The DEFCON Warning System

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war. Established 1984

Keeping Israel’s Security Perils in Perspective the Unchanging Primacy of Nuclear War

Falling towers

Jerusalem Athens Alexandria

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T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land


In world politics, some perils are deservedly worrisome even before they become  plausible. Apropos of this general observation, while Israel remains the only nuclear power in the Middle East, this advantage is subject to change or removal in coming years Not “only” Iran comes to mind in this critical regard, but also Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE. Moreover, even while embroiled in a catastrophic domestic chaos of its own making, Syria could represent (once again) a prospective nuclear threat.[1]

And this is to say nothing about Pakistan,[2] an already nuclear Islamic state with a variety of relevant and well-documented Arab ties.

There is more. Even today, Israel must continuously brace itself against variously intermittent waves of Palestinian terror.[3] While this conspicuously undiminished threat remains one of very high urgency, it ought never be allowed to deflect the country’s primary attention from more genuinely existential perils.[4]  In this connection, the generally inconspicuous threat of a nuclear war remains absolutely primary and overriding.

How might this generally inconspicuous but still most obviously consequential threat arise? To those who would now undertake appropriately systematic analyses, four reasonably precise scenarios quickly present themselves. By examining these more-or-less reasonably imaginable narratives, Israel’s strategic planners could best advance their essential (some would say “indispensable”) assessments of the country’s national security options. Accordingly, the following “paradigm” offers a presumptively gainful example of what is required.

Nuclear Retaliation

Should an enemy state or alliance of enemy states ever launch a nuclear first-strike against Israel, Jerusalem would respond, assuredly, and to whatever extent possible, with a nuclear retaliatory strike. If enemy first-strikes were to involve other available forms of unconventional weapons, such as chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Israel might then still launch a nuclear reprisal. This grave decision would depend, in large measure, upon Jerusalem’s informed expectations of any follow-on enemy aggression, and also on its associated calculations of comparative damage-limitation.

If Israel were to absorb a massive conventional attack, a nuclear retaliation could not automatically be ruled out, especially if: (a) the state aggressors were perceived to hold nuclear and/or other unconventional weapons in reserve; and/or (b) Israel’s leaders were to believe that non-nuclear retaliations could not adequately prevent annihilation of the Jewish State. A nuclear retaliation by Israel could be ruled out only in those rapidly discernible circumstances where enemy state aggressions were clearly conventional, “typical” (that is, consistent with all previous instances of attack, in both degree and intent) and hard-target oriented (that is, directed towards Israeli weapons and related military infrastructures, rather than at its civilian populations).

Nuclear Counter retaliation

Should Israel ever feel compelled to preempt enemy state aggression with conventional weapons, the target state(s)’ response would largely determine Jerusalem’s next moves. If this response were in any way nuclear, Israel would doubtlessly turn to some accessible forms of nuclear counter retaliation. If this retaliation were to involve other non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction, Israel could also feel pressed to take the escalatory initiative. Again, this decision would depend, inter alia, upon Jerusalem’s judgments of enemy intent, and upon its corollary calculations of essential damage-limitation.

Should the enemy state response to Israel’s preemption be limited to hard-target conventional strikes, it is unlikely that the Jewish State would then move to any nuclear counter retaliations. If, however, the enemy conventional retaliation were “all-out” and directed toward Israeli civilian populations as well as to Israeli military targets, an Israeli nuclear counter retaliation could not be excluded. Such a counter retaliation could be meaningfully ruled out only if the enemy state’s conventional retaliation were identifiably proportionate to Israel’s preemption; confined to Israeli military targets; circumscribed by the legal limits of “military necessity;” and accompanied by certain explicit and verifiable assurances of non-escalatory intent.

 Nuclear Preemption

It is very highly implausible that Israel would ever decide to launch a preemptive nuclear strike.[5]  Although circumstances could arise wherein such a strike would be both perfectly rational, and permissible under authoritative international law,[6] it is unlikely that Israel would ever allow itself to reach such irremediably dire circumstances. Also, unless the nuclear weapons involved were usable in a fashion still consistent with longstanding laws of war (aka the law of armed conflict), this most extreme form of preemption could represent an expressly egregious violation of international law.

Even if such consistency were possible, the psychological/political impact on the entire world community would be strongly negative and potentially far-reaching. In essence, this means that an Israeli nuclear preemption could be expected only: (a) where Israel’s pertinent state enemies had acquired nuclear and/or other weapons of mass destruction judged capable of annihilating the Jewish State; (b) where these enemies had made it clear that their intentions paralleled their genocidal capabilities; (c) where these enemies were believed ready to begin an operational “countdown to launch;” and (d) where Jerusalem believed that Israeli non-nuclear preemptions could not achieve the needed minimum levels of damage-limitation – that is, levels consistent with physical preservation of the Jewish State.

 Nuclear War fighting

Should nuclear weapons ever be introduced into any actual conflict between Israel and its enemies, either by Israel, or by a regional foe, nuclear war fighting, at one level or another, could ensue. This would hold true so long as: (a) enemy first-strikes would not destroy Israel’s second-strike nuclear capability; (b) enemy retaliations for an Israeli conventional preemption would not destroy the Jewish State’s nuclear counter retaliatory capability; (c) Israeli preemptive strikes involving nuclear weapons would not destroy enemy state second-strike nuclear capabilities; and (d) Israeli retaliation for conventional first-strikes would not destroy the enemy’s nuclear counter retaliatory capability.

In order to satisfy its most necessary survival obligations, Israel must take prompt and fully appropriate steps to ensure the likelihood of (a) and (b) above, and the unlikelihood of (c) and (d)

In essence, Jerusalem must understand the full complexity of authentic survival dangers, that is, perils that stem from a prospectively expanding prospect of regional conflict involving nuclear weapons. Any such many-sided peril could involve both state and sub-state adversaries, sometimes even in “hybridized” combination. At some point, moreover, these fundamentally different types of enemy could collaborate in an unorthodox fashion, including perhaps a precisely-calculated attack on Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor.

This scenario would not be unprecedented, or sui generis. In 1991, and also in 2014, Dimona came under missile and rocket fire from Iraqi and Hamas aggressions, respectively.[7] Therefore, what next for Dimona?

This is a complex question now well worth asking.

For Jerusalem, a key corollary should arise: How shall Israel best respond?  While assorted security threats could be intersecting, interpenetrating, or synergistic, there will still remain a more-or-less decipherable hierarchy of plausible dangers. Once this pertinent rank-ordering has been expressly identified in Tel-Aviv, as indeed it must, Israel’s policy planners will then need to ensure that the Jewish state remains situated in a securely optimal position to control any conceivable escalation; that is, movement from any one level of possible engagement, to any other.

In usual strategic military parlance, this means that Jerusalem must resolutely seek to preserve a recognizably viable posture of escalation dominance. Here, the adverbial inclusion of “recognizably” is not merely superficial or gratuitous. Rather, this modifying trait is integral to the examined posture. After all, unless this posture is readily observable by all relevant enemies, it cannot possibly fulfill its most indispensable national security expectations.

There is more. As part of this “posture preservation process,” Israel’s defense officials must consciously and conscientiously ensure that the country’s various “layered” systems of  deterrence, defense, preemption, and war-fighting protections are  mutually reinforcing and simultaneously oriented toward national and terror-group foes. These officials must also learn to recognize and best exploit the myriad and complex or cross-cutting alignments being forged between Israel’s diverse enemies.[8]

To wit, following this American president’s overtures to Saudi Arabia (overtures enhanced by very generous weapon sales terms to Riyadh), Qatar could eventually favor even stronger ties with Iran, Hezbollah, and/or Hamas.

Jerusalem might prefer the proximity of ISIS-related foes in the region, to Syrian and Iranian-supported Hezbollah backed by Moscow. But this preference could sometime change in very short order, especially if the ISIS-brand fighters should begin to vie more actively with Hamas, Fatah, and/or Islamic Jihad terrorists over Jordan and (eventually) “Palestine.”[9] In rendering all such preference calculations, Jerusalem will also need to take into account the already hardening bipolarity of “Cold War II.”[10]

In this connection, Israeli strategists should not casually assume that U.S. President Donald Trump’s increasingly obvious and odd obeisance to Moscow will automatically preclude a second cold war. On the contrary, this American president’s highly unpredictable modes of conducting international relations should be taken into close account by Israel’s military planners. Whatever else they might think, Donald Trump is no especially loyal or caring friend of Israel.

For the moment, wisely perhaps, Israel has cast some of  its current security lot with Egypt’s General al-Sisi, acting (singly or cooperatively) against Jihadists in the Sinai. Over time, however, there could be yet further changes of power in Cairo, maybe even at a moment when Egypt had actively embarked upon acquiring nuclear weapons. Then, looking back at the evolution of nuclear weapons development in Shiite Iran, from the Shah to the ayatollahs, Egypt could begin to look very much like “déjà vu all over again.”

Even if there were no change of presidential power in Egypt, General al-Sisi himself could sometime begin to act (wittingly or unwittingly) in synch with certain earlier and more “traditional” war-making instincts of Nasser or Sadat. In other words, Egypt could once again look upon Israel as foe.

It’s all quite bewildering. During the 2011 Arab Spring, Qatar backed the opponents of Hosni Mubarak.  Saudi Arabia,[11] however, backed Mubarak, and now backs el-Sisi.

Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood and Palestinian Hamas, placing it at odds with both Egypt and Israel, and is close to Iran and Hezbollah (derivatively, therefore, also to Russia and Syria). Still, Qatar, home of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and the U.S. Air-War facility at Al Udeid Air Base,[12] sends troops to fight against Iran-backed militias in the Yemen civil war, a conflict in which Iran and Saudi Arabia support different sides. Most publicly, perhaps, several Arab states accuse Qatar of sponsoring terrorism,[13] including al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, and Afghan Taliban. Turkey, however, supports Qatar.[14]

For Israel, necessarily confronted with such endless complexity, the most overriding security mandate is still not difficult to identify. To begin, the country’s security planning officials must prepare to look in several different strategic directions at once, and then to make further judgments about (1) expected axes of regional conflict, and (2) corresponding opportunities for “force multipliers.”[15] These judgments, in turn, would  involve mutually supportive applications of technology, both for maximizing Israeli deterrent effectiveness, and for ensuring Israel’s much needed superiority in cyber-defense and cyber-war.

To be sure, IDF and MOD planners are keenly aware of these responsibilities, and are likely well ahead of Israel’s adversaries on all such competitive dimensions of regional military progress. At the same time, among other concerns, they must insistently query themselves about any foreseeable effects of  “Cold War II.” More exactly, they must ask, “How will such growing rivalry between Washington and Moscow impact pertinent Middle Eastern security issues, and how, then, should Jerusalem best respond”?

For now, what is not certain is that the critical intellectual resources needed to combat existential threats to Israel are being suitably directed in appropriate policy directions. In the final analysis, Israel’s physical survival will demand a substantial triumph of “mind over mind,” not just of “mind over matter.” This required primacy of intellect in war is not in any way new, novel or contemporary. It was, in fact, already well understood by Greek and Macedonian armies more than two thousand years ago.[16]

“In a dark time,” says the American poet, Theodore Roethke, “the eye begins to see.” Today, in threatening an insidiously encroaching “darkness,” the enemy nuclear challenge should be starkly visualized and fully acknowledged in Israel. Israel’s preemption prospects are essentially disappearing, and Jerusalem already understands that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of 14 July 2015 (the Vienna Iran Pact) could represent little more than a diplomatic holding pattern.

History takes few sharp turns. Every state’s first obligation is still the assurance of protection. Always, following Hugo Grotius, the seventeenth-century founder of modern international law, innocent civilian life must be preserved.[17]

Among other things, Israel must continue to remind the world that nuclear weapons states are not all created equal. For now, Israel’s nuclear forces remain deliberately ambiguous and undeclared. This is not for any manipulative reasons of legal deception or operational subterfuge. On the contrary, these “bombs in the basement” have purposefully never been brandished in any threatening fashion by Israel’s civilian or military leaders.

This non-belligerent national strategic posture is fully evident. Prima facie, it is incontestable.

Israel is not Iran.  Israel has never called for wiping any other state “off the map.” Israel’s presumptive nuclear weapons exist only to protect the Jewish state from certain extraordinary or existential forms of aggression.

Quite literally, these “ambiguous” weapons serve only to prevent another Jewish genocide, and various corollary crimes against humanity.[18] Should Israel ever yield to intermittently incessant pressures to join the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it might as well agree to sign its own collective death warrant. As one may extrapolate from the following argument, this is not hyperbole, but merely a harshly realistic assessment of the overall security situation for a country smaller than America’s Lake Michigan.

In authoritative law, war and genocide need not be mutually exclusive. Reciprocally, Israel’s nuclear deterrent force would never be used except in defensive reprisal for certain massive enemy first strike aggressions. In practice, this means enemy attacks involving nuclear, and/or (perhaps) particular kinds of biological weapons.

For the time being, none of Israel’s enemies is nuclear, but this relatively benign status of Jerusalem’s adversaries could change rapidly. The 2015 JCPOA will likely have no meaningful long-term  constraining effects upon Iranian nuclearization, and its apparent inadequacies could also encourage, perhaps in the similarly longer-term, certain reciprocal Sunni state nuclearizations. In principle, at least, this could mean a nuclear Saudi Arabia, as well as a nuclear Egypt.

If, one day, it should have to face genuinely nuclear enemies, whether Shiite or Sunni (or both),  Israel could then choose to rely upon threatening its own nuclear weapons to reduce the risks of unconventional war and destruction, but only insofar as the newly-nuclear enemy state or states, or “hybrid” would remain (1) rational; and (2) convinced that Israel would retaliate “nuclearly” if attacked with nuclear, and/or other devastating (biological) weapons.

There is something else. A “Cold War II” between Russia and the United States, coinciding with an expanding regional chaos, could (1) effectively “re-test” earlier expressions of superpower nuclear deterrence; and (2) directly impact Israel’s critical power position in the region.[19]  The impact on Israeli safety and security of any such resurrected era of “bipolarity” could then stem from more-or-less unexpected directions, including a potentially devastating diminution of U.S. military power from the Middle East. It’s not clear, for example, that Mr. Trump’s seemingly visceral enhancement of Saudi strength vis-à-vis Qatar – including the “Sunni NATO” proposed by the American president – will in any fashion help the United States.

Whether for reasons of miscalculation, accident, unauthorized capacity to fire, outright irrationality, or the presumed imperatives of “Jihad,” an enemy state in this fevered neighborhood could sometime opt to launch a nuclear first-strike against Israel in spite of the Jewish State’s own secure and recognizable nuclear capability.[20] Significantly, a Cold War I type of “Mutual Assured Destruction” (a so-called “balance of terror”) might not be reproducible in a proliferating Middle East.[21] This conclusion could become even more distressing if the region should remain in the disconcertingly fevered grip of a steadily expanding chaos.[22]

There exists a reasonably predictable dialectic. After any enemy nuclear aggression, Israel would respond with a nuclear retaliatory strike. Although nothing is yet publicly known about Israel’s precise targeting doctrine, such a reprisal would probably be launched against the aggressor’s capital city, and/or against similarly high-value urban targets. For certain, there could be no ascertainable assurances, in response to this sort of potentially genocidal aggression, that Israel would limit itself to striking back against exclusively military targets.

What if enemy first strikes were to involve “only” chemical and/or “minor” biological weapons? In that case, Israel might still launch a proportionate nuclear reprisal, but this “limited” choice would depend largely upon Israel’s own antecedent expectations of follow-on aggression, and on its associated determinations of comparative damage-limitation. Should Israel absorb “only” a massive conventional first-strike, a nuclear retaliation could not be ruled out.

This sobering conclusion is convincing, so long as: (1) the aggressor were perceived to hold nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction in reserve; and/or (2) Israel’s leaders were to believe that non-nuclear retaliations could not prevent national annihilation. In this connection, recognizing Israel’s notably small size, the calculated threshold of existential harms would be determinably far lower than Israel’s total physical destruction.

Of course, facing imminent existential attacks, Israel could sometime decide to preempt enemy aggression with conventional forces. In this narrative, the targeted state’s response could then effectively determine Israel’s subsequent moves. Most assuredly, if this response were in any way nuclear, Israel would undertake some form or other of nuclear counter-retaliation.

If this enemy retaliation were to involve chemical and/or biological weapons, Israel might also plan a quantum escalatory initiative. After all, this particular sort of escalation dominance could be presumptively required for the secure preservation of Israel’s intra-war deterrent.

It is almost inconceivable that Israel would ever decide to preempt enemy state aggression with a nuclear defensive strike. While particular circumstances could arise where such a defensive strike would still be completely rational, and also be lawful, according to the authoritative 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, it remains improbable that Israel would ever permit itself to reach such all-or-nothing circumstances. It should also be noted here that Israel remains meaningfully pledged to the “purity of arms” (Tohar HaNeshek, in Hebrew), and thus to very strict and sincere compliance with humanitarian international law.

The primary point of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be deterrence ex ante, not preemption, or reprisal ex post. If, however, as we have already seen, nuclear weapons should ever be introduced into a conflict between Israel and one or more of the several states that wish to destroy it, some form of nuclear war fighting could ensue.

Clearly, for Israel, both nuclear and non-nuclear preemptions of enemy unconventional aggressions could sometime lead to nuclear exchanges. This would depend, in part, upon the effectiveness and breadth of Israeli targeting, the surviving number of enemy nuclear weapons, and the willingness of enemy leaders to risk Israeli nuclear counter-retaliations. The likelihood of nuclear exchanges would seemingly be greatest where potential Arab and/or Iranian aggressors had previously been allowed to deploy ever-larger numbers of unconventional weapons with impunity, that is, without eliciting any appropriate and still-effective Israeli preemptions or without any binding treaty impediments.

Should ill-considered enemy nuclear deployments ever be allowed, Israel could conceivably forfeit any once-residual non-nuclear preemption option. Then, its only alternatives to a nuclear preemption could be: (1) a no-longer viable conventional preemption; or (2) a decision to effectively do nothing, thereby basing its continued national security on (hopefully) still-credible long-term threats of nuclear deterrence. In the final analysis, any such deterrence-based decision could require substantial “back-up” by reducing Israel’s traditional posture of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” (the bomb in the basement) and by further augmenting Israel’s sea-based (submarine) nuclear deterrent.[23]

Soon, Israeli planners will need to determine the precise extent and subtlety with which Israel should begin to back away, in increments, from deliberate nuclear ambiguity. In general terms, these decisions should reference portions of the country’s nuclear doctrine, as well as pertinent subsidiary intentions and capabilities. Ultimately, the purpose of any such disclosures should be to persuade prospective attackers that Israel’s nuclear weapons are both usable and penetration-capable.

The success of Israel’s cumulative effort here will depend not only upon its particular choice of targeting doctrine (“counter value” or “counter force”), but also upon the extent to which this critical choice is made evident to enemy states and possible sub-state surrogates, in a timely and believable fashion,.

In essence, IDF planners will need to understand that removing the bomb from Israel’s metaphoric “basement” could enhance the country’s nuclear deterrent only to the extent that it would enlarge enemy perceptions of secure and capable Israeli nuclear forces. From the standpoint of successful Israeli nuclear deterrence, IDF planners must always proceed on the assumption that perceived willingness is always just as important as perceived capability. Always, one without the other must be inadequate.

For now,  Israel’s most urgent security threats would appear to stem from several assorted sources of Arab and Iranian-backed terrorism. Over time, however, these legitimately grievous dangers could  pale in comparison to various threats of enemy WMD attacks, especially regional nuclear aggressions. It follows that Israel must continue to consider every possible means of blunting such nuclear threats, including preemption (anticipatory self-defense),[24] deterrence, and ballistic missile defense.[25]

At first glance, such advice may appear utterly banal, or even markedly self-evident. What is unclear, however, and by no means easy to do, is calculating the complex and nuanced manner in which these three intersecting forms of “remedy” should actually be configured. In other words, how, precisely, should this auspicious manner of safety now be best determined and helpfully expressed?

For Jerusalem, this is assuredly the most single vital question. Amid a broad variety of threatening circumstances, Israel must always remain focused on unmistakably existential threats, especially those enemy activities that could sometime even involve nuclear weapons. To act otherwise might create reassuring feelings of safety in the short run, but only at the unacceptable cost of facing a vastly more injurious long-term insecurity.

At times, valuable strategic truth can emerge only through paradox. For Israel, now confronting a challenging future of both terrorism and war, these may already be such confusing times. To respond gainfully, Israel should first discover its most durable metaphor in the revealing dichotomy of civilization versus barbarism, and then do whatever is needed to side conclusively with the former.

In the end, this necessary alignment will require Israel’s military planners to fashion an illuminating “avant-garde”[26] in strategic thought, a deeply creative orientation that could continually help synthesize evolving military analyses into a suitably dynamic process. However it chooses to proceed, Israel should never fail to understand that the avoidance or prevention of an enemy nuclear attack – whether expressed as a deliberate bolt-from-the-blue, or as a result of escalation or accident – must represent the country’s very highest priority.[27]

In certain foreseeable circumstances, vital strategies and tactics for Israel could prove both indispensable and inconceivable. Undoubtedly, these grievously perplexing circumstances could have the markings of a literally unbearable and irremediable dilemma. Nonetheless, even in such exceedingly complex strategic matters, truth may unexpectedly emerge through paradox, and once still- unrecognized elements of avant garde thinking could come promisingly to the fore.

To best permit such a prospectively eleventh-hour rescue opportunity, Israel’s military planners must continuously bear in mind that the country’s most critical future battlegrounds are apt to lie not in usual and more tangible territorial geographies, but rather in certain manifestly non-territorial domains of intellect, analysis, and  “mind.”[28] Although largely counter-intuitive (and assuredly quite distant from the generals’ long-favored ways of looking at contemporary battlegrounds), this still-latent avant garde orientation represents a potentially best way to avoid any future Israeli “Waste Land.”

Originally published at Scholars For Peace In The Middle East
Reprinted with permission from the author


[1] Earlier, Israel acted expeditiously and  legally to prevent this prospective threat with its Operation Orchard, launched back in September 2007. Today, there is tangible evidence that Syria may be hiding an underground nuclear facility at Qusayr, and that this clandestine site could  be the beneficiary of vital assistance from North Korea (which had provided earlier support in constructing the Israel-destroyed al Kibar reactor on September 6, 2007.) In late March 2018, the Institute for Science and International Security, a nonprofit non-governmental organization, issued a report warning that an expanding Syrian facility at Qusayr should be promptly inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA.

[2] See S. Samuel C. Rajiv, “India and Israel: Strategic Partners on the Move,”  BESA Perspectives,  Paper No. 728, January 30, 2017, Israel.

[3] Such terror has early and formal roots in the Palestinian National Covenant. Calling officially for sustained Arab violence against Israel, this document was adopted in 1964, three years before the 1967 Six Day War. This means, significantly, that the PLO’s core guidance on terror was first published – together with its markedly explicit references to the annihilation of Israel – three years before there were any “occupied territories,.” For the Palestinian Authority, which until October, 2015, had still officially agreed to accept a “Two-State Solution,” this inherently lawless position was part of a much broader strategy of incorporating all of Israel into “Palestine.” This irredentist incorporation, moreover, was already codified on all PA maps. The most unambiguous Palestinian call for the utter removal of Israel remains the PLO’s “Phased Plan” of June 9, 1974. This Plan represents an unhidden commitment to carry out various certifiable crimes against humanity.

[4] Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, wrote about the self-preservation obligation as generic for absolutely all nations. Writing in his Opinion on the French Treaties (April 28, 1793), Jefferson opined: “The nation itself, bound necessarily to whatever it’s preservation and safety require, cannot enter into engagements contrary to its indispensable obligations.” See: Merrill D. Peterson, The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello Monograph Series, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1993, p. 115.

[5] Non-nuclear preemption has, of course, figured importantly in previous Israeli strategic calculations.  This was most glaringly apparent in the wars of 1956 and 1967, and also in the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.  Significantly, it was essentially the failure to preempt in October 1973 that contributed to heavy Israeli losses on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts during the Yom Kippur war, and almost brought about an Israeli defeat.  During January, May, and October 2013, Israel, understandably apprehensive about Damascus’ supply of military materials to Syria’s Hezbollah surrogates in Lebanon, preemptively struck pertinent hard targets within Syria itself. For a jurisprudential assessment of these undeclared but still-appropriate expressions of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Striking Hezbollah-Bound Weapons in Syria: Israel’s Actions Under International Law,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, Online,  August 26, 2013.

[6] See the 1996 Advisory Opinion on Nuclear Weapons by the U.N.’s International Court of Justice.

[7] See: Bennett Ramberg, “Should Israel Close Dimona? The Radiological Consequences of a Military Strike on Israel’s Plutonium-Production Reactor?” Arms Control Today, May, 2008, pp. 6-13.

[8] On a planet where evil generally remains “banal,” the core origins of war, terror and genocide lie not in monstrous individual persons, but rather in whole societies (collectivities of persons) that actively despise the individual. In all such societies, as we may learn especially from Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Ortega y’ Gassett, Hesse and Jung, the “mass” is everything, and inevitably inclines the all-encompassing state toward starkly adversarial foreign relations. For Israel, an always prospective victim of such mass societies, it is imperative to recognize these underlying bases of enemy hostility as fully as possible. As  long as enemy states are driven by the mass, they will regard themselves, as Hegel had earlier predicted, as the “march of God in the world,” and quickly become, as Nietzsche says in Zarathustra, “…the coldest of all cold monsters.”

[9] See Ultimately, the issue of Palestinian statehood could embrace potentially existential harms. This is because of the associated risks of losing “strategic depth,” Israeli losses that would literally be true by definition. Here, Israel’s military planners should take care to recall ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun-Tzu’s timeless observation, in his The Art of War: “If there is no place to go, it is fatal terrain” (Chapter 11, “Nine Terrains”).

[10] In essence, hypothesizing the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[11] On April 2, 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated that Israel has a “right” to its homeland (Washington AFP). This represented a significantly tangible change from more traditional Saudi positions on Israel.

[12] Al Udeid Air Base has been the strategic staging point for many U.S. raids/airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.

[13] Riyadh, of course, has its own very visible history of support for terrorism, and has spent perhaps 100 billion US dollars to spread Wahhabism, the preferred Saudi brand of Sunni Islam. Further, some 2500 Saudis are reputed to remain in ISIS ranks. See, on these points:  Giancarlo Elia Valori, “Between Qatar and Iran: Rehearsals for a Shiite-Sunni War,” Israel Defense, June 11, 2017.

[14] Qatar is also the home of U.S. Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC).

[15] A “force multiplier” is a collection of related characteristics, other than weapons and force size, that may render a military organization more effective in war. It may include generalship; tactical surprise; tactical mobility; or even certain command and control system enhancements. It could also include imaginative and less-costly forms of preemption, such as assassination or targeted killing; also sabotage. Looking ahead, it could certainly embrace integrated components of cyber-defense and cyber-warfare, including a reciprocal capacity to prevent or blunt any incoming cyber attacks. This means, for Israel, that even very smart “worms” could become effective force multipliers.

[16] See, for example: F.E. Adcock’s military classic, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1962), 109 pp.

[17] See also: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan: “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign, is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.” (See Chapter XXI).

[18] For definition of Crimes Against Humanity, see: Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis Powers and Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Done at London, August 8, 1945, 59 Stat. 1544, 82 U.N.T.S. 279 (entered into force, August 8, 1945).

[19] See, Louis René Beres, “Staying Strong: Enhancing Israel’s Essential Strategic Options,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, June 13, 2014.

[20] For early accounts, by this author, of nuclear attack effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy ((Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1986).

[21] See, on this question:  Louis René Beres, “Like Two Scorpions in a Bottle: Could Israel and a Nuclear Iran Coexist in the Middle East,” The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 8, No. 1., 2014, pp. 23-32; and, by the same author, “Facing Myriad Enemies: Core Elements of Israeli Nuclear Deterrence,” The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Fall/Winter 2013, Vol. XX., Issue 1, pp. 17-30.

[22] See Louis René Beres, “Israel’s Survival Amid Expanding Chaos,” Oxford University Press Blog, October 3, 2015. See also, by same author: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed., 2018).

[23] See, on this issue: Louis René Beres and (Admiral/USN/ret.) Leon “Bud” Edney, “Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: A Larger Role for Submarine-Basing,” The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2014; and Professor Beres and Admiral Edney, “A Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent for Israel,” Washington Times, September 5, 2014. Admiral Edney was NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic.

[24] The customary legal right of “anticipatory self-defense” has its modern origins in The Caroline incident, which revolved around the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 against British rule in Upper Canada. Following this incident, a serious threat of armed attack became generally accepted as justification for certain preemptive actions. In a formal exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require a prior armed attack. Military preemption, therefore, was to be judged permissible, at least as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” By extrapolation, today, in the nuclear age, this permissibility ought to be of an even greater latitude. See: The Caroline, 2 John B. Moore, A Digest of International Law 412 (1906); reprinted in Louis Henkin, et. al., International law: Cases and Materials 622 (2nd ed., 1987).

[25] See, on this issue:  Louis René Beres and (Major-General/IDF/Res.) Isaac Ben-Israel, “Think Anticipatory Self-Defense,” The Jerusalem Post, October 22, 2007; Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,” Washington Times, June 10, 2007; Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009; and Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “Defending Israel from Iranian Nuclear Attack,” The Jewish Press, March 13, 2013. See also: Louis René Beres and (General/USAF/ret.)John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?” The Atlantic, August 9, 2012; Professor Beres and General Chain, “Living With Iran,” BESA Center for Strategic Studies, Israel, May 2014 (General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command);  and Louis René Beres and (Lt.General/USAF/ret.) Thomas McInerney, “Obama’s Inconceivable, Undesirable, Nuclear-Free Dream,” U.S. News & World Report, August 29, 2013.

[26] See, in this regard, Louis René Beres, “Improving Israeli Military Strategy Through Avant Garde Analysis,” BESA Perspectives, Paper No. 779, March 25, 2018. We normally consider “avant-garde” in specific relationship to an artistic exploration, but it can also be exploited in other areas of learning, including military strategy, from which the term actually originates. A French expression, it is by its very nature activist, and suggests, in any context, the energizing idea of a “marching toward.” Among other things, this idea reveals a continuously dynamic and creative process. Avant-garde, therefore, is not merely a static end-point of any accumulated facts, or just a fixed result of some fully-completed academic inquiry.

[27] In this connection, Jerusalem must continuously bear in mind that the use of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world could impact the probability of later nuclear attacks upon Israel. Operationally, this suggests that Israel’s core nuclear strategy must be shaped not only by plausible scenarios of direct attack upon the Jewish State, but also by certain recognizable nuclear developments that lie outside of its most immediate and narrowly-geographic ambit of strategic concern.  See, by this author: Louis René Beres, “The `Mind Over Mind’ Battle in the Nuclear Theater,” Israel Defense, September 25, 2016.

[28] See infra, F.E. Adcock, on the enduringly useful ancient Greek definitions of war as preeminently struggles of “mind over mind.”

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.

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