BERES: Iran and ‘Palestine’ pose combined threat to Israel

Why final push toward Palestinian statehood needs scrutiny

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The Palestinian Authority, already raised by the U.N. General Assembly to the status of a “nonmember observer state,” will seek full sovereignty. Whether or not this final push to statehood will take place in collaboration with Hamas, or on an altogether discrete track, the result will inevitably be injurious to Israel. Significantly, although generally unrecognized, this danger will be enlarged by Iran’s nonstop progress to nuclear arms. This is the case even though Iran and “Palestine” might not choose to collaborate against Israel by any conscious ideological design or dint of policy.

Iranian nuclearization and Palestinian statehood do not represent separate threats to Israel. They are, instead, related and mutually reinforcing perils. It follows that Jerusalem must do whatever it can to proceed productively and proactively on both fronts simultaneously.

Among other things, Israel will need to enhance even further its multilayered active defenses. As long as any incoming rockets from Gaza, West Bank and Lebanon (Hezbollah) were to remain conventional, “leakage” might still be tolerable. But once these rockets were fitted with chemical and/or biological materials, such leakage could quickly prove intolerable.

Facing nuclear missiles, Israel’s “Arrow” ballistic-missile defense system would require a 100 percent reliability of interception against any incoming Iranian missiles. To achieve such a level of reliability, however, would simply not be possible.

Israel will need to update and refine its basic strategies of deterrence. At the same time, Israel’s leaders will have to accept that certain of its principal enemies might not always satisfy the criteria of rationality in world politics. In such improbable but nonetheless conceivable circumstances, jihadist adversaries in a future Palestine, Iran or Lebanon might refuse to back away from any contemplated aggressions against Israel. These enemies could even display such refusals in anticipation of a devastating Israeli reprisal.

Soon, Israel must take appropriate steps to ensure that it does not become the object of nonconventional aggressions, and that it can successfully avoid all forms of nonconventional conflict, with adversary states or with non-state foes. To meet this goal, it must retain recognizably far-reaching conventional superiority in weapons and manpower, and also complete sovereign control over the Jordan Valley.

Such retentions could reduce the overall likelihood of ever actually having to enter into a chemical, biological or nuclear exchange. Correspondingly, Israel should begin to move incrementally beyond its long-standing and increasingly perilous posture of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.” By shifting toward selective and partial kinds of “nuclear disclosure” — by taking its “bomb” out of the “basement,” in conspicuous phases — Israel could better ensure that its pertinent enemies would remain subject to Israeli nuclear deterrence.

Israeli planners will soon have to understand that the efficacy or credibility of their country’s nuclear deterrence posture could vary inversely with enemy views of Israeli nuclear destructiveness. However ironic or counterintuitive, enemy perceptions of a too-large or too-destructive Israeli nuclear deterrent force, or of an Israeli force that is not sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attacks, could undermine this deterrence posture. This would happen because the posture would have been rendered less convincing.

Also critical is that Israel’s current and prospective strategic adversaries will see the Jewish state’s nuclear retaliatory forces as “penetration capable.” This means forces that seem assuredly capable of penetrating any Arab or Iranian aggressor’s active defenses.

Israel should continue to strengthen its active defenses, but Jerusalem and Tel Aviv must also do everything possible to improve each critical and interpenetrating component of its nuanced deterrence posture. In this bewilderingly complex process of strategic dissuasion, the Israeli task may also need to include more explicit disclosures of nuclear targeting doctrine, and, accordingly, a steadily expanding role for cyberdefense and cyberwar. Even before undertaking such important refinements, Israel will need to systematically differentiate among adversaries that are presumably rational, irrational or “mad.”

The overall success of Israeli national deterrence strategies will be contingent upon having an informed prior awareness of enemy preferences, and also of enemy hierarchies of preferences.

In the final analysis, it is essential that Israeli planners approach all enemy threats as potentially interactive. Even if a soon-to-be-formalized state of Palestine would not find itself in the same ideological orbit as Iran — a distinctly probable conclusion, in view of steadily accelerating Shiite-Sunni fissions in the Middle East — the cumulative threat to Israel could still be far more perilous than the sum of its recognizable parts.

Louis Rene Beres is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University.

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