“The terrible ‘ifs’ accumulate”
– Winston Churchill, The World Crisis
Although a seemingly separate issue, the Middle East peace process cannot be properly assessed without considering the simultaneous impact of a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran, however unwitting, would enlarge the regional stability costs of a Palestinian state – any Palestinian state. More precisely, should Iranian nuclearization and Palestine emerge at more or less the same time, the cumulatively corrosive impact would be substantially greater than the mere sum of these “parts.”
Since 2012, the Palestinian Authority has been recognized by the UN as a “Nonmember Observer State.” Looking ahead, if Fatah (PA) and Hamas are able to restore a minimally functional level of cooperation and “unity,” a fully sovereign Palestine could emerge. In notably short order, this 23rd Arab state would rapidly become an optimal platform for expanded war and terrorism, against Israel, and also against additional area allies of the United States.
Both Israel and the US must remain keenly aware of what the generals would call “force multipliers.” Among assorted other regional consequences, virulent synergies between Iranian nuclearization and Palestinian statehood could create an existential threat to the Jewish state. Oddly, these potentially lethal and multiplying interactive effects are unhidden, yet largely unrecognized. What exactly might these destabilizing effects be? To respond, Jerusalem and Washington must first consider pertinent geo-strategic context. In the steadily unraveling Middle East, certain core adversarial patterns remain unchanged. Most conspicuously, Israel endures under still-coordinated international pressures to 1) renounce its undeclared nuclear forces, and 2) reciprocally, to join in a disingenuously proffered “Nuclear Weapon Free- Zone.”
If Iran and its allies should come to believe that Israel had been sufficiently weakened by their “nonproliferation” demands, a previously calculated annihilation strategy against Israel could proceed. Seamlessly, perhaps, this military strategy could advance from terror to mega-terror, and, in successively added increments, from mega-terror, to war, to mega-war.
With US President Barack Obama’s explicit and continuing support, nuclear weapons are now widely regarded as destabilizing, or even as inherently evil. In the specific case of Israel, however, the recognizable possession of such weapons could actually sometime become all that protects civilian populations from catastrophic aggression. Doubtlessly, maintaining successful nuclear deterrence – whether still ambiguous, or newly disclosed – will ultimately prove indispensable to Israel’s survival.
In its Advisory Opinion of July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled: “The Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense....”
Where “the very survival of a State would be at stake,” continued the ICJ, even the actual use of nuclear weapons could at times be permissible. There is more. Israel is not Iran. Israel makes no threats of aggressive war or genocide. None. For the moment, at least, it does not even publicly acknowledge its advanced nuclear capabilities.
Geo-strategic truth may be counterintuitive. Not all nuclear weapon states are created equal. Not all states with nuclear capability are automatically a menace. Some may even offer a distinct benefit to world peace.
On its face, the plainly small size of Israel precludes national tolerance of any nuclear attack. This point has even been made openly by a senior Iranian official, who stated ominously: “Israel is a one-bomb state.”
Israel is less than half the size of America’s Lake Michigan.
To be sure, Israel’s nuclear weapons are not the problem. In the Middle East, the only persistent source of war and terrorism remains a far-reaching and still-unreconstructed Arab/Islamist commitment to “excise the Jewish cancer.” Faced with this literally genocidal threat, Israel and its few allies will finally need to understand that the “Road Map” is just another enemy expedient. To wit, on official Palestinian maps – which all describe Israel proper as “Occupied Palestine” – the Jewish state has already been eliminated. With these disingenuous maps, a cartographic genocide has already been imposed.
What about Iran? With a more openly declared nuclear weapons posture, Israel could more reliably deter a rational Iranian enemy’s unconventional attacks, and also most of its large conventional aggressions.
With such a suitably updated posture, Israel, if necessary, could launch appropriately non-nuclear preemptive strikes against Iranian hard targets, and against associated counterforce capabilities.
Significantly, these assets could otherwise threaten Israel’s physical survival with impunity. In the absence of acknowledging its possession of certain survivable and “penetration-capable” nuclear weapons, therefore, Israeli acts of anticipatory self-defense would most likely represent the onset of much wider war. The reason is simple: There would then remain no aptly convincing threat of Israeli counter-retaliation.
The decision to bring its “bomb” out of the “basement” would not be an easy one for Israel. Nonetheless, the realities of facing not only a nuclear- capable Iran, but also other potential nuclear aspirants in the region – in compelling synergies with anti-Israel terrorists – obligate a serious reconsideration of “deliberate ambiguity.”
As corollary, Jerusalem would need to clarify that its multiple-level active defenses will always operate in tandem with its decisive nuclear retaliations.
What about “Palestine,” the other half of a prospectively corrosive synergy? Soon, it will soon become apparent that Islamic State (IS) and other related jihadist fighters plan to move against certain state and sub-state enemies.
Already, in fact, IS is challenging Hamas control of Gaza, and is preparing to march westward, across the vulnerable country of Jordan.
In time, of course, IS forces are likely to find themselves “at the “gates” of the West Bank (Judea/Samaria), the territories still widely presumed to become Palestine. If, when IS arrives, a Palestinian state has not yet been created, these forces will effectively occupy the strategic territories for themselves. If a Palestinian state has already been formalized, they would then make quick work of the new state’s predictably ragtag army, and more-or-less easily become the de facto government of “Palestine.”
What should all of this mean? For Israel, the disturbingly plausible narrative ought to suggest the unreasonableness of clinging to any residual notions of a discredited “two-state solution.”
For the Palestinians and their supporters, this same scenario should confirm that the single greatest hindrance to a Palestinian state – any Palestinian state – will not be Israel, but rather another even-more barbarous band of Sunni Arab terrorists.
Exeunt omnes? The writer (PhD, Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war, including
Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980) and
Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (D.C. Heath/ Lexington, 1986). His tenth book,
Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: Surviving amid Chaos, will be published (Rowman and Littlefield) later this year. He is emeritus professor of international law at Purdue, and was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II.