests also upon the inherently fragile and unpredictable foundations of nuclear deterrence.


            Israel is tiny. For this beleaguered ministate, U.S. President Barack Obama’s preferred “world free of nuclear weapons” would represent a harsh habitat of utterly radical insecurity. Here, amid a literally dreadful anarchy, Israel’s enemies could now gratefully inflict mortal harms upon the “Zionist Cancer” without plausible fear of unacceptable reprisals. If, moreover, this particular preferred world were also to embrace Mr. Obama’s road map to an independent Palestinian state, the resultant synergies and (using a productive military concept) force multipliers could further magnify the existential threats to Israel.


            Significantly, this does not mean that a still-nuclear Israel would necessary be safe and secure. Nuclear deterrence, after all, depends in part upon enemy rationality. Where this requirement is not met, the nuclear retaliatory threat is immobilized.


            Neither Israel nor the United States has been willing to act preemptively against Iran. Why? The answer is that they have chosen instead to rely upon hope.


            It is a mistake as old as history. The ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, considering the uncertain fate of Melos during the Peloponnesian War, observed: “Hope is by nature an expensive commodity, and those who are risking their all on one cast, find out what it means only when they are already ruined.”


            Soon, Iran will almost certainly become a full nuclear weapons state. Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama will then attempt, vainly, to achieve some form of stable deterrence with Tehran. Hoping that a new balance of terror can somehow be premised upon the earlier US-USSR model, Washington and Jerusalem will inevitably discover more-or-less catastrophic failure.


             A core of Jerusalem’s nuclear strategy has always been to keep its “bomb” in the basement. After Iranian nuclearization, however, there would be unacceptable risks of continuing with its policy of nuclear ambiguity.



             Until now, ambiguity has worked. Although it has done little to deter ordinary conventional enemy aggressions or certain acts of terror, ambiguity has succeeded in keeping Israel’s enemies from mounting existential aggressions. These particular aggressions could have been mounted without nuclear weapons. There does come a point in any war when mass counts.


            Israel’s enemies have always had an obvious advantage in mass. None of Israel’s foes has “the bomb,” but together, collaboratively, and possibly even including non-state proxies, they could still have acquired the capacity to carry out intolerably massive assaults.


            Israel’s policy of deliberate ambiguity will not work indefinitely. To be deterred, a fully nuclear Iran would need assurance that Israel’s own nuclear weapons were both invulnerable (safe from Iranian first-strikes), and penetration-capable (able to punch through Iran’s own active and passive defenses).  Such assurance would be made more likely by particular Israeli steps toward nuclear disclosure.


             Ironically, perhaps, Iranian perceptions of mega-destructive Israeli nuclear weapons could undermine Israel’s nuclear deterrence. In some circumstances, Israel’s deterrent credibility could even vary inversely with the perceived destructiveness of its nuclear arms. The more destructive Israel’s nuclear weapons appear to prospective aggressors, the less likely they will actually be fired.


            An Iranian nuclear threat to Israel could also be indirect, stemming from any willingness in Tehran to share some of its nuclear components and materials with Hezbollah or another kindred terrorist group.To prevent this threat, Jerusalem would need to convince Iran that Israel possesses a range of distinctly usable nuclear options. Here, too, continued nuclear ambiguity might not remain sufficiently persuasive to sustain Israel’s nuclear deterrent.


             Jerusalem will eventually need to move from nuclear ambiguity to nuclear disclosure. What will then need to be calculated by IDF planners and strategists is the precise extent to which Israel should communicate its relevant nuclear positions, intentions and capabilities.


             Once faced with a nuclear fait accompli in Tehran, Israel would need to convince Iran’s leaders that it possesses both the will and the capacity to make any intended Iranian nuclear aggression more costly than gainful. But, again, no Israeli move from ambiguity to disclosure would help in the case of an irrational nuclear enemy.


            Were a religiously-driven Iranian leadership to expect a Shiite apocalypse, Iran could readily cast aside all rational behavior.  Iran would thus become a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm. Such a terrifying prospect is improbable, but it is not inconceivable.


            To protect itself against enemy strikes, particularly those attacks that could carry existential costs, Israel will need to exploit every aspect of its still opaque nuclear arsenal. The success of Israel’s efforts will depend not only upon its selected pattern of “counterforce” and “counter value” (counter-city) operations, but also upon the extent to which this choice is made known in advance to both enemy states and their non-state surrogates.  Before these enemies can be deterred from launching first strikes against Israel, and before they can be deterred from launching retaliatory attacks following a still-possible Israeli (non-nuclear) preemption, it will not be enough to know that Israel has the bomb. These enemies would also need to recognize that Israeli nuclear weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to any such attacks and that some are pointed directly at high-value population targets.


            Removing the bomb from Israel’s “basement” could enhance Israel’s strategic deterrence by heightening enemy perceptions of secure and capable Israeli nuclear forces. Such a calculated end to deliberate ambiguity could also underscore Israel’s willingness to use these nuclear forces in reprisal for certain enemy first-strike and retaliatory attacks.


            For now, Israel’s bomb should remain ambiguous, if only to ward off insistent denuclearization pressures on Jerusalem from Washington. Still, no later than the moment that Iran is revealed to be finalizing its nuclear weapons capability, Israel must put an immediate end to its nuclear ambiguity. Simultaneously, of course, Israel must capably fight its protracted struggle against terrorism, with special reference to the prevention of a Palestinian state. As my readers in The Jewish Press are already well aware, the worst-case outcome for Israel would be the simultaneous appearance of “Palestine” with a nuclear Iran. Such a portentous outcome must be avoided at all costs.


Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, was Chair of Project Daniel  (Israel, 2003). He is the author of many major books and articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war, including publications in International Security(Harvard); World Politics (Princeton); The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Nativ (Israel); The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; Parameters: The Professional Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare (DoD); Studies in Conflict and Terrorism; Strategic Review; Contemporary Security Policy; Armed Forces and Society; Israel Affairs; Comparative Strategy; Cambridge Review of International Affairs (UK); Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law; and The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. Some of Professor Beres’ monographs on nuclear strategy and nuclear war have been published by The Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel);  The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies (University of Notre Dame); The Graduate Institute of International Studies (Geneva); and the Monograph Series on World Affairs (University of Denver). Dr. Louis René Beres was born in Zurich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945.

Low-Level Victory

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

A week from Friday will mark the third anniversary of the cease-fire that ended the Second Lebanon War. And while the fortunes of war run to infinite varieties of the unexpected, there is one thing of which we can all be certain. Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah will appear, if he hasn’t already by the time this article is published, on a video screen from the secret bunker he is afraid to leave, and in between chants of “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” he and his supporters will again proclaim glorious victory over the infidel Jews.

The mainstream media will probably play their part as well, parroting the claptrap Nasrallah peddles to his weary people – as Time magazine did during the Hamas War earlier this year when it ran a cover story titled “Why Israel Can’t Win,” warning of nothing less than the demise of the Jewish state.

(Time would be better served spending less energy worrying about Israel’s future and more worrying about its own as fewer and fewer people read weekly newsmagazines for information available instantly online.)

I digress. But before returning to the discussion of the Second Lebanon War, let’s start with a little background. There are three strategies for fighting low-level warfare: (I) regime change; (II) occupation; and (III) deterrence.

Regime change toppling a hostile regime and replacing it with a friendly one offers by far the best outcome. What could be better than turning an enemy into a friend? What could be better

than handing off the war on terror to allies that will fight it within their own borders?

The trouble, of course, is that regime change is also the hardest to accomplish. Israel tried it in Lebanon in 1982. Ariel Sharon destroyed Arafat’s “state within a state” and engineered the election of Bashir Gemayel, a local warlord he hoped would sign a peace treaty with Israel.

Say this for Sharon; he had the one thing America did not have in Iraq: a well-thought-out plan that had a real chance of success. America pinned its hopes on Ahmed Chalabi, a convicted felon who hadn’t lived in the country in decades (the members of his “militia” began looting the moment they set foot on Iraqi soil). Lebanon already had a constitution, was already nominally a democracy, and had elections planned for just three months after the invasion.

Get rid of the PLO, Sharon thought, and a friendly government waiting in the wings could immediately take its place.

Unfortunately, the plan worked better on paper than on the ground. In the end, the campaign was a disaster.

Whereas terrorism had resulted in the deaths of perhaps twenty Israelis per year on average, the First Lebanon War took the lives of more than six hundred. The war cost billions to fight – it brought the country to the verge of economic collapse – and inflicted irreparable damage to Israel’s image (no small thing for a nation that relies on arms manufactured overseas).

Now for the worst part: when it all ended, terrorism came back as if nothing had happened. Katyushas were fired on northern Israel before the war and Katyushas were fired after the war. Terrorists murdered Israeli civilians before the war and terrorists murdered them after the war. Lebanon descended into perfect anarchy, and of course Israel never got its peace treaty.

In our time, the U.S. hasn’t faired much better in its own nation-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. After thousands of lives lost and over a trillion dollars spent, there’s still no end in sight and no guarantee of a positive outcome.

Israel succeed at regime change? It’s not even clear a superpower can.

If you can’t install a friendly regime to fight terrorism, you can always stay and do it yourself. This is the tactic of occupation (“fight ’em over there so we don’t have to fight ’em over here”). Israel tried this in Lebanon too. And like regime change, it too ended in disaster.

Between 1993, when Hizbullah finally consolidated power in South Lebanon, and the middle of 2000, Israel took 239 killed in its self-described Security Zone in Lebanon. That works out to about thirty men per year. The economic cost of maintaining the Security Zone remains classified, but the figure certainly ran into hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Even worse, however, as with regime change, the Security Zone did absolutely nothing to prevent terrorism. Katyushas were fired before the establishment of the Security Zone, and Katyushas were fired after. The statistics don’t lie. After Israel withdrew behind the international border in June 2000, the number of Katyushas dropped to practically zero and the number of killed along the northern border fell to barely three per year, or about a tenth of those killed in the Security Zone.

Once again, the financial cost of maintaining the Security Zone is classified, but it’s safe to say the savings resulting from withdrawal were huge. It only takes a fraction of the men to guard the border, and there’s no longer a need to pay for an allied militia.

Why did the number of Hizbullah attacks fall so sharply after the withdrawal? That brings us to the third tactic deterrence. This one is real simple: every time you are attacked, you respond with an even greater attack. Once the price of terrorism becomes too high, the people who harbor the terrorists force them to stop.

There are real problems with deterrence, but let’s focus on the advantages first. Once you are no longer located inside hostile territory, your forces aren’t vulnerable to roadside bombs, snipers, suicide attacks, or most of the other things that cause casualties. It’s a lot harder for terrorists to orchestrate an attack on foreign soil than on their own.

Deterrence also means an enormous economic savings. No army to garrison far away and no enemy civilian population to care for.

Perhaps most important is the political benefit. If you’re reading this newspaper, the odds are you’re already familiar with the rank hypocrisy sometimes referred to as “international law” to which Israel is subjected. Nevertheless, experience has shown that even the international community will go only so far in this regard. Take away the occupation and you take away any conceivable justification for terrorism. And that makes it easier to fight back.

* * *

After Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were kidnapped in July 2006, a Hizbullah official told Lebanon’s prime minister not to worry; the Israelis would bomb for a few days and then the international community, including the U.S., would pressure them to stop. That’s what happened in 1993 and again in 1996.

But that’s not what happened in 2006. In 1993 and 1996, Israel was occupying Lebanese soil. In 2006 it wasn’t. Hizbullah attempted to justify its actions; the international community would have none of it.

The Second Lebanon War will long be remembered as the first Middle East war in which Israel was given a free hand to start when it wanted and an equally free hand to finish when it wanted. For 33 days it pounded Lebanon a nation the size of Connecticut with more bombs than it used in 1973 against Egypt and Syria combined. The damage ran into billions of dollars. Even today, much of Lebanon remains in ruins.

To be sure, northern Israel was bombed with Katyushas as well. But the vast majority of them landed harmlessly in open fields. The economy was barely affected Israel finished the year with better than five percent growth.

Sixty Israelis were killed. And though my heart breaks for every one of them, the only alternative was sending in the army in a huge ground campaign that would have taken the lives of hundreds of young soldiers. Instead, the IDF made what I believe was the sensible decision to let Hizbullah fire its rockets and focus instead on establishing deterrence. Once the goal is merely making the other side suffer for its folly, there’s really not much you can do on the ground that you can’t do from the air.

The outcome speaks for itself. Since the guns fell silent in August 2006, there has not been a single attack from Hizbullah. The Lebanon border has not been this quiet since 1968. Some offer the fact that Hizbullah has rearmed as proof it won the war. That’s like saying Egypt won the 1967 Six-Day War because it rearmed afterward. If a country is intent on rearming, it will do so. Sure, you can prevent it. But only with regime change. And that’s a losing proposition every time.

Indeed, we now know that Israel never planned a full-scale ground campaign to stop every last Katyusha. Even those who argued for a ground campaign were pushing for something much different from what took place in the First Lebanon War. In military parlance, they wanted to control South Lebanon but didn’t want to conquer it.

The difference? Conquering means fighting house to house. Controlling merely means taking the high ground and other strategic points so that troops in the field can help direct air fire and artillery. Experience has shown that this can reduce the number of rockets fired but can’t eliminate every last one.

Bottom line: even if Israel had launched the big ground campaign everyone talked about, the results probably wouldn’t have been all that much different. Either way Nasrallah would have declared victory.

And, contrary to popular misconception, Israel never set out to destroy Hizbullah. It knew that this was impossible. What it did set out to do was establish deterrence, evict Hizbullah from southern Lebanon and have it replaced by an international force.

All those goals were achieved. Even the beefed up multinational force has succeeded beyond the most optimistic predictions. No, the Europeans haven’t fought Hizbullah house to house. But they have forced Hizbullah away from the border, out of the open areas and into the villages. This means that if there is another war, Hizbullah will be forced to fire rockets from inside those villages rather than from bunkers hidden in the mountains.

The Israelis have made it clear that if Hizbullah fires from villages, they will return fire into those villages. In the cruel arithmetic of modern warfare, return fire plus villages equals rubble – lots of rubble. In short, Hizbullah can’t go to war without destroying the villages in which its supporters live. Now you know why it’s been so quiet in the Galil.

* * *

Everything that’s happened since the end of the war has only confirmed the extent of Israel’s victory. On February 12, 2008, Israel assassinated Hizbullah master terrorist Imad Mughniya. Before the war, the mere kidnapping of minor officials brought Katyushas raining down on northern Israel and synagogues blowing up in Argentina. This time? Not a peep.

Just before that, in September 2007, Israel destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor. Hizbullah’s reaction? Nothing. During the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah complained bitterly that his “Arab brothers” did nothing to help him. Nasrallah’s words were thrown right back at him last January as his Arab brothers in Hamas fought for their lives – and Hizbullah didn’t lift a finger.

For the first time in a generation, all is quiet on the northern front. The peace and quiet Israel never achieved with regime change and occupation has been rigidly enforced with deterrence.

So why, one might ask, did Israelis react so negatively to the results of the Second Lebanon War? Why did the Winograd Commission call it a “failure”? Why were so many senior army officers forced to resign?

Because in Israel’s bizarre culture of self-flagellation, any war that doesn’t end in six days with the Temple Mount in our hands is viewed as a defeat. The limits of space prevent us from delving too deeply into this truly strange phenomenon, but suffice it to say that a nation that can spin the Yom Kippur War into a loss can spin anything into a defeat.

The distinguished commentator Amnon Abromovich probably put it best when he said recently that “Nasrallah knew that he’d lost, but then we convinced him that he’d won.”

Which is not to say that deterrence is perfect. True deterrence takes years to establish, at least if you’re Israel. The terrorists have an enormous amount of motivation, they glorify death, and the international community will reflexively pressure Israel to stop any operation prematurely. Put another way, Israel can’t go to all-out war every time a rocket flies over the border – not unless it wants to see itself slapped with trade sanctions.

Nevertheless, it bears repeating: there are limits. Time and experience have shown that even the international community can be shamed into letting Israel defend itself so long as the terrorists and their intellectual allies cannot brand Israel an occupier.

Yes, fringe bloviaters like Jimmy Carter will always condemn Israel – during the Hamas War last January, Bill Moyers used his show on publicly funded PBS (your tax dollars at work) to accuse Israel of “doing exactly what terrorists do.” Nevertheless, the fact remains that the international community was basically silent while Israel spent 33 days flattening much of Lebanon. And that is why Hassan Nasrallah will think two and three times before he starts another war.

Sadly, this strategy means that every 5-7 years Israel will have to fight one of these short border exchanges. This is the other big problem with deterrence: it only works so long, and then the terrorists test the waters again. Nevertheless, an air campaign every 5-7 years still costs a fraction of a large long-term ground campaign. And it yields the best result: a few more years of quiet.

Unfortunately, in the ongoing battle against low-level warfare, there is no final victory. There is only low-level victory. A perfect solution it is not. The only thing it’s better than is everything else.

Uri Kaufman is writing a history of the Second Lebanon War.

Five Years After Project Daniel… Our Strategic Recommendations To Israel Remain Valid (Part V)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

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 Deterrence And Defense Doctrine


The Project Daniel Group strongly endorsed the prime minister’s acceptance of a broad concept of defensive first strikes, but just as strongly advised against using his undisclosed nuclear arsenal for anything but essential deterrence. This means that enemy states must always understand that certain forms of aggression against Israel will assuredly elicit massive Israeli nuclear reprisals against city targets. For the moment, we still maintain that such an understanding can be communicated by Israel without any forms of explicit nuclear disclosure, but we also recognize that the presumed adequacy of nuclear ambiguity would change immediately if enemy nuclearization anywhere (Iran, of course, still comes most quickly to mind) should become a reality.


Moreover, although both Iran and Israel’s pertinent Arab state enemies certainly share a fundamental antipathy to a Jewish state in their midst, it is also clear that they do not necessarily share any affection for each other. In this connection, Project Daniel’s original recommendation that certain frontline Arab states and Iran could all be targeted following an anonymous existential attack may now need careful reconsideration and revision. After all, in current circumstances, The Group’s original recommendation could be exploited by either set of Islamic enemies to crush the other, via Israeli “reprisals.”


Nuclear deterrence, ambiguous or partially disclosed, is essential to Israel’s physical survival. If, for whatever reason, Israel should fail to prevent enemy state nuclearization, it will have to refashion its nuclear deterrent to conform to vastly more dangerous regional and world conditions. But even if this should require purposeful disclosure of its nuclear assets and doctrine, such revelation would have to be limited solely to what would be needed to convince Israel’s enemies of both its capacity and its resolve. More particularly, this would mean revealing only those specific aspects needed to identify the survivability and penetration-capability of Israel’s nuclear forces, and the political will to launch these massive forces in retaliation for certain forms of enemy state aggression.


The Group advised the prime minister that Israel must always do whatever it can to ensure a secure and recognizable second-strike nuclear capability. Once nuclear ambiguity was brought to an end, nuclear disclosure could play a crucial communications role. The essence of deterrence here would lie in the communication of capacity and will to those who would do Israel existential harm. Significantly, the actual retaliatory use of nuclear weapons by Israel would signify the failure of its deterrent. Recalling the ancient Chinese military thinker Sun-Tzu, who was mentioned earlier, the very highest form of military success is achieved when one’s strategic objectives can be met without any actual use of military force.


To meet its “ultimate” deterrence objectives − that is, to deter the most overwhelmingly destructive enemy first strikes − Israel must still seek and achieve a visible second-strike capability to target approximately 15 enemy cities. Ranges would be to cities in Libya and Iran, and nuclear bomb yields would still be at a level “sufficient to fully compromise the aggressor’s viability as a functioning state.”  By choosing counter-value-targeted warheads in this range of maximum-destructiveness, Israel could achieve optimal deterrent effect, thereby neutralizing the overall asymmetry between the Arab states/Iran and the State of Israel. All enemy targets, The Group reasoned, would be selected with the view that their destruction would promptly force the enemy aggressor to cease all nuclear/biological/chemical exchanges with Israel. Nothing has happened to change this reasoning.


As a professor of international law, I was able to assure The Group that all of our recommendations to the prime minister regarding Israeli nuclear deterrence were fully consistent with authoritative international law. On July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice at The Hague (not known for any specifically pro-Israel sympathies by any means) handed down its Advisory Opinion on THE LEGALITY OF THE THREAT OR USE OF FORCE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. The final paragraph concludes, inter alia:


“The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”


The Group advised the prime minister in 2003 that Israel must display flexibility in its nuclear deterrence posture in order to contend with future enemy expansions of nuclear weapon assets. It may even become necessary under certain circumstances, we recognized, that Israel should deploy a full “triad” of strategic nuclear forces. For the present, however, we recommended that Israel continue to manage without nuclear missile-bearing submarines. This recommendation still holds only as long as it remains highly improbable that any enemy or combination of enemies could destroy Israel’s land-based and airborne-launched nuclear missiles on a first-strike attack. Presently, it seems absolutely clear that Israel’s strategic retaliatory forces remain fully secure and penetration-capable.


Israel’s nuclear deterrent must be backed up by far-reaching active defenses. With this in mind, The Group emphasized that Israel take immediate steps to operationalize an efficient, multi-layered antiballistic missile system to intercept and destroy a finite number of enemy warheads. Such interception would have to take place with the very highest possible probability of success and with a fully reliable capacity to distinguish between incoming warheads and decoys. To the extent possible, Israel has already been successful in meeting this requirement.


Israel’s “Arrow” missile defense system involves various arrangements with US Boeing Corporation. The Israel Air Force (IAF), which operates the Arrow, will likely continue to meet its desired goal of deploying interceptors in inventory on schedule. Arrow managers may also sell their product to certain other carefully selected states. This could help Israel to reinforce its qualitative edge over all adversaries. Israeli engineers are continually taking appropriate steps to ensure that Arrow will function well alongside American “Patriot” systems. The Group advised that IAF continue working energetically on all external and internal interoperability issues. This advice has surely been taken.


In its effort to create a multi-layered defense system, Israel may already be working on an unmanned aircraft capable of hunting-down and killing any enemy’s mobile ballistic missile launchers. Back in 2003, Israeli military officials had begun to interest the Pentagon in joining the launcher-attack project, known formally as “boost-phase launcher intercept” or BPLI. The Group advised the then prime minister that Israel undertake BPLI with or without US support, but recognized that gaining such support would allow the project to move forward more expeditiously and with greater cost-effectiveness. Also, enlisting US support for BPLI would represent another important step toward maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge.


 Project Daniel underscored the importance of multi-layered active defenses for Israel, but affirmed most strongly that Israel must always prepare to act preemptively before there is any destabilizing deployment of enemy nuclear and/or certain biological weapons. No active defense system can ever be “leak proof,” yet protection of civilian populations in a very small country such as Israel calls for nothing less.


Copyright © The Jewish Press, September 19, 2008. All rights reserved.


LOUIS RENÉ BERES, Chair of Project Daniel, is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Israel, Palestine And The ‘Samson Option’

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

Taken in isolation, the emerging Palestinian state – a state that is now being forged with the open support of U.S. President George W. Bush – will have no direct bearing on Israel’s nuclear posture. Yet, although obviously non-nuclear itself, Palestine could substantially diminish Israel’s capacity to wage certain forms of conventional war and could thereby enlarge the Jewish State’s incentive to rely on unconventional weapons in particular circumstances. Facing steadily growing dangers of war and terrorism from yet another enemy country – a new Arab state that could act collaboratively with certain of the 22 other already-existing Arab states – Israel could feel compelled to bring elements of its long-secret nuclear strategy out into the open.

Israel’s nuclear strategy – certainly never articulated in any precise or public fashion – is nonetheless oriented primarily toward deterrence. In this connection, the so-called “Samson Option” refers to a presumed policy based upon the implicit threat of overwhelming nuclear retaliation for very specific enemy aggressions. Naturally, this policy would enter into force plausibly only where such aggressions actually threatened Israel’s national survival.

The point of the Samson Option would not be to communicate availability of a graduated Israeli nuclear deterrent or of an Israeli nuclear warfighting potential, but rather of the unstated “promise” of a massive countercity (“countervalue” in military parlance) reprisal. Clearly, the Samson Option per se is not likely to deter any aggressions short of altogether massive WMD (nuclear and/or certain biological) first strike attacks upon the Jewish State. More than anything else, its overriding rationale would be to communicate the following message to potential attackers: “We (Israel) may have to die, but (this time) we won’t die alone.” For this reason, the Samson Option could serve Israel far better as an essential adjunct to deterrence and certain preemption options than as a core nuclear strategy.

How, more particularly, can the Samson Option best serve Israel’s strategic requirements? Although the primary mission of Israel’s still undisclosed nuclear weapons must always be to preserve the Jewish State – not to wreak post-Apocalyptic havoc or vengeance in a spasm of last-resort reprisals – recognizable preparations for a Samson Option could enhance Israel’s nuclear deterrence and preemption capabilities. Here is how this would work.

In reference to Israeli nuclear deterrence, visible and identifiable preparations for a Samson Option could help to convince certain enemy states that aggression would not be gainful. This is especially true if Israeli “Samson” preparations were coupled with some level of nuclear disclosure (i.e., ending Israel’s posture of nuclear ambiguity); if Israel’s “Samson” weapons appeared sufficiently invulnerable to enemy first strikes; and if these “Samson” weapons were plainly “countercity” in mission function. In view of what we strategists sometimes refer to as the “rationality of pretended irrationality,” Samson could also assist Israeli nuclear deterrence by demonstrating an Israeli willingness to take certain existential risks. To a considerable extent, the nuclear deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality would depend upon prior enemy state awareness of Israel’s countercity targeting posture. Exactly such a posture was recently recommended by the private “Project Daniel Group” report to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon.

In reference to strategies of preemption, Israeli preparations for a Samson Option, again purposely recognizable, could convince Israel’s own leadership that defensive first-strikes would be adequately safe to undertake. Here these leaders would expect that Israeli preemptive strikes – known under authoritative international law as expressions of “anticipatory self-defense” – could be undertaken with reduced expectations of unacceptably destructive enemy retaliations. This expectation would depend, of course, upon prior Israeli decisions on nuclear disclosure; on Israeli perceptions of the effects of such disclosure on enemy retaliatory intentions; on Israeli judgments about enemy perceptions of Samson weapons vulnerability; and on presumed enemy awareness of Samson’s countercity force posture. As in the case above, concerning Samson and Israeli nuclear deterrence, last-resort nuclear preparations could enhance Israel’s preemption options by displaying a bold national willingness to take existential risks.

But pretended irrationality could always be a double-edged sword. Israeli leaders must always be mindful of this. Brandished too “irrationally,” Israeli preparations for a Samson Option could even encourage enemy preemptions.

Left to themselves, insufficiently deterred or preempted, certain Arab/Islamic enemies of Israel – especially after creation of a Palestinian state – could threaten to bring the Jewish State face-to-face with the considered torments of Dante’s Inferno, “Into the eternal darkness, into fire, into ice.” It is essential, therefore that Israeli strategic planners and political leaders now begin to promptly acknowledge their obligation to strengthen the country’s nuclear security posture, and to take all necessary steps to ensure that a failure of nuclear deterrence will not necessarily spark regional nuclear warfare. One important way to meet this vital obligation is to focus more explicitly and purposefully on the “Samson Option.”

(c) Copyright The Jewish Press. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israell security matters. His work is well-known in American and Israeli political, academic, military and intelligence communities. Professor Beres is Chair of the private “Project Daniel Group,” which has submitted its sweeping final report on ISRAEL’S STRATEGIC FUTURE to Prime Minister Sharon. He is also Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/israel-palestine-and-the-samson-option/2005/04/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: