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Muslim Civil Wars Stem from a Crisis of Civilization

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Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum (where I am associate fellow) replies this morning to Bret Stephens‘ June 3rd Wall Street Journal column, “The Muslim Civil War: Standing by while the Sunnis and Shiites fight it out invites disaster.”

The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when the Reagan administration quietly encouraged the two sides to fight themselves to bloody exhaustion, did America no good, Stephens argues:

In short, a long intra-Islamic war left nobody safer, wealthier or wiser. Nor did it leave the West morally untainted. The U.S. embraced Saddam Hussein as a counterweight to Iran, and later tried to ply Iran with secret arms in exchange for the release of hostages. Patrolling the Strait of Hormuz, the USS Vincennes mistakenly shot down an Iranian jetliner over the Gulf, killing 290 civilians. Inaction only provides moral safe harbor when there’s no possibility of action.

Today, he adds, there comes “the whispered suggestion: If one branch of Islam wants to be at war with another branch for a few years — or decades — so much the better for the non-Islamic world. Mass civilian casualties in Aleppo or Homs is their tragedy, not ours. It does not implicate us morally. And it probably benefits us strategically, not least by redirecting jihadist energies away from the West.” This is not a good thing for the West, but a bad thing, he concludes. Pipes and Stephens are both friends of mine, and both have a point (although I come down on Pipes’ side of the argument). It might be helpful to expand the context of the discussion.

I agree with Stephens that it is a bad thing. It not only a bad thing: it is a horrifying thing. The moral impact on the West of unrestrained slaughter and numberless atrocities flooding YouTube for years to come is incalculable, as I wrote in a May 20 essay, “Syria’s Madness and Ours.” If Syria looks bad, wait until Pakistan breaks down. The relevant questions, though, are 1) why are Sunnis and Shi’ites slaughtering each other in Syria at this particular moment in history, and 2) what (if anything) can we do about it?

Part of the answer to the first question is that Syria (like Egypt) as presently constituted simply is not viable as a country. Iraq might be viable, because it has enough oil to subsidize a largely uneducated, pre-modern population. As an economist and risk analyst (I ran Credit Strategy for Credit Suisse and all fixed income research for Bank of America), I do not believe that there is any way to stabilize either country. In the medium term, Turkey will lose national viability as well. I outlined some of the reasons for this view in my 2011 book How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying, Too).

Globalization ruins countries. It has done so for centuries. Tinpot dictatorships that keep their people in poverty the better to maintain political control will break down at some point. Mexico broke down during the 1970s and 1980s; the Mexican currency collapsed, the savings of the middle class were wiped out, and the economy shut down. In 1982 I wrote an evaluation of the Mexican economy for Norman Bailey, then director of plans at the National Security Council and special assistant to President Reagan. I saw a crash coming, and no way to to prevent it.

Three things prevented Mexico from dissolving into civil war (as it did during the teens of the past century at the cost of a million lives, or one out of seven Mexicans). One was the ability of Mexicans to migrate to the United States, which absorbed perhaps a fifth of the Mexican population. The second was the emergence of the drug cartels as an alternative source of employment for up to half a million people, and generating between $18 and $39 billion of annual profits. And the third is the fact that Mexico produces its own food most years. When the currencies of the Latin American banana republics collapsed, there was always enough food to maintain minimum caloric consumption. Not so in Egypt, which imports half its food and is flat broke. Egypt and Syria are banana republics but without the bananas (Daniel Pipes assures me that Egypt does grow bananas, and he personally has eaten them, but they are not grown in sufficient quantity to meet the country’s caloric deficit). Turkey was the supposed Muslim model for democracy and prosperity under moderate Islam. That idea, which I disputed for years, has gotten tarnished during the past week.

Israeli analysts have understood this from the outset. Two years ago (in an essay entitled “Israel the winner in the Arab revolts“) I quoted an Israeli study of the collapse of Syrian agriculture preceding the civil war:

Syria will prove impossible to stabilize, for reasons sketched in my March 29 essay, and explained in more detail by economist Paul Rivlin [3] in a note released the same day by Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center, entitled “Behind the Tensions in Syria: The Socio-Economic Dimension.”

Quoted at length in the Arab press, Rivlin’s report went unmentioned in the Western media – a gauge of how poorly the Western elite understands the core issues. Clinton has been ridiculed for calling Assad a “reformer” (in fact, she said that some members of congress think he’s a reformer). Rivlin explains Syria’s president is a reformer, at least in economic policy. The trouble is that Syrian society is too fragile to absorb reforms without intolerable pain for the 30% of Syrians below the official poverty line of US$1.60 a day. As Rivlin explains: “Syrian agriculture is suffering from the country’s move to a so-called ‘social market economy’ and the introduction of a new subsidy regime in compliance with international trade agreements, including the Association Agreement with the European Union (which Syria has still not ratified). The previous agricultural policy was highly interventionist, ensuring (at great cost) the country’s food security and providing the population with cheap access to food items. It is now being replaced with a more liberal one that has harsh consequences for farmers and peasants, who account for about 20% of the country’s GDP [gross domestic product] and its workforce.”

Syria’s farm sector, Rivlin adds, was further weakened by four years of drought: “Small-scale farmers have been the worst affected; many have not been able to grow enough food or earn enough money to feed their families. As a result, tens of thousands have left the northeast and now inhabit informal settlements or camps close to Damascus.”

Assad abolished fuel subsidies and freed market prices, Rivlin adds. “In early 2008, fuel subsidies were abolished and, as a result, the price of diesel fuel tripled overnight. Consequently, during the year the price of basic foodstuffs rose sharply and was further exasperated by the drought.” Against that background, Syrian food prices jumped by 30% in late February, Syrian bloggers reported after the regime’s attempt to hold prices down provoked hoarding.

The rise in global food prices hit Syrian society like a tsunami, exposing the regime’s incapacity to modernize a backward, corrupt and fractured country. Like Egypt, Syria cannot get there from here. Rivlin doubts that the regime will fracture. He concludes, “Urban elites have been appeased by economic liberalization, and they now fear a revolution that would bring to power a new political class based on the rural poor, or simply push Syria into chaos. The alliance of the Sunni business community and the Alawite-dominated security forces forms the basis of the regime and, as sections of the population rebel, it has everything to fight for.”

We tend to forget that the first stirrings of globalization during the Age of Navigation ruined Latin America, Asia, India, and China. That was the premise of my first “Spengler” essay at Asia Times Online on January 27, 2000:

Item: After the conquest of the New World, Spain’s entire capture of precious metals went to India and China to pay for luxury cloth and spices. That did for approximately 90 percent of the indigenous pre-Colombian population.

Item: The African slave trade instituted by the Portuguese and later the British first produced sugar in Brazil and the Caribbean, to be turned into cheap intoxicants for the European market. Tobacco was a second absorber of slave labor. Cotton became important much later. Production of these vices did for a third of the West African population.

Item: In order to sell cheap cotton cloth to India, the East India Company arranged for Indians to grow opium and for Chinese to buy it. All the silver mined in Latin America, which two centuries earlier had passed to China to pay for silks, found its way back to Europe to pay for opium. That did for untold millions of Indians and Chinese.

The loss of life was frightful. The Taiping Rebellion of 1850 to 1864 in the wake of the Qing Dynasty’s humiliation by the British claimed 20 million lives, most of them civilians. Millions starved in Bengal when manufactured cotton replaced the local handwoven cloth.

If we had some bagels, we could have bagels and lox, if we had some lox. Syria doesn’t have enough oil to survive in the region. It doesn’t even have enough water, as the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman noticed last month, two years after Israeli analysts published the story in depth:

“The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war,” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work.

Because of the population explosion that started here in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to better health care, those leaving the countryside came with huge families and settled in towns around cities like Aleppo. Some of those small towns swelled from 2,000 people to 400,000 in a decade or so. The government failed to provide proper schools, jobs or services for this youth bulge, which hit its teens and 20s right when the revolution erupted.

Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”

If we had a Syrian elite dedicated to modernization, free markets, and opportunity, we could have an economic recovery in Syria. But the country is locked into suppurating backwardness precisely because the dominant culture holds back individual initiative and enterprise. The longstanding hatreds among Sunnis and Shi’ites, and Kurds and Druze and Arabs, turn into a fight to the death as the ground shrinks beneath them. The pre-modern culture demands proofs of group loyalty in the form of atrocities which bind the combatants to an all-or-nothing outcome. The Sunni rebels appear quite as enthusiastic in their perpetration of atrocities as does the disgusting Assad government.

What are we supposed to do in the face of such horrors? I am against putting American boots on the ground. As I wrote in the cited May 20 essay, “Westerners cannot deal with this kind of warfare. The United States does not have and cannot train soldiers capable of intervening in the Syrian civil war. Short of raising a foreign legion on the French colonial model, America should keep its military personnel at a distance from a war fought with the instruments of horror.”

The most urgent thing to do, in my judgment, is to eliminate the malignant influence of Iran, which is treating Syria like a satrapy and sending tens of thousands of fighters as well as material aid to the Assad regime. Attacking Iran would widen the conflict, but ultimately make it controllable. No sane American should want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. As Admiral James Stavridis told the New York Times today, “If you can move 10 tons of cocaine into the U.S. in a small, semi-submersible vessel, how hard do you think it would be to move a weapon of mass destruction?”

Ultimately, partition of Syria (and other Middle Eastern countries) on the model of the former Yugoslavia probably will be the outcome of the crisis. There are lots of things to keep diplomats busy for the next generation. But the terrible fact remains that it is not in our power to prevent the decline of a civilization embracing over a billion people, and to prevent some aspects of that decline from turning ugly beyond description. Among the many things we might do, there is one thing we must do: limit the damage to ourselves and our allies.

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Middle East

Arabs-Israeli Peace must be Well-Anchored, not Neatly Fantasized

Mohammed Nosseir

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Watching a few Emirati and Israeli citizens dance in Chabad House, Dubai to celebrate normalization may give the impression that these nations have realized a genuine peace; a false assumption that disregards the facts that the peace treaty between Israel and two Arab Nations is meant to serve Donald Trump in his upcoming presidential election, values the “ground reality” that clearly favors Israel over United Nations resolutions upholding the “land for peace” principle, and advances western politicians’ view that peace can be imposed top-down, seconded by autocratic Arab rulers.

As an Egyptian, I highly value the peace treaty between my country and Israel that was based on regaining occupied Egyptian land, the Sinai Peninsula. The treaty has helped to alter Egyptians’ views of Israel fundamentally; no longer seen as a permanent enemy, Israel is presently perceived as a “cooperative” neighbor that has offered us millions of tourists and a few sound investments – solid pillars for normalization. Meanwhile, the clear majority of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims continue to sympathize with the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation – a crisis that can only be resolved by pursuing the same path towards peace as that of Egypt.

For years, the United States has been trying to impose a peace treaty between the Arab nations and Israel based on the concept that Arabs should accept Israeli territorial expansion in return for the injection of substantial U.S.  funds to boost the Palestinian economy, a proposition strengthened by Israel’s military power and Arab rulers’ injudicious, hasty attitude towards the crisis. Underneath this reality lurks the further empowerment of the political Islamist proposition that places Israel as a permanent enemy, which could easily drag our region into additional, unpredicted violence. 

Arabs societies generally appear to lead a “double life”. On the one hand is the reality that 60% are either poor citizens or citizens who are vulnerable to poverty, an unemployment rate of roughly 11%, the lack of basic freedoms and living under autocratic rule; a sad status that has become even more dramatic with the advent of Covid-19. These factors combined intensify Arab youth’s anger and frustration towards their rulers and towards the United States, seen as a solid supporter of those rulers. Obviously, Palestinians living under Israeli occupation rule have an extra challenge to deal with.

On the other hand is the fantasy life constituted of GDP growth and the implementation of a few mega projects that Arab rulers like to exhibit and that western politicians and scholars tend to recognize as a sign of success – completely overlooking the fact that these projects are often awarded to the rulers’ cronies and that the unequal distribution of wealth will keep large portions of Arabs living in poverty for generations to come, making them more vulnerable to violence. Likewise, expanding trade deals between Arab nations and Israel or receiving economic incentives from the United States have proven to benefit only the same cronies.

Moreover, the present rumour that the United States is building a block of Arab nations and Israel meant to potentially engage in a war with Iran is a catastrophic approach. Should it happen, it will thrust the entire region into a state of intense violence and enduring war that could well lead to the collapse of many of the signed treaties. Furthermore, a peace treaty between Israel and two Arab nations, who are not in conflict with Israel, will not help to resolve either the Palestinian crisis or the Iranian conflict – Bahraini and the Emirati citizens will never validate such a treaty, if it is presented to them fairly.

There is a huge difference between a peace treaty concluded between two mature, democratic nations whose respective governments truly represent their citizens, and an agreement that is imposed on nations whose citizens are – to put it mildly – in disharmony with their rulers. Arab citizens, often accused of engaging in violence and declining to peacefully settle with Israel, are in fact caught between two fires: their autocratic rulers, who deliberately offer them undignified living conditions and Islamic extremists, who promise them eternal salvation as a reward for engaging in violence and terrorism.

Permanent Arab-Israeli peace can only be achieved through a bottom-up approach that is designed to last, which entails keeping away from western pragmatism and enforcement, both of no value to this crisis. Israel is continually working to enhance its security, an absolute necessity for its citizens. It needs to offer Palestinians the opportunity to live a dignified life based, first, on regaining their occupied land and establishing a state of their own, followed by advancing their economic status. Offering the later at the expense of the former will keep us in this vicious circle of violence for decades to come.

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Untangling Survival Intersections: Israel, Chaos and the Pandemic

Prof. Louis René Beres

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MUNCH, Edvard The Scream (detail) 1893 Oil, tempera & pastel on cardboard, 91 × 73.5 cm The National Gallery, Oslo

Is it an end that draws near, or a beginning?”-Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age (1951)

INTRODUCTION TO THE ANALYSIS:  Day by day, traditional global anarchy (with discernible roots in the seventeenth century Peace of Westphalia) is being supplanted by chaos. This exponential replacement has very substantial implications for (1) comprehensive global stability; (2) regional stability in the Middle East; and (3) Israeli national stability. Because the replacement  is taking place alongside a still-expanding global pandemic, variously resultant forms of chaos must be considered as multi-layered, tangled and synergistic.

 What next? Among others, Israel’s senior strategists and policy-makers will have to examine these dissembling expressions of chaos by proceeding with continuously capable scholarship.  Accordingly apt emphases in  Jerusalem and Tel Aviv should soon be placed upon plausible alterations to decisional rationality (both Israeli and adversarial) and on prospective nuclear competitions oriented to achieving intra-crisis “escalation dominance.” In the worst case scenario, such analyses would pertain to certain potential instances of nuclear war-fighting, a sobering narrative that reinforces Israel’s unceasing imperative to seek nuclear deterrence ex ante, and not revenge ex post.

There is more. The article that follows is self-consciously conceptual/theoretical. By design, it is unlike other more usual essays that concern global/ regional stability in world politics.

This article can be useful to military practitioners and national security planners because it could lead them well beyond any orthodox or narrowly “current events” focus on applicable strategic thought. By explaining this historically unprecedented transition from anarchy to chaos, it can also point serious readers toward a new corpus of pertinent strategic theory. “Theory is a net,” we all learned earlier from Karl Popper’s classic The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), “only those who cast, can catch.”

—————–

As Chair of “Project Daniel,” a special policy task force assembled to analyze the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel two decades ago,[1] the author is not new to analytic assessments of complex geo-strategic hazards, including existential ones. Still, twenty years back, when Daniel sprang from a private conversation he was having in Tel-Aviv with two-time Israeli Ambassador to the United States Zalman Shoval,[2] overriding security perils were being examined as part of some presumptively coherent world order. This is not meant to suggest that the post-Westphalia[3] order was ever reassuringly stable or satisfactory, but only that the classical  balance-of-power regime had not yet become entirely unpredictable.

               That was then. Today, all serious scholarly assessments, irrespective of  specific country particularity, must be undertaken with a starkly different view. This updated perspective assumes, inter alia, that the world order system is no longer “merely” anarchic,[4] but is also chaotic. Now, a crucial part of this dissembling context is worldwide disease pandemic, a devastating plague that only renders an already unstable global structure even worse.[5]

               In essence, an incremental metamorphosis of system-wide anarchy into chaos has been underway for some time, but the sudden and sweeping comprehensiveness of Covid19 has produced a quantum jump in this already-significant transformation.

               Though a decidedly  global issue, some states will be affected more than others by any spreading chaos. In the specific case of Israel, our focus here, the prospective impacts of certain ongoing change patterns are apt to be considerable. This is because of that country’s conspicuously small size, its still-multiple enemies and its correspondingly unique dependence (for deterrence,[6] not war-fighting)[7] upon nuclear weapons and strategy.[8]

               Looking ahead, the challenging security tasks for Israel need not be regrettable or without any tangible benefits. There do exist sound and science-based reasons to acknowledge advancing chaos as a  security positive for Israel, at least in part. While distinctly counter-intuitive, such compelling reasons ought now be more closely and capably examined.

               These reasons should not be casually minimized or disregarded.

                As drawn from its core meanings in classical philosophy and mythology, chaos represents the literal beginning of everything, the good as well as the bad.

               This “positive”  concept of chaos now warrants very serious and meticulous scholarly assessment. This is not the same thing as suggesting, more prosaically, that scholars and policy makers should try to make better analytic sense of assorted security threats and circumstances, e.g., the Iran nuclear threat or the Palestinian terror threat (neither of which has in any way been diminished by the new Israel-UAE agreement). What is being urged here is the more self-conscious construction of pertinent theories, a painstaking process that must inevitably be contingent upon an antecedent and more refined conceptual understanding.

               Analysts may begin such epistemological processes at their most proverbial beginnings. To wit, Jewish theology discovers its primal roots in Genesis, an observation to be generally viewed with favor in a Jewish State. Whether in the Old Testament or in more-or-less synchronous Greek and Roman thought, chaos can be understood as an intellectual tabula rasa, a blank slate which, when thoughtfully completed, can best prepare the world for all things, both sacred and profane.

               Most significantly, chaos can represent that inchoate place from which absolutely all civilizational opportunitymust credibly originate.

                With such unorthodox thinking, chaos is never just a repellant “predator” that swallows everything whole; callously, indiscriminately, and without purpose. Here, instead, it is more usefully considered as an auspicious “openness,” that is, as a protean realm within which entirely new kinds of human opportunity may be suitably revealed or gleaned.  For Israel, this means that any advancing chaos in the Middle East need not necessarily be interpreted by the country’s senior military planners as a portentous harbinger of regional violence and instability, but rather, in at least some respects, as a potentially gainful condition for critically improving national security.

                There is more. By extrapolation, this same caveat should be extended to include any discernible elements of chaos in certain other regions of the world, though the intellectual or analytic arguments would then be based upon determinably other underlying conditions or outcomes.

               The next question arises. How best to harness such a radical re-conceptualization of chaos in Jerusalem (politics) and Tel Aviv (military strategy)? This is a manifestly difficult, subtle and many-sided question. Still, it would be better answered imperfectly than be wholly disregarded. Such an answer should suggest the following: Israel’s authoritative decision-makers must more intentionally stray beyond ordinary or usual national security assessments,[9] and then venture more wittingly in the direction of illuminating avant garde analyses.[10]

               To be sure, any such venture would have its detractors. “Whenever the new muses present themselves,” warned Spanish existentialist philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset in The Dehumanization of Art, “the masses bristle.

               Among these studies would be scholarly examinations that hypothesize various radical redistributions of power in the Middle East, including some never-before considered alignments. Such unexpected alignments, born of a now palpably expanding regional chaos, could include not only assorted state-state relationships (e.g., Israel-Egypt; Israel-Jordan; Israel-Saudi Arabia; Israel-UAE; Israel-Russia), but also state-sub state or “hybrid” connections (e.g., Hezbollah-Iran; Hezbollah-Russia). Just as with certain state-state relationships, relevant intersections could sometime be synergistic. In these potentially most worrisome cases, the “whole” of any specific intersection would exceed the simple sum of its constituent “parts.” Of course, for Israel, not every expected synergy would necessarily be harmful or “bad.” Some of these intersections could be determinably auspicious or “good.”

               As an example of positive synergistic outcome for Israel, scholars and planners could consider alignments that would favor directly Israeli goals or objectives, and alignments that would be presumptively harmful or injurious to that country’s acknowledged foes.

               Similarly unprecedented but also worth considering would be steps taken toward alleviating the more expressly structural conditions of chaos in the Middle East region, including certain specific forms of cooperation that could move incrementally toward assorted forms of regional governance. Such  forms would have to be tentative, and also very partial, but they could nonetheless provide a generally welcome start toward greater area order than area chaos.[11] In specifically Hobbesian terms, these forms of governance would be intended to supplant the generally corrosive “war of all against all”[12] in the Middle East with some designated “common power.”[13]

                Recalling English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the core objective here would be to keep all state and sub-state parties “in awe.”[14]

               Ironically, a unique opportunity for regional movements toward greater area collective security would have been made possible by decision-maker perceptions of a more general revulsion with anarchy or chaos. This opportunity will have been born of a growing existential desperation, that is, of a sense that “business as usual” in Middle East peacemaking can no longer suffice. Of course, it is altogether possible that this particular sense of opportunity could sometime be mistaken or misunderstood, in which case any presumed benefits of chaos might turn out to be a double-edged sword.

               There is more. With regard to any such injurious inversions of opportunity for Israel, Jerusalem need only be reminded of its unchanging obligation to avoid taking existential risks wherever possible.[15] Ultimately, this fixed and immutable obligation can be fulfilled only by assessing all risks and opportunities according to well-established and optimally rigorous intellectual standards. Among other things, even when chaos might beckon seductively to Israel as an unanticipated font of future strategic opportunity, there could be no adequate substitute for capable scholarly or intellectual analysis.

               Reciprocally, however, any such diligent analysis must eschew “seat of the pants” determinations, and rely instead upon an amply-refined strategic theory. Always, theory is a “net.” Only those who “cast” such an indispensable net can ever expect to “catch.”

               What else? When “casting,” Israel’s strategic planners should pay especially rapt attention to any discernible links between a prevailing or still-anticipated chaos, and the expected rationality of its relevant adversaries.[16] What might first appear as an unwittingly promising source of improved national safety could be reversed promptly by those enemies who would value certain normally subsidiary preferences in world politics more highly than national or collective survival.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

               Such “absurd” enemies are not historically unknown in world politics.[17]

               Not at all.

               At this moment, the most compelling threat of such enemy irrationality appears to come from a seemingly still-nuclearzing Iran. Significantly, there is no way for Israel’s decision makers to systematically or scientifically evaluate the authentic probabilities of any such uniquely formidable threat.[18] This is because (a) any truly accurate assessments of event probability must be based upon the determinable frequency of pertinent past events; and (b) there have been no pertinent past events (i.e., no nuclear war).

               All the same, an eventual Iranian nuclear threat to Israel remains plausible; it should thus suggest certain worrisome prospects for a “final” sort of regional chaos. To make reassuringly positive or at least gainful use of this vision, Israel ought soon to focus explicitly and meticulously on its still-tacit “bomb in the basement” nuclear strategy.  Preparing to move beyond the prospectively lethal limits of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity,” Jerusalem would need to (1) rank-order identifiable thresholds of enemy nuclear peril as tangible “triggers” for its incremental nuclear disclosures; and (2) prepare for rank-ordered release some very specifically limited sets of information concerning the invulnerability and penetration-capability of its own nuclear forces.

               These sets would include selected facts on nuclear targeting doctrine; number; range; and yield.

               As Israel can learn from certain intimations of some impending chaos, the country’s national security might be better served by reduced nuclear ambiguity than by any more traditional commitments to complete strategic secrecy. This seemingly counter-intuitive argument is rooted in the altogether reasonable presumption that Israel’s continued survival must depend very considerably on successfully sustained nuclear deterrence.

               When 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche initially explained chaos as something contained deeply within each individual human being,[19] he did not intend this to represent a distressingly negative portent. On the contrary, like the German poet Hölderlin,[20] with whose work he was intimately familiar, Nietzsche understood that even from apparent formlessness can emerge things of great or even inestimable value. Accordingly, at this currently precarious moment in its contemporary history, Israel’s leadership would be well advised (a) to think seriously and inventively about such challenging conceptual opportunities; and (b) to fashion strategic theories that begin but do not end with conspicuous portents of the apocalyptic  “abyss.”

               This would not be a task for the intellectually faint-hearted, or for those who are constitutionally unable to recognize promising strategic “muses”[21] But the security payoff for Israel’s national defense could still prove overwhelmingly gainful. It follows that such a task would be determinably “cost-effective.”

               One last point in this broad argument now bears repeating. It is that Israel has absolutely no choice about either welcoming or rejecting chaos. Incontestably, this condition is not something that Israel can in any way push aside, negotiate, forestall or prevent. Because chaos in some form will inexorably emerge from a traditional global anarchy, Jerusalem must do whatever it can (as soon as it can) to reconcile and optimize its pertinent security strategies with chaos. A full acknowledgment of this unavoidable imperative could represent the acme of Israel’s decisional acumen and decisional rationality.[22]

               In the months and years ahead, Israel’s overriding obligation remains plain and obvious. To best meet this evident security imperative of collective survival, that nation’s strategic analysts and planners will first have to better understand the relevant policy correlates of any expanding chaos, and to accomplish this goal by means of a markedly advanced conceptual scholarship. At a particularly fragile moment in contemporary history when biology could prove even more fundamentally worrisome than capable enemy armies, this scholarship will need to take special note of our current and still-expanding Corona virus pandemic. 

               This “plague,” though “merely” biological, will likely produce certain unanticipated and hard to remediate forms of  social and political disintegration, both expressly regional (Middle East) and worldwide. At the same time, should Israel and its relevant area foes sometime recognize this viral pandemic as an exceptional menace that is nonetheless common to all –  one best diminished by some generally shared strategies of cooperation –  it could conceivably become a welcome agent of a more genuine Middle East peace.[23] Though ironic and more-or-less implausible,  microbial assault could represent just the right agent for enhanced geopolitical vision, for shaping a tabula rasa from which more promisingly audacious national security opportunities could sometime be born.

               If this novel opportunity for embracing chaos were sufficiently acknowledged, it could be a “beginning” that “draws near,” not an “end.”


[1] Our formal report, “Israel’s Strategic Future,” was discussed widely in global media and delivered by hand to PM Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem on January 16, 2003. http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm

[2] Ambassador Shoval has been Professor Beres’ several times co-author on vital matters of Israeli security and international law. Most recently, see Louis René Beres and Zalman Shoval, West Point (Pentagon) https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[3] The historic Peace of Westphalia (1648) concluded the Thirty Years War and created the still-existing state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two treaties comprise the “Peace of Westphalia.”

[4] Hobbes, the 17th- century English philosopher, argues that anarchy in the “state of nations” is the only true “state of nature.” In Chapter XIII of Leviathan (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery”),  Hobbes explains famously: “But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of war, one against the other, yet in all times, kings and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independence, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms, and continual spies upon their neighbors, which is a posture of war.”

[5] With chaos, but not anarchy, even the usual mainstays of decentralized world politics (e.g., deterrence and balance of power processes) are replaced by more eccentric or idiosyncratic factors of national decision  making.

[6] As emphasized at Israel’s Strategic Future: The Final Report of Project Daniel (Israel, 2003): “The primary point of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.”

[7]See, for example: Louis René Beres, https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2018/5/29/israels-nuclear-strategy-enhancing-deterrence-in-the-new-cold-war-part-i; Louis René Beres, INSS Israel, https://www.inss.org.il/publication/changing-direction-updating-israels-nuclear-doctrine/

and, at Harvard Law School, Louis René Beres: https://harvardnsj.org/2014/06/staying-strong-enhancing-israels-essential-strategic-options-2/

[8] See,  by Professor Beres, https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[9] Such proposed “straying,” which might range anywhere from an eleventh-hour preemption to much greater commitments to regional collective security, could still be in more-or-less complete accord with pertinent international law. In this connection, a core or jus cogens principle of international law remains the unambiguous imperative: “Where the ordinary remedy fails, recourse must be had to an extraordinary one.” (Ubi cessat remedium ordinarium, ibi decurritur ad extraordinarium.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 1520 – 6th ed., 1990).

[10] In his 1927 preface to Oxford Poetry, W.H. Auden wrote: “All genuine poetry is in a sense the formation of private spheres out of public chaos….” Looking ahead with an appropriately avant-garde orientation, Israeli strategists must essentially seek to carve out livable national spheres from a steadily expanding global chaos. Ultimately, of course, following Nietzsche, they must understand that such chaos originally lies within each individual human being, but – at least for the moment of their present strategic deliberations – they must focus upon collective survival in a true Hobbesian “state of nature.” This is a condition wherein “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest,” normally possible only where individual human beings coexist in nature, but possible also in world politics wherever there exists nuclear proliferation. Accordingly, the German legal philosopher Samuel Pufendorf reasoned, like Hobbes, that the state of nations “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” Similarly, said Baruch Spinoza: “A commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” (See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works: Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295).

[11] Back at Princeton in the late 1960s, I spent two full years in the University library, reading everything available about world order. The initial result was published in my early book The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver, 1973) and two years later, in Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (University of Denver, 1975).

[12] This Hobbes-described orientation represents the explicit underpinning of US President Donald Trump’s announced foreign policy, and stands in direct opposition to the core jurisprudential assumption (i.e., international law) of imperative solidarity between all states. This immutable or jus cogens assumption was already mentioned in Justinian’s Digest (533 CE); Hugo Grotius’ Law of War and Peace (1625); and Vattel’s The Law of Nations, or the Principles of Natural Law (1758). According to General McMaster, Mr. Trump’s earlier National Security Advisor, this policy is an expression of “pragmatic realism.” Historically, this term is essentially a self-reinforcing falsehood, as no forms of “realism” or “Realpolitik” have ever worked for long. For Israel, the best “lesson” to be extracted from this egregious US policy error is to think of the erroneous Trump-era posture as one of “naive realism,” and to draw upon certain expectations of advancing chaos to inspire more promising forms of both national strategy and international cooperation.

[13] Following the recently negotiated Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain agreements, it could be assumed or alleged that this “corrosive” condition has been correspondingly modified or reduced. Nonetheless, Israel’s principal security challenges have never come from these Gulf states; it is also arguable that the threat of renewed Palestinian terrorism has actually been increased by these US-brokered pacts.

[14] See Hobbes, Leviathan, especially Chapter XVII, “Of Commonwealth.” More generally, the presumed obligation to use force in a world of international anarchy forms the central argument of Realpolitik from the Melian Dialogues of Thucydides and the Letters of Cicero to Machiavelli, Locke, Spykman and Kissinger. “For what can be done against force without force?’ inquires Cicero. Nonetheless, the sort of chaos that Israel could confront shortly is much different from traditional anarchy or simply decentralized global authority. In essence, it is conceivably more primordial, more primal, self-propelled and potentially even self-rewarding.

[15] Such a primary warning is the central motif of Yehoshafat Harkabi’s The Bar Kokhba Syndrome: Risk and Realism in International Politics,” (New York: Rossel Books, 1983).

[16] See, by Professor Beres: https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/516-Israeli-Security-and-Enemy-Rationality-Beres-Author-approved-version.pdf

[17] See Sigmund Freud in Civilization and its Discontents: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind….usually they have wreaked havoc.”

[18] Regarding also the expected consequences or “disutilites” of a nuclear war, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, SURVIVING AMID CHAOS: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016/2018); Louis René Beres,  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres,  MIMICKING SISYPHUS: AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1983);  Louis René Beres, REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U S FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington MA;  Lexington Books, 1984);  and Louis René Beres, ed.,  SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON: ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[19] “I tell you,” says Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “ye have still chaos in you.”

[20] In philosophy, Hölderin, Nietzsche and Heidegger struggled with the fundamentally same ontological problems of existence, or “being,”

[21] Once again, “Whenever the new muses present themselves,” cautions Spanish existentialist José Ortega y’ Gassett in The Dehumanization of Art, “the masses bristle.”

[22] Reciprocally, a rational state enemy of Israel will always accept or reject a particular option by comparing the costs and benefits of each alternative. Wherever the expected costs of striking first are taken to exceed expected gains, this enemy will be deterred. But where these expected costs are believed to be exceeded by expected gains, deterrence will fail. Here, whatever the prevailing levels of order or chaos, Israel would be faced with an enemy attack, either as a “bolt-from-the-blue” or as an outcome of anticipated or unanticipated crisis-escalation. In this connection, too, Israeli planners will want to stay abreast of each side’s ongoing search for “escalation dominance.”

[23] More generally, see by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Jurist:  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/louis-beres-trump-empathy/ To be sure, the recent US-brokered Israel agreements with UAE and Bahrain are actually net-negative for Middle East Peace because they provide no per se Israeli advantages with these Gulf states, and because they exacerbate Israel’s much more essential relationships with Iran, the Palestinians and Hezbollah.

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Middle East

The UAE-Israel deal’s historicity is in the fine print

Dr. James M. Dorsey

Published

on

A close read of the agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel suggests that the Jewish state has won far more than diplomatic recognition. It won acknowledgement of its claim to historic Jewish rights. By the same token, the UAE has received a significant boost to project itself as a leader in inter-faith dialogue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed walked away from this month’s White House signing ceremony with more than just an agreement to establish diplomatic relations.

Included in the agreement are references that are key to foundational Israeli arguments asserting the right of the Jewish people to a state on what was once predominantly Arab land rather than simple recognition of the fact that the Jewish state exists.

Recognition of Jewish rights has long been a demand put forward by Mr. Netanyahu.

In talks with the Palestinians as well as the building of relations with Arab states over the years, the Israeli leader asserted that mere diplomatic acceptance of Israel’s existence was not good enough. And yet, that was the basis of earlier peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as well as Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Yasser Arafat’s 1988 recognition of Israel and the subsequent 1993 Oslo accords.

From the outset, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been as much a dispute about control of land as one of perceived rights.

Recognition of Jewish rights in Palestine bolsters Israeli assertions that its claims to territory occupied during the 1967 Middle East are legitimate rather than a land grab resulting from military conquest.

To be clear, it does not by definition endorse annexation, but it constitutes Arab acceptance of Israel’s position that any compromise between Israelis and Palestinians, a sine qua non for a resolution of their dispute, would involve mediation of claims that are historically and morally on par.

Arabs in the past have projected solutions as the need to address Palestinian rights while accepting Israel’s existence.

The agreement did not explicitly recognize Jewish rights, but enabled Israel to interpret the deal as doing so by stating that “Arab and Jewish peoples are descendants of a common ancestor, Abraham.”

The text of the agreement suggests that the reference was primarily related to allow the UAE to boost its efforts to project itself as a leader of inter-faith dialogue and a moderate interpretation of Islam – a pillar of the country’s well-funded soft power campaign that paints the Emirates as a militarily capable, forward-looking, religiously tolerant and technologically savvy, cutting edge state.

The interpretation of the phrasing as recognition of Jewish rights may have been an unintended consequence or icing on Israel’s cake.

It was a bonus that David Makovsky of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy — widely viewed as leaning towards Israel — was quick to point out. Mr. Makovsky noted that the reference implied that “both (Arabs and Jews are) indigenous to the Middle East.”

Mr. Makovsky suggested that the phrasing “is important because it clearly refutes longstanding allegations in the Arab world that Zionism is alien to the region.”

It puts past to Arab and Palestinian arguments that the long-touted two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of dividing up land claimed by two parties driven by facts on the ground rather than consideration of legal and moral claims.

This is not just of esoteric significance. It bolsters Israel’s long-standing rejection of Palestinian insistence on the right of refugees, including those who left during the 1948 war, to return to their homes and lands in what is now Israel.

Israel’s reading of the agreement as endorsement of its assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about equally valid rights is likely to be interpreted differently on both sides of Israel’s right-left divide.

The country’s weakened left will see it as highlighting the need for territorial compromise. Significant segments of the Israeli right will view it as validation of its belief dating back to the period prior to the 1948 creation of Israel that the clash of Jewish and Palestinian rights is irreconcilable. That is a view that has historically also resonated among elements of the labor movement.

That may be what makes the UAE-Israel deal truly historic.

The icing on the UAE’s cake, beyond the significant geopolitical, military, security, technological and economic benefits of the agreement, is the stress on inter-faith dialogue.

Under the agreement, the UAE and Israel “undertake to foster mutual understanding, respect, co-existence, and a culture of peace between their societies in the spirit of their common ancestor, Abraham, and the new era of peace and friendly relations ushered in by this Treaty, including by cultivating people-to-people programs, (and) interfaith dialogue…”

The UAE, like Saudi Arabia, one of its multiple autocratic religious soft power rivals, has gone in recent years to great lengths to cultivate ties to Jewish and Evangelist communities and to position itself as a sponsor of an inter-faith dialogue in which Islam is represented by Muslim scholars who preach absolute obedience to the ruler and reject endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its an interpretation of the faith intended to ensure regime survival and counter allegations of violations of human rights in the UAE.

The signing of a Document on Human Fraternity by the imam of the Al-Azhar Grand Mosque in Cairo, Ahmed El-Tayeb, and Pope Francis I during his 2019 visit to the UAE, the first by a head of the Vatican to the Gulf, served to offer an alternative to the Universal Declaration that allows the Emirates to pick and choose which rights it accepts.

The emphasis on inter-faith dialogue is bolstered and conditioned by the agreement’s implicit condemnation of political Islam, a key driver of UAE policy that is shared by Israel.

The agreement rejects “political manipulation of religions and…interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment…in a way that has nothing to do with the truth of religion.”

Omar Ghobash, UAE Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, speaking in a US-UAE Council webinar, noted that one driver for the conclusion of the agreement was “what happened around the so-called Arab Spring and then the rise of vicious groups like ISIS, let alone Al Qaeda.”

Mr. Ghobash was referring to the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the autocratic leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen as well as the rise of the Islamic State in the aftermath of the uprisings, which was a product of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq rather than the rebellions.

He projected the agreement as part of the UAE’s institutionalization of its values.

“There is a distortion that has taken place over the last few decades…represented by groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS … There is a recurring theme in conversations with my leaders and that is that Islam has been hijacked by these groups. The reality is that in taking Islam back, you need to free it from those constraints. You free it by presenting a different expression of Islam,” Mr. Ghobash said.

Critics suggest that the agreement’s formalization of Israeli support for the UAE’s propagation of a state-controlled Islam fails to tackle a core issue: the need to address religious concepts that are either outdated or outmoded or require reconceptualization and reinterpretation.

Those concepts legitimized decades of Muslim demonization of Israel as well as Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims.

The UAE took a first major step to address the issue by distributing to schools barely two weeks after the announcement of the establishment of diplomatic relations textbooks that cite the agreement with Israel as an expression of fundamental Islamic and Emirati values.

However, the ultimate litmus test of the UAE’s effort to shape moderate Islam will be if and when it loosens the state’s grip on religion and allows for free-flowing, credible theological debate in which scholars tackle problematic religious concepts that have served their purpose but are out of place in a modern, forward-looking society.

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