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August 29, 2016 / 25 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘International Law’

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.

Louis Rene Beres

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.

Louis Rene Beres

Mr. Netanyhu’s Peace Overtures To “Palestine”

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

But What If Israel’s Enemies

Should Still Prefer War To Peace?

It’s farewell to the drawing-room’s civilized cry,

The professor’s sensible whereto and why,

The frock-coated diplomat’s social aplomb,

Now matters are settled with gas and with bomb.

W.H. Auden, Danse Macabre

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already indicated approval of a Palestinian state, subject, however, to some codified and verifiable forms of “demilitarization.” Leaving aside the inherent infeasibility of this declared contingency -no Palestinian leader will ever accept a condition of fundamentally abridged sovereignty – there is also an overriding and antecedent policy question: Can any form of diplomacy with the Palestinians, Fatah and/or Hamas, prove reasonable and productive? Although, on the surface, such a stark and cynical question may appear distinctly odd or foolish or even needlessly bellicose, there may in fact be no clear benefits for Israel to proceed diplomatically.

From its imperiled beginnings in May 1948, and indeed, even before statehood, Israel sought desperately and courageously to negotiate with its enemies. Always, always – Jerusalem has preferred peace to war. Nonetheless, challenged by relentless and interminable Arab aggressions, diplomacy has generally failed Israel. This sad conclusion is pretty much incontestable. It follows that Mr. Netanyahu is now obligated to ask: What real chance is there that, somehow, this time, diplomacy might actually be productive?

Although ultimately settling upon Operation Cast Lead, previous Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had originally determined to seek Israel’s basic security through diplomacy. Although there was assuredly nothing inherently wrong with such a conciliatory posture, especially as Israel had remained under constant pressure from Washington to negotiate, there was also very good reason for skepticism. From Oslo to the ironically twisted cartography of the present “Road Map,” diplomacy over Israel’s rights and obligations has always been a determinably asymmetrical process.

“Land for nothing!” In essence, this unspoken and suicidal mantra has been Israel’s persistent “marching order” from the “civilized world.” Now, after the Goldstone Report, Israel also hears that this world will not even allow the Jewish State elementary self-defense.

Ironically, Israel’s principal enemies remain candid. On some things, they do not lie. On their irremediable intention to annihilate the “Zionist entity,” they are sworn to truth.

The key disputing Palestinian factions (Fatah or Hamas, it makes little difference) and Iran will never accept anything less than Israel’s removal. This is already obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention. They say this every day, either openly or obliquely. Moreover, in a corroborating cartography, every PA Hamas or Iranian map already includes all of Israel within “Palestine.”

Toward the end of his corrupted regime, Mr. Olmert released several hundred Palestinian terrorists as a “goodwill gesture.” Together with then-U.S. President George W. Bush, he had decided to aid Fatah against Hamas with outright transfers of weapons and information. Soon after (surprise, surprise), the American and Israeli guns were turned against Israel. As for Mr. Olmert’s graciously extended “goodwill,” it had only served to elicit the next round of rocket fire. Matters were not helped at all by Washington’s corollary support for a Palestinian state, a thoroughly misconceived support now extended by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Regarding Middle East diplomacy, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Rooted deeply in Jihadist interpretations of Islam, there is an obvious and enduring inequality of objectives between Israel and its principal enemies. For both Palestinian insurgents and Iran’s president, conflict with Israel is always “zero-sum,” routinely an all or nothing proposition. In this starkly polarizing view of incessant strife between “the world of war” and “the world of Islam,” there can never be any proper place for authentic treaties or settlements with the Jewish State, save, of course, as a temporary tactical expedient.

For Israel, on the other hand, a negotiated peace with its Arab “neighbors” and Iran persists as an elusive but presumably plausible hope. This is true even when the prospect of Islamic reciprocity is plainly preposterous and historically unimaginable.

A truly fundamental inequality is evident in all expressions of the Middle East Peace Process.On the Palestinian and Iranian side, Oslo and “Road Map” expectations have never been seen as anything more than a cost-effective method of dismantling Israel. On the Israeli side, these expectations have generally been taken, quite differently, as a presumably indispensable way of averting further war and terror.

Mr. Netanyahu should take note: The core problem of Israel’s life or death vulnerability lies in the Jewish State’s ongoing assumptions on war and peace. While certain of Israel’s regional enemies, state and nonstate, believe any power gains for Israel represent a reciprocal power loss for them – that they coexist with Israel in a condition of pure conflict – Israel assumes something else. For Mr. Netanyahu’s several immediate predecessors, relations with certain Arab states, the Palestinian Authority/Hamas and Iran were not taken to be pure “zero-sum,” but rather a mutual-dependence connection. In this optimistic view, conflict is always mixed with cooperation. For no identifiable reason, it would seem, Israel may still believe certain of its Arab enemies and Iran reject zero-sum assumptions about the strategy of conflict. Israel’s enemies, however, do not make any such erroneous judgments about conformance with Israeli calculations. Further, these enemies know that Israel is wrong in its belief that certain Arab states, Iran and the Palestinians also reject the zero-sum assumption, but they shrewdly pretend otherwise. There has remained, therefore, a dramatic and consequential strategic disparity between Israel and certain of its frontline Islamic enemies.

Israel’s strategy of conflict has, at least in part, been founded upon multiple theoretical miscalculations and upon an indifference to certain primary and flagrant enemy manipulations. The annihilatory policies of Israel’s enemies, on the other hand, have been and remain founded (a) upon correct calculations and assumptions; and (b) upon an astute awareness of Israel’s strategic naiveté. This means that Israel’s prime minister should now make certain far-reaching changes in the way Israel conceptualizes the continuum of cooperation and conflict.

A “new Israel,” ridding itself of injurious wishful thinking, should finally acknowledge the zero-sum calculations of its enemies, and thus begin to accept that the constant struggle must still be fought largely at the conflict end of the spectrum. Right now, this means, especially (and somewhat belatedly, in the particular case of Iran) attention to certain plausible preemption imperatives.

Left unchallenged by Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s mistaken assumptions, and the combining of these assumptions with correct premises of its enemies, could deeply undermine Israel’s survival. These still-remediable Israeli errors have had the additional effect of creating an odd “alliance” between Israel and its enemies. This is surely not the sort of coalition that can ever help the Jewish State, but is rather a one-sided and unreciprocated “pact” in which Israel actively and inexcusably serves its enemies.

To be sure, Israel’s prime minister should not become the best ally Israel’s Arab enemies and Iran could hope to have. Instead, he should now seek to serve Israel’s long-term survival with real wisdom, supplanting the plainly false assumptions that stem from persistently misguided hopes with correct premises based upon sound reasoning. In the end, Mr. Netanyahu should understand, it is really all about logic.

What does this mean? In the language of formal logic, invalid forms of argument are fallacies. The basic problem with Israel’s continuous search for “peace” through negotiated surrenders (Land for nothing) has been its persistent commission of fallacies.

Unlike simple instances of falsity, these arguments are insidious because they could involve a devastating policy outcome. Distinguishable from singular mistakes, these deviations from correct thinking ensure that all subsequent calculations will also result in error. This means it is in the very process of strategic thinking, and not in the assessment of particular facts and issues, that Israeli policy changes are now most sorely needed.

Without these changes, all matters will be settled “with gas and with bomb.”

Louis Rene Beres, Professor of International Law at Purdue, was born in Zurich, Switzerland (1945) and educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971). The author of several very early books on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, he has lectured and published widely in Israel, Europe and the United States on current matters of strategy, jurisprudence and operational theories of conflict.

Louis Rene Beres

The Iranian Nuclear Peril After Cairo; Soon Time To Take Israel’s Bomb Out Of The “Basement”

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Following his early June speech delivered in Cairo, U.S. President Obama pretty much gave the final green light to Tehran. More precisely, with regard to ongoing Iranian nuclearization, the president signaled plainly that further economic sanctions, and not any defensive military action, were the only remaining option. In Jerusalem, one must presume, Prime Minister Netanyahu understood immediately the substantially changing drift of American foreign policy toward the Middle East. For Israel, therefore, a new plan for dealing with an unprecedented strategic menace would now be necessary. This plan would somehow have to be based on “living with Iran.”

To be sure, Mr. Netanyahu also understands that any such coexistence will require certain suitable and far-reaching refinements in Israel’s nuclear doctrine. In this connection, little if anything has ever been codified or even publicly considered. After all, even now, everything about Israel’s nuclear posture remains ambiguous. Israel’s bomb is still deeply buried in the country’s “basement.”

How has this posture of deliberate ambiguity or opacity worked thus far? It obviously has done very little to deter “ordinary” conventional enemy aggressions or acts of terror. But it has likely succeeded in keeping the country’s principal enemies from mounting consequential mega-attacks. This is no minor accomplishment.

None of Israel’s foes presently has “the bomb,” but together – in any determined collaboration – they could already have acquired the capacity to mount attacks of genuinely existential magnitude. Acting collectively and purposefully, these states and their assorted insurgent proxies, even without nuclear weapons, could still have inflicted enormous harm upon the Jewish State.

Now, stubbornly oblivious to both the hollow threats from Washington, and to the equally feeble calls for meaningful sanctions by the so-called “international community,” Tehran continues to vigorously “go nuclear.” In a few years, Israel will almost certainly face an openly genocidal nuclear Iran. To protect itself, Israel will have to prepare to defend against a determined and possibly even irrational nuclear adversary with both ballistic missile defense (Arrow) and improved nuclear deterrence.

There are other related issues. Iran is a state that might share some of its nuclear components and materials with Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations.This means that continued nuclear ambiguity might not remain sufficiently persuasive to ensure Israel’s nuclear deterrence posture in various critical circumstances.

Prime Minister Netanyahu surely understands that adequate deterrence of Iran could soon require some release of pertinent Israeli nuclear details. Concerning these details, less rather than more Israeli nuclear secrecy could be required. Ironically, perhaps, what will now need to be determined by the prime minister is the precise extent and subtlety with which Israel should communicate its nuclear positions, intentions and capabilities to Iran, and to certain other selected states and state surrogates in world politics.

The strategic rationale for such carefully constructed forms of nuclear disclosure would rest on the understanding that nuclear weapons can best serve Israel’s security in a number of different ways, and that all of these ways could benefit the Jewish State to the extent that certain aspects of nuclear weapons and strategies were actually disclosed. The form and extent of such strategic disclosure could be more critical than ever before, because the new president of the United States is altogether determined to proceed with a still one-sided “peace process.” In its potentially destructive synergies with a nuclearizing Iran, Barack Obama’s “Two-State Solution” could quickly overwhelm Israel with an effective Final Solution.

For the foreseeable future, Israel’s state enemies – especially Iran, Egypt (peace treaty notwithstanding) and Syria – will continue to enlarge and refine their conventional and unconventional military capabilities. Even if certain enemy-state capabilities do not yet fully parallel their intentions, this could change very quickly. As indicated above, Mr. Ahmadinejad or his successor could even cast aside all of the usual considerations of rational behavior. Were this to happen, the Islamic Republic of Iran could become a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm. Such a destabilizing prospect is improbable, but it is not inconceivable.

To protect itself against enemy strikes, particularly those attacks that could carry intolerable costs, Israel will need to prepare to exploit every relevant aspect and function of its own nuclear arsenal and doctrine. The success of Israel’s efforts here will depend not only on its particular choice of targeting doctrine (“counterforce” or “counter city”), but also upon the extent to which this critical choice is made known in advance to both enemy states (primarily Iran) and to their non-state surrogates. Before such enemies can be deterred from launching first strikes against Israel, and before they can be deterred from launching retaliatory attacks following any Israeli preemption, it may not be enough to know only that Israel has the bomb. These enemies may also need to recognize that Israeli nuclear weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to such attacks, and that they are pointed directly at high-value population targets.

Removing the bomb from Israel’s “basement” could enhance Israel’s nuclear deterrence to the extent that it would heighten 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. From the standpoint of successful nuclear deterrence, perceived willingness is always just as important as perceived capability.

For now, as Mr. Netanyahu surely understands, Israel’s bomb should remain ambiguous. But soon, at the very moment that Iran is discovered to be close to completing its own nuclear weapons capability, the Jewish State should put a prompt end to deliberate nuclear ambiguity.

Prime Minister Netanyahu recognizes the stark shortcomings of President Obama’s plan for peace in the Middle East. He understands that there could never be any durable and reliable peace with a nuclear Iran. But as it is now inconceivable that the United States will undertake preemptive destruction of Iran’s nearly completed nuclear program (what would be a permissible act of “anticipatory self-defense” under customary international law), Israel will – inter alia – have to take its own bomb out of the “basement.” Whatever its specific details and nuances, such an essential end to deliberate nuclear ambiguity may still not be sufficient to save Israel from eventual nuclear war with Iran. Nonetheless, in the changing world emerging after Mr. Obama’s unfortunate Cairo speech, it would surely be better for Israel than continuing with a no longer viable nuclear policy of calculated uncertainty.

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) was Chair of Project Daniel. Born in Switzerland (1945), he is Professor of International Law at Purdue, and is the author of many major books and articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Louis Rene Beres

Understanding Our Global Misfortunes

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
            In some important respects, Iran is only a microcosm. Whatever happens next within that particularly troubled and troubling country, many of the deepest underlying problems and divisions will remain genuinely global.This is because revolution, despotism, war and terrorism are always generic issues in world politics. In the end – that is, civilizationally – they will need to be understood and confronted on a broadly international level.

 

            “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” observed the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and “everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”  Today’s simmering Iranian instability and belligerence are more a symptom of generic civilizational fragility than merely an isolated (albeit catastrophic) disease. Beneath the surface, all world politics readily reveal a distinctly common and malignant disorder. This is the seemingly irremediable incapacity of many human beings to find both meaning and identity within themselves, as individuals. 

 

            Iran is only a microcosm. From the beginning, all world affairs have been driven by some form or another of “tribal” conflict, by incessant and deadly struggles between more-or-less warring groups. Without a clear and persisting sense of an outsider, of an enemy, of an “other,” whole societies routinely feel lost in the world. Drawing self-worth from their membership in the state or the faith or the race – from what Freud had insightfully called the “primal horde” – these humans often cannot satisfy even the most minimal requirements of interpersonal coexistence.

 

            Every sham may have a patina. Our very obvious progress in the technical and scientific realms still has no real counterpart in basic human relations. Yes, of course, we can manufacture jet aircraft and send astronauts into space and even communicate by “twitter” (whatever that means; I’m not really sure), but before we are allowed to board commercial airline flights we must first take off our shoes. The point of such removal is certainly not to enhance our personal comfort, but rather to ensure that we won’t blow up the plane.

 

            What kind of world is this? Iran is only a microcosm. We humans surely want to be upbeat about the whole world. We are turned off by anyone who speaks candidly about life’s day-to-day vagaries, or about its simultaneously absent ecstasies. Whenever a friend or colleague is asked, “How are you?” the visceral answer must always be the same: “I’m great.” 

 

             What nonsense! In fact, there remains very great pain and loneliness throughout the world.  Further, in certain matters, nothing important ever really changes:plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. In the truly critical issues of mega-survival, we humans may now be living far more precariously than ever before. Of course, this is especially apparent to the always-imperiled people of Israel – imperiled because millions of mortal Arab/Islamist enemies are still guided by the thoroughly atavistic primal tribal dynamics of “the herd.”

 

             What a world! Iran is only a microcosm. The veneer of human civilization is still razor thin, particularly in large portions of the Arab/Islamist world.  However conversant with statistics and science, certain nations in our world can still glance smugly over mountains of fresh corpses, and announce without apology or embarrassment that “God Is Great!” Assorted mass societies greedily suck out the very marrow of human wisdom, reverence and compassion in a deeply misguided dash to “power.”  In the Middle East, among Israel’s existential foes, the ultimate form of sought-after power has absolutely nothing to do with land or territory. It has to do with something that can never be understood in Washington. It has to do with power over death.

 

            Globally, hope exists, to be sure, but it must now sing softly, in an undertone.  The “blood-dimmed tide” creates a deafening noise, but it is still possible to listen for transient sounds of grace and harmony.  We must all quickly learn to pay very close attention to our most intimate human feelings of empathy, anxiety, restlessness and desperation. These feelings are always determinative, and always – ultimately – universal.

 

             As Jews, we already understand that life on earth must ultimately be about the individual. In essence, therefore, we see that the time for “modernization,” “globalization,” “artificial intelligence” and “new information methodologies” is already over.  To survive together, all residents of this endangered planet must first rediscover an authentic human life that is detached from meaningless and corrosive distinctions (“us” and “them”), banal conformance, shallow optimism and contrived happiness. Only in this vital expression of an awakened human spirit may we finally learn that agony is more important than astronomy, that cries of despair are more serious than the disembodied powers of technology, and that our tears have a much greater significance than robotic smiles. “The man who laughs,” commented the poet Bertolt Brecht, “has simply not yet heard the horrible news.”

 

             Iran is only microcosm. The true and persisting instabilities and barbarisms of life on earth can never be undone by improving global economics, by building larger missiles, by fashioning new international treaties, by spreading democracy or even by periodic revolutions.  We inevitably interrelated humans still lack a tolerable future not because we have been too slow to learn, but because too many among us have stubbornly failed to learn what is truly important.

 

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton  (Ph.D., 1971) and is Professor of International Law at Purdue University.  Born in Switzerland at the end of World War II, he is the author of many books and articles dealing with world politics, law, literature and philosophy. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Louis Rene Beres

Déjà Vu All Over Again – It’s Time To Understand What Jihadist Terrorists Really Want

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
            To be sure, it’s a theme that I have already pursued in this column on several occasions, but nonetheless one that still seems to warrant further emphasis and elucidation. We all seem to know what Jihadist terrorists are after, yet our pertinent U.S. foreign policies remain founded upon altogether contrary assumptions. The most obvious example of such confusion, perhaps, is this country’s continuing support of Palestinian statehood, an outcome that would, prima facie, undermine America’s war on terror.

 

            Consider this: Al-Qaeda operatives, some acting together with certain allied Palestinian terror-groups, are actively planning future attacks against the United States. More than likely, these attacks would involve chemical and/or biological weapons. At a time of “ordinary” disease pandemic (i.e., swine flu), the latter could even hold a special attraction.

 

            Beyond any reasonable doubt, a nuclear dirty-bomb event is also on the drawing board. Some Jihadist terrorists are already working diligently in this weaponization direction. Here, however, near-term enemy success is marginally less plausible.

 

 

             Again, what exactly, do these terrorists really seek? Are they all really after some identifiable form of political or social reform? This question may first appear silly, obvious or even contrived. Yet, the usual answers are almost always superficial and unhelpful. Almost never, it seems, are we willing to probe this hideously complex question seriously, with applied intellect, analytic deliberation and courageously non-partisan resolve.

 

            At the most basic level, these terrorists “simply” want to transform pain into power.  But this transformation is not always easy, because the correlation is not always proportionate.  It is even possible, at least on occasion, that inflicting the most excruciating pain upon us would diminish terrorist power, while causing less overwhelming pain would enhance terrorist power.

 

            Ironically, in view of current American debates over torture, the terrorist groups that now prepare mega-attacks on this country have always learned from the torturer.  They fully understand that pain, to be purposeful, must point toward death, but that – still – it must not necessarily kill.  This is not to suggest that Islamist terrorists do not seek to produce large numbers of dead Americans, but rather, that leaving alive many American witnesses who will then themselves fear annihilation is an integral part of the macabre “choreography.”

 

            Imitating the torturer, the Jihadist terrorist plans to take what is private and incommunicable, the pain contained within the boundaries of the sufferer’s own body, and then manipulate it to shape the behavior of others.  A manifestly defiled form of theater that draws public influence from the innermost depths of human privacy, terrorism twists and amplifies pain within the individual human body to influence others who live outside that body.  Violating the inviolable, it declares with unspeakable cruelty that not only is no one immune, but that everyone’s most personal horror can also be made public.

 

            Now led by a new president, America still hears from certain Jihadist quarters of the Islamic world that “martyrs” who plan to slay more of our countrymen have a recognizably political motive. Surely, we are soberly informed, these killers do not kill gratuitously.  Rather, they kill to “recover the land,” to “reclaim our rights,” to “prevent foreign intervention,” to “acquire self-determination,” to “rid us of tyrants, apostates, blasphemers,” etc. Their alleged grievances are legion, but – operationally and ideologically – they are utterly beside the point.

 

            There is, perhaps, a tiny light at the end of the long tunnel.  Once these “sacred” objectives are realized, Washington is assured all will be well.  The killers will “return” to a life of peace.  There will be no more pain, no more unspeakable public intrusions into the very depths of individual privacy. Their attempted violent deconstruction of our civilization, their gleeful uncreation of what has been assembled for literally thousands of years, will quietly announce its own end.

 

            Yet, what America and its president hear, they do not always understand.  Like the victim of torture, who is told again and again that his pain is somehow related to his too – reluctant disclosure of information, Washington still confronts a masquerade.  With the entire United States, as with the individual torture victim, the declared motive of the perpetrator is only a fiction.  In the end, the torturer tortures because he enjoys torturing. The terrorist, for his part, terrorizes with visceral delight. He does this even with a grotesque voluptuousness, not merely for “the cause,” but because that is what heor she truly wants to do.  On the very day that I write these words, Fatah has broadcast very graphic images of Hamas torture.

 

            The delighted torturer cannot be stopped by answering his questions.  The inflamed terrorist cannot be stopped by yielding to his terror. The Jihadist-driven Islamic terrorist will cease his terror only when Washington agrees to accept a complete surrender to “Holy War.” It is probably true, as Osama Bin Laden himself has repeatedly advised us, that America may still escape its terrible fate through mass conversion to Islam. Till then, however, the authoritative Islamist view is that our “infidel blood lacks sanctity.”  

 

            The Jihadist terrorist and his victims experience pain and power as opposites.  As the victims’ suffering grows, so does the power of the terrorist.  And as the power of the terrorist grows, so does the pain of his victims.  For the bystanders, and this includes all of our country that is not directly involved in a particular terrorist attack, each blast of pain is a mock execution, a stunning reminder of American vulnerability, and a palpable denial of American power.

 

            The terrorist, like the torturer, can alter human language.  With each act of terrorism, America will lose more and more of its “voice.”  After a time, if nothing more is done about the terrorist exploitation of American pain as power, Washington will be left dumb.  In response, the terrorist, confronted with an American victim that has now become conspicuously supine and pitiable, will close in with even greater destructiveness and an altogether foreseeable ferocity.

 

             Any terrorist escalation in the magnitude of terror would follow directly from correlations of pain and power.  All terrorism intends to change an intended victim’s general awareness that “all persons must die” to the far more specific awareness,  I  must die – and maybe soon.”  As any resort to more destructive forms of terror could hasten this change, such resort should not be dismissed too quickly.  The facile observation that “terrorists have no reason to escalate” is now an evident product of the most fragile syllogisms.

 

            The pain caused by terrorism, a pain that confers power upon the terrorist, begins within the victim’s private body, and then spills out more widely into the general body politic.  Wanting the two realms to become indistinguishable, the terrorist already understands that it is not enough that his victims feel pain.  Pain must also be felt, vicariously but palpably, by all those who might still themselves become victims.  For President Obama, this should be a conceptual understanding of immediate operational importance. It is far more important than the number of troops on the ground in either theatre of current conflict (Iraq or Afghanistan) or than any other standard military calculations of probable U.S. victory or defeat.

 

                                                               

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press. He isthe author of many major books and articles on terrorism, 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; Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law; and The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. Professor Beres’ monographs on security issues 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).

Louis Rene Beres

Bibi And The Iranian Bomb: Reconsidering Israel’s Policy Of Nuclear Ambiguity

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Until now, the strategic issue of Israel’s nuclear ambiguity – the so-called “bomb in the basement” – has been kept squarely on the back burner. Today, however, time is quickly running out for the Jewish State, and Israel’s new/old prime minister absolutely must reconsider this burning issue. From the standpoint of urgency, of course, the immediate problem is Iran.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has correctly indicated that Iranian nuclearization is issue number one. To manage this critical problem, Mr. Netanyahu also understands that Israel’s own nuclear doctrine will have to adapt. In this connection, a core element of strategic adaptation should concern purposeful patterns of Israeli nuclear disclosure.

From the start, Jerusalem’s nuclear policy has always been to keep Israel’s bomb quietly in the basement. Now, however, it is increasingly likely that a deliberately ambiguous nuclear deterrent may simply not work much longer. Mr. Netanyahu should recall that nuclear strategy is always a work in progress. In the absence of adaptation, it will inevitably fail to achieve its indispensable goals. This is true generically; it is not true exclusively for Israel.

To date, Israel’s nuclear ambiguity has done little to deter “ordinary” conventional enemy aggressions or acts of terror. To be sure, it has succeeded in keeping the country’s enemies from mounting genuinely existential attacks. But certain changes in strategic doctrine could still be necessary.

None of Israel’s foes presently has “the bomb,” but together – in any determined collaboration – they could already have acquired the capacity to mount attacks of genuinely existential magnitude. Acting collectively and purposefully, these states and their assorted insurgent proxies, even without nuclear weapons, could still have inflicted enormous harms upon the Jewish State.

Now, oblivious to the feeble call for meaningful sanctions by a plainly impotent “international community,” Tehran continues to “go nuclear.” Unless there is a prompt, comprehensive and sustained preemptive strike against Iran’s developing nuclear assets and infrastructures, an act of “anticipatory self-defense” under international law, Israel will face an openly genocidal nuclear Iran. Yet, the prospect of such legally permissible defensive strikes is now already very low, and Israel will likely have to prepare to defend against a nuclear Iran with both ballistic missile defense (Arrow) and improved nuclear deterrence.

As my faithful readers in The Jewish Press already know, Iran is a state that might share some of its nuclear components and materials with Hizbullah or certain other terrorist proxy organizations. This means, among other things, that continued nuclear ambiguity might not remain sufficiently persuasive to ensure Israel’s nuclear deterrence posture.

Let me be more precise here. Prime Minister Netanyahu will understand that adequate deterrence of Iran could soon require some release of pertinent Israeli nuclear details. Concerning these details, less rather than more Israeli nuclear secrecy could be required. Ironically, perhaps, what will now need to be determined by the prime minister is the specific extent and subtlety with which Israel should communicate its nuclear positions, intentions and capabilities to Iran, and to certain other selected states and state surrogates in world politics.

The rationale for carefully constructed forms of nuclear disclosure would not lie in expressing the obvious. Instead, it would rest on the understanding that nuclear weapons can serve Israel’s security in a number of different ways, and that all of these ways could benefit the Jewish State to the extent that certain aspects of nuclear weapons and strategies were actually disclosed. The form and extent of such strategic disclosure could be more critical than ever before because the new president of the United States, Barack Obama, seems determined to proceed with a still one-sided “peace process.” For President Obama, as for his cliché-trapped Secretary of State, there is still only a “Two State Solution” on the peace horizon.

For the foreseeable future, Israel’s state enemies – especially Iran, Egypt (peace treaty notwithstanding) and Syria – will continue to enlarge and refine their conventional and unconventional military capabilities. Even if certain enemy state capabilities do not yet fully parallel their intentions, this could change very quickly. Mr. Ahmadinejad could even cast aside all of the usual considerations of rational behavior. Were this to happen, the Islamic Republic of Iran could effectively become a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm. Such a destabilizing prospect is improbable, but it is assuredly not inconceivable.

To protect itself against enemy strikes, particularly those attacks that could carry intolerable costs, Israel should properly exploit every relevant aspect and function of its own nuclear arsenal and doctrine. The success of Israel’s efforts will depend not only on its particular choice of targeting doctrine (“counterforce” or “counter city”), but also upon the extent to which this critical choice is made known in advance to both enemy states (primarily Iran) and their non-state surrogates. Before such enemies can be deterred from launching first strikes against Israel, and before they can be deterred from launching retaliatory attacks following an Israeli preemption, it may not be enough to know only that Israel has the Bomb. These enemies may also need to recognize that Israeli nuclear weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to such attacks, and that they are pointed directly at high-value population targets.

Removing the bomb from Israel’s basement could enhance Israel’s nuclear deterrence to the extent that it would heighten 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. From the standpoint of successful nuclear deterrence, perceived willingness is always just as important as perceived capability.

For now, as Mr. Netanyahu surely understands, Israel’s bomb should remain ambiguous. But soon – at the very moment that Iran is discovered to be close to completing its own nuclear weapons capability – the Jewish State should put a prompt end to deliberate nuclear ambiguity. This is a recommendation that was made by Project Daniel, and communicated directly to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Prime Minister Netanyahu already understands that there could never be any reliable peace with a nuclear Iran. But if neither Israel nor the United States will undertake preemptive destruction of Iran’s nearly completed nuclear program (a strategic prospect that now seems increasingly plausible), Israel will then have to take its own bomb out of the basement. Such an essential end to deliberate nuclear ambiguity may still not be sufficient to save Israel from an eventual nuclear war with Iran, but it would surely be far better than continuing dangerously on the present course.

Copyright © The Jewish Press, April 17, 2009. All rights reserved

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) was Chair of Project Daniel. Born in Switzerland (1945), he is Professor of International Law at Purdue, and is the author of many major books and articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Louis Rene Beres

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