Ignoring strategic reality

Unforeseen dangers of a Palestinian state.

A Palestinian supporter wears Palestinian and Union Jack flags outside the Parliament in London during October's vote on recognizing a state of Palestine (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian supporter wears Palestinian and Union Jack flags outside the Parliament in London during October's vote on recognizing a state of Palestine
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Somehow, despite their uninterrupted demands for statehood, the Palestinians always manage to stand stubbornly in their own way. Time after time, especially when they finally seem on the threshold of following a more-or-less reasonable path to national sovereignty, their leaders organize new and increasingly unforgivable spasms of random terror. Over time, this lascivious self-destructiveness – a bewildering trait that is likely the unseen consequence of collective self-loathing - has characterized both Fatah and Hamas.
Today, these ominous behaviors notwithstanding, the United States continues to support the destructive fiction of a “two-state solution,” and many European governments are awkwardly stepping over themselves to swear fealty to “Palestine.” One must therefore inquire: Have these assorted governments ever bothered to look carefully at what Fatah and Hamas ultimately expect? Plainly, a 23rd Arab state would quickly seek an irredentist extension beyond West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and Gaza, far across the "green line" boundaries.
The official Palestine Authority (PA) map of “moderate” Fatah still shows all of Israel as a part of Palestine.
From the uniform Palestinian perspective, a vantage point essentially unhidden from May 1948 until the present moment, all of Israel is nothing more than "Occupied Palestine." Significantly, although virtually no one wants to look more closely at such conspicuous descriptions, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was already established in 1964, three years before there were any "occupied territories."
Exactly what was the PLO seeking to "liberate" during those years?
For the most part, Israeli military strategists have disregarded Palestinian terrorism as a core national security issue. Nonetheless, a Palestinian state - any Palestinian state - could have deeply injurious effects on Israel's available survival options. Reciprocally, after Palestine, Israel's security would require (1) a more comprehensive nuclear strategy, involving deterrence, preemption, and war fighting capabilities; and (2) a corollary and thoroughly interpenetrating conventional war strategy.
To be sure, Palestine itself would be non-nuclear. Still, for Israel, its deleterious impact on the overall "correlation of forces" could enlarge certain tangible prospects of regional nuclear warfare.
Palestine could shape these two resultant strategies in several ways. For one, it would almost certainly heighten Israel’s anticipated need for “escalation dominance.” With Israel's conventional capabilities now more problematic, the IDF command could decide, correctly, to make the country’s nuclear deterrent less ambiguous.
Taking the Israeli bomb out of the “basement” might enhance Israel’s security for a while, but – over time – ending “deliberate ambiguity” could also raise the odds of certain nuclear weapons use. Moreover, if Iran were finally able to “go fully nuclear,” a scenario which now seems quite plausible, such nuclear engagements might not be limited to the immediate areas of Israel and Palestine.
A nuclear war could arrive in Israel not only as a "bolt-from-the-blue" surprise missile attack, but also as the result (intended or inadvertent) of escalation.  If an enemy state were to begin "only" conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem might then respond with fully nuclear reprisals. If this enemy state were to begin with solely conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem's conventional reprisals might still be met, in the future, with certain enemy nuclear counterstrikes. This means, among other things, that a sufficiently persuasive Israeli conventional deterrent could substantially reduce Israel's risk of escalatory exposure to nuclear war.
Why should Israel need a conventional deterrent at all?  Even after Palestine, won't rational enemy states desist from launching conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel, for well-founded fear of an Israeli nuclear retaliation?  Perhaps not. Convinced that Israel would cross the nuclear threshold only in extraordinary circumstances, these enemy states could determine, rightly or wrongly, that as long as their own attacks were to remain non-nuclear, Israel would respond in kind.
One conclusion is certain. After creation of Palestine, strategic circumstances in the region would become markedly less favorable to Israel. The only credible way for Israel to deter large-scale conventional attacks after any such creation would be by maintaining visible and large-scale conventional capabilities.  Naturally, enemy states contemplating first-strike attacks upon Israel using chemical and/or biological weapons would take more seriously Israel's nuclear deterrent. Whether or not this nuclear deterrent had remained undisclosed or ambiguous could also affect Israel’s strategic credibility, and, hence, its physical survival.
A strong conventional capability will always be needed by Israel to deter or to preempt conventional attacks. By definition, current "Road Map" expectations related to Palestine would critically impair Israel's strategic depth, and thus its essential capacity to wage conventional warfare.
Paradoxically, if frontline enemy states were to perceive Israel's own sense of expanding weakness, this could strengthen Israel's nuclear deterrent.  If, however, enemy states did not acknowledge such a "sense" among Israel's key decision-makers, these adversaries, animated by Israel's presumed conventional force deterioration, could feel encouraged to attack.  The logical results, spawned by Israel's post-Palestine incapacity to maintain 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/Iranian/Islamic state enemies by Israel in an unconventional war.
For Israel even the "successful" fourth possibility could become intolerable.  After all, the probable consequences of a regional nuclear war, or even a chemical/biological war in the Middle East, could be calamitous for the victor, as well as the vanquished. Here, more traditional notions of "victory" and "defeat" would effectively lose all serious meaning.
The expected dangers to Israel of a Palestinian state - any Palestinian state - would assuredly outweigh any conceivable benefits. In this connection, from the standpoint of authoritative international law, multiple recognitions of Palestinian statehood by existing states - even with United Nations backing - would not automatically bestow sovereignty upon Palestine. Before that could happen, Palestinian leaders would first need to fulfill the formal expectations of statehood codified at the governing Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934), known more widely as the Montevideo Convention.
A Palestinian state represents an authentic strategic threat to Israel. Militarily, it should never be examined in contrived isolation from other strategic threats, where it might first appear relatively benign, but as part of a much larger and complex union of intersecting security hazards. Then, it could finally become usefully apparent to Israeli defense planners that strategy is not geometry, and that in this particular strategic calculation, the nation's adversarial "whole" is much greater than the simple sum of its "parts."
Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many major books and articles dealing with Israeli nuclear strategy. For over forty years, he has lectured on this topic at senior Israeli and United States military institutions, and at leading Israeli centers for strategic studies. In 2003, he served as Chair of Project Daniel (Israel).