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Posts Tagged ‘International Law’

Assassinating Terrorist Leaders: The Killing of Osama Bin-Laden As a Matter of International Law

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
             Osama bin Laden was assassinated by U.S. Special Forces on May 1, 2011. Although media emphasis thus far has been focused almost entirely on the pertinent operational and political issues surrounding this “high value” killing, there are also important jurisprudential aspects to the case that require similar attention. Whether or not killing Osama was a genuinely purposeful assassination from a strategic perspective, a question that will be debated for years to come, we should now also inquire:  Was it legal?
             Assassination is ordinarily a crime under international law. Still, in certain residual circumstances, the targeted killing of principal terrorist leaders can be defended as a fully permissible example of law enforcement. In the best of all possible worlds, there would never be any need for such decentralized or vigilante expressions of international justice, but we don’t yet live in such a world. Rather, in our present and still anarchic global legal order, as President Obama correctly understood, the only real alternative to precise self-defense actions against terrorists is apt to be a worsening global instability, and also escalating terrorist violence against the innocent.
            Almost by definition, the idea of assassination as remediation seems an oxymoron. At a minimum, this idea seemingly precludes all normal due processes of law. Yet, since the current state system’s inception in the seventeenth century, following the Thirty Years’ War and the resultant Peace of Westphalia (1648), international relations have not been governed by the same civil protections as individual states. In this world legal system, which lacks effective supra-national authority, Al Qaeda leader bin Laden was indisputably responsible for the mass killings of many noncombatant men, women and children. Had he not been assassinated by the United States, his egregious crimes would almost certainly have gone entirely unpunished.
             The indiscriminacy of Al Qaeda operations under bin Laden was never the result of inadvertence. It was, instead, the intentional outcome of profoundly murderous principles that lay deeply embedded in the leader’s view of Jihad. For bin Laden, there could never be any meaningful distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents. For bin Laden, all that mattered was the distinction between Muslims and “unbelievers.”
            As for the lives of unbelievers, it was all very simple.  These lives had no value. They had no sanctity. 
            Every government has the right and obligationto protect its own citizens. In certain circumstances, this may even extend to assassination. The point has long been understood in Washington, where every president in recent memory has given nodding or more direct approval to high value assassination operations. Of course, lower-value or more tactical assassination efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have become a very regular feature of U.S. special operations.
            There are some points of legal comparison with the recent NATO strike that killed Moammar Gadhafi’s second-youngest son and his three grandchildren. While this was a thinly disguised assassination attempt that went awry, the target, although certainly a supporter of his own brand of terrorists, had effectively been immunized from any deliberate NATO harms by the U.N. Security Council’s limited definition of humanitarian intervention.
            It is generally true that assassination is a crime under international law. Yet, in our decentralized system of world law, self-help by individual states is often necessary, and the only alternative to suffering terrorist crimes. In the absence of particular assassinations, terrorists could continue to plan havoc against defenseless civilians in America and elsewhere, and could do so with impunity. To be sure, they would be generally immune to the more orthodox legal expectations of extradition and prosecution. This is not to suggest that assassination will always work, but only that disallowing such killing out of hand could never be gainful.
            Assassinating bin Laden was consistent with the ancient legal principle of Nullum crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment.” Earlier, this core principle had been cited as a rationale for both the Tokyo and Nuremberg war crime tribunals, and was subsequently incorporated into binding customary international law. As to the foreign venue of the assassination, President Obama can find adequate legal support in certain relevant bilateral agreements with Pakistan, and also in pertinent provisions of the 1974 General Assembly Definition of Aggression. Although extra-territorial jurisdiction in any such matters would normally be unlawful, there are critical exceptions when a particular country (here, Pakistan) more or less allows its territory to be used as a base of operation for future terrorist crimes.
            By the codified and customary standards of contemporary international law, terrorists are Hostes humani generis or “Common enemies of humankind.”  In the fashion of pirates, who were to be hanged by the first persons into whose hands they fell, terrorists are international outlaws who fall within the scope of universal jurisdiction.  That bin Laden’s terror-crimes were plainly directed at the United States in particular removes any doubts about the geo-strategic reasonableness of America’s primary jurisdiction.
             Limited support for assassination can be found in the classical writings of Aristotle, Plutarch and Cicero, and even in American history.  Should the community of nations ever reject this right altogether, it would have to recognize, as a corollary, that such rejection could be at the expense of innocent human life. The existing law of nations must, at least on occasion, continue to rely on even the most objectionable forms of self-defense.
            International law is not a suicide pact. Assassination, always subject to the applicable legal rules of discrimination, proportionality and military necessity (it is vital that assassinations always seek to avoid collateral casualties) may sometimes be the least injurious form of defense and punishment.  Wherever additional terrorist crimes are still being planned, as was certainly the case with Osama bin Laden, the permissibility of assassination may be far greater.  
            In a better world, assassination could have no defensible place as counterterrorism. But we do not yet live in the best of all possible worlds, and the obviously negative aspects of assassination should never be evaluated apart from the foreseeable costs of all other options.  Such aspects should always be compared to what would be expected of these alternative choices.
            Assassination, even of a terrorist mastermind like Osama bin Laden, will almost always elicit some indignation, ironically, even by those who would likely find full-scale warfare appropriate.  Yet, the civilizational promise of universal reasonableness is unrealized, and imperiled states, including our own, must inevitably confront stark choices between employing assassination in limited circumstances, or renouncing such tactics at the expense of justice and security.  In facing such choices, these countries, including the United States, will always discover that viable alternatives to the assassination option also include large-scale violence, and that these alternatives may ultimately exact a substantially larger long-term toll in human life and suffering.

 

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many books and scholarly articles dealing with international law and terrorism.  His more than forty-years’ work on counterterrorism is well-known to America’s military and intelligence communities.  Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Now With Saudi Arabia On Its Side: Israel And Anticipatory Self-Defense Against Iran

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

International law is not a suicide pact. This particular sentence should be very familiar to this column’s readers. Every state facing plainly existential harms always has the right to defend itself before being attacked. In the increasingly urgent matter of Israel and Iran, a subject on which I have been commenting for some time, any further delay in undertaking permissible acts of preemption could irrevocably doom the Jewish state.

Interestingly enough, as we now know from WikiLeaks, Israel could have even Saudi Arabia on its side. Although King Abdullah’s plaintive plea to the U.S. to “cut off the head of the snake” was mistakenly ignored, Jerusalem could ultimately turn out to be a far better protective ally for the Saudi King than Washington.

The reverse, however, is not true. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states that share a common fear of Iran would never prove helpful to Israel. Instead, they will continue to accumulate large amounts of America’s most advanced weapon systems without even a tiny probability of ever being capable of using them against Iran. For Riyadh and its Gulf neighbors, such weapons are always only for decoration. When it comes to any actual military action, they will inevitably and desperately turn for help to the United States.

Israel, as always, must stand alone. In the aftermath of any Iranian nuclear attack, which might still be several years away, Washington’s only tangible aid would be to help bury the dead. This limited assistance would not be the result of any indifference or animosity, but rather of an entirely predictable impotence. Simply put, when a nuclear aggression against Israel had already become a fait accompli, there would be nothing else for America to do.

To merely survive, Israel’s immediate obligation must be to enhance its deterrence and defense postures, to consider a prompt end to “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” (that is, to take its bomb “out of the basement”), and to further refine still-pertinent preemption options. Israel should never expect stable coexistence with a nuclear Iran ruled by doctrinaire Islamic clerics.

Israel’s core plan for active defense remains the Arrow. To protect against any future nuclear attack from Iran, this advanced system of ballistic missile defense (BMD) must be complemented by recognizably viable options for defensive non-nuclear first strikes against selected Iranian military and industrial targets. It should never be assumed by Israel that a safe and durable “balance of terror” could be created with a staunchly Jihadist Tehran.

Deterrence must always be based upon an assumption of enemy rationality. This assumption might not be warranted, however, in the case of Iran. Here, also, any purported analogy between Iran and our own U.S. deterrence relationship with the former Soviet Union would be misguided.

If Iran’s current leadership could somehow meet the core test of rationality, always valuing national survival more highly than any other preference, there would still exist grave risks to Israel. These hazards would be associated with Tehran’s problematic command and control of any nuclear forces. Even a completely rational Iranian leadership could base its critical nuclear decisions upon erroneous information, on a variety of computer errors, or on precipitous pre-delegations of launch authority.

The related problem of vulnerability to violent regime overthrow, or coup d’état in Tehran, must also be considered in Jerusalem. In addition to the almost-comedic irony of mutual strategic interest between Israel and Saudi Arabia on Iran, another sharply ironic observation can be made: There can be absolutely no assurances that any successor regime in Iran would necessarily pose a diminished security threat to Israel.

If Israel’s Arrow were presumed to be one hundred percent effective, even an irrational Iranian adversary armed with nuclear or biological weapons could be kept away without defensive first strikes and also without any threats of retaliation. The problem is that no BMD system can ever be “leak proof.”

Terrorist proxies in ships or trucks, not missiles, could deliver Iranian nuclear attacks upon Israel. In such low-tech but distinctly high consequence assaults, there would be no benefit to Israel of deploying any anti-missile defenses.

Every state has an indisputable right under international law to act preemptively when facing a potentially mortal aggression. The 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice even extends such lawful authority to the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain last-resort circumstances. For now, at least, Israel could and should undertake any planned acts of anticipatory self-defense without nuclear weapons. This may now also mean the prudentially targeted elimination of selected enemy scientists, and a critical resort to vital cyber-defenses.

International law is not a suicide pact.

Although President Medvedev claims otherwise, Russia is still selling Iran its S-300 advanced strategic-range air defense system. Once fully deployed, this weapon, which has an “engagement envelope” of at least 100 miles, could greatly complicate the success of any essential Israeli hard-target (military or industrial) preemption.

If Iran should be permitted to become fully nuclear – an entirely likely scenario, as the so-called sanctions represent little more than a fly on the elephant’s back – Israel would need to substantially enhance the credibility of its presumed nuclear deterrent. Israel’s robust second-strike strategic force – hardened; multiplied; and dispersed – would need to be configured to inflict a decisive retaliatory blow against selected enemy cities. In technical military terms, this means, for Israel, an openly counter value-targeted nuclear force.

The dangers of a nuclear Iran would directly impact the United States. Over time, the U.S. could become as vulnerable as Israel to certain nuclear-armed terrorist surrogates. Any American plan for a “rogue state” anti-ballistic missile shield, for us, and for our NATO allies, would have exactly the same limitations as Israel’s already-deployed Arrow.

International politics can make strange bedfellows. Now, with Riyadh “on its side,” Israel may finally have the optimal political setting for a last chance at anticipatory self-defense.

International law is not a suicide pact.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Professor of International Law at Purdue University. He was Chair of Project Daniel (Israel, 2003), and is the author of many major books, articles and monographs on nuclear strategy and nuclear war. Dr. Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Terrorist Cop: The NYPD Jewish Cop Who Traveled the World to Stop Terrorists

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Terrorist Cop: The NYPD Jewish Cop Who Traveled the World to Stop Terrorists

by Mordecai Dzikansky and Robert Slater

Published by Barricade Books, Fort Lee, NJ

Copyright 2010/ISBN 978-1-56980-445-2 $24.95 Hardback

I like this book. Very much. Terrorist Cop will be of interest to all Americans and Israelis who remain deeply concerned (as they should) about our continuing vulnerability to Jihadist terror attacks. It will be of even greater interest, moreover, to readers of The Jewish Press. After all, the author, now retired New York City homicide Detective First Grade Mordecai Dzikansky, spent his distinguished 25-year career as an NYPD “Jewish cop.”

In the beginning, Mordecai patrolled Brooklyn streets conspicuously wearing a yarmulke. Later, he went undercover to catch Torah thieves and also to investigate such high-profile cases as the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane and the slaying of Ari Halberstam. Most significantly, perhaps, after 9/11, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly sent Detective Dzikansky to Israel – to observe suicide bombing sites, and to learn how to best protect his own already-victimized American city from what was certain to become a genuinely worldwide threat.

It is an impressive story, a unique and informed narrative by a dedicated Jewish police detective on his ultimately multi-national journey to gather vital intelligence and to relay key security information back to New York. Indeed, it is altogether likely not an exaggeration to suggest that Detective Dzikansky’s remarkable police skills and obvious heroism have helped to keep us all a little (or a lot) safer.

For four years of monitoring and reporting on suicide bombings in Israel, and also serving on assignment in Egypt, Turkey, Spain and Russia, the author paid a notably heavy personal price. “The horror, the horror,” mumbles the Marlon Brando character in the film “Apocalypse Now.” It is a telling observation that also came to trouble Detective Dzikansky in the real world. In his own words, by 2006, “grisly images grew into sharper focus,” and “my career, my obsessions, my uncertainties had become my entire life.” Beginning to use alcohol “to numb myself,” Dzikansky began to suffer a recognizable form of Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD), hardly a surprise for someone who had already made so many palpable sacrifices, and who had already been compelled to witness so much evident horror.

In a few years, happily, “Time had proved a great healer,” and the author was able to retire from the NYPD and to begin the next chapter of his life. By that time, and to all of our collective benefit, he had accumulated valuable tactical insights and true wisdom regarding the global terror threat. As a police officer, Dzikansky had developed a particular loathing for terror criminality, largely because of its utter indiscriminacy. From his many crime scene experiences, he was able to conclude that good intelligence is necessary to terrorist prevention, but that expanding public awareness is also vital to keeping down any casualties. In this connection, one of the most helpful and important parts of this very fine book is Dzikansky’s Chapter 11, “Lessons Learned.”

Often, in relating these “lessons,” the author displays a very nuanced and subtle kind of intelligence. For example, as a New York cop, he knows the signal importance, in counter-terrorist operations, of maintaining “a constantly high state of alert for suspicious people and objects.” At the same time, he also knows, as an ordinary New York native, that his fellow New Yorkers are generally ready to accept virtually anything out of the ordinary as “normal.” Such acceptance is, in fact, the iconic core of what it means to be a “New Yorker.”

It is a meaningful dilemma that is identified here by Detective Dzikansky, one easily understood by readers of The Jewish Press, “because almost anything goes in New York, and nothing seems out of the ordinary.” Still, as the author maintains correctly, the critical message of citizen alertness, from his having observed a series of twenty-one suicide bombings in Israel, as well as from his visits to four target venues outside of Israel, “had to be taught.”

Detective Dzikansky, retired from the NYPD, now lives in Israel. Knowing himself to be “a true New Yorker to the core,” he remains in Israel because it is “the perfect place for my children.” Together with Meryl, his wife, he believes their three children consider the Jewish state “home,” yet, for himself, says Mordecai, “I will always consider the U.S.A. as my home.” This is a poignant and complex differentiation, one that is by no means limited to the special feelings of a New York Jewish cop who had spent troubling times in Israel, but rather one that is easily understood by many other regular Jewish New Yorkers.

As the author of one of the earliest scholarly books on nuclear terrorism (published back in the late 1970s), I can acknowledge that Detective Dzikansky’s Terrorist Cop is filled with serious, substantial and meaningful operational content. It is not “merely” the personal memoir of a heart-wrenching but rewarding journey; it is also a distinctly thoughtful and lucid examination of a very difficult, timely, and persistently-urgent topic. Today, the author has succeeded in “chasing away the demons,” and he is able to leave us with both a mesmerizing personal account, and with a simple yet sophisticated inventory of plainly indispensable remedies.

I started this review by indicating that “I like this book. Very much.” You will too. It fully deserves a wide and attentive audience.

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, and is the author of many major books and articles dealing with terrorism and counter-terrorism. Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. He was Chair of Project Daniel in Israel.

Changes Ahead? American Nuclear Policy And Israeli Strategic Doctrine (Part I)

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

From the beginning, Israel has successfully managed to craft its overriding strategic doctrine apart from any specific U.S. expectations. To be sure, keeping its “bomb in the basement” has been at least partially a response to expressed American wishes. After all, any explicit end to nuclear ambiguity could have proven unacceptable to Washington. Still, all other core doctrinal considerations of nuclear force structure, basing, targeting and nuclear retaliatory thresholds have likely been fashioned, quite correctly, to suit only Israel.

It is conceivable, of course, that Israel’s decision thus far to resist any preemptive action against Iranian nuclear infrastructure targets does reflect, at least in part, a dutiful friendly-state compliance with President Barack Obama’s “rules.” On this point, however, it is too early to know for sure. There are also many significant operational factors to take into account. The Israel Air Force, despite its indisputably unique capabilities and high quality, may simply be too small for so demanding a task.

President Obama does have his own broad vision of nuclear weapons and strategic doctrine; it expresses an oft-declared preference for “a world free of nuclear weapons.” Although this presidential hope is plainly unattainable andonly selectively desirable, Israel cannot ignore it. Rather, political leaders and senior planners in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv will now need to shape and re-shape certain elements of Israel’s own strategic doctrine with precisely this inherently vague American vision in mind. This is the case even though the reduced American nuclear stockpile will inevitably stay substantially robust, and in spite of the understanding that Israel would never entirely abandon its own nuclear weapons.

For Israel, the only relevant strategic policy danger lies in the fact that national nuclear capacity must always exist on a continuum; it is never merely a dichotomous (nuclear versus non-nuclear) distinction. If Washington were to demand that Israel begin to trim back its nuclear forces and postures in order to be in synch with any new American partial denuclearization, and/or with codified NPT expectations, Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv could still find itself under some very compelling pressures to comply. Ironically, this danger would flow from the Obama nuclear vision solely because that particular vision had spurred a far less than complete U.S. withdrawal from military nuclear options.

Strategic doctrine is anet. In the abundantly complex and interpenetrating worlds of war and peace, only those who cast will catch. Without an appropriate and fully up-to-date doctrine that takes certain developing Washington visions into close account, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) could be less able to conform its essential order of battle to the changing and increasingly lethal requirements of the regional battlefield. At a minimum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will need to consider that the New START agreement between the U.S. and Russia could effectively leave the much wider threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terror unrelieved.

What needs to be done in Israel?

First, Israeli leaders and military strategists should now look directly at their country’s principal existential threats, organize these primary threats hierarchically (in terms of both their probability and disutility), and carefully correlate the diligently enumerated perils with purposeful remedies. To the extent that the Obama vision, with its expressly-diminished reliance on nuclear deterrence, could ultimately put extreme pressure on Israel to denuclearize, such a correlation could spur Jerusalem/Tel Aviv to move much more urgently toward certain plausible forms of preemption/anticipatory self-defense, and/or to nuclear disclosure.

Second, Israeli leaders and strategists should begin to plan with the basic understanding that (a) Israel is a system; (b) existential threats confronting the Israeli system are interrelated (synergistic); and (c) effects of these interrelated threats upon the Israeli system must always be examined together.

How will these effects likely be impacted by President Obama’s determined search for “a world free of nuclear weapons?” How should Israel compensate for any resultant expansion of security vulnerabilities?

As its multiple enemies in the Middle East escalate their not so obviously disingenuous proposals for a nuclear weapon free zone in the region, how can Jerusalem/Tel Aviv best resist such deceptively appealing plans for “peace?” Somehow, Israel must make clear that the seeming fairness of a nuclear-free Middle East would unfairly imperil Israel. This clarity will be especially difficult to communicate so long as President Obama, still unable to recognize that a regional nuclear weapon free zone is merely a clever enemy expedient to weaken Israel, remains in plain sympathy with such a sorely mistaken idea.

Third, Israeli leaders and strategists should quickly understand that, conceptually, the entire world is now best understood as a system, and that the incremental disintegration of power and authority structures within this wider macro-system will impact, with enormous and at-least partially foreseeable consequences, the Israeli micro-system.

How will this particular impact be enlarged or reduced by President Obama’s now-codified Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) unwillingness to respond to chemical or biological attacks with American nuclear reprisals? In critical matters of national defense and deterrence, will this unwillingness force Israel to become even more “self-help” oriented than in the past? In a world of international anarchy, each state must seek, above all, to maintain and maximize its own power position. Israel is no exception.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is the author of ten books and several hundred scholarly articles dealing with international relations and international law. Born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II, he lectures and publishes widely on nuclear matters in the United States, Europe and Israel. Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue, Dr. Beres was the Chair of Project Daniel (Israel).

Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity: Opportunity Or Liability? (Part III)

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

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

Proverbs 24,6

Only a selective end to its nuclear ambiguity would allow Israel to exploit the potentially considerable benefits of a Samson Option. Should Israel choose to keep its Bomb in the “basement,” therefore, it could not make any use of the Samson Option.

Irrespective of its preferred level of ambiguity, Israel’s nuclear strategy is correctly oriented toward deterrence, not war-fighting. The Samson Option refers to a policy that would be based in part upon a more-or-less implicit threat of massive nuclear retaliation for certain specific enemy aggressions. Such a policy could be invoked credibly only in cases where such aggressions would threaten Israel’s very existence, and would involve far more destructive and high-yield nuclear weapons than what might otherwise be thought “usable.” This means that a Samson Option could make sense only in presumably “last-resort,” or “near last-resort,” circumstances.

It also means that where Samson is involved, an end to deliberate ambiguity would help Israel by emphasizing that portion of its nuclear arsenal that is less usable. This ironic fact is not a contradiction of my prior argument that Israel will need to take the Bomb out of the “basement” to enhance its deterrent credibility. Rather, it indicates that the persuasiveness of Israel’s nuclear deterrent will require prospective enemy perceptions of retaliatory destructiveness at both the low and high ends of the nuclear yield spectrum. Ending nuclear ambiguity at the proper time would best permit Israel to foster such perceptions.

The main objective of any Samson Option would not be to communicate the availability of any graduated Israeli nuclear deterrent. Instead, it would intend to signal the more-or-less unstated “promise” of a counter-city (“counter-value” in military parlance) reprisal. Made plausible by an end to absolute nuclear ambiguity, the Samson Option would be unlikely to deter any aggressions short of “high end” nuclear and/or (certain) biological first strikes upon the Jewish state.

Samson would “say” the following to all potential nuclear attackers: “We (Israel) may have to “die,” but (this time) we won’t die alone.” The Samson Option, made possible only after a calculated end to Israeli nuclear ambiguity, could serve Israel as an adjunct to deterrence, and to certain preemption options, but not as a core nuclear strategy.

The Samson Option should never be confused with Israel’s overriding security objective: to seek stable deterrence at the lowest possible levels of possible military conflict.

In broad outline, “Samson” could support Israel’s nuclear deterrence by demonstrating an Israeli willingness to take strategic risks, including even existential risks. Earlier, Moshe Dayan had understood and embraced this particular form of logic: “Israel must be like a mad dog, said Dayan, too dangerous to bother.”

In our often counter-intuitive strategic world, it can sometimes be rational to pretend irrationality. Always, the nuclear deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality would depend in part upon an enemy state’s awareness of Israel’s disclosed counter-value targeting posture. In the final analysis, there are specific and valuable critical security benefits that would likely accrue to Israel as the result of a purposefully selective and incremental end to its policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity.

The time to begin such an “end” has not yet arrived. But at the precise moment that Iran verifiably crosses the nuclear threshold, Israel should begin immediately to remove the Bomb from its “basement.” When this critical moment arrives, Israel should already have configured (1) its planned reallocation of nuclear assets; and (2) the extent to which this particular configuration should now be disclosed. This would importantly enhance the credibility of its nuclear deterrence posture.

To optimize Israel’s selective easing of nuclear ambiguity, Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv would need to deploy, inter alia, a fully recognizable second-strike nuclear force. Such a robust strategic force – hardened, multiplied and dispersed – would necessarily be fashioned to inflict a decisive retaliatory blow against major enemy cities. Iran, it follows, so long as it is led by rational decision-makers, should be made to understand that the actual costs of any planned aggressions against Israel would always exceed any conceivable gains.

The deterrence benefits of any Israeli modifications of deliberate ambiguity would be altogether limited to rational adversaries. If, after all, enemy decision-makers might sometime value certain national or religious preferences more highly than their own country’s physical survival, they would not be deterred by any enhanced forms of Israeli nuclear deterrence, including even a nuanced and purposeful removal of Israel’s bomb from the “basement.”

To comprehensively protect itself against potentially irrational nuclear adversaries, Israel would now have no viable alternative to implementing a still more-or-less problematic conventional preemption option. Operationally, at this very late date, there could be no reasonable assurances of success. Jurisprudentially, however, especially in view of Iran’s expressly genocidal threats to Israel, such a preemption option could represent a distinctly permissible expression of anticipatory self-defense under international law.

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) was Chair of Project Daniel. Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue, 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; and The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. 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). His frequent opinion columns have appeared in The New York Times; Christian Science Monitor; Chicago Tribune; Washington Post; Washington Times; Boston Globe; USA Today; The Jerusalem Post; Ha’aretz (Israel); Neue Zuricher Zeitung (Switzerland); and U.S. News & World Report.

Dr. Louis René Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity: Opportunity Or Liability? (Part II)

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

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

                                                                                    Proverbs  24,6

 

            The Israeli policy of an undeclared nuclear capacity will not work indefinitely.  Left unrevised, this policy will fail. The most obvious locus of failure would be Iran.

 

            To be deterred, a newly nuclear Iran would need convincing assurance that Israel’s atomic weapons were both invulnerable and penetration-capable. Any Iranian judgments about Israel’s capability and willingness to retaliate with nuclear weapons would depend largely upon some prior Iranian knowledge of these weapons, including their degree of protection from surprise attack and their capacity to “punch-through” Iranian active and passive defenses.

 

             Ironically, the appearance of Israeli nuclear weapons as uniformly “too large” and “powerful” could weaken Israel’s nuclear posture. For example, Iranian perceptions of exclusively mega-destructive Israeli nuclear weapons could effectively undermine the credibility of Israel’s indispensable nuclear deterrent. Here, Israel’s credibility would vary inversely with the perceived destructiveness of its nuclear arms. 

 

            In the world of nuclear strategy, some essential truths are counterintuitive. Coexisting with an already-nuclear Iran, Israel would benefit not from any increased nuclear secrecy (the orthodox and ordinary expectation), but rather from certain forms of expanded nuclear disclosure.  In essence, this would mean a full or partial end to Israel’s bomb in the basement.

 

            However regrettable and once preventable, a fully nuclear Iran now appears to be a fait accompli. Neither the “international community” in general, nor Israel in particular, has displayed a sufficient willingness to support needed preemptions. Such preemptions could have been consistent with the criteria of anticipatory self-defense under international law. Needless to say, the so-called “sanctions” sequentially leveled at Tehran represent little more than a fly on the elephant’s back.

 

            A nuclear Iran might decide to share some of its nuclear components and materials with Hezbollah, or with another kindred terrorist group.To prevent this, Jerusalem would need to convince Iran, inter alia, that Israel possesses a rangeof distinctly usable nuclear options.  Israeli nuclear ambiguity could be loosened by releasing certain general information regarding the availability of appropriately low-yield weapons. A policy of continued nuclear ambiguity, on the other hand, might not be sufficiently persuasive.

 

             In Jerusalem (and in Tel-Aviv’s Ministry of Defense, of course), the following will soon need to be calculated vis-à-vis a nuclear Iran:  the exact extent of subtlety with which Israel should now communicate key portions of its nuclear positions, intentions and capabilities. To ensure that its nuclear forces appear sufficiently usable, invulnerable, and penetration-capable to all prospective attackers, Israel may soon benefit from selectively releasing certain broad outlines of strategic information. This disclosed information would concern, among other things, the hardening, dispersion, multiplication,basing, and yields of selected nuclear forces.

 

             Once it is faced with a nuclear adversary in Tehran, Israel would need to convince its Iranian enemy that it possessed both the will and the capacity to make any intended Iranian nuclear aggression more costly than gainful. No Israeli move from ambiguity to disclosure would help in the case of an irrational nuclear enemy. For dealing with irrational enemies – those enemies who would not value their own continued national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences – even preemption could now be too late.

 

            To the extent that an Iranian leadership might subscribe to certain end-times visions of a Shiite apocalypse, Iran could surely cast aside all rational behavior. Were this to happen, Iran could effectively become a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm. Such a destabilizing prospect is certainly improbable, but it is not inconceivable. A similarly serious prospect exists in already-nuclear and coup-vulnerable Pakistan.

 

            To protect itself against military strikes from rational enemies, particularly those attacks that could carry existential costs, Israel will need to better exploit every aspect and function of its nuclear arsenal and doctrine. The success of Israel’s efforts here would depend not only upon its selected targeting doctrine (enemy cities and/or military forces), but also upon the extent to which this choice is made known in advance.  Before any rational enemies can be deterred from launching first strikes against Israel, and before they can be deterred from launching retaliatory attacks following any Israeli non-nuclear preemption, it will not be enough for them to know that Israel has The Bomb. These enemies would also need to recognize that usable Israeli nuclear weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to enemy attacks, and that at least a determinable number are capable of penetrating high-value population targets.

 

            Removing the bomb from Israel’s basement could enhance Israel’s strategic deterrence to the extent that it would heighten rational enemy perceptions of both 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. This brings to mind the so-called Samson Option, which would allow various enemy decision-makers to note and underscore that Israel is prepared to do whatever is needed to survive.

 


Louis René Beres  (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) was Chair of Project Daniel.  Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue, 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; and The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. 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). His frequent opinion columns have appeared in The New York Times; Christian Science Monitor; Chicago Tribune; Washington Post; Washington Times; Boston Globe; USA Today; The Jerusalem Post;  Ha’aretz (Israel); Neue Zuricher Zeitung (Switzerland); and U.S. News & World Report.

Dr. Louis René Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

The Waste Land: Israel And Iran After Nuclear War

Monday, May 17th, 2010

This is the dead land

This is cactus land….

T.S. Eliot

Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” It is a term that I have used often here in my weekly column, but never more meaningfully than today. Now, years after the international community first blathered vainly about Iranian intentions, Tehran marches unhindered to full and final nuclear weapons status.

Credo quia absurdum. Perhaps, there will not be a nuclear war between Israel and Iran. Maybe, fortuitously, some system of stable mutual deterrence will evolve in time. Maybe, a kind of protracted “Cold War” will emerge to keep the peace.

Still, there is no reliable way to ascertain the probability of unique events, and an Iranian leadership that slouches enthusiastically toward apocalypse is not out of the question.

What would happen if Tehran were to launch a nuclear Jihad against Israel, whether as an atomic “bolt from the blue” or as a result of escalation – either deliberate or inadvertent?

Thirty-one years ago, I published the first of ten books that contained authoritative descriptions of the physical and medical consequences of nuclear war, any nuclear war. These descriptions were drawn largely from a 1975 report by the National Academy of Sciences, and included the following still valid outcomes: large temperature changes; contamination of food and water; disease epidemics in crops, domesticated animals, and humans due to ionizing radiation; shortening of growing seasons; irreversible injuries to aquatic species; widespread and long-term cancers due to inhalation of plutonium particles; radiation-induced abnormalities in persons in utero at the time of detonations; a vast growth in the number of skin cancers, and increasing genetic disease.

Overwhelming health problems would afflict the survivors of any Iranian nuclear attack upon Israel. These difficulties would extend beyond prompt burn injuries. Retinal burns would even occur in the eyes of persons very far from the actual explosions.

Tens of thousands of Israelis would be crushed by collapsing buildings and torn to shreds by flying glass. Others would fall victim to raging firestorms. Fallout injuries would include whole-body radiation injury, produced by penetrating, hard gamma radiations; superficial radiation burns produced by soft radiations; and injuries produced by deposits of radioactive substances within the body.

After an Iranian nuclear attack, even a “small” one, those few medical facilities that might still exist in Israel would be taxed beyond capacity. Water supplies would become unusable. Housing and shelter could be unavailable for hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of survivors. Transportation would break down to rudimentary levels. Food shortages would be critical and long-term.

Israel’s normally complex network of exchange systems would be shattered. Virtually everyone would be deprived of the most basic means of livelihood. Emergency police and fire services would be decimated. All systems dependent upon electrical power could stop functioning. Severe trauma would occasion widespread disorientation and psychiatric disorders for which there would be no therapeutic services.

Normal human society would cease. The pestilence of unrestrained murder and banditry could soon augment plague and epidemics. Many of the survivors would expect an increase in serious degenerative diseases. They would also expect premature death; impaired vision, and sterility. An increased incidence of leukemia and cancers of the lung, stomach, breast, ovary, uterus and cervix would be unavoidable.

Extensive fallout would upset many delicately balanced relationships in nature. Israelis who survive the nuclear attack would still have to deal with an increased insect populations. Like the locusts of biblical times, mushrooming insect hordes would spread from the radiation-damaged areas in which they arose.

Insects are generally more resistant to radiation than humans. This fact, coupled with the prevalence of unburied corpses, uncontrolled waste and untreated sewage, would generate tens of trillions of flies and mosquitoes. Breeding in the dead bodies, these insects would make it impossible to control typhus, malaria, dengue fever and encephalitis. Throughout Israel, tens or even hundreds of thousands of rotting human corpses would pose the largest health threat.

All of these same effects, possibly more expansive and destructive, would, reciprocally, be visited upon Iran by Israel. Immediate massive retaliation for any Iranian nuclear aggression would be inevitable. In Iran, therefore, survivors would envy the dead. Here, the once-expected joys of “martyrdom” would fade quickly before death’s other kingdom.

Waste and void. Darkness visible. No lilacs to breed out of the dead land, the cactus land. Before anything could be born in such an Iranian-created necropolis, a gravedigger would need to wield the forceps.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is Professor of International Law at Purdue. Born in Zurich, Switzerland on August 31, 1945, he is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/the-waste-land-israel-and-iran-after-nuclear-war-2/2010/05/17/

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