Israel's strategic imperative
Israel's strategic imperative

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...."  (W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming)

In world politics, preserving equilibrium has a recognizably sacramental function. The reason is obvious. Without at least minimum public order, planetary relations would descend rapidly, and perhaps irremediably, into a profane disharmony. In any such global "state of nature," we may further extrapolate from Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, the life of individual nations could quickly become "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Actually, in one form or another, anarchy has long been the core feature of international relations. This unsteady condition of structurally decentralized authority was even codified in the seventeenth century, at the Peace of Westphalia (1648). Still, it should be borne in mind, conceptually, that anarchy is less threatening and less destabilizing than chaos.

There are, in other words, very significant differences here.

Today, in the Middle East especially, the "normal" absence of supranational authority is being transformed and worsened by something considerably less usual. This "something" is the palpable and simultaneous disintegration of national boundaries, classical power balances, and collective security remedies. Within this dreadful pattern of system-wide dissolution, literally tens of millions of stateless refugees now wander desperately across the earth.

At the same time, presumptively sober jurisprudential limits on the spread of nuclear weapons have become little more than a humiliating parody of legal controls. The most recent example of this parody, of course, is Iran's barely-hidden disregard for the 15 July 2015 Vienna pact. Once again, invoking the Hobbesian "state of nature," such spread already threatens to replicate the "dreadful equality" that exists among individual men in nature. Significantly, in this even more primal setting, "the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest."

There is more.  Looking further ahead, it is not too much to expect that assorted terror groups could soon gain access to usable forms of profoundly dangerous weapons, including biological weapons. Also, going forward, any residual civilizational capacity to deal with global chaos will require us to combat certain medieval Islamist enemies who are increasingly armed with up-to-date implements of mass annihilation.

Sometimes these enemies will be Sunni; at other times, Shiite. Sometimes, by seeking to weaken one set of adversaries, we may -  however unwittingly - strengthen another set.

Soon, a conspicuously stark juxtaposition of pre-modern ideologies with futuristic weapons will define an unprecedented challenge for dealing with chaos. This challenge, moreover, will be further exacerbated by a variety of recent news developments, including an expectedly further deterioration of allied military support from Turkey. Any such continuing deterioration is a foreseeable outcome, inter alia, of the recently- failed Turkish coup, and also of the resultant government purges of the army, and other national institutions.

In the most uncontroversial narratives of counter-terrorist obligation, even our most industrially backward enemies could have ready recourse to advanced strategies of cyber-defense and cyber-warfare. For the United States, the  implications of all this expanding access are deeply and predictably worrisome. For Israel, still a beleaguered mini-state, the survival implications are even greater.

For Israel, a country much smaller than America's Lake Michigan, these implications are unambiguously existential.

Unsurprisingly, it is now time for resolute candor. International law will not save Israel. Assorted agreement expectations notwithstanding, including the already caricatural pact with Iran, certain of Israel's Islamic enemies will inevitably "go nuclear." When this happens, there will be both anticipated and unanticipated interactions between pertinent catastrophic threats. These complex interactions, better known as synergies, will render the risks of an already-widening chaos still more pressing, and still less decipherable.

When this occurs, the imperiled region could even slip into the primordial chaos of the marooned boys in William Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies. Then, all cultivated expectations and ordinary protocols of civilized existence would lie in tatters, mercilessly torn to shreds by what W.B.Yeats would fearfully call a "blood-dimmed tide." Then, prophetically, the Irish poet's symbolic "ceremony of innocence" will finally have been "drowned."

For Israel, the relevant dangers of chaos are both particular and unique. Facing not only an unprecedented nuclear threat from Iran, but also the corrosive appearance of “Palestine,” the Jewish State could quickly find itself engulfed in mass-casualty terrorism, and/or  in unconventional war. As to any long-promised security help from the United States, neither President Barack Obama nor his White House successor could plausibly offer anything more tangible than a post-catastrophe assistance with disaster recovery.

At best, in any such after-the-fact circumstances, Washington would conveniently feign deep human concern, and thereby extend more-or-less compassionate American help in burying Israel's many dead.

There is more. The calculable probability of genuine Middle East chaos could be further enlarged by certain conceivable instances of enemy irrationality.  If, for example, Israel should have to face a Jihadist adversary that would value certain presumed religious expectations  more highly than its own physical survival, Israel’s deterrent could then be effectively immobilized.

Arguably the worst case scenario would involve an irrational nuclear Iran; that is, a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm. It goes without saying that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been especially concerned about precisely this "unthinkable" expression of regional chaos. Once it had been determined in Jerusalem that Iran's supreme leaders were meaningfully susceptible to non-rational judgments vis-à-vis Israel, the Jewish State's incentive to strike first defensively   could then quickly become overwhelming. Alternatively, Israel could still discard the preemption option - which would likely be described as "anticipatory self defense" in legal terms - but would then still need to identify other usable strategies of strategic deterrence.

It goes without saying that such alternative strategies should be carefully worked out generically; that is, in advance of identifying any specific or particular crisis. In all such calculations, chaos itself would need to be included as a pertinent factor. Chaos, in other words, would still have its analytic pride of place, however retrograde.

Here,  there could be no expectations of safety in arms, no rescues from higher political authority, and no comforting reassurances from science. With true chaos, new wars could rage until every flower of culture is trampled, and until all things human were leveled in a vast and more or less elementary disorder.

Here, even the best-laid plans for collective defense or alliance guarantees could quickly become little more than artifacts of a once still-functional world order.

Although counterintuitive, chaos and anarchy represent opposite end points of the same global continuum. Mere anarchy, or the absence of central world authority, is “normal.” Chaos, however, is sui generis. It is markedly “abnormal.”

Since the seventeenth century, and the end of the Thirty Years' War, the last of the major religious wars sparked by the Reformation, our anarchic world can be best described as a system. What happens in any one part of this world, therefore, necessarily affects what will happen in some or even all of the other parts. When a particular deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one nation to another, the disintegrative effects could undermine regional and/or international stability. 

When  deterioration is rapid and catastrophic, as it would be following the start of any unconventional war and/or act of unconventional terrorism, the corollary effects would be correspondingly immediate and overwhelming. These critical effects would be chaotic.

Aware that even an incremental collapse of  remaining world authority structures would impact its few friends as well as its many enemies, leaders of the Jewish State will soon need to advance certain precise and plausible premonitions of collapse, in order to chart more durable paths to survival. Such indispensable considerations will be distasteful, of course, and are most likely not yet underway.

Historically, Israel’s leaders have wasted far too-much time and thought with narrowly ritualistic consideration of  American "road maps" and “peace plans.” Soon, and in at least partial consequence of such persistently misspent opportunities, they will need to consider just how best to respond to international strategic life in a global state of nature. The specific triggering mechanisms of our disassembling world’s incremental descent into chaos could originate from a variety of mass-casualty attacks launched against Israel, or from certain similar attacks against other western democracies.

Even the traditionally powerful United States would not be immune to such a remorseless vulnerability.

Jerusalem must take careful note. Any progressively chaotic disintegration of the world system would fundamentally transform the smaller Israeli system. Such a transformation of microcosm by macrocosm could sometime involve total or near-total societal destruction. In aptly prudent anticipation, Israel will soon have to orient much of its strategic planning to an assortment of worst-case prospects, then focusing much more deliberately on an expansively wide range of self-help security options.

Correspondingly, for Israel, certain once-prominent diplomatic processes of peacemaking that are conveniently but erroneously premised on “scientific” assumptions of reason and rationality will have to be reduced or renounced.  Israel's one-sided surrender of territories, its recognizably mistaken reluctance to accept appropriate preemption options while still timely, and its periodic terrorist releases may never bring about any direct national defeat. Taken together, however, these ominously  synergistic policy errors will have a cumulatively weakening effect on Israel.

Whether the principal effect here will be one that “merely” impairs the Jewish State's commitment to endure, or one that also opens it up, operationally, to a devastating missile attack, and/or to major acts of terror, is (necessarily) still unclear.

What does remain clear is Israel's unwavering obligation to look beyond the somnolent darkness of expanding global and regional chaos, and to acknowledge that the highest sacramental achievements of the Jewish State must inevitably lie in a considered triumph of mind over mind. Like the United States, Israel can never be rescued by its political leaders, but only by deeply serious and capable analytic thinkers. Accordingly, in the next major war, the very first "battlefield" for Israel must inevitably be a deeply intellectual one.

Increasingly, Israel requires a set of deductively interconnected policies based upon sound strategic theory. In fashioning such an indispensable set, certain elements of Clausewitzian "friction" and the related "fog of war" will need to be reformulated and updated in reference to more complicated narratives of future warfare. Plainly, these narratives must include even nuclear war.

Jerusalem should also be guided by the even earlier insights of ancient Chinese strategist, Sun-Tzu. "Subjugating the enemy's army without fighting," Sun-Tzu cautions in the Art of War, "is the true pinnacle of excellence."

In Israel's war planning, a well-founded strategic theory must quickly become the country's necessary "net."

In Jerusalem/Tel Aviv, only those who meticulously learn to cast, will later be able to catch.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on terrorism and nuclear security matters.  Born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II, and Chair of Project Daniel (Israel, 2003), he is the author of many books on international relations and international law, including Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980), and some of the earliest major works on Israel’s nuclear strategy, including Security or Armageddon: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (D.C. Heath/Lexington Books, 1986). Professor Beres' twelfth book,  Surviving amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy,  was published this year (Rowman and Littlefield; 2016). A regular contributor to Arutz Sheva, his most recent articles have appeared in the Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The Hill; The Jerusalem Post; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; U.S. News & World Report; and Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College.