Op-Ed: Israel and Samson - Part I
Louis Rene BeresLouis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University. He is the author of many books, monographs, and articles dealing with Israeli security matters, nuclear strategy and nuclear war.
First, Israel can learn that it must prepare to take hold of the enemy's temple pillars, not because "last resort" options are of overriding importance in themselves (they are not of such importance), but because preparations for such options could make last resort scenarios for Jerusalem less likely. By taking steps to "die with the Philistines," Israel would do far more than prepare for the Apocalypse. Enhancing Israel's nuclear deterrence, preemption and war-fighting capabilities, such steps could even push away the "Final Battle", preserving the Jewish State by demonstrating national power and resolve.
Regarding prospective contributions to Israeli nuclear deterrence, preparations for a Samson Option could help convince would-be attackers that aggression would not prove gainful. This is especially the case if Israeli preparations were coupled with some level of nuclear disclosure, and if Israel's pertinent Samson weapons appeared to be sufficiently invulnerable to enemy first-strikes. In view of what strategists sometimes refer to as the "rationality of pretended irrationality," Samson could also aid Israeli nuclear deterrence by demonstrating a willingness to take existential risks, but this would hold only if last-resort options were not tied by definition to certain destruction.
Regarding prospective contributions to preemption, preparations for a Samson Option could convince Israel that essential defensive first-strikes would be undertaken with diminished expectations of unacceptably destructive enemy retaliations. This would depend, of course, upon antecedent Israeli decisions on disclosure, on Israeli perceptions of the effects of disclosure on enemy retaliatory prospects, and on Israeli judgments about enemy perceptions of Samson weapons vulnerability. As in the case of Samson and Israeli nuclear deterrence, last-resort preparations could assist Israel's preemption options by displaying a willingness to take certain existential risks. But Israeli planners must be mindful here of pretended irrationality as a double-edged sword. Brandished too "irrationally," Israeli preparations for a Samson Option could even encourage enemy preemptions.
Regarding prospective contributions to Israel's nuclear war-fighting options, preparations for a Samson Option could convince enemy states that a clear victory would be impossible to achieve; that is, that even after overwhelming the Jewish State and its military forces, these states would face their own overwhelming destruction. But here it would be important for Israel to communicate to potential aggressors the following understanding: Israel's "Samson" weapons are additional to (not at the expense of) its war-fighting weapons. In the absence of such communication, preparations for a Samson Option could effectively impair, rather than reinforce, Israel's nuclear war-fighting options.
Second, Israel can learn from Samson the mortal dangers of exploited vulnerabilities. Like Samson, the Jewish State possesses great strength. And like Samson, this strength can be blunted or even be "cut off" altogether. Israel's national power, of course, does not lie in any one single part of its "anatomy," but its constituent elements are vulnerable nonetheless. These elements can be rendered inoperable.
What, then, is the "lesson" here from Samson? More than anything else, it is that Israel draws power from the land, from the essential strategic depth provided by Judea, Samaria and the Golan, and from the territorial imperative to secure conventional and unconventional retaliatory forces from enemy first-strikes. In the absence of secure retaliatory forces, Israel's deterrence posture could be eroded to intolerable limits.
It follows that Israel's Oslo/Road Map policy of incremental territorial concessions - a policy that has always flowed from a misguided conception of the so-called "Peace Process" - is a policy that would only destroy Israel's power. Eliminating strategic depth and preventing secure retaliatory forces, this policy would encourage large-scale enemy aggressions against Israel, both conventional and unconventional. It is a policy, therefore, that ignores an important lesson from Samson.
Should Israel choose, instead, to learn from Samson, it will strenuously guard its sources of power. Rather than accepting further excisions of its already attenuated land mass, an acceptance that would impair strategic depth to an unmanageable degree and encourage enemy "preemptive" strikes, it will insist upon no additional territorial concessions. Recognizing that international law is not a suicide pact, its leaders will acknowledge forthrightly that Israel has a primary obligation to survive, an obligation owed to both its current citizens and to those earlier generations of Jewish victims who now sleep in the dust.
Israel must never be ashamed of its own power. Nor must it continue to project only its own reasonable intentions upon enemy leaderships. Recalling from Samson the terrible consequences of powerlessness - consequences brought on not by irresistible external forces, but by Samson's own foolishness and misjudgments - leaders of the Jewish State must now preserve and prepare to use all vital elements of national power. In military terms, these elements include indispensable land mass and appropriate forms of nuclear weaponry.
Should Israel's Oslo/Road Map-based surrender of land mass lead to creation of a Palestinian state, a clear loss of geostrategic power would be exacerbated by a less tangible, but no less important, power loss. I refer to the loss attendant upon the probable Arab and Iranian perception of an incessant and now unstoppable momentum against the Jewish State, a jihad-centered perception of military inevitability that might not represent a measurable loss of power, but that would nonetheless reinforce and reiterate enemy advantages. Recognizing such perceptions, Israel could decide to take its bomb out of the "basement" (as a deterrence-enhancing measure) and/or it could accept a greater willingness to launch preemptive strikes against enemy hard targets. Made aware of such Israeli reactions, reactions that would stem from both Israel's territorial vulnerabilities and from Israel's awareness of enemy perceptions spawned by the creation of Palestine, Arab states and/or Iran could respond in more-or-less parallel fashion, preparing more openly for nuclearization and for first-strike attacks. Such results of the "Peace Process" would almost certainly increase Israel's overall dependence upon nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy.
Such dependence, inter alia, could focus upon the requirements of nuclear war-fighting. This is the case because the "Peace Process" will enlarge Israel's needs for nuclear weapons to fulfill deterrence and preemption options, and because these options might not be fulfilled successfully. That is, deterrence and preemption strategies could fail, even though they had been supported by nuclear weapons. Here, Israel's continued survival could then require the weapons and tactics needed for nuclear war-fighting, a requirement that, by definition, would represent a diminution of Israel's power.
Among the probable paths to nuclear war-fighting in the Middle East are the following: (1) enemy nuclear first-strikes against Israel (not a present possibility); (2) enemy non-nuclear WMD first-strikes against Israel that elicit Israeli nuclear reprisals, either promptly or as a consequence of incremental escalation processes; (3) Israeli nuclear preemptions against hard targets in enemy states with nuclear assets (not a present possibility); (4) Israeli non-nuclear preemptions against hard targets in enemy states with nuclear assets that elicit enemy nuclear reprisals, either promptly or via incremental escalation processes (not a present possibility); and (5) Israeli non-nuclear preemptions against hard targets in enemy states without nuclear assets that elicit substantial enemy biological warfare reprisals and, reciprocally, Israeli nuclear counter-retaliations. Other pertinent paths to nuclear war-fighting in the region include accidental/unintentional/inadvertent/unauthorized nuclear attacks between Israel and enemy states. Here, we must also consider the prospect of escalation arising from WMD terrorism against Israel.
As long as it may be assumed that Israel is determined to survive, there are conditions where the Jewish State might become involved in nuclear war-fighting. This holds true so long as: (a) enemy first-strikes against Israel would not destroy Israel's second-strike nuclear capability; (b) enemy retaliations for an Israeli conventional preemption would not destroy Israel's nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) Israeli preemptive strikes involving nuclear weapons would not destroy enemy second-strike nuclear capabilities (not presently a concern); and (d) Israeli retaliation for enemy conventional first-strikes would not destroy enemy nuclear counter-retaliatory capabilities (not a present concern either). This means, from the standpoint of Israel's nuclear requirements, that Jerusalem should now prepare to do what is needed to ensure the likelihood of (a) and (b) above, and the unlikelihood of (c) and (d).
To maintain a viable power position in the Middle East, an obligation that may be learned from Samson, Israel must maintain at all times the preemption option. But as this option would be undermined by the Oslo/Road Map peace process (Israel, after all, would be generally identified as the "aggressor" should it preempt while "peace" were in the process of being negotiated), that process impairs such maintenance. It follows that Israel, still learning from Samson, should hold on to its essential sources of power by rejecting this kind of peace process and by simultaneously protecting the nuclear weapons needed for supporting the preemption option.
Why are nuclear weapons needed for such support? Three general answers come to mind.
Israel needs nuclear weapons to preempt enemy nuclear attacks. This does not mean that Israeli preemptions of such attacks would necessarily be nuclear (more than likely, they would, in fact, be non-nuclear), but only that they could be nuclear.
Israel needs nuclear weapons to support conventional preemptions against enemy nuclear assets. With such weapons, Israel could maintain, explicitly or implicitly, a threat of nuclear counter-retaliation. Without such weapons, Israel, having to rely entirely upon non-nuclear forces, might not be able to deter enemy retaliations for the Israeli preemptive strike.
Israel needs nuclear weapons to support conventional preemptions against enemy non-nuclear (conventional/chemical/biological) assets. With such weapons, Israel could maintain, explicitly or implicitly, a threat of nuclear counter-retaliation. Without such weapons, Israel, having to rely entirely upon non-nuclear forces, might not be able to deter enemy retaliations for the Israeli preemption.
[Part 1 of 2]
1. This brings to mind what academic strategists now commonly call "The Samson Option." Samson emerges in this option as the preferred model to Masada, a refutation of Jewish mass suicide without punishment of the aggressor. But here he is a last resort model, a final spasm of Jewish justice signifying the complete failure of all other survival options. This is not the Samson model under discussion in these "reflections," although my Samson model does acknowledge the security benefits to Israel that lie latent in preparations for the Samson Option. Moreover, my Samson model, one that is intended to be instructive for Israel, has nothing whatever to do with the image offered in the dreadful popular book by Seymour M. Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy (New York: Random House, 1991).
2. See Louis Rene Beres, "The Bomb in the Basement: Reconsidering a Vital Element of Israeli Nuclear Deterrence", Nativ Online (Israel), Vol. 1/2003, pp. 1-14; and Louis Rene Beres, "Israel's Bomb in the Basement: A Revisiting pf 'Deliberate Ambiguity' vs. 'Disclosure'", Israel Affairs, Vol. 2., No. 1., Autumn 1995, pp. 112-136.
3. A great deal has already been written about the importance of "strategic depth" to Israel. The heart of the issue was addressed as early as June 29, 1967, when a U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum specified that returning Israel to pre-1967 boundaries would drastically increase its existential vulnerability. Then-Chairman of the JCS, General Earl Wheeler, concluded that for "minimum deterrence and defense," Israel must retain Sharm El-Sheikh and Wadi El-Girali in the Sinai; the entire Gaza Strip; the high ground and plateaus of the mountains in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), and the Golan Heights east of Quneitra. Israel, of course, later transferred all of the Sinai to Egypt under terms of the 1978 Camp David Agreement and the 1979 treaty. See Gail Winston, "Israel's Chief of Staff Cites U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff on Israel's Defensible Borders", The Caucus Current, September 1993, pp. 24-25.
4. For writings by this author on the prospective impact of a Palestinian state on Israeli nuclear deterrence and Israeli nuclear strategy, see: Louis Rene Beres, "Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel's Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options," Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis Rene Beres, "After the 'Peace Process': Israel, Palestine, and Regional Nuclear War", Dickinson Journal of International Law, Vol. 15, No. 2., Winter 1997, pp. 301-335; Louis Rene Beres, "Limits of Nuclear Deterrence: The Strategic Risks and Dangers to Israel of False Hope", Armed Forces and Society, Vol. 23., No. 4., Summer 1997, pp. 539-568; Louis Rene Beres, "Getting Beyond Nuclear Deterrence: Israel, Intelligence and False Hope", International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 10., No. 1., Spring 1997, pp. 75- 90; Louis Rene Beres, "On Living in a Bad Neighborhood: The Informed Argument for Israeli Nuclear Weapons", Political Crossroads, Vol. 5., Nos. 1/2, 1997, pp. 143-157; Louis Rene Beres, "Facing the Apocalypse: Israel and the 'Peace Process'", Btzedek: The Journal of Responsible Jewish Commentary (Israel), Vol. 1., No. 3., Fall/Winter 1997, pp. 32-35; Louis Rene Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, "Why Golan Demilitarization Would Not Work", Strategic Review, Vol. XXIV, No. 1., Winter 1996, pp. 75-76; Louis Rene Beres, "Implications of a Palestinian State for Israeli Security and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment", Dickinson Journal of International Law, Vol. 17., No. 2., 1999, pp. 229-286; Louis Rene Beres, "A Palestinian State and Israel's Nuclear Strategy", Crossroads: An International Socio-Political Journal, No. 31, 1991, pp. 97-104; Louis Rene Beres, "The Question of Palestine and Israel's Nuclear Strategy", The Political Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 4., October-December 1991, pp. 451-460; Louis Rene Beres, "Israel, Palestine and Regional Nuclear War", Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol. 22., No. 2., June 1991, pp. 227-234; Louis Rene Beres, "A Palestinian State: Implications for Israel's Security and the Possibility of Nuclear War", Bulletin of the Jerusalem Institute for Western Defence (Israel), Vol. 4., Bulletin No, 3., October 1991, pp. 3-10; Louis Rene Beres, "Israeli Security and Nuclear Weapons", PSIS Occasional Papers, No. 1/1990, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, 40 pp; and Louis Rene Beres, "After the Gulf War: Israel, Palestine and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East", Strategic Review, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp. 48-55.
5. For general assessments of the probable consequences of nuclear war by this author, see: Louis Rene Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis Rene Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America's Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis Rene Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis Rene Beres, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1986).
6. Both Israeli nuclear and non-nuclear preemptions of enemy unconventional attacks could, at some time in the future, produce nuclear exchange. This would depend, in part, upon the effectiveness and breadth of Israeli targeting, the surviving number of enemy nuclear weapons, and the willingness of enemy leaders to risk Israeli nuclear counter-retaliations. The likelihood of nuclear exchange would appear to be greatest where pertinent enemy states (now primarily Iran) were allowed to deploy increasing numbers of weapons of mass destruction without interference from timely Israeli preemptions. Should such deployment take place, Israel could effectively forfeit the non-nuclear preemption option, and be forced to choose between a no-longer timely nuclear preemption and merely waiting to be struck first by the other side. It follows that the risks of an Israeli nuclear preemption, of nuclear exchanges with an enemy state and of enemy nuclear first-strikes could all be reduced by timely Israeli non-nuclear preemptions directed at critical hard targets (counter-force attacks). This contradicts the conventional "wisdom" that associates any prospective Israeli preemptive strikes with aggression and/or expanded noncombatant harms. Of course the optimal and distinctly preferable solution to Arab/Iranian/Israeli conflict would lie in political settlement, but there is little reason to believe that such a solution would ever be acceptable on the Islamic side.