Looking beyond the ‘third intifada’

Unseen implications of Palestinian statehood for regional nuclear war.

Funeral in the Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem, on October 10, 2015 (photo credit: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Funeral in the Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem, on October 10, 2015
(photo credit: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
“It’s farewell to the drawing-room’s civilized cry, The professor’s sensible whereto and why, The frock-coated diplomat’s social aplomb, Now matters are settled with gas and with bomb.”
– W.H. Auden, Danse Macabre
With apparent suddenness, and a very deliberate brutality, Palestinian terrorists are launching a new wave of indiscriminate assaults they proudly hail as a “third intifada.”
But behind the protective veneer of language, where homicide is conveniently transfigured into revolution, these latest Arab attacks remain what they have always been – that is, crudely camouflaged expressions of rampant criminality.
Jurisprudentially, this is all perfectly obvious. Prima facie, under all pertinent international law, calculated assaults on mostly women and children can never be sanitized or justified. Always, rather, they represent codified crimes of war and crimes against humanity.
Always, such crimes are unpardonable.
Oddly enough, even after the painfully long history of egregious Palestinian crimes carried out against noncombatant populations, a sizable portion of the “international community” still seeks to encourage Palestinian statehood. Self-righteously, of course, and with ritualistic indignation directed against Israeli “intransigence,” the “civilized community of nations” remains willing to rip a 23rd Arab state from the still-living body of Israel. Even now, as the Palestinians remain rigorously segmented into barbarously warring factions – into opponents who enthusiastically maim and torture each other, all while cooperating in doing the same to their commonly despised Israeli victims – world public opinion calls naively for Palestinian “self-determination.”
Even now, when any new Palestinian state could quickly come to resemble an already-fractured Syria, the United Nations and its secretary- general seem much more concerned with comforting the markedly unheroic Palestinian criminals than with protecting fully innocent Israeli civilians.
Unapologetically, and whatever their unhindered and ongoing excesses, Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are easily able to incite followers to inflict and then celebrate incessant harms upon Israel.
At some point, it is likely that such harms, joyously imposed with a reassuring impunity, could involve diverse weapons of mega-terrorism, including assorted chemical, biological, or even nuclear agents.
In this last category of insidious choice, Palestine, after formalizing its sought-after condition of statehood or sovereignty, could be placed in an optimal position to assault Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor.
This plainly sensitive facility was previously attacked, in both 1991 and again in 2014. Those earlier missile and rocket barrages, which produced no ascertainably injurious damages to the critical reactor core, had originated with Iraqi and Hamas aggressions, respectively.
About expected Palestinian state intentions, there is little real mystery to fathom. It should already be widely understood that any new state of Palestine could provide a ready platform for launching endlessly renewable war and terrorism against Israel. Significantly, not a single warring Palestinian faction has ever even bothered to deny such overtly criminal intent. On the contrary, aggressive intent has always been openly embraced, fervently cheered as a distinctly sacred “national” incantation.
A September 2015 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research – the leading social research organization in the Palestinian territories – found that a majority of Palestinians unhesitatingly reject a two-state solution.
When asked, as a corollary question, about any preferred or alternate ways to establish an independent Palestinian state, 42 percent called for “armed action.”
Only 29% favored “negotiation,” or some sort of peaceful resolution.
Not much mystery here.
On all currently official Hamas and Palestinian Authority (PA ) maps of “Palestine,” Israel has been removed altogether, or identified exclusively as “occupied Palestine.”
By these revealingly forthright and vengeful depictions, Israel has already been forced to suffer a “cartographic genocide.” Unambiguously, from the standpoint of any prospective Palestinian state policies toward Israel, such incendiary maps are portentous, predictive and possibly even prophetic.
What is not generally recognized is that a Palestinian state, any Palestinian state, could play a determinedly serious role in bringing some form of nuclear conflict to the Middle East. Palestine, of course, would itself be non-nuclear; but that’s not the issue. There would remain several other ways in which the new state’s predictable infringements of Israeli security could make the Jewish state more vulnerable to an eventual nuclear attack from Iran, or, in the even more distant future, from a newly-nuclear Arab state.
This second prospect would likely have its core origins in understandable reactions to the plainly impotent Vienna pact with Iran.
Following the July 14, 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA ), several Sunni states in the region, most plausibly Egypt and/ or Saudi Arabia, will likely feel compelled to “go nuclear.”
In essence, any such considered Sunni Arab nuclear proliferation would represent a more-or-less coherent “self-defense” reaction against expectedly escalating perils, once still-avoidable dangers now issuing from the reciprocally fearful Shi’ite world.
There is also more to expect from the Sunni side. Here, in actions that would have no apparent connection to expected Iranian nuclearization, Islamic State (IS) could begin an avowedly destructive march westward, across Jordan, and all the way to the borders of West Bank (Judea/Samaria). There, should a Palestinian state already be established and functional, dedicated Sunni terrorist cadres would likely make quick work of any deployed Palestinian army. In the event that a new Arab state had not yet been suitably declared – that is, in a fashion consistent with codifying Montevideo Convention (1934) expectations – invading IS forces (not Israel) will have become the principal impediment to Palestinian independence.
Credo quia absurdum – “I believe because it is absurd.” In either case, any such IS or IS-related conquest could create another available platform for launching relentless terrorist attacks across the region.
In time, of course, most of these murderous attacks would be aimed precisely at Israel.
IS, as everyone can see, is on the move. It has already expanded well beyond Iraq and Syria, notably into Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Somalia.
Although Hamas leaders generally deny any IS presence in Gaza, that terrorist group’s black flag is now seen more and more regularly in that expressly Palestinian space.
In principle, at least, Israel could sometime find itself forced to cooperate with Hamas against IS, but any reciprocal willingness from the Islamic Resistance Movement, whether glaringly conspicuous or beneath the radar, is implausible.
Additionally, Egypt regards Hamas as part of the much wider Muslim Brotherhood, and prospectively, just as dangerous as IS.
In any event, after Palestine, and even in the absence of any takeover of the new Arab state by IS forces, Israel’s physical survival would require increasing self-reliance in existential military matters.
Such expansions, in turn, would demand: 1) an appropriately revised nuclear strategy, involving deterrence, defense, preemption and warfighting capabilities; and 2) a corollary conventional strategy.
Significantly, however, the birth of Palestine could impact these strategies in several disruptive ways.
Most ominously, a Palestinian state could render most of Israel’s conventional capabilities substantially more problematic. It could thereby heighten certain eventual chances of a regional nuclear war.
Credo quia absurdum. A nuclear war in the Middle East is not out of the question. At some point, such a conflict could arrive in Israel not only as a “bolt-from-the-blue” surprise missile attack, but also as a result, whether intended or inadvertent, of escalation.
If, for example, certain enemy states were to begin “only” with conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem might then respond, sooner or later, with nuclear reprisals. Or if these enemy states were to begin hostilities with certain conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem’s own conventional reprisals might then be met, at least in the future, with enemy nuclear counterstrikes.
For now, this second scenario could become possible only if Iran were to continue its evident advance toward an independent nuclear capability. It follows that a persuasive Israeli conventional deterrent, at least to the extent that it could prevent enemy state conventional, and/or biological attacks, would substantially reduce Israel’s risk of any escalatory exposure to a nuclear war. Israel will need to maintain its capacity for “escalation dominance,” but Palestinian statehood, on its face, could still impair this overriding strategic obligation.
A subsidiary question comes to mind. Why should Israel need a conventional deterrent at all? Israel, after all, seemingly maintains a capable nuclear arsenal and corollary doctrine, even though both still remain “deliberately ambiguous.”
And there arises a still further query. Even after “Palestine,” wouldn’t enemy states desist from launching conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel, here, out of an entirely reasonable and prudent fear of suffering a nuclear retaliation? Not necessarily. Aware that Israel would cross the nuclear threshold only in certain extraordinary circumstances, these enemy states could be convinced – rightly or wrongly – that so long as their attacks were to remain non-nuclear, Israel would respond only in kind. Faced with such probable calculations, Israel’s ordinary security would still need to be sustained by conventional deterrent threats.
A strong conventional capability will still be needed by Israel to deter or to preempt conventional attacks – attacks that could, if undertaken, lead quickly, via escalation, to various conceivable forms of unconventional war.
Credo quia absurdum. It is still not sufficiently understood that Palestine could have serious effects on power and peace in the Middle East. As the creation of yet another enemy Arab state would need to arise from the intentional dismemberment of Israel, the Jewish state’s strategic depth would inevitably be diminished. Over time, therefore, Israel’s conventional capacity to ward off assorted enemy attacks could be correspondingly reduced.
Paradoxically, if enemy states were to perceive Israel’s own sense of expanding weakness and desperation, this could strengthen Israel’s nuclear deterrent. If, however, pertinent enemy states did not perceive such a “sense” among Israel’s decision-makers (a far more likely scenario), these states, now animated by Israel’s conventional force deterioration, could then be encouraged to attack. The cumulative result, spawned by Israel’s post-Palestine incapacity to maintain strong conventional deterrence, could become: 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 tangible consequences of a nuclear war, or even a “merely” chemical/ biological war, could be calamitous for the victor as well as the vanquished.
Under such exceptional conditions of belligerency, the traditional notions of “victory” and “defeat” would likely lose all serious meaning.
Although a meaningful risk of regional nuclear war in the Middle East must exist independently of any Palestinian state, this uniquely serious threat would be still greater if a new Arab terrorist state were authoritatively declared.
Palestine, it has increasingly been argued, could sometime become vulnerable to overthrow by even more militant jihadist Arab forces, a violent transfer of power that could then confront Israel with an even broader range of regional perils.
In this connection, IS, again, could find itself at the outer gates of “Palestine.” In such a scenario, it is plausible that the IS fighters would make fast work of any residual Palestinian defense force, PA and/ or Hamas, and then absorb Palestine itself into a rapidly expanding Islamic “caliphate.”
Before anything remotely decent could be born from such a determined theocracy, a very capable sort of gravedigger would have to wield the forceps.
The “third intifada” is just another legitimizing term for remorseless Palestinian terrorism. Should it transform the always fratricidal Palestinian territories into another corrupted Arab state, Palestine, either by itself, or as a newly-incorporated part of a still-growing IS “caliphate,” would become another Syria. Even more significantly, Palestine could bring specifically nuclear-based harms to the broader region.
Then, quite predictably, all pertinent “matters” would be settled “with gas and with bomb.”
The writer (PhD, Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and several hundred articles dealing with military issues, terrorism and international law. His 10th book, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: Surviving amid Chaos, will be published later this year (Rowman and Littlefield).