Israeli strategy in the case of a new Cold War

In the fashion of every other state, the state of Israel would exist more or less precariously, amidst the hardening animosities of a new Cold War.

United States Army helicopters. (photo credit: REUTERS)
United States Army helicopters.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At first glance, whatever happens in the Ukraine ought not to have any obvious impact upon the Middle East, least of all upon Israel's strategic posture. Nonetheless, among other things, the current crisis in Kiev, the Crimea, and Moscow could portend the beginnings of a new Cold War. In any such development, by definition, there would be a sudden or incremental escalation of tensions between Russia and the United States. This particular resurrection of earlier bipolar antagonisms would inevitably unleash far-flung and largely unforeseen consequences.
For Israel, any such return of superpower rivalry could signal a crucial warning or a promise. More precisely, in the always-volatile Middle East, the expected fragmentation of more traditional world security processes could take on either an ominous or reassuring shape. How, exactly, should this more-or-less discernible transformation, this unexpectedly revived era of bipolarity, be deciphered? What, in fact, could its successful decoding mean for the Jewish State's military policies, and overall national survival?
Always, the world is best understood as a system. Whatever happens in any one part of this system, therefore, must affect what happens in all or several of the other parts. Whenever a particular deterioration is marked, and then begins to spread from one country to another, the effects can undermine regional and global stability. When deterioration is sudden and catastrophic, as it would be following the onset of any unconventional war or act of unconventional terrorism, the effects could be prompt and irremediable. 
In the fashion of every other state, the state of Israel would exist more or less precariously, amidst the hardening animosities of a new Cold War. One way or another, any corollary transformations of the larger international system, whether slow and piecemeal, or sudden and calamitous, would impact the Israeli system. In the most blatantly obvious manifestation of this predictable impact, Israel could have to reorient its core strategic planning, perhaps even toward a nuanced variety of worst-case scenarios.
Here, quite plausibly, the country's altered analytic focus would need to be aimed more at an entire range of conceivable self-help security options, than on recently more favored kinds of international cooperation. Alternatively, however, depending upon how a reinvigorated bipolarity would actually compel Russia and the United States to strengthen their respective alliance commitments, Israel could wind up relying less upon self-help, than upon expanded US security guarantees.
Within Israel's decisional boundaries, diplomatic processes that are routinely premised on assumptions of reason and rationality could require re-evaluation. In such especially complex circumstances, Israel's subsequent judgments about any "Peace Process" or "Road Map" expectations would not necessarily become less important, but they would now need to be made in evident consequence of certain anticipated world-system changes. From the standpoint of Israel's overall security, any such reorientation of planning, from portents of largely separate and unrelated threats, to calculated presumptions of interrelated or "synergistic" dangers, could provide an urgently-modified framework for strategic decision-making. 
Ultimately, the intellectual origins of this critical framework would be discoverable in a prior willingness to extract vital meanings from the now revived axis of competitive bipolarity. Israel's particular reactions, as a system within a system, to corresponding worldwide and regional uncertainties, would impact these expressions. Should Israel's leaders react to a presumptively unstoppable deterioration in world affairs, by hardening their commitment to national self-reliance, including perhaps certain still-possible resorts to preemptive military force, Israel's enemies could then respond, individually or collectively, in very similar ways. 
What, exactly, are these adversarial responses likely to look like? How exactly, should Israel respond to such responses? This utterly primary dialectic should now be raised and re-examined by Israel's most plainly capable strategic planners.
Israel must also ask itself the following even more basic question. What would be the true form and underlying meaning of a new Cold War, and how should this still-emerging geometry of competition affect its own national survival strategy? The "correct" answers will have to come from antecedent efforts at fashioning a deeper understanding of now-changing US and Russian geopolitical interests. Here, special attention would need to be directed toward any perceived changes in either superpower's nuclear weapons and strategy.
In the final analysis, Israel's strategic emphases will still need to be placed upon assorted preparations for deterrence, preemption, and war-fighting functions. Among other things, this could mean certain steady enhancements of ballistic missile defense, and also various recognizable movements away from the country's increasingly problematic posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity; that is, "the bomb in the basement."
For Israel, any rekindling of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow could quickly present a profoundly serious challenge. If, however, this challenge were purposefully accepted in Jerusalem, as an intellectual rather than a narrowly political effort, the Jewish state's indispensable strategies of national survival would stand a much better chance of achieving long-term success. In this connection, it is entirely possible that certain New Cold War consequences could unfold to Israel's strategic advantage, rather than to the advantage of its myriad enemies, but even then, it would first be necessary for Jerusalem to plan ahead.
Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. His most recent writings on Israeli security matters have been published in the Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; Herzliya Conference Working Papers (Israel); the Brown Journal of World Affairs; and the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II.