In Washington, there has been little learned from lessons of the past.
On March 3, Hillary Clinton said that the Obama Administration will “vigorously pursue” the creation of a Palestinian state. Further, continued the Secretary of State, movement toward Palestinian independence now seems “inescapable.”
But, for the United States “Palestine” would represent just another enemy state. Although fragmented by endless civil war, Fatah and Hamas would both seek closer ties to Iran. Very quickly, there would also be substantial collaborations with al-Qaeda – ties that are now already being fashioned in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
How soon we forget. On September 11th, celebrations were ecstatic all over Gaza and West Bank, in areas controlled by Hamas and Fatah. Today, nothing has changed. America, despite its consistently misplaced largesse, is still widely loathed in all Palestinian territories.
Predictably, Ms. Clinton’s stubborn adherence to clichéd wisdom will backfire before she can provide additional excuses for Palestinian independence. Despite their uninterrupted pleas for statehood, the Palestinians always manage to stand stubbornly in their own way. Time after time, whenever they seem on the threshold of what appears to be a proper legal entity, their strife-addicted leaders unleash new and unproductive spasms of random violence. Over time, this collective self-destructiveness has been characteristic of both Fatah and Hamas, sometimes even when the two terrorist organizations are systematically warring with each other.
The Obama administration seems determined to repeat past American mistakes. Even after Israel’s necessary Operation Cast Lead, and even while Israel’s cease fire with Hamas must remain effectively unilateral because of intransigent Palestinian commitments to Jihad (Gaza-based terrorists are still sending rockets into Israel), it asks that a Palestinian state be carved from the still-living body of Israel. This rabidly anti-American 23rd Arab state would quickly seek extension across the “green line.” The official Palestine Authority (PA) map of “moderate” Fatah already shows all of Israel as the state of “Palestine.”
Israel remains the very front line of anti-terrorist engagement for the United States and for the West in general. It is still the principal “canary” in the mine. In this connection, any Palestinian state would have an injurious effect on Israel’s survival. After “Palestine,” Israel’s security would require (1) a far more comprehensive nuclear strategy involving deterrence, preemption and war fighting capabilities; and (2) a corollary and interpenetrating conventional war strategy. Without such strategic improvements, America would be at far greater risk than before.
“Palestine” would affect these two core strategies in several ways. It would enlarge Israel’s need for “escalation dominance.” With Israel’s conventional capabilities more doubtful, IDF command could decide to make the country’s nuclear deterrent less ambiguous. Taking the Israeli bomb out of the “basement” might actually enhance Israel’s security for a while, but – over time – ending “deliberate ambiguity” could also heighten the odds of nuclear weapons use. If Iran were permitted to “go nuclear,” as now seems quite certain, such use might not be limited to the immediate area of Israel and “Palestine.”
In the future, nuclear war could arrive in Israel not only as a “bolt-from-the-blue” surprise missile attack, but also as a result (intended or inadvertent) of escalation. If an enemy state were to begin “only” conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem might respond with nuclear reprisals. If this enemy state were to begin with solely conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem’s conventional reprisals might still be met in the future, with enemy nuclear counterstrikes.
Why should Israel need a conventional deterrent at all? Even after “Palestine,” won’t rational enemy states desist from launching conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel for fear of an Israeli nuclear retaliation? Not necessarily. Aware that Israel would cross the nuclear threshold only in extraordinary circumstances, these enemy states could be convinced, rightly or wrongly, that so long as their attacks remained non-nuclear, Israel would only respond in kind.
After creation of “Palestine,” strategic circumstances in the region would be markedly less favorable to Israel. The only credible way for Israel to deter large-scale conventional attacks following any such creation would be by maintaining visible and large-scale conventional capabilities. Naturally, enemy states contemplating first-strike attacks upon Israel using chemical and/or biological weapons are apt to take more seriously Israel’s nuclear deterrent. Whether or not this nuclear deterrent had remained undisclosed could also affect Israel’s strategic credibility.
A strong conventional capability will always be needed by Israel to deter or to preempt conventional attacks. Oslo and “Road Map” expectations related to “Palestine” would critically impair Israel’s strategic depth and thus, the IDF’s essential capacity to wage conventional warfare.
If front line regional enemy states were to perceive Israel’s own sense of expanding weakness, this could strengthen Israel’s nuclear deterrent. If, however, enemy states did not see such a “sense” among Israel’s key decision-makers, these states, animated by Israel’s presumed conventional force deterioration, could be encouraged to attack. Logically, the result, spawned by Israel’s post-“Palestine” incapacity to maintain strong conventional deterrence, could be: (1) defeat of Israel in a conventional war; (2) defeat of Israel in an unconventional chemical/biological/nuclear war; (3) defeat of Israel in a combined conventional/unconventional war; or (4) defeat of Arab/Islamic state enemies by Israel in an unconventional war.
Ironically, for Israel, even the “successful” fourth possibility could become intolerable. The probable consequences of a regional nuclear war or even a chemical/biological war in the Middle East could be calamitous for the victor as well as the vanquished. Here, traditional notions of “victory” and “defeat” would lose all meaning. The expected dangers to Israel of any Palestinian state would outweigh any conceivable benefits.
As Israel’s security is critical to our own, Secretary of State Clinton should take prompt and careful note. It is finally time for Washington to move beyond evident clichés, and toward much deeper forms of understanding.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli and American security matters. He is the author of ten major books on international relations and international law, and is a frequent contributor to journals of law, military strategy, intelligence, and counterintelligence.