After Syria - Israel’s longer-term vulnerability to chaos

For Israel, one tiny state existing among almost 200 asymmetric others, some palpable consequences of worldwide anarchy and regional disorder are inevitable

Free Syrian Army fighters 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah)
Free Syrian Army fighters 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah)
At the moment, Israel's most urgent strategic concerns appear very precise. Plainly, it seems, they revolve around the presumed wisdom or unwisdom of developing US-Russian plans for Syria, and also the corollary implications of this putative plan for a nuclearizing Iran. Still, Israel's chief military planners will eventually have to look beyond these singular issues, to far more generally underlying threats. Always, it is these enduring systemic perils that are potentially most important.
From Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, designated strategists and decision-makers will have to look toward a distinctly Israel-centered understanding of any likely chaos. This obligation implies, among other things, consideration of any conceivable worldwide turns toward a more complete dismantling of existing world authority processes. An obvious case in point is the United Nations Security Council, which was effectively immobilized by geopolitics in the immediate crisis of Syrian chemical weapons.
Chaotic disintegration is an evident fact of life in certain exposed parts of the world. Sudden or incremental extensions of this corrosive condition to other parts of our planet are already plausible. Assorted treaty obligations notwithstanding, nuclear and biological weapons could spread, more or less uncontrollably.
Sooner, rather than later, and irrespective of the cumulative global reaction to Syria's chemical weapons, these "unthinkable" weapons could become “thinkable.”
There is more. It is time to identify certain foreseeable interactions between individual catastrophic harms, or synergies, that could make the risks of chaotic disintegration more compelling. In principle at least, these risks could, at a certain point in their progression, become authentically existential.
From Israel's especially vulnerable standpoint as a beleaguered micro-state, the pertinent dangers are both specific and unique. Facing not only a steadily growing nuclear threat from Iran, but also the more or less simultaneous appearance of “Palestine,” the Jewish State could sometime find itself engulfed in mass-casualty terrorism, and/or, in unconventional war. As to any long-promised assistance from the United States, President Barack Obama, however well-intentioned, could then offer little more than compassionate American help in burying the dead.
The probability of an emergent Middle East chaos could be enlarged not only by the conspicuous failure of current US-Russian efforts on Syria, but also by recognizable instances of enemy irrationality. If, for example, Israel should begin to face a Jihadist adversary that valued certain presumed religious expectations more highly than its own physical survival, Israel’s deterrent could be immobilized. This could mean, in the future, a heightened threat of nuclear and/or biological war. Naturally, it could also place Israel squarely in the recognizable cross hairs of mass-destruction terrorism.
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” warned the Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”  Assembled in almost two hundred armed camps, more politely called nation-states, all peoples already coexist uneasily, on a landscape once prophetically described by the seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, as "a war of all against all." In time, even with  the reassuringly "stabilizing"  interventions of  two "superpowers," there would be no residual safety in arms, no rescue from political authority, and no hopeful answer from science. New wars could rage until every flower of culture was trampled; and until all things human were degraded amid abundantly vast paroxysms of planetary disorder.
In world politics, anarchy is a very old story. Chaos is not. There is a notably meaningful difference.
In chaos, in Hobbes' riveting "war of every man, against every man," there can be no justice. Here, says Hobbes, in The Leviathan, "The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have no place."
Oddly, perhaps, anarchy and chaos represent opposite end points of the same continuum. Mere anarchy, the evident absence of any central world authority, is “normal.” Chaos, however, is sui generis, or “abnormal.”
But "normalcy" per se is not the main issue. Since the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, our anarchic world has remained a system. What happens in any one part of this inter-penetrating world, necessarily affects what will happen in some or all of the other parts. When a deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one nation to another, the unhinging effects can rapidly undermine regional and international stability.
When this deterioration is sudden and catastrophic, as it would be following the start of any unconventional war, and/or unconventional terrorism, the associated consequences would be correspondingly immediate and overwhelming.
These effects could be chaotic.
Aware that even an incremental collapse of  remaining world authority institutions would impact its friends, as well as its enemies, leaders of the Jewish State will need to advance precise and plausible premonitions of collapse. This will be necessary in order to chart appropriately durable paths to national survival. Presently, such indispensable considerations may not yet be fully underway. Ascertainably, at least, the only diplomatic paths under serious consideration seem to concern those roughly pitted and gutted highways of President Obama’s “Road Map.” 
The only destination, here, would be a Two-State (read, Final) Solution.
Israel’s leaders are still wasting precious time with the twisted and clichéd cartographies of an ordinary and ordered world politics. Instead, they will need to consider just how they would need to respond to international life in a global state of nature. The specific triggering mechanism of our expansively disordered world’s final descent into such chaos could originate from a variety of mass-casualty attacks against Israel, or possibly from similar attacks against other western democracies - attacks in which Israel itself would remain uninvolved.
Significantly, to any such starkly remorseless vulnerability, even the presumptively “powerful” United States would not be immune.
Any chaotic disintegration of the world system would fundamentally transform the Israeli system. Ultimately, such a substantial transformation could generate total, or near-total, national destruction. In anticipation, Israel will now have to orient its core strategic planning to an assortment of worst-case prospects. This re-orientation should focus much more deliberately and imaginatively on a wide range of self-help security options.
For Israel, certain routinely prominent diplomatic processes of peacemaking will soon have to be renounced.
To date, many diplomacy-induced Israeli security policies have been deeply flawed. Jerusalem's persistently one-sided surrender of territories, its mistaken reluctance to accept certain critical preemption options, and its blatantly self-destructive terrorist releases, may never bring about any direct defeat. Taken together, however, these egregious policy errors will produce a cumulatively weakening effect on Israel. Whether the principle result here will be one that “merely” impairs the Jewish state's commitment to endure, or one that also opens it up to devastating missile attacks, and/or to major acts of terror, is not yet clear.
For Israel, one tiny state existing among almost 200 asymmetric others, some palpable consequences of  worldwide anarchy and regional disorder are inevitable. What might still be avoided, however, are the intolerable consequences of chaos.
“The worst,” reminds Swiss playwright, Friedrich Dűrrenmatt, “does sometimes happen.” Following Hobbes, chaos could leave Israel in "...continual fear and danger of violent death...,"  that is, in a condition wherein the expected life of each citizen could become "...solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
For the Middle East, chemical weapons and superpower interventions in Syria are only a "symptom." To survive meaningfully in the future, Israel will need to look systematically beyond all such singular symptoms, and to identify much more deeply underlying "pathologies." Both regionally and globally, this transformed focus will ultimately need to confront the newly-haunting specter of chaos.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on terrorism, and nuclear security matters.  Born in Zürich, Switzerland, and Chair of Project Daniel (Israel, 2003), he is the author of ten books on international relations and international law, including some of the earliest major works on Israel’s nuclear strategy. Professor Beres' most recent opinion pieces have been published in The Atlantic; The Jerusalem Post; Ha'aretz; Israel National News; US News & World Report; Oxford University Press; and the Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School.