A Palestinian state and Israeli nuclear deterrence

The case for a so-called “two state solution” in the Middle East remains a one-sided and precisely calculated enemy stratagem.

Dimona nuclear reactor 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Dimona nuclear reactor 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel, still hoping to strike a deal on Palestine that would not be catastrophic, recently released another batch of convicted terrorists from its jails. Ironically, Jerusalem has yet to understand that earning Palestinian "good will" is utterly beside the point, and that no Palestinian state would ever consent to peaceful coexistence with Israel. Apart from its expectedly negative bilateral relations with Israel, Palestine could also have a starkly injurious impact on Israel's nuclear deterrence options, and ultimately, on war and terror in the Middle East.
Such an impact is likely, however the boundaries of this 23rd Arab state might finally be drawn on official area maps.               
Even in the absence of Palestine, Israel's survival would still require purposeful self-reliance in military and defense matters. Such preparation, in turn, would demand among other things: (1) a comprehensive nuclear strategy involving deterrence, preemption, and war fighting capabilities; and (2) a corollary conventional strategy. The actual birth of Palestine would further affect these critical strategies in important ways.
A Palestinian state, by definition, would make Israel's conventional capabilities substantially more problematic, and could thereby heighten the chances of a regional nuclear war. Although Palestine itself would obviously be non-nuclear, its overall strategic impact could still be magnified and exacerbated by continuously-unfolding and more-or-less unpredictable developments in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the roiling area. In specifically military parlance, the net effect of any such “force-multiplying” developments, especially if they were intersecting or inter-penetrating, could be “synergistic.”
A nuclear war could arrive in Israel not only as a "bolt-from-the-blue" surprise missile attack, but also as a result, intended or inadvertent, of escalation. If certain already extant enemy states were to begin conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem might respond, sooner or later, with aptly “proportionate” nuclear reprisals. Or, if these enemy states were to begin their aggressions with conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem's own conventional reprisals might be met, in the future, with enemy nuclear counterstrikes.
For now, this would become possible only if a still-nuclearizing Iran were spared any final forms of Israeli or American preemptive interference, actions appropriately identifiable in law as "anticipatory self-defense.” As a preemptive attack against Iran now seems operationally implausible, it is reasonable to assume that a persuasive Israeli conventional deterrent, at least to the extent that it would prevent enemy conventional and/or biological attacks in the first place, could reduce Israel's escalatory exposure to a nuclear war.
Pertinent questions arise. With its implicit ("deliberately ambiguous") nuclear capacities, why should Israel need a conventional deterrent at all? After all, even after Palestinian statehood, wouldn’t all rational enemy states desist from launching any conventional, and/or biological attacks upon Israel, out of an entirely sensible fear of Israeli nuclear retaliation? 
Not necessarily. Aware that Israel would cross the nuclear threshold only in very extraordinary circumstances, these enemy states could be convinced - rightly or wrongly - that as long as their attacks remained recognizably non-nuclear, Israel would always respond in kind.
The only credible way for Israel to deter large-scale conventional attacks after the creation of Palestine would be by maintaining visible and large-scale conventional capabilities. Of course, enemy states contemplating any first-strike attacks using chemical and/or biological weapons are apt to take more seriously Israel's nuclear deterrent, whether newly-disclosed, or still “in the basement.” A strong conventional capability is needed by Israel essentially to deter or to preempt conventional attacks that could, if they were undertaken, lead quickly via escalation to various forms of unconventional war.
Here, US-supported Oslo and "Road Map" expectations would critically impair Israel's strategic depth, and consequently, degrade the country's capacity to effectively wage conventional warfare.
Palestine, already a "nonmember observer state" at the United Nations, would have measurably corrosive effects on power and peace in the Middle East. By definition, the creation of this particular Arab state would come at the territorial expense of Israel; the Jewish State's strategic depth would promptly and irretrievably diminish. Over time, Israel's conventional capacity to ward off enemy attacks could be commensurately reduced. 
Paradoxically, if certain enemy states were to perceive Israel's own sense of expanding weakness and possible desperation, this could mean a welcome strengthening of Israel's nuclear deterrent. If, however, front-line enemy states did not perceive such a "sense" among Israel's decision-makers, these states, animated by Israel's conventional force deterioration, could then be encouraged to attack. The result, spawned by Israel's post-Palestine incapacity to maintain sufficiently strong conventional deterrence, could be: (1) defeat of Israel in a conventional war; (2) defeat of Israel in an unconventional chemical/biological/nuclear war; (3) defeat of Israel in a combined conventional/unconventional war; or (4) defeat of Arab/Islamic state enemies by Israel in an unconventional war.
For Israel, a country less than half the size of Lake Michigan, even the "successful" fourth possibility could prove intolerable. The consequences of a nuclear war, or even a chemical/biological war, could be calamitous for the victor as well as the vanquished. Amid such conditions of exceptional belligerency, the traditional notions of "victory" and "defeat" would lose all serious import. Although a tangible risk of regional nuclear war in the Middle East exists independently of creating a Palestinian state, this risk would still be greater if any such new terror state were created and countenanced.
This critical point should be understood in Washington, as well as Jerusalem, not only for Israel’s sake, but also because any fully-sovereign state of Palestine could be substantially hospitable to al-Qaida or a related variety of other Jihadist agents of anti-American terror. In essence, allowing Palestinian statehood could pose very grave hazards for the citizens of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, not just for those (Jews and Arabs) in Haifa, Herzliya, and Tel Aviv.
The case for a so-called “two state solution” in the Middle East remains a one-sided and precisely calculated enemy stratagem. For Israel, therefore, it remains essential to understand that before any state of Palestine could be ripped from its own beleaguered national body, only a gravedigger could wield the forceps.----------Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters.  In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel (PM Sharon, 2003). Dr. Beres is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue. He is the author of many major books and articles in the field, including recent publications in The Harvard National Security Journal; The Jerusalem Post; Parameters: The Journal of the US Army War College; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Herzliya Conference Working Papers (Israel); US News & World Report; and The Atlantic. Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945.