Preserving The Third Temple Commonwealth

Israel's Nuclear Strategy

By Louis Rene Beres
Professor of Political Science and International Law
Purdue University

An address to the Department of War Studies
King's College, London, October 16, 1996

The Third Temple Commonwealth - a shorthand expression for the current State of Israel - is now in grave difficulty; indeed, it is in authentically existential danger. Nowhere is it written that Israel is necessarily forever, that this State will endure in spite of what it does or does not do to preserve itself or what its many enemies do to destroy it. Right now, at this uniquely perilous point in its history, Israel faces a serious threat of annihilation. (Not hyperbole.)

This newest enemy state - Palestine - will enhance the incentives of various Islamic enemy states to prepare for major war against the Jewish State

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I recognize, of course, that this ominous expectation is contrary to the conventional wisdom about the Middle East (the cliched wisdom of the pundits and television commentators) perhaps even counterintuitive.

Israel, after all, has nuclear weapons (so how could it possibly be weak?). Israel, after all, has a splendid army, excellent equipment, supportive allies, and so on. But these qualities (more or less exaggerated) pale in comparison to other pertinent factors.

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Israel remains despised in the Islamic world, so much so - in fact - that ancient religious hatreds now animate very specific policies (within Israel, in the territories/Palestine, and in the Islamic states).

Israel's armed forces (IDF) are deteriorating and are in generally very low morale.

Ironically, Israel is itself participating in the creation of another enemy state - carved out of its own current "strategic depth" - that will become a propitious staging area for both war and terrorism. This newest enemy state - Palestine - will enhance the incentives of various Islamic enemy states to prepare for major war against the Jewish State.

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Several enemy states are currently progressing in the development of nuclear weapons. All of these states, of course, already have substantial arsenals of chemical and biological weapons. Israel's nuclear weapons appear to be uninformed by any sophisticated strategic doctrine. The "bomb" remains, more or less (recall Shimon Peres' remarks about negotiating nuclear weapons) in the "basement," but nothing has been done to explore prospective benefits of selective disclosure or the relative merits of countervalue/counterforce doctrines. (Note: My article in Efraim Karsh's journal, ISRAEL AFFAIRS, on "Israel's Bomb in the Basement: A Second Look.").

Israel's nuclear weapons are unlikely to deter anything but the most extraordinarily large (existential ) attacks. Hence, they would almost certainly do little or nothing to prevent smaller-order attacks that could, still, escalate to catastrophic war. Clearly, these weapons can do nothing to prevent or limit anti-Israel terrorism. (Britain, too, has nuclear weapons - and a growing terrorism problem).

Israel faces growing instances of terrorism, including perhaps "higher-order" terrorism (chemical/biological/nuclear) without any coherent strategy of counter-terrorism and without any "plan" other than continuing territorial surrenders "mandated" by Oslo I and II. (Again, as an aside - Britain too could face higher-order terrorism.) (I wrote the early books on nuclear terrorism.)

This peace Process is an oxymoron, a self-contradiction, a paradoxical conjunction of terms that would only seal the fate of the victim. (I have written very widely on why this is so.)

Israel seeks to preserve itself today essentially through a strategy of deterrence - both conventional and unconventional - but it has done little to protect itself should deterrence fail. It has, of course, sought some safety through various ATBM measures (especially "Arrow"), but these active defense measures can never be relied upon for real safety.

Israel has effectively forsworn the preemption option - an option that was exercised previously on several occasions (e.g., Six Day War; Osiraq) - for both tactical and jurisprudential reasons: (1) Tactically, it has let too much time pass to now be able to mount a defensive first-strike (anticipatory self-defense) against pertinent hard targets (e.g., IRAN); (2) Jurisprudentially, it has entered into quasi-treaty arrangements with the Palestinians which now make it politically untenable to preempt (because of the expected world public outcry).

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Recently I examined a short story by Franz Kafka, THE VULTURE, with a view toward extrapolating some strategic insights for present-day Israel. In this story, a man is being destroyed, slowly and painfully, by a fierce and predatory bird. Repeatedly, the bird hacks at its victim, immobilizing him systematically and purposefully, piece by piece by piece.

The man, of course, has not allowed this process of sequential dismemberment to proceed without some form of defensive reaction. Fearing above all for his face, for his very being, he has preferred to sacrifice his feet. Rather than confront his enemy head-on, frontally, with at least some hope of emerging victorious, he has calculated, instead, quite rationally he maintains, the cost-effectiveness of appeasement.

In the end, his "rational" calculations prove altogether erroneous. This parable has remarkable import for Israel and for the so-called Peace Process.

The lure of carrion only inflames the vulture.

This peace Process is an oxymoron, a self-contradiction, a paradoxical conjunction of terms that would only seal the fate of the victim. (I have written very widely on why this is so.)

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How can the Third Temple Commonwealth be preserved (a preservation not to be taken for granted)?

I now wish to explore this question with particular reference to Israel's nuclear weapons and strategy. Ironically, while this question is one of the most terrible urgency, little has really been done in Israel to provide a suitable answer (very, very little).

Within Israel's universities and centers for strategic studies, no highly generalized systems of theory have yet been articulated to link Third Temple Commonwealth survival to nuclear weapons and strategy. While Israel desperately needs a strategic dialectic to guide its nuclear directions, Israeli planners and academics continue to be satisfied with essentially reportorial and discursive accounts of power balances, weapons inventories and historical curiosities.

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If Israeli planners were to start to ask the right questions, they would understand, quickly, what Israel is really up against. Lacking an effective ATBM capability, and seeking to deploy such a capability by the year 2000, Israel's enemies understand that - optimally - they would strike within the next several years - once their own hard- target counterforce capabilities were sufficiently substantial.

Looking back at the 1991 Gulf War, it is sobering to point out that Israel would have been grievously harmed had Saddam's Scuds not been so primitive. Neither Israel alone, nor Israel fortified with American patriot missiles, made a difference.

The only thing that saved Israel was dumb luck - a point that I made in a lecture at the Dayan Forum to co-speaker Maj. Gen. Avihu Ben-Nun, without any objection by the Gulf War Israeli Air Force commander.

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Also sobering is that Israel's enemies might not always conform to the rules of rationality - rules that are unambiguously essential to the operation of nuclear deterrence.

Should, for example, Iranian leaders decide that the Jihad benefits of striking Israel are great enough, they could be willing at some point to absorb an expected and overwhelming Israel nuclear reprisal as the tolerable cost of eliminating the infidel Jewish "cancer." (favorite metaphor).

This means that Israel's only chance to survive could lie in an effective preemptive attack against pertinent enemy hard target assets (probably Iranian), a chance that is now almost certainly already lost - and a chance that was overlooked largely because of the presumed benefits of a so- called Peace Process.

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There is, significantly, an important linkage - a distinct synergy - between Israel's growing vulnerability to civil rebellion and Israel's vulnerability to enemy missile attacks. Although current military thought seems to ignore such a synergy, because missile capabilities seemingly exist independently of intranational circumstances, Israel must be understood as a system.

Here, in this system, pain and fatigue can be cumulative, occasioning an incremental deterioration of private and public life that is detectable in enemy capitals. Recognizing such deterioration, enemy states could begin to take more seriously the prospect of missile launches against the hated Jewish State.

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A year or so before he died, Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv, a former Chief of Aman, the IDF Intelligence Branch, told me that he agreed fully with my sober assessment of Iran, stating (I recall his exact words, which I repeated to my wife that evening on the telephone: "Rene, I smell fire!")

Israel is very much like an individual human organism.

Like an individual human being, it will not "die" from minor "insults," but - over time - the cumulative effect of such insults may weaken its "immune system," leading pertinent "pathogens" to take root and destroy the whole "body." Over time, terrorist attacks of the sort that we have witnessed these past several years (or even much more substantial assaults) could cause many Israelis to become unglued, an outcome that would also take its toll in IDF planning and morale. (Hamas understands this far better than does Israel).

Sensing, also over time, Israel's incremental surrender to despair, Islamic state enemies - again, most likely, Iran - will have new reasons to strike first.

If such strikes were launched before Israeli ATBM deployments, and before Israel's nuclear weapons could be deployed at sea, they could have a reasonably high probability of destroying the Third Temple Commonwealth altogether - and possibly before Israel could respond with enormously destructive reprisals.

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For those who care about Israel, this is not a pretty picture. (And it is not a picture consistent with the unwise conventional wisdom.) It is a picture that becomes even less pretty when we consider the possibilities of "higher-order" terrorism (chemical/biological/nuclear) that could follow an improbable termination of the Oslo Process or a probable continuation of that codified expression of Israeli self-destruction. (Think, here, of the effect such terrorism would have today in Britain).

The Peace Process has ushered in some irreversible harms.

Should PM Netanyahu cease Israel's territorial surrenders, Hamas terrorism would likely be augmented by PLO terrorism. If the PM should continue with territorial surrenders, Israel will face a continuation of Hamas terror and the synergistic threat of more or less imminent war (including, in the future, unconventional war).

Really, so many mistakes have already been made - and so many mistakes that are irremediable - that plausible scenarios for long-term survival may well be slim. But Israel has no real choice; its planners must seek out these scenarios and try to identify them.

Where, then, should Israel go from here?

From the standpoint of nuclear weapons and strategy, Israeli planners should be reminded of the particular functions played by these weapons and of the imperative not to negotiate them away. (An Israel without nuclear weapons would not endure very long.)

There are seven such functions:

1. Deterrence of large conventional attacks
2. Deterrence of all levels of unconventional attacks
3. Preemption of enemy nuclear attacks
4. Support of conventional preemptions agaiunst enemy state nuclear assets
5. Support of conventional preemptions against enemy state nonnuclear assets
6. Nuclear warfighting
7. The "Samson Option"

There is insufficient time this afternoon to explore these functions exhaustively (I do this in a recent manuscript that I can send along to anyone who might be interested.) But let me speak briefly of the last two functions: Nuclear warfighting and the "Samson Option."

First, the Peace Process, because of its overall degradation of Israel's security, will likely enlarge Israel's need for nuclear weapons as actual implements for warfighting. The reason is simply that the Process is enlarging Israel's need for nuclear weapons to fulfil deterrence and preemption options, and because these options might not be fulfilled successfully.

Deterrence and preemption strategies could fail, even though they had been supported by nuclear weapons, and Israel's continued survival might then require the weapons and tactics needed for nuclear warfighting.

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How might the Peace Process impact this requirement? This would depend, in part, on the manner in which the Process had affected Israel's acquisition of appropriate weaponry.

Here, "appropriate" weaponry would likely mean high-precision, low-yield nuclear warheads that could reduce collateral damage to enemy state populations, and hypervelocity nuclear warheads that could best overcome enemy state active defenses.

Calculations here might also rest on the assumption that Israel would benefit from radio-frequency weapons, nuclear warheads that could be tailored to produce as much electromagnetic pulse as possible, thereby destroying electronics and communications over very wide areas.

So, the Peace Process could affect Israel's acquisition of appropriately "usable" nuclear weapons, and thereby satisfaction of its increased need for nuclear warfighting capabilities, to the extent that it would encourage Israel's deployment of such counterforce weapons.

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Now, to the "Samson Option."

Although such a use of nuclear weapons would, by definition, be catastrophic for Israel, Jerusalem is apt to prefer Samson to Masada; that is, to calculate that it would be better to "die with the Philistines" than to die alone.

Such a preference, however particular scholars might feel about it, could - where it would be stated openly and in advance - represent an integral part of Israel's six aforestated functions for nuclear weapons. Israeli preparations for last-resort operations could play a decisive role in enhancing Israeli nuclear deterrence, preemption and warfighting requirements.

Of course, the effectiveness of the Samson Option would depend upon its persuasiveness to pertinent enemy states.

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Permit me to conclude with a return to The Vulture, the predatory bird of Kafka's insightful parable.

At the very end of this tale - a cautionary tale for Israel - the bird "takes wing, leans back far to gain impetus, and then - like a javelin thrower, thrusts its beak through the victim's mouth, deep into him." Falling back, says the victim, "I was relieved to feel him (the vulture) drowning irretrievably in my blood, which was filling every depth, flooding every shore."

Israel, in the fashion of Kafka's victim, could bring down its enemies together with itself.

Faced with the end of the Third Temple Commonwealth, Israel's leaders and Israel's friends would curse the vulture, but it would be an indecipherable curse, a curse heard by no one

Perhaps, consistent with Samson, it could avoid dying alone.

But, but - while Islamic enemies of the Jewish State would "drown irretrievably" in the full fury of Israel's most terrible weapons - in the unspeakable lifeblood of a victim that has waited too long to ensure its survival - this fate would occasion no celebrations in Jerusalem (assuming that Jerusalem is still an Israeli city).

Faced with the end of the Third Temple Commonwealth, Israel's leaders and Israel's friends would curse the vulture, but it would be an indecipherable curse, a curse heard by no one.

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LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of fourteen books dealing with international relations and international law. Born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1945, he lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters, always in non-mainstream fashion.


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