27 March 2003
AFTER IRAQ: A PALESTINIAN
AND REGIONAL NUCLEAR WAR
By Louis Rene Beres
Until now, fears of a nuclear war in the Middle East have generally focussed on Iraq. Yet, when the current war against Saddam Hussein is concluded, it is highly unlikely that Iraq will be in any position to acquire nuclear weapons. A new Arab state of "Palestine," on the other hand, would have decidedly serious implications for certain regional resorts to nuclear conflict. Newly endowed with a so-called "Prime Minister," this state, although itself non-nuclear, would greatly heighten the prospect of catastrophic nuclear war in the area.
If all goes well for the United States in Operation Iraqi Freedom, President Bush will feel compelled to reward Arab state allies and supporters with a dedicated American effort to create a Palestinian state. This state, tied closely to a broad spectrum of terrorist groups and flanking 70 percent of Israel's population, would utterly eliminate Israel's remaining strategic depth. With limited capacity to defend an already fragile land and facing a new enemy country resolutely committed to Israel's annihilation, Jerusalem would have to undertake even more stringent methods of counterterrorism and self-defense against aggression. Various new forms of preemption, known under international law as anticipatory self-defense, would be unavoidable. Significantly, a strong emphasis on preemption has now become the recognizable core of President Bush's national security policy for the United States.
Several ironies must also be noted. Above all, offering Palestine as a reward for collaborative opposition to Iraq would merely exchange one terror state for another. Additionally, the nuclear risks associated with a new state of Palestine would derive not from this state directly - which would assuredly be non-nuclear - but from (1) other Arab/Islamic states (including Iran) that could exploit Israel's new strategic vulnerabilities; and/or (2) Israel's own attempts to preempt such enemy exploitations.
Because the creation of a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel would raise the area risk of nuclear war considerably, this very politicized measure should now be viewed with real apprehension. Indeed, its creation could even bring an Islamic "Final Solution" to the region. After all, every Arab map of the Middle East already excludes Israel. Cartographically, Israel has already been destroyed.
Architects of the Oslo Agreements had suggested all along that a "Two-State Solution" to the Palestinian problem would surely reduce the risk of another major war in the Middle East. After all, they had always maintained, the problem of stateless Palestinians is THE source of all problems between Israel and the Arabs. Once we have "justice" for Palestinians, the argument proceeded, Arab governments and Iran could begin to create area-wide stability and comprehensive peace settlements. Harmony would then reign, more or less triumphantly, from the Mediterranean and Red Seas to the Persian Gulf.
But as we should have learned by now, especially from recurring Arab violations of the "peace process," the conventional Oslo wisdom was always unwise. For the most part, Iranian and Arab state inclinations to war against Israel have had absolutely nothing to do with the Palestinians. Even if Israel had continued to make all unilateral Oslo concessions, and had continued to adhere to unreciprocated agreements, these irremediably belligerent inclinations would have endured, especially from Syria, Iraq and Libya as well as from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
If Israel should soon face a new state of Palestine, the Jewish state's vulnerability to armed attack by hostile neighbors will increase markedly. If this diminished safety is accompanied by the spread of unconventional weapons to certain hostile states, which now seems certain, Israel could find itself confronting not only war, but genocide. It is also clear that Israel's own nuclear infrastructures will become increasingly vulnerable to surprise attack from Palestinian territories.
A new state of Palestine would preoccupy Israeli military forces to a much greater extent than does the current "intifada". Even if it were able to resist takeover by one of the other Islamic states in the region, a takeover accomplished either directly or by insurgent surrogates, Palestine would surely become a favored launching-point for unconventional terrorism against Israel. Various promises notwithstanding, Islamic insurgents would continue to celebrate frenzied violence against Israel's women and children as the essence of "national liberation." Drawing upon fierce Palestinian hatreds of America, a state of Palestine would also provide a sympathetic host to various terrorist enemies of the United States. This would include Al Qaeda, which already has close ties to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah.
Recognizing an "improved" configuration of forces vis-a-vis Israel, a larger number of Islamic enemy states would calculate that they now confront a smaller, more beleaguered adversary. Further, they would understand that a coordinated effort by certain countries that possess or are in the process of acquiring pertinent ballistic missiles could possibly endanger Israel's very survival. Taken together with the fact that global support for Israel is always weak and that individual or combined chemical/biological/nuclear warfare capabilities could bring enormous harm to Israel, the creation of Palestine would tip the balance of power in the Middle East decisively. It is unlikely that Israel could physically survive next to a Palestinian state, a state that always defines itself as extending "from the Sea to the River." It is also unlikely that Palestine would prevent its territory from being used as a base of expanded Islamic terrorist operations against the United States - operations that could even involve weapons of mass destruction.
The full strategic implications of an independent Palestine should now be carefully considered. Israel has much to fear, more than any other state on the face of the earth. The people of Israel, not the people of "Palestine," are the only ones who could soon face organized extermination. As for the United States, it too will incur substantially increased levels of insecurity following establishment of a Palestinian state. It follows that President Bush should now consider carefully that an exchange of Iraq for "Palestine" would be foolishly shortsighted and very dangerous. A Faustian bargain, it could wind up engulfing both Israel and the United States in yet another cauldron of war and terrorism.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D. Princeton, 1971), is Professor of International Law in the Department of Political Science, Purdue University. He is the author of SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1986) and many other major books and articles on nuclear weapons and nuclear war. His work on strategic matters is well-known to Israel's prime minister and to its military and intelligence communities.
Prof. Beres is the academic advisor to the Freeman Center For