Core Synergies in Israel’s Strategic Planning
Core Synergies in Israel’s Strategic Planning

To best serve Israel, the country’s strategic studies community should favor more conceptual or “molecular” assessments of expected security perils. Going forward therefore, it will not suffice for this community to operate in ways that are roughly comparable to the purely reportorial activities of journalists and pundits, that is, of ordinary observers who focus exclusively on current personalities and events. With this timely warning in mind, the following brief essay explains and argues for a specifically enhanced Israeli consideration of enemy “synergies.”

For the most part, the concept of synergy is already familiar to capable scientists and scholars. It signifies, above all, that the usually binding axioms of geometry can sometimes be overridden by various intersecting phenomena. Applied to Israel, this concept suggests that certain identifiable threats to the Jewish State should no longer be considered as wholly separate or discrete, but instead, as more-or-less interpenetrating and mutually-reinforcing.

The most obvious and portentous example of pertinent synergy for Jerusalem is represented by Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian statehood.[1]

At first, any such talk of “synergy” may sound needlessly pretentious, or at least more contrived, concocted, or complicated than is really the case. In medicine, after all, it would already seem plain that the dangers of smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol together must exceed either one behavior without the other. This is because the synergistic effect is presumptively much greater than those consequences ascertained by merely adding these two injurious activities together.

For Israeli planners, the still-widely-unrecognized synergy between Iranian nuclearization and “Palestine” should finally be treated with a more emphatic intellectual regard.[2] Notwithstanding the declared assumptions of virtually all acknowledged national strategists, Iran and Palestine,[3] as “negative force multipliers,”[4] do not represent thoroughly separate or unrelated hazards to Israel. To continue to assess each one independently of the other would be a serious conceptual error. It would be to consciously obscure what is potentially most revealing and most ominous.

Israel’s main security policies must involve carefully nuanced considerations of active defense, as well as of deterrence, preemption, and war-fighting. The country’s multilayered missile defenses are central to national survival. As long as incoming rocket aggressions from Gaza, West Bank, and/or Lebanon (Hezbollah) were to remain “only” conventional, the inevitable leakage could still be tolerable. But once these rockets were fitted with chemical and/or biological materials, such porosity could quickly prove “unacceptable.[5] This means, among other things, that the projected harms of rocket attacks upon Israel would depend not only upon the inherent dangers posed by a particular weapon system, but also upon the ways in which these individual harms would intersect.[6]

Once facing Iranian nuclear missiles, Israel’s “Arrow” ballistic missile defense system would require a fully 100% reliability of interception. To achieve any such level of reliability, however, would be impossible. Now, assuming that the prime minister has already abandoned any residual hopes for a cost-effective eleventh-hour preemption against pertinent Iranian nuclear assets , this means that Israeli defense planners must prepare instead, and longer-term, for stable deterrence.[7]

Theory is a net. Only those who cast, can catch.[8] Because of the expectedly corrosive interactive effects involving Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian statehood, for example, Israel will need to update and refine its existing theories of deterrence.

Looking ahead, there are various antecedent issues of theoretical concern. For one, Israel’s leaders will have to accept that certain more-or-less identifiable leaders of prospectively overlapping enemies might not necessarily satisfy the complex criteria of rational behavior in world politics. In such partially improbable but still conceivable circumstances, assorted Jihadist adversaries in Palestine, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, or elsewhere might sometime refuse to renounce certain still-contemplated aggressions against Israel.[9]

By definition, these irrational enemies could exhibit such more-or-less plausible refusals even in anticipation of fully devastating Israeli reprisals. But, would they still remain subject to alternative threats or forms of deterrence? And might an entire state sometime exhibit such non-rational orientations, thereby becoming, in essence, a suicide terrorist writ large?

These utterly core questions can no longer be ignored. Sooner rather than later, and facing new and prospectively incalculable synergies from Iranian and Palestinian aggressions, Israel will need to take appropriate steps to assure that: (1) it does not become the object of any non-conventional attacks from these enemies; and (2) it can successfully deter all possible forms of non-conventional conflict. To meet this ambitious but indispensable goal, Jerusalem, inter alia, absolutely must retain its recognizably far-reaching conventional superiority in pertinent weapons and capable manpower, including effective tactical/operational control over the Jordan Valley.

In this connection, a Palestinian state could make Israeli military and civilian targets more opportune for Iranian rockets. It could simultaneously undermine the Jewish State’s critical early-warning systems.

Maintaining a qualitative edge in conventional war-fighting capacity could reduce Israel’s overall likelihood of ever actually having to enter into a chemical, biological, or even nuclear exchange with regional adversaries. CorrespondinglyIsrael should plan to begin to move incrementally beyond its increasingly perilous posture of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.”[10] By preparing to shift toward prudently selective and partial kinds of “nuclear disclosure” – in other words, by getting ready to take its “bomb” out of the “basement,” but in carefully controlled phases[11] – Israel could best ensure that its relevant enemies will remain sufficiently subject to Israeli nuclear deterrence.

In matters of defense strategy, truth may emerge through paradox. Israeli planners, it follows, may soon have to acknowledge that the efficacy and credibility of their country’s nuclear deterrence posture could sometime vary inversely with enemy perceptions of Israeli nuclear destructiveness. However ironic or counter-intuitive, enemy views of a too-large or too-destructive Israeli nuclear deterrent force, or of an Israeli force that is not sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attacks,[12] could substantially undermine this deterrence posture.

Here, too, carving “Palestine” out of the still-living body of Israel (what amounts to the unhidden Palestinian Authority plan for a “one state solution”), could impact the Iranian nuclear threat, and vice-versa. Once again, Israel’s defense planning must account for possible and prospectively prohibitive synergies.

Also critical, of course, is that Israel’s current and future adversaries will always acknowledge the Jewish State’s nuclear retaliatory forces as “penetration capable.” This suggests forces that will seem “assuredly capable” of penetrating any Arab or Iranian aggressor’s active defenses. Naturally, a new state of Palestine would be non-nuclear itself, but it could still present a new “nuclear danger” to Israel by its probable impact upon the prevailing regional “correlation of forces.”[13] Palestine, therefore, could represent an indirect but nonetheless markedly serious nuclear threat to Israel. Here, yet again, is an example of the need for Israeli planners to think synergistically.

More remains to be done. Israel should continue to strengthen its active defenses, but Jerusalem must also do everything possible to improve each critical and interpenetrating component of its nuanced deterrence posture. In this bewilderingly complex and dialectical[14] process of strategic dissuasion, the Israeli task may require more incrementally explicit disclosures of nuclear targeting doctrine, and, accordingly, a steadily expanding role for cyber-defense and cyber-war.

Even before undertaking such delicately important refinements, Israel will need to more systematically differentiate between adversaries that are presumably rational,[15]irrational, or “mad.”[16]

Overall, the success of Israel’s national deterrence strategies will be contingent, inter alia, upon an informed prior awareness of enemy preferences, and of specific enemy hierarchies of preferences. In this connection, altogether new and open-minded attention will need to be focused on the seeming emergence of “Cold War II” between Russia and the United States. Any such emergence, of course, could have meaningful effects upon both Israeli and adversarial military postures.[17]

If, within a pattern of “Cold War II,” a newly-formalized state of Palestine does not find itself in the same ideological orbit as Iran, the net hazard to

Decision-makers will then need to explore and acknowledge what amounts, paradoxically, to a geometry of chaos.
Israel could still exceed the sum of relevant intersecting threats. While attempting to survive amid growing regional disorder, therefore, Israel’s leaders should learn to understand the profound strategic limits of normal “geometry”—where, quite mundanely, the whole is always expected to equal to the sum of its parts—and to augment an enhanced understanding with certain new geometric orthodoxies. In essence, these decision-makers will then need to explore and acknowledge what amounts, paradoxically, to a geometry of chaos.

Still, even this long-hidden geometry could reveal a discernible sense of symmetry and form, including the precise shape of certain critically interwoven enemy threats. Wherever the belligerent whole might add up to more than the sum of its constituent parts, Israel’s leaders could discover lethal hazards of adversarialsynergies. Significantly, the most insidious synergy of all could involve a rudimentary failure to understand that belligerent enemy intentions ultimately depend for their efficacy upon confused, partial, or inadequately thoughtful Israeli responses.

When Pericles delivered his famous Funeral Oration, with its meticulously elaborate praise of Athenian civilization, his geostrategic perspective was applicable to more than the particular struggle at hand. Recorded by Thucydides, Pericles had expressed confidence in a military victory for Athens (a confidence, of course, that turned out to be misplaced), but also grave concern for any self-imposed limitations along the way: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies,” he had warned, “is our own mistakes.” However unforeseen, there is a vital lesson here for present-day Israel: In observing enemy preparations for war and terror, never forget that the ultimate success of these preparations will depend upon Israel’s selected responses.

There exists an overarching or determinative synergy between certain individual or intersecting enemy preparations and Israel’s own prepared policies and reactions.

In all world politics, but especially in the Middle East, we are present at the gradual unveiling of a “big picture,” but the nucleus of meaning—the essential truth of what is taking place—involves what is left out. For the foreseeable future, Israel’s enemies will continue with their ardent preparations for every form of war and terrorism. Unaffected by any civilizing expectations of international law of comity, these calculated preparations will proceed largely on their own track, culminating, if left suitably unobstructed, in new and ever more serious aggressions against Israel. The Jewish State must remain vigilant of such an emergent “big picture,” but also of every imaginable intersection or pattern of intersections between its component parts.

Always, Israel’s leaders and planners must reflect, core dangers to national security are profoundly synergistic.

Always, Israeli policy must recall, these fundamental dangers are potentially much greater than the additive sum of their  respective parts.

Always, Jerusalem must insightfully recognize, even a bewildering geometry of chaos has potentially meaningful sense and form.

Always, it must be Israel’s consuming task, to discover this synergistic truth.


[1] There are other still more complex synergies that need to be examined. These concern, especially, the intersecting roles of ISIS and al-Qaeda, including pertinent sub/state-state relationships with Syria, Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Also worth exploring, in this connection, is the plausible escalation of “Cold War II,” a broadly transforming context of world politics that could create a “synergy of synergies.” Although all such bewildering hypotheticals may be intimidating or annoying to scholars and policy-makers, there remains no reasonable explanatory alternative to taking them into account.

[2] Rabbi Eleazar quoted Rabbi Hanina, who said: “Scholars build the structure of peace in the world.” See: The Babylonian Talmud, Order Zera’im, Tractate Berakoth, and IX.

[3] Once a Palestinian state were created, it would more likely become subject to destruction by assorted Arab forces, than by Israel. Plausibly, in this connection, ISIS forces fighting their way westward across Jordan could quickly arrive at the West Bank (Judea/Samaria), and make fast work of any now indigenous Hamas/PA national “army.” In such dire circumstances, the citizens of “Palestine” would assuredly rue the day of their recently-declared “independence.”

[4] This is a term that will likely be favored by the generals, over synergy.

[5] See, on this issue: Louis René Beres and (Major-General/IDF/Res.) Isaac Ben-Israel, “Think Anticipatory Self-Defense,” The Jerusalem Post, October 22, 2007; Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,”Washington Times, June 10, 2007; Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009; and Professor Beres and MG Ben-Israel, “Defending Israel from Iranian Nuclear Attack,” The Jewish Press, March 13, 2013. See also: Louis René Beres and (General/USAF/ret.) John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?” The Atlantic, August 9, 2012; Professor Beres and General Chain, “Living With Iran,” BESA Center for Strategic Studies, Israel, May 2014; and Louis René Beres and (Lt.General/USAF/ret.) Thomas McInerney, “Obama’s Inconceivable, Undesirable, Nuclear-Free Dream,” U.S. News & World Report, August 29, 2013.

[6] Here, it warrants mention that Palestinian statehood could represent an enlarged set of risks to Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor. Already, in 1991 and 2014, this small reactor came under missile and rocket attack from Iraqi and Hamas aggressions respectively. For authoritative assessments of these attacks and related risks, see: Bennett Ramberg, “Should Israel Close Dimona? The Radiological Consequences of a Military Strike on Israel’s Plutonium-Production Reactor,” Arms Control Today, May 2008, pp. 6-13.

[7] With particular reference to nuclear deterrence, the primary function of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be dissuasion ex ante, rather than revenge ex post.

[8] This convenient metaphor is generally attributed to Novalis, the late 18th-century German poet and scholar. See, for example, introductory citation by Karl R. Popper, in his The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959). Ironically, perhaps, Novalis’ fellow German poet, Goethe, had declared, in his early Faust fragment (Urfaust): “All theory, dear friend, is grey. But the golden tree of life is green.” (Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grűn des Lebens goldner Baum.)

[9] See, on this point: Louis René Beres, “Religious Extremism and International Legal Norms: Perfidy, Preemption, and Irrationality,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No.3., 2007-2008, pp. 709-730.

[10] See: Louis René Beres, “Like Two Scorpions in a Bottle: Could Israel and a Nuclear Iran Coexist in the Middle East,” The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 8, No. 1., 2014, pp. 23-32; Louis René Beres, “Facing Myriad Enemies: Core Elements of Israeli Nuclear Deterrence,” The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Vol. XX, Issue 1., Fall/Winter 2013, pp. 17-30; Louis René Beres, “Lessons for Israel from Ancient Chinese Military Thought: Facing Iranian Nuclearization with Sun-Tzu,”Harvard National Security Journal, 2013; Louis René Beres, “Striking Hezbollah-Bound Weapons in Syria: Israel’s Actions Under International Law,” Harvard National Security Journal, 2013; Louis René Beres, “Looking Ahead: Revising Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity in the Middle East,” Herzliya Conference presentation, 2013; March 2013; IDC, Herzliya; Louis René Beres and (General/USAF/ret) John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?” The Atlantic, 2012.

[11] On identifying alternative nuclear disclosure options, see: Louis René Beres, “Israel’s Strategic Doctrine: Updating Intelligence Community Responsibilities,”International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 28, No. 1, Spring, 2015, pp. 89-104.

[12] On Israeli submarine basing measures, see: Louis René Beres and (Admiral/USN/ret.) Leon “Bud” Edney, “Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: A Larger Role for Submarine-Basing,” The JerusalemPost, August 17, 2014; and Professor Beres and Admiral Edney, “A Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent for Israel,” Washington Times, September 5, 2014.

[13] See: Louis René Beres, “Understanding the Correlation of Forces in the Middle East: Israel’s Urgent Strategic Imperative,” The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs,Vol. IV, No. 1 (2010).

[14] Dialectic formally originated in the fifth century BCE, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophical/analytic method. Here, Plato describes the dialectician as one who knows best how to ask and answer questions. This particular knowledge – how to ask, and to answer questions, sequentially – should now be insistently transposed to the organized study of Israeli security issues.

[15] Israelis, like Americans, are inclined to project their own dominant sense of rationality upon adversaries. Acknowledging that western philosophy has always oscillated between Plato and Nietzsche, between rationalism and irrationalism, we have all routinely cast our psychological lot with the Greek thinkers and their inheritors. Significantly, however, Israel is now up against a steadily transforming ordering of the geostrategic universe; now, Israel’s strategists might sometimes be better advised to read Dostoyevsky and Kafka, than to dwell too fixedly on Platonic rationalism.

[16] “Do you know what it means to find yourselves face to face with a madman,” inquires Luigi Pirandello, “with one who shakes the foundations of all you have built up in yourselves, your logic, and the logic of all your constructions? Madmen, lucky folk, construct without logic, or rather, with a logic that flies like a feather.”

[17] On this point, see: Louis René Beres, “Staying Strong: Enhancing Israel’s Essential Strategic Options,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, June 13, 2014.

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue. He is the author of many major books and journal articles, in the field. Professor Beres’ opinion articles appear in many leading U.S. and Israeli newspapers and magazines, including The AtlanticU.S. News & World ReportIsrael National NewsThe Jerusalem Post, The Washington TimesThe Hill (U.S. Congress), and Oxford University Press. In Israel, where his current writings are published by the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, the Institute for Policy and Strategy, and the Institute for National Security Studies, he was Chair of Project Daniel (2003). Dr. Beres’ most recent strategy-centered publications were published in The Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School),The International Journal of Intelligence and CounterintelligenceParameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War CollegeThe Brown Journal of World Affairs, and theIsrael Journal of Foreign Affairs. His tenth book, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: Surviving amid Chaos, will be published later this year (Rowman and Littlefield). Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II.

This article appeared in the Harvard Law School National Security Journal. Sent to Arutz Sheva by the author.