Monday, April 2, 2007

Israel's current strategic situation - and a proposal for never achieving peace

The news issue of the US Army War College journal Parameters for Spring 2007 is available. It's good news for the country that still some of the most careful, critical-minded and reality-based analysis of military issues is being done in the services themselves. It's bad news that so little of that - either the content or the standards of quality - leak into the mainstream press.

That's not to say that all the article in Parameters qualify as enlightened, as the following example illustrates.

This issue includes
Israel’s Uncertain Strategic Future by Louis René Beres, professor of international law at Perdue University. Beres was part of Project Daniel, a strategic study done for Israel's then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and completed in early 2003. Benes explains:

The underlying rationale of "Project Daniel" was the presumption that Israel urgently needs a coherent plan for dealing with existential threats, and that we (The Group) were well-positioned intellectually and professionally to propose such a plan. The project was originally based on an overriding concern for the possible fusion of certain weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-capacity with irrational adversaries. Project Daniel concluded, however, that the primary threats to Israel’s physical survival were more likely to come from enemies that were not irrational. With this in mind, the members of our study group proceeded to consider a broad variety of complex issues related to deterrence, defense, preemption, and war-fighting.
This biographical sketch of Benes at the Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR) says:

In Israel he has lectured widely at such venues as the National Defense College (IDF), the Dayan Forum, the Likud Chamber, the Likud Security Group, the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, the BESA Center, and the International Christian Embassy. Professor Beres' work is well known in senior political, military, and intelligence circles in Israel...
The project's eventual recommendation is also provided by ACPR: Israel’s Strategic Future: The Final Report of Project Daniel 01/16/03.

Benes writes that Project Daniel gave top priority to avoiding Israeli involvement in any kind of nuclear conflict - but in his Paramaters article, that kind of talk is just window-dressing. The following comment about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not surprising, but rather another confirmation of what is the most sensible assumption in this case:

Today, with a steadily advancing nuclear threat from Iran, the preemption option has likely become even more compelling. At the same time, the enormous operational difficulties that would be associated with preemptive destruction of pertinent Iranian nuclear infrastructures suggest that Israel may ultimately have to rely instead upon expanded and improved nuclear deterrence. It is almost certainly such thinking that occasioned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s public remarks about Israel’s nuclear capacity on 11 December 2006. These remarks were assuredly not a "slip of the tongue," as was reported widely in the media. Rather, pursuant to Project Daniel, they were the entirely logical first-step in taking Israel’s bomb “out of the basement."
In Beres' account, Project Daniel emphasized the value of "striking first (preemption) against enemy WMD development, manufacturing, storage, control, and deployment centers - a recommendation fully consistent with longstanding international law regarding 'anticipatory self-defense.'" That argument about international law is not right, though, at least not in the form just quoted. The form of preemption that is acceptable as "preemptive" war by internationally-recognized standars requires an imminent threat. Storing stocks of chemical weapons in a warehouse doesn't count as imminent threat.

Beres describes what is known as the Samson Option, the informal but well-known policy in which Israel would resort to nuclear weapons:

not for prevention of war or even for war-waging, but simply as a last spasm of vengeance against an enemy state that had launched massive (probably unconventional) counter-city and/or counterforce attacks against Israel. In this situation, Israel’s leaders, faced with national extinction, would conclude that even though the Jewish State would not survive, it would “die” together with its destroyers.
Samson, for those not up on their Hebrew Bible, was the legendary strong-man who got seduced by Delilah the Phlistine but regained his super-strength just in time to pull down the temple of Dagon on the Philistines' heads. Samson also died in the process.

Beres recommends something that would have warmed Dick Nixon's heart in concept, though Nixon was enough of a pragmatist that he would have worried seriously about the practical consequences in the case of Israel. He recommends giving the world the idea that Israel's leaders are crazy enough to use nuclear weapons in situations much less drastic than the one pictured in the Samson Option:

But what if Israel were to fine-tune its “Samson Option?” What if it did this in conjunction with certain doctrinal changes in its longstanding policy of nuclear ambiguity? By taking the bomb out of the “basement” and by indicating, simultaneously, that its now declared nuclear weapons were not limited to existential scenarios, Israel might go a long way to enhancing its national security. It would do this by displaying an apparent departure from perfect rationality; in essence, by expressing the rationality of threatened irrationality. Whether or not such a display would be an example of “pretended irrationality” or of an authentic willingness to act irrationally would be anyone’s guess. It goes without saying that such an example of unorthodox behavior by Israel might actually incite enemy first-strikes, or hasten the onset of already planned strikes. There are ways, however, in which Israel could make Sun-Tzu’s “unorthodox” appear as “orthodox.”
In a telling argument, Beres uses the Bush Doctrine of preventive war to justify such wars on Israel's part:

Faced with imminent and existential attacks, Israel, taking a cue from The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, dated 20 September 2002, could preempt enemy aggression with conventional forces. American strategy of preemptive attack affirms the growing reasonableness of anticipatory self-defense under international law. If Israel were to draw uponsuch expressions of US policy, the targeted state’s response would determine Israel’s subsequent moves. If this response were in any way nuclear, Israel would assuredly undertake nuclear counter-retaliation. If this enemy retaliation were to involve certain chemical and/or biological weapons, Israel might also determine to undertake a quantum escalatory initiative. (my emphasis)
In other words, instead of using its nuclear arsenal, which is various reported as consisting of 100 to 400 warheads, Israel would expand the use of its nuclear weapons as a deterrent against any state that dared to retaliate against a preventive war launched by Israel.

In order to justify such a strategy, Beres essentially defines an "existential" threat, i.e., a threat to the nation's existence, as anything the Israeli leadership decides it to be at a given moment.

In short, proposes that Israel follow a policy of escalation of nuclear threats and enhancement of its nuclear capabilities. It's hard to see how this leads to anything but disaster for Israel in the end. A effective regionwide nuclear non-proliferation agreement is what is needed to pull back from this downward spiral toward catastorphe. Beres mentions that concept only in passing in the Parameters article.

Yet if Israel intends to hold on to its settlements in the West Bank and expland them, some sort of open-ended arms race, periodical preventive wars and nuclear brinksmanship are likely to be the result. Much the kind Beres recommends here.

Beres' article is an example of how any kind of preventive war can be justified with abstract references to the possible future dangers that could be presented by hypothetical possibilities. What preventive war looks like in practice the last few years has been the Americans in Iraq and Israel in Lebanon in 2006.

Although, not surprisingly, he argues that preventive war and nuclear war are the best policies for achieving peace, Beres also gives us a glimpse of the nighmarish possibilities of his policies:

To the extent that certain Middle Eastern states are permitted to develop WMD capabilities, Israel may have to someday deal with an anonymous attack scenario. In such a scenario the enemy state would not identify itself, and Israeli post-attack identification might be exceedingly difficult. What is Israel to do in such a situation? The Group recommended to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that “Israel must identify explicitly and early on that all enemy Arab states and Iran are subject to massive Israeli reprisal in the event of a BN attack upon Israel.” We further recommended that massive reprisals be targeted at between ten and 20 large enemy cities (counter-value targeting) and that the nuclear yields of such Israeli reprisals be in the high range. Such deterrent threats would be very compelling to all rational enemies, but at the same time have little or no effect upon irrational ones. In the case of irrational adversaries, Israel’s only hope for safety will likely lie in the appropriate and operationally feasible acts of preemption.
This kind of endless-brinksmanship strategy is typical of the "neoconservative" permanent-war, national-security-state thinking. And neocon-type thinkers in Israel and the US feed on each other's ideas. Beres' might even be read as a shadow argument for such a policy on the part of the United States. American hardliners have been known to project their wet dreams about war onto Israel, as in "what Israel might do..."

, , ,


Anonymous said...

I am a Jewish American. But for some reason my heart bleeds for the plight of
the Palestinians.

After 911, I did the opposite of what most Americans did, I think. I looked into
the reasons why the Muslim world generally does not like America. Most Americans
dismissed those reasons because of 911, I feel. I specifically focused in on how
zionist terrorists stole the land of the Palestinians in 1948, according to
Benny Morris, a zionist historian, and according to Ami Isseroff, a zionist for

When I found out how my Jewish brothers and sisters violated the ten
commandments in order to form the state of Israel, I was filled with an angry
justice that has not gone away or diminished.

Most Americans do not realize how Israel was formed. Perhaps most don't want to
know. And the US corporate media certainly doesn't want to tell them.

My suggestion to Muslim and Palestinian leaders is to try to give the American
people an education in this history whether they want to hear it or not. They
need to see the context behind those suicide bombers.

On the other hand, in the present times, since the wall was built, there have
been few suicide bombers against Israel, yet the Israelis continue to kill
Palestinians on a regular basis and they continue to build settlements on the
land they stole. These excesses by the Israelis certainly help the cause of a
Palestinian state and the cause of justice by turning some Americans against the

But I feel without the context of history most Americans will continue to be
ignorant and unsympathetic to the victims of this brutal, barbaric and immoral

Anonymous said...

A Piece for Peace