A PALESTINIAN STATE AND
REGIONAL NUCLEAR WAR
Louis Rene Beres
Israel's Lukud Party has now formally resolved that "No Palestinian state will be established west of the Jordan River." This posture, of course, is clearly at odds with U.S. President George Bush's open support for a Palestinian state. Although it would be convenient for Israel to oblige the President on this matter, the American vision fails to understand an especially ominous consequence of another dictatorial Arab state: A Palestinian state - flanking the areas that contain 70% of Israel's population - would greatly heighten the prospect of catastrophic nuclear war in the Middle East.
A Palestinian state would utterly eliminate Israel's remaining strategic depth, giving the Israelis virtually no viable capacity to defend an already fragile land. Faced with a new enemy state resolutely committed to Israel's annihilation, Israel's leaders would have to undertake even more stringent methods of counterterrorism and self-defense against aggression. Various new forms of premption, known under international law as anticipatory self-defense, would be unavoidable.
Because the creation of a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel would raise the risk of regional nuclear war considerably, this newest enemy state should be viewed with real apprehension. Indeed, its creation could likely be a final step to bring an Islamic "Final Solution" to the region. After all, every Arab map of the Middle East already excludes Israel. Cartographically, Israel has already been expunged.
Architects of the Oslo Agreements had suggested all along that a "two-state solution" to the Palestinian problem would substantially reduce the risk of another major war in the Middle East. After all, we had always been told, the problem of stateless Palestinians is the source of all other problems between Israel and the Arabs. Once we have "justice" for Palestinians, the argument proceeded, Arab governments and Iran will begin to create area-wide stability and comprehensive peace settlements. Harmony shall then reign, more or less triumphantly, from the Mediterranean and Red Seas to the Persian Gulf.
But as we should have learned by now, especially from recurring Arab violations of the "peace process," the conventional Oslo wisdom was always unwise. For the most part, Iranian and Arab state inclinations to war against Israel have had absolutely nothing to do with the Palestinians. Even if Israel had continued to make all unilateral Oslo concessions, and had continued to adhere to unreciprocated agreements, these belligerent inclinations would have endured, especially from Syria, Iraq and Libya as well as from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
If Israel soon faces a new state of Palestine, the Jewish state's vulnerability to armed attack by hostile neighbors will increase markedly. If this diminished safety is accompanied by the spread of unconventional weapons to hostile states, which now seems certain, Israel could find itself confronting not only war, but genocide. It is also clear that Israel's own nuclear infrastructures will become increasingly vulnerable to surprise attack from Palestinian territories.
A new state of Palestine would preoccupy Israeli military forces to a much greater extent - much, much greater - than does the current "intifada". Even if it were able to resist takeover by one of the other Islamic states in the region, a takeover accomplished either directly or by insurgent surrogates, Palestine would surely become a favored launching-point for unconventional terrorism against Israel. Various promises notwithstanding, Islamic insurgents would continue to celebrate frenzied violence against Israel's women and children as the essence of "national liberation."
Recognizing an "improved" configuration of forces vis-a-vis Israel, a larger number of Islamic enemy states would calculate that they now confront a smaller, more beleaguered adversary. Further, they would understand that a coordinated effort by certain countries that possess or are in the process of acquiring pertinent ballistic missiles could possibly endanger Israel's very survival. Taken together with the fact that global support for Israel is always fickle, especially in perilous times like these, and that individual or combined chemical/biological/nuclear warfare capabilities could bring enormous harm to Israel, the creation of Palestine would tip the balance of power in the Middle East decisively. It is unlikely that Israel could physically survive next to a Palestinian state, a state that always defines itself as extending "from the Sea to the River."
The full strategic implications for Israel of an independent Palestine should now be carefully appraised. If, in the end, such independence becomes the cause of a nuclear war in the region, everyone, Palestinians as well as Jews, would lose. But how, exactly, would a nuclear war begin in the reconfigured Middle East? One possibility would be by Arab or Iranian first strikes against Israel. These strikes could be nuclear (although this would likely be several years away) or nonnuclear. In either scenario, Israel - especially if it feels dangerously close to defeat - might resort to nuclear retaliation.
Alternatively, Israel, believing that substantial enemy attack - chemical, biological, conventional, or nuclear - is imminent, could decide to preempt. If, as we might expect, this preemption were entirely nonnuclear, it could still fail to prevent the anticipated attack against Israel. Here, Israeli nuclear weapons, having failed in their mission to support conventional preemption by deterring enemy retaliation, might have to be used for purposes of nuclear warfighting. It is also plausible that certain Islamic states might transfer unconventional weapons assets to selected terror groups, leading to WMD terror attacks by Israel's nonstate enemies.
Israel has much to fear, more than any other state on the face of the earth. The people of Israel, not the people of "Palestine," are the only ones who must soon contemplate complete eradication from this strange and destructive planet. Threatened by a growing number of adversaries with ballistic missiles and with a corollary interest in nuclear warheads, Jerusalem should know that full and codified transformation of Judea/Samaria and Gaza into Palestine would provide its enemies with the means and the incentives to destroy the Jewish State once and for all.
Deprived of essential territorial integrity, and beset internally by hostile Arab citizens loyal only to "Palestine," Israel would become seriously vulnerable to total defeat. Anguished by a possible end to the Third Temple Commonwealth, the nation's leaders would begin to think seriously about nuclear weapons as a last resort (the so-called "Samson Option").
The Likud Party Resolution on a Palestinian state must be heeded. Otherwise, such a state, looking first very much like Lebanon, could wind up as Armageddon.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D. Princeton) is the author of SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1986) and many other major books and articles on nuclear weapons and nuclear war. His work on strategic matters is well-known to Israel's military and intelligence communities, to the Prime Minister and to the IDF General Staff.