ISRAEL, PALESTINE AND NUCLEAR WAR
By Louis Rene Beres
Some subjects should be approached with fear and trembling. One such subject concerns nuclear war in the Middle East. Because the impending creation of a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel will heighten this prospect considerably, ongoing Arab militarization in that unsteady region should be viewed with a unique kind of apprehension.
Architects of the Oslo Agreements suggest, of course, that a "two-state solution" to the Palestinian problem will substantially reduce the risk of another major war in the Middle East. After all, we are told, this problem of stateless Palestinians is the source of all other problems between Israel and the Arabs. Once we have "justice" for Palestinians, the argument proceeds, Arab governments and Iran will begin to create area-wide stability and comprehensive peace settlements. Harmony shall 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 a "peace process," the conventional Oslo wisdom is unwise. For the most part, Iranian and Arab state inclinations to war against Israel have absolutely nothing to do with the Palestinians. Even if Israel were to make all unilateral Oslo concessions, and continue to adhere to unreciprocated agreements, these belligerent inclinations would continue, especially from Syria, Iraq and Libya as well as for Iran and Egypt. Indeed, as Israel will soon coexist with a new state of Palestine, the Jewish state's vulnerability to armed attack by hostile neighbors will increase markedly. And if this diminished safety is accompanied by the spread of unconventional weapons to hostile states, which now seems inevitable, Israel could find itself confronting not only war, but genocide.
Why? Most importantly, the new state of Palestine will preoccupy Israeli military forces to a much greater extent - much, much greater - than did the 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 inevitably become a favored launching-point for renewed (possibly even unconventional) terrorism against Israel. Various promises notwithstanding, Islamic insurgents would continue to celebrate violence against Israel as the essence of "national liberation."
Recognizing an "improved" configuration of forces vis-a-vis Israel, a larger number of 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 fickle, and that individual or combined chemical/biological/nuclear warfare capabilities could bring enormous harm to Israel, the creation of Palestine will tip the balance of power in the Middle East decisively. In view of this incontestable assessment, it is more than a little ironic that certain prominent Israelis, including even former Prime Minister Peres, are currently lobbying for a Palestinian state.
The full strategic implications for Israel of an independent Palestine should now be carefully appraised. If, in the end, such independence becomes the cause of a nuclear war in the region, everyone, Palestinians as well as Jews, will lose. But how, exactly, would a nuclear war begin in the reconfigured Middle East? One possibility would be by Arab or Iranian first strikes against Israel. These strikes could be nuclear (although this would likely be several years away) or nonnuclear. In either scenario, Israel - especially if it feels perilously close to defeat - might resort to nuclear retaliation.
Alternatively, Israel, believing that substantial enemy attack -chemical, biological, conventional, or nuclear - is imminent, could decide to preempt. If, as we might expect, this preemption were entirely nonnuclear, it could still fail to prevent the anticipated attack against Israel. Here, Israeli nuclear weapons, having failed in their mission to support conventional preemption by deterring enemy retaliation, might also have to be used for purposes of nuclear warfighting. Israel has much to fear, more - perhaps - than any other state on the face of the earth. Threatened by a growing number of adversaries with ballistic missiles and with a corollary interest in nuclear warheads, Jerusalem knows that transformation of Judea/Samaria and Gaza into Palestine could provide its enemies with the means and the incentives to destroy the Jewish State once and for all. Deprived of essential "strategic depth," Israel could become seriously vulnerable to total defeat. Anguished by a possible end to the Third Temple Commonwealth, the nation's leaders would begin to think seriously about nuclear weapons as a last resort (the so-called "Samson Option"). It follows that however disturbing and problematic Israel's control of what remains of Judea/Samaria may be for the Arabs and for Iran, and however costly recovery of already surrendered "West Bank" lands would be for the Jewish State, the emergence of Palestinian statehood should be viewed with altogether grave concern. Otherwise, Palestine, looking first very much like Lebanon, could wind up as Armageddon, a metamorphosis that would favor neither Israeli nor Palestinian.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D. Princeton) 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 is well-known to Israel's military and intelligence communities.