Prof. Louis Rene Beres
Prof. Louis Rene Beresisraelnewsphoto: R. B.

The following article appears exactly as it was written by Professor Louis René Beres more than 23 years ago, except for two editor's comments in brackets. It is important to reconsider at this particular moment, in late November 2012, when the Palestinian Authority leadership, in a diplomatic end-run around still-binding international legal obligations to Israel, expects to receive formal U.N. recognition as a nonmember observer state.

February 1989:

A pair of prominent Israeli commentators has recently pointed out that continued control of the "territories" – that is, Judea and Samaria - would have grave consequences for Israel's security. In this connection, Yehoshafat Harkabi, a former chief of military intelligence (AMAN), argues, in his newest book, ISRAEL'S FATEFUL HOUR, that a refusal to end “occupation” of West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and Gaza will produce escalating terrorism and further incentives for war by neighboring Arab states. Abba Eban, Foreign Minister of Israel from 1966 to 1974, insists in a January 2, 1989 editorial in The New York Times ("Israel, Hardly the Monaco of the Middle East"), that Israel would have nothing to fear from an independent “Palestine.” Such a state, he claimed, "would be the weakest military entity on earth."

In these assessments, Harkabi is certainly correct, but nowhere does he compare the risks to Israel of an ongoing "occupation" with those of a Palestinian state. If he had offered such a comparison, perhaps he would have understood that continuing Israeli administrative control of Judea/Samaria/Gaza would certainly have its risks, but that a bordering state of Palestine would be far worse. As for Mr. Eban, he is wrong altogether.

If there were to be an Arab-ruled state in Judea/Samaria/Gaza, its particular danger to Israel would lie less in its own army, than in the assorted insurgents that would soon shelter themselves in "Palestine." To suggest that the principal risks to Israel could be ascertained by simply comparing the Israeli army to the far more modest forces of this 23rd Arab state, would assume an incorrectly static condition in the new enemy country, one that would offer only the "best case" scenario for Israel.

These suggestions, therefore, are hardly in Jerusalem's best interests. Israel is not "the Monaco of the Middle East," but neither would Palestine be as benign a mini-state as Abba Eban suggests. Before Israel can reasonably conclude that the so-called "occupation" is intolerable, its leaders will first have to determine whether it is actually less tolerable than Palestinian statehood. If it isn't less tolerable, then rationality would require continuing administrative control, however painful, costly and unfortunate.

And such rationality would not even take into account the overwhelmingly all-important fact that Judea and Samaria are inherent parts of the Jewish State under authoritatively binding international law.

What, exactly, are the major strategic risks to Israel posed by an independent Palestine? To answer this question, one must first understand that several of the Arab states are still preparing for war with Israel, and that a new Arab state in Judea/Samaria/Gaza would open another hot border for the Jewish state. As a result, the Arab-Israeli balance of forces could change decisively, possibly even providing the needed incentive for certain Arab first-strikes.

Ballistic missiles that could carry chemical warheads now exist in Syria, Iraq, non-Arab Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia [they were not yet in Gaza and Lebanon, as this was written pre-disengagement and pre-Hizbullah but is totally applicable to there as well , ed.]. Significantly, Syria, which is now, together with Iraq, the most serious country threat to Israel, has also been receiving massive stocks of new conventional weapons, including main battle tanks, combat aircraft, anti-aircraft systems and tactical missiles. Still anxious to recover the Golan which it lost in 1967, the regime of Hafez al-Assad has already deployed 4,200 tanks on its border with Israel .

I witnessed this myself. I visited Israel's northern borders, with the IDF, during the first week of this year (1989).

Ultimately, enemy ballistic missiles could carry nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia recently purchased CSS2-class surface-to-surface missiles from China that could reach any part of the Middle East from Riyadh. Iraq, even after Israel's highly-successful 1981 air attack against the French-built Osiraq nuclear reactor, still possesses about 12.5 kilograms (27.5 pounds) of French-supplied highly-enriched uranium, enough for at least one nuclear weapon.

During its recent "War of Cities" with Iran, the Baghdad regime consistently violated the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibitions against chemical weapons.

What about delivery systems? Iraq has several types of aircraft that would be capable of meeting these needs, including the Soviet-supplied TU-22, TU-16, and MiG-23, and the French-supplied Mirage F-1. Iraq has also acquired the SCUD B from the Soviet Union, a 300-km ballistic missile with inertial guidance, and, also from the Soviets, the FROG-7, an unguided free rocket over ground with a 60 to 70-km range. It has also been reported that the Soviets have exported an unknown number of SS-21s to Iraq, a replacement for the FROG with improved guidance capability. For now, the principal impediment to Iraqi nuclear weapons is the temporary incapacity to manufacture or acquire nuclear missile warheads.

Let us turn to Iran, certain to become a major strategic threat to Israel.

Until the revolution in January 1979, Iran's nuclear program was the most ambitious in the entire Middle East. In addition to open, commercial activities, the Shah most likely initiated a full-scale nuclear weapons research program. This program included work on two technologies for producing weapons-grade nuclear materials, enrichment and reprocessing, and on the actual design of nuclear weapons.

Because of Washington's unwillingness to undermine the Shah in the days preceding the final overthrow, Khomeini inherited substantial nuclear assets. The precise configuration of this nuclear infrastructure, including weapons-relevant technology and equipment, is still known only to selected persons within the Messianic Khomeini regime. What is known is that this regime is diligently reactivating the nation's nuclear program.

Where will this reactivation end?

From Iran's point of view, nuclear weapons must appear as an essential counterweight to Iraq's superiority in conventional armaments. Moreover, nuclear weapons would seem to have special value in enhancing the Khomeini regime's status in the region, and its associated capacity to advance the objectives of militant Islamic fundamentalism. It should not be surprising, therefore, that Iran, in 1984, opened a new research center at Isfahan.

What delivery systems are available to Iran? At the moment, the Tehran regime has two lines of advanced combat aircraft that can deliver a nuclear bomb: the F-4D/E Phantom II, and the F-5E/F Tiger II. It also has a ballistic missile force that could deliver nuclear warheads. Although there is no available information that Iran is making substantial progress in the manufacture of such warheads, that country has maintained and expanded its very costly nuclear research program at a time of increasing economic dislocation and hardship.

Iran remains a potential nuclear power that should not be dismissed out of hand.

What about Syria? Recognizing that it cannot rely entirely on the air force to penetrate Israeli air space, Syria knows that its Soviet-designed Scud-B missile could, if fired from Syria, reach all of Israel, except the southern Negev, in six minutes. A direct descendant of the German V-2, the Scud is a weapon that could do enormous damage to Israeli civilian populations. In this connection, it could carry, if Syria should ever acquire nuclear warheads, the implements of atomic war.

At some point, Syria will very likely attempt, in great secrecy, to acquire some nuclear weapons capability.

If Palestine should provide the essential incentive for an Arab/Islamic war against Israel, a war that would end with the actual use of nuclear weapons, it could wind up as “Armageddon.” But even if there would be no escalation to nuclear war-fighting, Palestine could still become another Lebanon. Here, many different Palestinian factions, both within and outside the P.L.O. umbrella, would contend for control over the new Arab state. Various insurgents that do not threaten Israel's very survival in the intifadah would now be able to inflict great harm on their neighbor to the west.

Let me be more precise. Should an independent Palestine be created from Judea/Samaria/Gaza, its president would almost certainly be Yasser Arafat [now it would be a mirror image of the just-exhumed murderer, ed.], and its principal leaders would be drawn from the P.L.O. chairman's faction, al-Fatah. Probably within hours of the new state's effective beginnings, its government and its ruling elite would be targeted by P.L.O. radicals, and by various Palestinian parties opposed to P.L.O. Among the radicals, some (e.g., Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) might represent Syrian interests, and others (e.g., Arab Liberation Front and Palestine Liberation Front) might front for Iraq.

Among the anti-P.L.O. parties, most (e.g., Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command; Popular Struggle Front; the Abu Musa organization and Saiqa) are tied intimately to Syria, and one (Fatah Revolutionary Council) - known popularly as the Abu Nidal group - is linked to Libya. Samir Gosheh's Popular Struggle Front currently displays more independence from Syria than Ahmed Jebril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, and Saiqa is essentially an integral Syrian force with only a nominal Palestinian identity.

Even the mainstream Fatah organization could spawn anti-Arafat cells. Saleh Khalef, Fatah's second-in-command (nom de guerre: Abu Lyad) was closely associated with Black September, and is far more radical than Arafat. Farouk Kaddoumi (nom de guerre: Abu Lutf) has close ties to the Soviet Union and eastern bloc countries, and Khaled al-Hassan frequently challenges Arafat in search of more collective leadership.

We see that many factions, including some newly developing Islamic fundamentalists spun off from Egypt's Moslem Brotherhood, would contend for control over any new state of Palestine, and that all of these factions could resort unhesitatingly to high levels of violence.

Before long, the resident Palestinian Arab population would suffer far more than it had under Israeli rule, and anarchy would pose a real threat to Jordan. Over time, it is likely that Jordan could be undermined altogether, and even become part of a "greater Palestine.” Of course, Iraq, too, could gain a controlling position in 'Palestine', but this would depend upon the power of its Palestinian Arab surrogates vis-à-vis those in other places.

Ironically, the result of these events - of another Lebanon - would be enormously tragic for both Palestinians who seek a homeland, and for Israelis who seek secure frontiers.

It follows from all of this that Palestine would pose a very serious security risk to Israel, and that this risk could become far greater than that of maintaining Israeli control of "the territories." This does not mean that Israel and the Palestinians should steer clear of meaningful negotiations, or that Israel should neglect concerning itself with protecting the peremptory human rights of Arab populations under its control.

But it does mean that any reasonable assessments of Israel's security must always compare the expected costs of both principal options for Judea/Samaria/Gaza: IDF military administration versus independence.

In the absence of such an essential comparison, Israel could go from bad to worse, from a situation that is conspicuously debilitating and demoralizing, to one that is utterly intolerable.

Originally published February 1989 in the Jewish Press.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel (2003). Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945, and is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.