Nuclear Israel
Nuclear IsraeliStock

Special to Israel National News

“All people…who dare not defend themselves when they know they are in the right, who submit to punishment not because of what they have done but because of who they are, are already dead by their own decision; and whether or not they survive physically depends on chance. If circumstances are not favorable, they end up in gas chambers.”– Bruno Bettelheim, Freud’s Vienna and Other Essays

U.S. president Joe Biden is recommending the establishment of a Palestinian state that would "live in peace alongside Israel." In today's reality, however – a reality which includes widening support for Hamas in Judea/Samaria (the "West Bank") and Gaza - the “Biden Plan” ignores a growing prospect of direct military conflict between Israel and Iran. Though it could first appear reasonable that Palestinian Arab statehood would diminish Iran’s openly belligerent intentions toward Israel, nothing could be further from the truth.

What is reasonable here? To advance a coherent answer, the formal creation of "Palestine" would be viewed in Tehran as an improved and auspicious development for waging war against Israel. While nothing scientifically meaningful can be said about a partially unprecedented scenario (in logic and mathematics, true probabilities must always be based upon the determinable frequency of past events), there are persuasive reasons to expect that "Palestine" would become the belligerent proxy of a nearly-nuclear Islamic Republic. A “Two-State Solution” would enlarge not “only” the jihadist terror threat to Israel (both conventional and unconventional), but also the prospect of major regional war.

Any decipherable “Biden Plan” for “Palestine” would include a number of sorely problematic particulars. Some of these details would concern the expectedly prescribed dismantling of most or all Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and the establishment of the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Most worrisome as a practical matter would be any declared American recognition of the new Arab terror state. On its face, any such recognition would represent a destabilizing deviation from the guiding principles of direct negotiations accepted by all prior American administrations and would reduce or remove Israel’s residual diplomatic leverage in circumstances of regional conflict management.

Looking back, relevant history deserves more evident pride of place. Although US relations with the earlier Shamir government were far from smooth, the George H.W. Bush administration and its Secretary of State James Baker regarded direct party talks (Israel-PLO-PA) as a sine qua non for any purposeful peace process. This negotiating posture included the singularly significant assertion: "The US will not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”

Looking forward, Israel-Palestinian negotiations ought never be confined to vague “general principles.” Rather, there are aptly specific issues that will need to be addressed head-on: borders; Jerusalem; relations between Gaza and the "West Bank;" the Cairo Declaration of June 1974 (an annihilationist “phased plan”); the so-called Arab "right of return;” and cancellation of the "Palestine National Charter" (which still calls unambiguously and unapologetically for the eradication of Israel).

Not to be overlooked, any justice-based Biden Plan will need to acknowledge the historical legal rights of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria. Such acknowledgment would represent an indispensable corrective to the inherently lawless PA/Hamas claims of “resistance by any means necessary” and the patently genocidal Palestinian calls for territories “from the river to the sea.” Such territories would include all of Israel.

Traditionally, American presidents have insisted that regional peace be predicated on Arab recognition of the Jewish people's right to enjoy safety and security in their own recognizably-sovereign nation state. Though one may remain confident that this is Joe Biden’s personal and official position, it is an insistence not plainly evident in current administration proposals.

In fairness to the incumbent American president, however, his apparent plan does include certain important steps toward "normalization," e.g., the de jure establishment of full diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. This would represent a major political gain for Israel, and, in suitably different respects, a gain for Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Moreover, despite being widely minimized or disregarded, most Arab leaders in the Middle East actually hope for a decisive Israeli victory over Hamas - an unmanageable scion of the Egyptian "Moslem Brotherhood" that potentially endangers their own countries as well as Israel. Though perplexing and counter-intuitive, an Israeli victory in the Gaza War could usefully serve these particular and foreseeably valuable Arab interests.

Furthermore, the United States is now engaged in a strange sort of parallelism, one that would offer security guarantees to Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, but still limit Israel's freedom of action in utterly core matters of national security. This limitation would be contrary to Israel's foundational stance that existential security must remain Jerusalem’s responsibility in all "territories.”

At this stage, however, many matters are in continuous flux or abeyance; complex considerations regarding the forthcoming U.S. presidential elections could therefore affect Israeli security decisions in one way or another. This observation includes matters on which President Biden could face problems with anti-Israel elements of his own Democratic party. By definition, these serious problems are not fundamentally in Israel's hands, but in hands of American citizens.

What about Iran’s prospective nuclear threat to Israel after the Gaza War?

Israel expects its American friends to openly discuss with it any proposed “two-state” solution, and such a discussion should include candid and comprehensive assessments of a nuclear war with Iran. Ironically, however, such a catastrophic war could commence even with “only” a pre-nuclear Iran.

A potentially realistic scenario here would stem from pertinent escalations of competitive risk-taking between Israel and Iran. In any rapidly progressing crisis between the two state adversaries, each belligerent would strive more-or-less aggressively for “escalation dominance.” In a worst-case scenario, Iran could conceivably enlist nuclear-armed North Korean surrogates to war against Israel.

While there is no scientific way to assess the meaningful probability of such a scenario (in logic and mathematics, true probabilities must always be based upon the discernible frequency of pertinent past events), Pyongyang does have a documented history of active support for Iran and Syria.

Regarding North Korean ties with Damascus, it was Kim Jung Un who built the Al Kibar nuclear reactor for the Syrians at Deir al-Zor. This is the facility that was preemptively destroyed by Israel in its Operation Orchard (also known in certain Israeli circles as “Operation Outside the Box”) on September 6, 2007.

For Israel, nuclear weapons, doctrine and strategy will remain essential to national survival. Already warring with recalcitrant Iranian Sunni surrogate Hamas and also Iranian Shiite proxy Hezbollah, Israel’s traditional policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity or the “bomb in the basement” should be updated and refashioned. The key objective of any such dramatic changes would be more credible Israeli nuclear deterrence, a goal that will soon require incremental and selective nuclear disclosures. Iran will need to be convinced that Israel’s nuclear arms are not presumptively too destructive for operational use.

In order for Israel to construct theory-based (not merely visceral, ad hoc ) nuclear policies, Iran should be considered a rational foe. Still, it is conceivable if not actually plausible that Iran would sometime act irrationally, perhaps even in alliance with other more-or-less rational states (e.g., Syria, North Korea) or with expressly kindred terror groups (e.g., Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Houthi). Such altogether realistic prospects should never be dealt with in Washington or Jerusalem as a matter of “common sense,” one to be swept indiscriminately under the conceptual rug.

What about non-Arab Pakistan? Unless Jerusalem were to consider Pakistan a genuine enemy, Israel has no present-day nuclear foes. Still, as an unstable Islamic state, Pakistan is subject to coup d'état by assorted Jihadist elements and is closely aligned with Saudi Arabia. Additionally, at some point, the Sunni Saudi kingdom could decide to “go nuclear” itself, in part because of Shiite Iran’s starkly worrisome nuclear program.

For Israeli nuclear deterrence to work longer-term, Iran will need to be told more rather than less about Israel's nuclear targeting doctrine and about the invulnerability of Israel’s nuclear forces. In concert with such changes, Jerusalem will also need to clarify its still opaque “Samson Option.” The point of such clarification would not be to “die with the Philistines,” but to enhance the “high destruction” end of its presumed nuclear deterrence continuum.

If the United States maintains its ill-advised support of Palestinian statehood,[1] Iran will more likely consider certain direct conflict options vis-à-vis Israel. Even a still non-nuclear Iran could then pose survival risks for Israel. At some point, Israel could need to direct variously explicit nuclear threats (counter-value and/or counter-force) toward the Islamic Republic. As policy, at least, this could be a “point of no return.”

There will be still more intersections, nuances and details. In any war with Israel, Iran could augment its already-massive conventional forces with untested radiation-dispersal weapons and/or target Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona with penetration-capable nonnuclear missiles. It follows that Palestinian Arab statehood should be opposed not only because it would heighten the likelihood of anti-Israel terrorism (ultimately unconventional as well as conventional terrorism), but also because it would substantially enlarge the risks of a regional nuclear war.

For Israel, these unprecedented risks (sui generis risks in formal logic) could be irreversible and irremediable. This time, recalling Bruno Bettelheim’s graphic warning (see epigraph, above), Israelis who “dare not defend themselves when they know they are in the right” won’t “end up in gas chambers.” But they could still end up fighting in a catastrophic war.

Among related considerations, this means that Israel should immediately muster its critical existential defenses against any formalized creation of “Palestine.” This survival obligation will remain “in force” even if such misguided creation is brokered by the “good offices” of an American president.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. Born in Zürich at the end of World War II, he is the author of many books and articles dealing with world politics, law, literature and philosophy. Professor Beres is a member of the Oxford University Press Editorial Advisory Board for the annual Yearbook on International Law and Jurisprudence. He is also a six-times contributor to this OUP publication, including lead articles for two annual editions. Some of Professor Beres' writings have been published at Horasis (Zurich); Jurist; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; global-e (University of California); Yale Global Online; Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard); World Politics (Princeton); The Atlantic; The New York Times; Israel National News; Jewish Website; Modern Diplomacy; American Political Science Review; American Journal of International Law; US News & World Report; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Jerusalem Post; The National Interest;; Air-Space Operations Review (USAF); The Brown Journal of World Affairs; Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College; Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); BESA Perspectives (Israel); INSS Strategic Assessment (Israel); Israel Defense (Israel); and The Hudson Review (New York). His twelfth book, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016 (2nd. ed., 2018).

[1] American supporters of a Palestinian state often argue that its prospective harms to Israel could be reduced or even eliminated by expecting that new Arab state's immediate "demilitarization." For informed reasoning against this naïve argument, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, "Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law," Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter 1998, pp. 347-363; and Louis René Beres and Ambassador Shoval, "On Demilitarizing a Palestinian `Entity' and the Golan Heights: An International Law Perspective," Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vo. 28., No.5., November 1995, pp. 959-972.