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Strategy, Plague and War: Israel’s Complex Nuclear Future

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Francisco Goya Disasters of War - Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”-T S Eliot, The Waste Land

Despite the noise and aggressive self-promotion, Trump administration diplomacy in the Middle East and Africa has always been a net-negative for Israel. While Israelis have generally been grateful to the Trump White House for providing America’s “good offices” with Bahrain, UAE and Sudan, this gratitude is shortsighted and misplaced. In essence, negotiated pacts with these second-tier adversaries were designed only for the personal benefit of an unworthy American president.[1]

               At best, for Israel, these public-relations focused pacts will provide a small number of low-level security advantages and a larger number of high-level security costs.

               For Israel, even meaningfully improved relations with these states will likely do nothing to reduce the probability of major or minor wars in the region. More significantly, such alleged “improvements are apt to revive the portent of accelerating Palestinian terrorism. This enlarged prospect of insurgent Arab offensives, stemming from the new Trump-negotiated impediments to Palestinian statehood,[2] could sometime involve weapons of mass destruction  and/or attacks on Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona.[3] Moreover, these sub-state aggressions against Israel could be undertaken singly, or together with various state allies.

               By definition, in these latter cases of adversarial collaboration, the threat to Israel would derive from “hybrid” foes.

               For Israel, these complex issues all call for disciplined intellectual analysis, not casually contrived political responses. None of the so-called “enemy states” now in presumably improved relations with Israel had ever presented any recognizable or decipherable threat. The best that one can say in defense of this starkly deceptive Trump-mediated effort is that after all agreement details had been formally completed, Israel’s security outlook came to resemble (in one respect) United States security vis-à-vis Grenada  after 1983.

               In that year, Ronald Reagan executed an American invasion of  a tiny Caribbean nation. “Reassuringly,” since that 4-day operation, “Urgent Fury” has proven its enduring security value to the United States. After all, since “Urgent Fury” (though expressly condemned by the United Nations as a violation of international law[4]), the United States has never once been attacked by Grenada.

               Is there something wrong with this “logic?”

               Ought we really to be grateful for US President Reagan’s strategic foresight?

               Or are we really speaking of strategic self-parody?

               Stated succinctly, once treated with evident seriousness, a confirmation of US decisional success in this earlier operation would appear silly at best. What else can one say about having blunted a threat that could never have existed?

               All this is by way of  underscoring an historical reference point. For the future, Israel will have to deal with more credible and consequential strategic threats than the essentially fictive ones enumerated by America’s Trump diplomacy with minor Sunni states. In this connection, nuclear strategy and nuclear deterrence could figure importantly.

               Explained with greater specificity, Israel’s pertinent decision-makers will soon have to make certain core decisions about continuing with its longstanding posture of “deliberate ambiguity.”[5]

               This strategic posture, aka the “bomb in the basement,” will require vital and nuanced modifications in the year ahead. To best meet this inherently complex requirement – a prerequisite now made vastly more problematic by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic – Israeli defense and security planners will have to fashion their continuously evolving strategies with unprecedented intellectual refinement and with more explicit reference to three specific types of adversary: (1) state; (2) non-state; and (3) “hybrid.”

               Most important, especially as US President Donald J. Trump’s disjointed policies could further destabilize world politics and tangibly accelerate Iranian nuclearization, IDF theorists will need to advance beyond their traditional emphases on technological innovation and remediation.[6]

               There is more. Recent Israeli successes with advanced ballistic missile defense are impressive and significant; still, they will need to be augmented by more incrementally credible strategies of nuclear deterrence.[7] Aside from various pertinent particulars, these strategies, while in ongoing development, should be fashioned as conspicuously seamless and calibrated military postures.[8]

               Among other expectations, this requirement will call for factoring in foreseeable and ever-growing effects of a worldwide biological enemy (Covid-19), including well-informed estimations of adversarial capabilities and intentions.

               All this will prove uncannily complex. The conceptual/analytic task now being placed before Israel’s military and national security planners is multi-faceted, intersectional and daunting.  It remains a task that is potentially indispensable.     What follows  seeks to clarify what should soon be expected of that country’s most capable thinkers and defense policy planners. This is not a task that can benefit from the narrowly manipulative “insights” of a self-serving American president or his Israeli surrogates. For Israel, this is a moment for imaginative thinking, not for governance by cliché.

Multivariate Theory and National Survival

               Israel is not America. Nonetheless, it remains an “undisclosed” nuclear power, and must struggle with many of the same issues that now confront the United States. Though allocations of nuclear authority in Jerusalem are just as “opaque” as in Washington (possibly even more so), enough is known to hypothesize about certain expanding risks of a nuclear war. Indeed, because Israel remains a vital and substantial ally of the United States in the Middle East, there are foreseeable circumstances wherein certain nuclear risks common to the two countries could be overlapping or synergistic.

               Whenever the linkages would constitute an authentic synergy, the cumulative harms would be greater than their calculable sum.

               Understanding such circumstances – and using this understanding to enhance relevant security policies in Israel – presents a formidable intellectual task. This will not be a task for the analytically faint hearted. Like its much larger American ally, Israel must increasingly depend upon profoundly complex levels of strategic calculation – extraordinary levels of the sort that were earlier required during World War II of the Manhattan Project.

               On its face, that is a very presumptuous claim. The comparison is not meant to suggest anything about reinforcing or changing Tel Aviv’s particular policy requirements or expectations, but only to clarify just how staggering the small country’s security task must become.

                There is more. Israel’s strategic planners will have a set of very complex variables and relationships to consider. These are the many-sided factors that stem from an ongoing and ubiquitous microbial assault. The obvious reference here is the proliferating worldwide plague that is impacting friends and foes alike.

               What happens when the proliferation of disease epidemic coincides with the proliferation of nuclear and/or other unconventional weapons? What if these weapons include biological weapons? The ironies are apparent, and also formidable.

               What sorts of measurement or assessment can bring usable clarity to such unique challenges? In epistemological or philosophy of science terminology, the situation now being faced by the United States and Israel is sui generis. How, then, should this unprecedented situation be controlled?

               Above all, the core challenge to Israel concerns viable long-term deterrence of multiple regional adversaries. Now faced with an expanding disease pandemic superimposed upon all of the usual or “normal” strategic issues, Israel’s response will require herculean combinations of refined analysis and creative intuition. This task has already become so grievously complex and many-sided that nothing less than unprecedented applications of human intellectual effort can rise adequately to the challenge.[9]

               Reciprocally, however, there can be no compelling assurances that even such rarefied applications can ever succeed.

               Prima facie, the myriad difficulties of rising to this existential challenge represent a formidable barrier to success and long-term survival. In essence, there exists grave danger that these difficulties could occasion not any purposefully enhanced national commitment or “will,”[10] but rather incremental resignation or irremediable despair. It follows that before any necessary strategic policy modifications can be launched by Israeli thinkers and planners, those responsible will, like Lady Macbeth, first have to “screw up their courage to the sticking place.”

               But how to begin? For exactly half a century, I have been thinking and writing about Israel’s nuclear strategy. At least to some calculable extent, this has been an incomprehensible and foolhardy academic focus. Israel, after all, has never meaningfully acknowledged its possession of nuclear weapons, let alone identified any corresponding national nuclear infrastructures, strategies or tactics.

               None at all.[11]

               So, what exactly has actually been left to analyze?

               What, precisely, can be examined and usefully reconstituted right now, when virtually everything is in bewildering flux?

               There are coherent answers, but they cannot be offered ex nihilo, that is, from within an empirical or conceptual vacuum.

               In all world politics, but especially in the Middle East, the most enduring truth of what is taking place is always inconspicuous, what is not said. During the past several years, it has been relatively easy to extrapolate from various multiple and intersecting open sources that Israel’s nuclear capacity (in its broadest possible outline) represents just such an “enduring truth,” and that the country’s physical survival is closely intertwined with its “deliberately ambiguous” defense posture. Now, however, looking ahead, a core responsibility for both planners and politicians in Israel should be to more explicitly utilize/optimize their country’s always-evolving nuclear strategy, and to tackle this bold challenge against an ever-changing backdrop of both state and sub-state adversaries.

               There will be more substance to consider. The national security task will require various informed assessments not only of more-or-less decipherable prospects, but also of certain foreseeable “hybrid” enemies (e.g., Iran-Hezbollah; Iran-Hamas). In turn, these hybrids will represent substantially more complex foes; that is, adversaries comprised (in varying conceivable configurations) of both state and sub-state elements.[12]

                Inevitably, the suitability of Israel’s relevant national nuclear planning will vary, at least in part, according to the particular “mix” involved. To this point, of course, little published analysis has addressed the effective use of Israeli nuclear deterrence against sub-state and/or “hybridized” adversaries. Among other things, this once-reasonable inattention will have to be appropriately changed and properly updated.

               Soon.

               Inter alia, Israel will require more explicit considerations of nuclear deterrence strategies directed against conventional or non-nuclear enemies.[13] First and foremost, these demanding considerations will represent intellectual obligations; that is, analytic responsibilities that can be met only by more markedly purposeful and science-based theorizing,[14] never by the cleverly shallow rhetorical flourishes of market-centered national politicians.In the United States, unmistakably, we are still witnessing the catastrophic security consequences of a presidential leadership that was based entirely upon raw “intuition” or visceral “gut feeling.”[15]

                Left to its own anti-science devices, these consequences, which now include steadily cascading Covid-19 death counts, could alter the fabric of American national survival.

               Whether in Israel or the United States, national security challenges can never be dealt with capably under the manipulative guidance of commerce-centered impresarios. To wit, such inept American guidance did not reduce the North Korean nuclear threat to the United States when US President Donald Trump declared after the Singapore Summit that he and his counterpart in Pyongyang had “fallen in love.”

               There was not a scintilla of threat reduction; not a calculable bit.

               Since that substantively unplanned and intentionally unprepared-for summit, North Korea has accelerated and expanded its military nuclear programs. Ironically, Donald Trump responded by telling the American people that (based upon his “intuition” and “gut feelings”) all is actually improving.

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

               There is more. By definition, the imperative exploration of Israel’s nuclear strategy cannot be undertaken with a view to ascertaining any precise event probabilities. In science and mathematics, true statements of probability must always be drawn from the discernible frequency of pertinent past events. But very clearly, in the bewildering matters at hand, there has never been an authentic nuclear war.

               It follows that Israeli scholars and political leaders should remain aptly modest about offering any specific nuclear conflict predictions. Going back to ancient Greek philosophers and playwrights, especially Aristotle (both Poetics and Politics), this will not be a suitable time for any Israeli displays of hubris or “chutzpah.” Lest they forget, such misplaced displays led directly to the near-catastrophe of the 1973 Yom Kippur War or mechdal.

               For Israel, perhaps more than for any other imperiled state in world politics, it is vital not to prepare “retrospectively” for the dynamics and weapon-systems of a previous war. Though, at least for the moment, Israel faces no regional nuclear adversaries, this relatively favorable condition will not last indefinitely. When it does finally come to an end – such an eventual or incremental cessation is pretty much inevitable over time, especially as US President Trump’s policies can only hasten Iranian nuclearization and certain reciprocal Sunni Arab nuclear reactions – Jerusalem/Tel Aviv should be prepared to conceptualize a more future-oriented and systematic program of national strategic response.[16]

               Whether or not Israel is adequately prepared for such a difficult task will depend, at least in part, on whether adversarial nuclear capacities become evident in plausibly tolerable increments, or (instead) in variously tangible acts (witting or unwitting) of verifiable enemy disclosure. If the latter, the worst case for Israel would involve actual enemy resorts to nuclear conflict.

               What then? In any law-based world order,[17] it’s a question that should never have to be asked.

               Never.

               To best prepare for any impending nuclear adversary,[18] whether Shiite Iran[19] or a Sunni Arab enemy (Pakistan is already a Sunni non-Arab nuclear power and in-principle adversary), or both, Israel/IMOD must remain continuously analytic and theory-focused. This means, among other things, factoring into virtually every coherent nuclear threat assessment (a) the expected rationality of enemy decision-makers, and (b) the expected intentionality of these decision-makers during any conceivable crisis.[20]

               Unsurprisingly, there is also something else of prospectively grave significance. This factor is the ongoing Corona virus pandemic, a plague so corrosive, persistent and consequential that it could directly impact an adversarial state’s decisional rationality and policy intentions. More exactly, depending upon the actual impact of disease on the relevant enemy’s most senior decision-makers, such a foe could become more or less likely to initiate variable (minor or major) levels of conflict.

                Israel’s own senior decision-makers, already anticipating such changeable enemy orientations to war, could experience a heightened inclination to preempt.[21] In law, any such defensive first-strikes could be known formally as “anticipatory self-defense.”[22] It remains high time for Israeli strategists to be self-consciously scientific in the sense of producing more aptly comprehensive theoretic assessments. These are now the only appraisals that can capably explore a needed variety of “soft” human factors.[23] Until now, Israel’s defense establishment has been very capably scientific, but primarily in the operational sense of maintaining precise mathematical attention to assorted weapon systems and infrastructures.

               Just as importantly, IDF/MOD will now need to operationalize some less tangible but still markedly scientific orientations to any prospective nuclear conflict.[24]

Models of Strategic Decision-Making for Israel

               An appropriate example here would be the creation of multiple decisional “templates” to allow consideration of not-easily measurable explanatory factors. Even more precisely, if a basically dichotomous or two-part distinction could sometime be assumed concerning enemy rationality and intentionality, four logically possible categories or scenarios would result. These discrete narrative templates could then lucidly inform Israel’s long-term nuclear security policies and posture.

               Each template’s examination would take into account, to whatever extent analytically possible, likely Covid-19 impacts on enemy decision-makers.

               To proceed, IDF planners ought to consider the following more-or-less believable narratives, a determined consideration that could significantly enhance already-disciplined orientations to the country’s national defense:

(1) Rational/Intentional

Both Israeli and enemy leaders are presumptively rational (i.e., each set of leaders values national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences), and any nuclear exchange between them would be the result of fully deliberate decision choices by one or both of the relevant decision-makers;

(2) Rational/Unintentional

Both sets of leaders are presumptively rational, and any nuclear exchange between them would be the result of certain unintended decision choices made by one or both of them;

(3) Irrational/Intentional

Either Israeli or enemy leaders, or both, are presumptively irrational, and any nuclear exchange between them would be the result of still fully deliberate decisional choices made by one or both; and

(4) Irrational/Unintentional

Either Israeli or enemy leaders, or both, are presumptively irrational, and any nuclear exchange between these adversaries would be the necessary outcome of unintended decisions made by one or both of them.

               In all such complex strategic matters (Clausewitz reminds us, in On War, “Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is still very difficult.”), nothing could prove more practical than good theory.[25] Always, such duly general and comprehensive policy explanations could help guide Jerusalem beyond otherwise vague, ad hoc or simply “seat-of-the-pants” appraisals of adversarial nuclear conflict possibilities.[26]

               By definition, any future nuclear crisis between Israel and designable enemy states would be unique or sui generis. This means, among other things, that Israel’s Prime Minister and his principal national security advisors ought never become overly-confident about predicting specific nuclear crisis outcomes or their own expertise in being able to successfully manage such unprecedented crises. As hinted at earlier, such expertise could be affected by any still-ongoing disease pandemic. Israel’s own decision-makers, like all pertinent enemy decision-makers, would be meaningfully vulnerable to virulent forms of biological “insult.”

               Another key point emerges. There are no real experts in nuclear conflict situations. This conclusion includes a now-sitting American president who had earlier placed far-reaching and baseless faith in North Korea’s Kim Jung Un (“We fell in love”), and who still reveals no serious intellectual understanding of US nuclear deterrence obligations.

                None at all.

Further Relevant Strategic Distinctions

               Other thoughts dawn. Israeli strategic analysts must continuously upgrade any proposed nuclear investigations by identifying the basic distinctions between intentional or deliberate nuclear war and between unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. The tangible risks resulting from these different types of possible nuclear conflict are apt to vary considerably, in part because of certain hard-to-quantify or calculate “pandemic variables.” Those Israeli analysts who would remain too exclusively focused upon any deliberate nuclear war scenario could sometime too casually underestimate a more authentically serious and even overriding enemy threat.

               In principle, at least, any such underestimations could produce lethal or prospectively existential outcomes for Israel. To make the avoidance of these underestimations sufficiently problematic, nuclear war risks in the Middle East could be created or enhanced via various “spillover effects” from nuclear conflict situations in other regions. Presently, regarding Israel, the most credible “ignition points” for any such creation would be India-Pakistan escalations,[27] and/or North Korean aggressions. It goes without saying that such additionally portentous escalations and/or aggressions could themselves be affected by various Covid-19 considerations

               While any North Korea-Middle East nuclear intersections may at first appear far-fetched, literally any crossing of the nuclear threshold on this planet could impact nuclear use in other far-flung places.

               This expectation does not take into account historic ties between destabilizing North Korean nuclear technologies and the traditional Arab  state enemies of Israel. The  most obvious case in point is Syria, and Israel’s remediating preemption (Operation Orchard) undertaken back in September 2007.[28]

               There is more. Israel could sometime need to respond to expectedly bewildering conditions generated by any US war with Iran. This is the case even if Iran were itself to remain entirely non-nuclear.[29] Again, IMOD and the Prime Minister will need to anticipate such conditions in suitably systematic, scientific and dialectical fashion.

World Politics as System

               Always, international relations represent a system. What happens in any one component of this system can impact what happens in another. Sometimes, the cumulative impact of regional or global interactions can also be “synergistic.” In these very dense circumstances, by definition, the calculable “whole” of any relevant interactions will prove to be greater than the simple sum of the constituent “parts.”

               Here, too, the presence of pandemic factors could represent a relevant and significant “force multiplier.”

               In thinking about nuclear strategy, Israeli planners must calculate holistically, broadly considering the world as a multi-actor totality, one where consequential outcomes will have to be assessed in their most conceivably complex intersections. Also important here will be specific orientations to states, sovereignty and state meanings. In some cases, these diverse orientations could prove genuinely determinative.[30]

               Noteworthy here is a seemingly subtle but still meaningful difference between inadvertent nuclear war and accidental nuclear war. Any accidental nuclear war would have to be inadvertent; conversely, however, there could take place various recognizable forms of inadvertent nuclear war that would not be accidental. The policy-related differences here would not be insignificant or inconsequential.

               Most critical, in clarifying this connection, would be potentially serious errors in calculation, whether committed by one or both (or several) sides. The most evident example of any such grievous mistakes would concern such plausible misjudgments of enemy intent or capacity as might emerge during the course of a particular crisis escalation. Such tangible misjudgments would most likely stem from a predictably mutual search for strategic advantage during any ongoing competition in nuclear risk-taking.

               In orthodox military parlance, this would mean during a determinable multi-party search for “escalation dominance.” Such a search could be affected by literally any Covid-19 triggered conditions of chaos[31]. To achieve a proper or (better still) optimal start in this sort of required theorizing, Israeli analysts would first need to pinpoint and conceptualize the vital similarities and differences between deliberate nuclear war, inadvertent nuclear war, and accidental nuclear war.

               Subsequently, undertaking various related investigations of rationality and irrationality within each affected country’s decision-making structure would become necessary. One potential source of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war could be a failed strategy of “pretended irrationality.” To this point, a posturing Israeli prime minister who had too “successfully” convinced enemy counterparts of his own irrationality could unwittingly spark an otherwise-avoidable enemy preemption.

               At this time, US President Donald J. Trump has toyed vis-à-vis North Korea with intermittent displays of  “pretended irrationality,” but to no apparent avail. In part, this evident lack of success may be due to the president’s earlier public declarations concerning certain alleged benefits of feigned irrationality. In other words, having previously announced his own infatuation with the promise of pretended irrationality, there is too little good reason for Pyongyang to take any such recent threat as aptly credible.

               There is more. An Israeli leadership that had begun to take seriously an enemy leader’s self-declared unpredictability could sometime be frightened into striking first itself. In this diametrically opposite or reciprocal case, Jerusalem would become the preempting party that could then claim (rightly or wrongly) legality for its allegedly defensive first-strike. Under authoritative international law, as we have already noted, a permissible preemption could possibly be taken as a proper expression of “anticipatory self-defense.”[32]

               Also worth considering amid any such chess-like strategic and legal dialectics is that the first scenario could sometime end not with an enemy preemption, but with Israeli decision-makers deciding to “preempt the preemption.” Here, Israel, sensing the too-great “success” of its own pretended irrationality, might then “foresee” an enemy’s resultant insecurity.

               They might then decide (correctly or incorrectly) to strike first before they are struck first themselves.”[33]

               The very dense strategic dialectic[34] in such cases would be multi-factorial  and complicated, perhaps even bewildering.[35]

               One final point warrants a concluding emphasis. A future Israeli posture of feigned or pretended irrationality need not be inherently misconceived or inconceivable. Years ago, in precisely such a conceptual regard, Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan declared: “Israel must be seen (by its enemies) as a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”

               Looking ahead, such seemingly “out-of-the-box” Israeli security postures are uncertain and untested, but they are not necessarily mistaken or beyond any serious consideration. The specific credibility of such potential military postures could be enhanced by considering more conspicuous characterizations of a last-resort “Samson Option.”[36] The key point of any such characterizations would not be to prepare for some actual “final battle” (an outcome that would be in no single country’s overall best interests), but rather to better convince an existential adversary of Israel’s willingness to take extraordinary risks in order to ensure its own survival.

               While Israel has yet to exploit this particular modality of strategic thinking, Russia made precisely such a calculation with its Burevestnik missile –  a self-declared “vengeance nuclear weapon.” Moscow is not hoping to employ such a missile as part of any operational policy, but instead to signal the United States that it is prepared to “go to the mat” with the Americans, even in starkly unpredictable nuclear terms. We may assume that the Russian “point” here is not to “fight a nuclear war,” but instead to successfully influence the choices that its American rival will most expectedly make.[37]

               Inevitably, this means to maximize Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

               Going forward, a major focus of changing Israel’s nuclear strategy will have to be the country’s longstanding posture of deliberate ambiguity or “bomb in the basement.”[38] The Prime Minister surely understands that adequate nuclear deterrence of increasingly formidable enemies could soon require lessrather than more Israeli nuclear secrecy. Accordingly, what will soon need to be determined by IDF planners will be the operational extent and subtlety with which Israel should communicate assorted core elements of its nuclear posture; that is, its corollary intentions and capabilities pertinent to selected enemy states.

               To protect itself against any enemy strikes that could carry intolerable costs, IDF defense planners will need to prepare to exploit absolutely every relevant aspect and function of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. The success of Israel’s effort here will depend not only upon its particular choice of targeting doctrine (“counterforce” or “counter value”), but also upon the extent to which this key choice is made known in advance to enemy states and (at least sometimes, in hybridized scenarios) to these foes’ sub-state surrogates. Before such enemies can be suitably deterred from launching first strike aggressions against Israel,[39] and before they can be deterred from launching retaliatory attacks following any Israeli preemptions, it may not be enough for them merely to know that Israel has the bomb.

               In some cases, the credibility of an Israeli nuclear threat could vary inversely with its presumed destructiveness.

In Nuclear Crisis Mode: Complexity and Calculation

               In extremis atomicum, these enemies will also need to believe that Israeli nuclear weapons are sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attacksand that they are pointed menacingly at appropriately high-value targets. The key message here is obvious and straightforward. Removing the bomb from Israel’s “basement” could enhance Israel’s nuclear deterrent to the extent that it would enlarge enemy perceptions of secure and capable Israeli nuclear forces.[40] Such a calculated end to deliberate ambiguity could also underscore Israel’s willingness to use these nuclear forces in reprisal for certain enemy first-strike and/or retaliatory attacks.[41]

               From the standpoint of successful Israeli nuclear deterrence, IDF planners must generally proceed on the assumption that perceived willingness is always as important as perceived capability. In all cases, Israel’s nuclear strategy and forces should remain fully oriented to deterrence, and never toward any actual nuclear war fighting. Already, with this in mind, Jerusalem/Tel Aviv has likely taken appropriate steps to reject tactical or relatively low-yield “battlefield” nuclear weapons, and, as corollary, any corresponding plans for counter-force targeting.

               For Israel, without any conceivable exception, nuclear weapons can make sense only for deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.[42]

               There are various attendant problems of nuclear proliferation among enemy states.[43] New nuclear powers could implement protective measures that would pose additional hazards to Israel. Designed to guard against preemption, either by Israel or by other regional enemies, such measures could involve the attachment of “hair trigger” launch mechanisms to nuclear weapon systems and/or the adoption of “launch on warning” policies, possibly coupled with measured pre-delegations of launch authority.

               This means, most plainly, that Israel could become increasingly endangered by steps taken by its newly-nuclear enemies to prevent an eleventh-hour preemption. Optimally, Israel would do everything possible to prevent such steps, especially because of the expanded risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks against its own armaments and populations. Still, if these steps were somehow to become a fait accompli, Jerusalem might then calculate, and quite correctly, that a preemptive strike would be both legal and operationally cost-effective.

               Here, the expected enemy retaliation, however damaging, might appear more tolerable than the expected consequences of enemy first-strikes  –  strikes likely occasioned by the failure of “anti-preemption” protocols.

               These are all complicated matters. They can never be solved or even understood by any country’s narrowly political planners or decision-makers.

               There is also the related matter of conventional deterrence.  In some circumstances, enemy states contemplating a conventional attack upon Israel might be dissuaded only by the threat of a strong conventional retaliation. Inasmuch as a conventional war could sometimes escalate into an unconventional war, Israel’s conventional deterrent could prove valuable in offering protection against chemical/biological/nuclear war[44] as well as against conventional war.[45]

               A persuasive conventional deterrent is a sine qua non of Israel’s security. This is the case irrespective of the persuasiveness of Jerusalem’s nuclear deterrent, and/or the availability of reasonable preemption options. Reciprocally, Israel’s conventional and nuclear deterrents are interrelated, even intertwined.  For the foreseeable future, any enemy states that would launch an exclusively conventional attack upon Israel would almost surely have to maintain multiple unconventionalweapons capabilities in reserve. 

               Even if Israel could rely upon conventional deterrence as its “first line” of protection, that line would need to be be augmented by Israeli nuclear deterrence in order to prevent intra-war escalations initiated by enemy actors.

               Looking ahead, Israel must prepare to rely upon a distinctly multi-faceted doctrine of nuclear deterrence. This critical doctrine will need to be less ambiguous and more determinedly “synergistic.” Its core focus should embrace prospectively rational and non-rational enemies, and include both national and sub-national foes.[46]

               Again, these intersecting requirements are not for consideration by narrowly political decision-makers or by the intellectually faint-hearted.

               They are offered herein for strategic consideration and analytic refinement.

               Over time, any such prudential reliance should prove agreeably “cost-effective.” Whether directed at nuclear or non-nuclear adversaries (or both), Israel’s nuclear strategy will play an increasingly important role in that country’s national security planning. At some point, Israel and Iran –  perhaps resembling the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War – could find themselves like “two scorpions in a bottle”[47] or rather enclosed like two “scorpions” amid three or four others.

               For good reason, it’s not a pretty metaphor.

New Pacts, Old and New Problems

               What happens then? Will Israel be ready? A positive answer is possible only if the task is viewed in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv as a preeminently intellectual one, a struggle not just about comparative ordnance or competitive “orders of battle,” but comprehensively about “mind over mind.” In these perplexing times, all relevant matters of mind will have to include various considerations of biology/pathology as well as the more usual military ones.

               Fortunately, Israel has always been in recognizably prominent possession of what is most durably important. This largely overlooked factor is intellectual power.[48] Going forward with its imperative strategic tasks, Israel’s senior planners and prime minister may now have to more fully appreciate the primacy of such an antecedent or utterly primary power.

               This would mean, inter alia, looking far beyond the usual focus on high-technology military solutions, including various unprecedented factors concerning Covid19/virulent disease pandemic.

               Among other things, these biological variables could impact actual processes  of crisis decision-making in Jerusalem and/or in certain enemy capitals, more-or-less simultaneous impacts with still-unknown force-multiplying effects. These effects, at some point, could also become literally synergistic.

               At that worrisome stage, the “whole” injurious impact of the pandemic on pertinent Israeli decision-making would have become greater than the simple sum of all its relevant “parts.” Immediately, therefore, because it would be impossible to anticipate in any detail such a profound impact in all or even most of its plausible disease-based consequences, the optimal course for Israel must be to hew in general to strategic postures recognizably averse to excessive threat-making or excessive risk-taking. In these expansively uncertain times, Israel’s defense and security decision-makers should consider maximizing their inclinations to more cooperative or collaborative interactions with particular adversarial counterparts.

               As long as the country maintains its “ace in the whole” nuclear strategy, which should be for a very long time, Israel must keep up its efforts to ensure a refined and uniformly credible national nuclear strategy. This strategy should continue to emphasize deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post. Although recent Israeli pacts with Bahrain, UAE and Sudan may at first seem to have been net-gainful, a more careful strategic assessment (already imperative) should conclude otherwise. Among other things, over time, Jerusalem will face undiminished or enlarged strategic threats from Iran and assorted terrorist actors, and potentially new strategic threats from certain Sunni Arab states newly strengthened by ill-considered Trump diplomacy. With this complex nuclear future in mind, Jerusalem should remain focused on the critical intellectual antecedents of national security planning, and not be distracted by any chimerical promises or assurances from Washington.

               The new US-brokered pacts of recognition and reconciliation with Barhrain, UAE and Sudan may at first sound like commendable achievements, but their cumulative net benefits are calculably very small, and their prospective net costs are markedly considerable. Over time, these widely-unseen costs could become staggering, if not irremediable. In the worst case, the actual price of having trusted complex national security decision-making to contrived political solutions could even include a regional “waste land.”

               Unlike the poet’s more abstract conceptualization, this real-world declension could display fear not merely in “dust,” but also in the combined perils of virulent pathogens and radioactive ash. This is not a combination best prevented by public officials drawn from a one-dimensional background in politics, industry or commerce. Successful prevention calls for strategic thinkers who are well-schooled in such challenging dialectics, thinkers of uncommon erudition and unparalleled intellectual integrity.

               For Israel, the stakes are simply too high to settle for anything less.


[1] Similar conclusions can be drawn about Mr. Trump’s earlier decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Though Israelis quite naturally regard this diplomatic transfer as well-intentioned and geopolitically purposeful, it came without any costs to the Trump administration, but did exacerbate several of Israel’s much larger problems. While it has been taken as a clear victory by most Israelis, the protracted benefits to Israel will actually turn out to be very minor or insignificant, at best.

[2] For much earlier original writings by this author on the prospective impact of a Palestinian state on Israeli nuclear deterrence and Israeli nuclear strategy, see: Louis René Beres, “Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel’s Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options,” Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, “After the `Peace Process:’ Israel, Palestine, and Regional Nuclear War,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 15, No. 2., Winter 1997, pp. 301-335; Louis René Beres, “Limits of Nuclear Deterrence: The Strategic Risks and Dangers to Israel of False Hope,” ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY, Vol. 23., No. 4., Summer 1997, pp. 539-568; Louis René Beres, “Getting Beyond Nuclear Deterrence: Israel, Intelligence and False Hope,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE AND COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, Vol. 10., No. 1., Spring 1997, pp. 75-90; Louis René Beres, “On Living in a Bad Neighborhood: The Informed Argument for Israeli Nuclear Weapons,” POLITICAL CROSSROADS, Vol. 5., Nos. 1/2, 1997, pp. 143-157; Louis René Beres, “Facing the Apocalypse: Israel and the `Peace Process,'” BTZEDEK: THE JOURNAL OF RESPONSIBLE JEWISH COMMENTARY (Israel), Vol. 1., No. 3., Fall/Winter 1997, pp. 32-35; Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why Golan Demilitarization Would Not Work,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XXIV, No. 1., Winter 1996, pp. 75-76; Louis René Beres, “Implications of a Palestinian State for Israeli Security and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 17., No. 2., 1999, pp. 229-286; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” CROSSROADS: AN INTERNATIONAL SOCIO-POLITICAL JOURNAL, No. 31, 1991, pp. 97-104; Louis René Beres, “The Question of Palestine and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” THE POLITICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 62, No. 4., October-December 1991, pp. 451-460; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Palestine and Regional Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF PEACE PROPOSALS, Vol. 22., No. 2., June 1991, pp. 227-234; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State: Implications for Israel’s Security and the Possibility of Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF THE JERUSALEM INSTITUTE FOR WESTERN DEFENCE  (Israel), Vol. 4., Bulletin No, 3., October 1991, pp. 3-10; Louis René Beres, ISRAELI SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS, PSIS Occasional Papers, No. 1/1990, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, 40 pp; and Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, Palestine and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp. 48-55.

[3] In the past, in separate incidents, both Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and Palestinian terror-group Hamas fired rockets at Dimona. Though unsuccessful, Israel must remain wary of the consequences of any future attack that might prove more capable. For early and informed consideration of reactor attack effects in general, see: Bennett Ramberg, DESTRUCTION OF NUCLEAR ENERGY FACILITIES IN WAR (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1980); Bennett Ramberg,  “Attacks on Nuclear Reactors: The Implications of Israel’s Strike on Osiraq,” POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY,  Winter 1982-83;  pp. 653 – 669; and 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.

[4]See3:  https://sofrep.com/specialoperations/operation-urgent-fury-the-u-s-invades-grenada/

[5] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/israel-nuclear-ambiguity/; by Professor Beres and General Isaac Ben-Israel (IDF/ret.): https://spme.org/boycotts-divestments-sanctions-bds/boycotts-divestments-and-sanctions-bds-news/louis-rene-beres-and-isaac-ben-israel-the-limits-of-deterrence/4207/; https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2018/11/15/israels-nuclear-ambiguity-would-a-shift-to-selective-nuclear-disclosure-enhance-strategic-deterrence; https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/; and https://strategicassessment.inss.org.il/wp-content/uploads/antq/fe-676949421.pdf.

[6] An obvious current example is Israeli advances in laser-based systems. See, in this regard: https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/41573

[7] No state is under any per se legal obligation to renounce access to nuclear weapons; in certain residual circumstances, it may even be permissible to actually use such weapons. In this connection, on July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice at The Hague handed down its Advisory Opinion on “The Legality of the Threat or Use of Force of Nuclear Weapons.” The final paragraph of this Opinion, concludes, inter alia: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

[8] See, by Professor Beres and Ambassador Zalman Shoval, Modern War Institute, West Point: https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[9] The seventeenth-century French philosopher Blasé Pascal remarks prophetically in Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought….It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further upon René Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.

[10] Modern philosophic origins of “will” lie prominently in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer,  especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps more importantly upon Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic twentieth-century work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948), and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[11] There were three prominently recorded incidents in which some explicit reference was made to Israel’s “bomb” by a prime minister, but none went beyond deliberately vague and general commentary. On December 22, 1995, then Prime Minister Shimon Peres declared to the Israeli press that Israel would be willing “to give up the atom” in exchange for peace. Years later, on December 11, 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert uttered a very similar remark. And in just the last year, at the end of 2019, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed a “slip of the tongue,” combining “Israel” and “its nuclear….” in the same public utterance.

[12] Explicit application of the law of war to sub-state actors dates back to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. As more than codified treaties and conventions must comprise the law of war, it is plain that the obligations of jus in bello (justice in war) are part of “the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations” (from Art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice) and thereby bind all categories of belligerents. (See Statute of the International Court of Justice, art. 38, June 29, 1945, 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. 993).  Further, Hague Convention IV of 1907 declares that even in the absence of a precisely published set of guidelines regarding “unforeseen cases,” the operative pre-conventional sources of humanitarian international law obtain and still govern all belligerency. The related Martens Clause is included in the Preamble of the 1899 Hague Conventions, International Convention with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War by Land, July 29, 1899, 187 Consol. T.S. 429, 430.

[13] At first hearing, it may sound prima facie erroneous to adapt any nation’s nuclear strategy to assorted non-nuclear adversaries, but it should nonetheless be obvious to Israel – for specific example, in the case of Iran – that even a wholly conventional enemy could (1) sometime threaten existential harms; and (2) these threats might sometime be rationally countered with varying forms and degrees of nuclear deterrence.

[14] We cannot be allowed to forget that theoretical fruitfulness must be achieved at some more-or-less tangible cost of “dehumanization.”  As Goethe reminds us is Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, And the golden tree of life is green.” Translated by the author from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.”

[15] “The mass man,” says 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset, “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.” (See The Revolt of the Masses, 1930).

[16] Such needed preparation must extend to multiplying enemy nuclear states, or the dynamic problem of nuclear proliferation. Philosophically, this problem has certain conceptual antecedents in the work of seventeenth-century English scholar, Thomas Hobbes. Here, instructs the author of Leviathan, although the “state of nations” exists in the condition of a “state of nature,” it is more tolerable than the condition of individuals in that state. This is because, in the case of individual human beings, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” With nuclear weapons spread, however, there is no longer any reason to assert that the state of nations must be more tolerable. Instead, this spread will bring the state of nations much closer to a true Hobbesian state of nature. Similarly, the classical German philosopher, Samuel Pufendorf, also unable to imagine nuclear weapons and nuclear warfare, still reasoned, like Hobbes, that the state of nations “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” And in the same vein, wrote 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.

[17] In this connection, see, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1151&context=ilr

[18] For earlier published writings by Professor Beres on the Iranian nuclear threat, see: Louis René Beres, “Israel, Force, and International Law: Assessing Anticipatory Self-Defense,” The Jerusalem Journal of International Relations, Vol. 13, No. 2., June 1991, pp. 1-14; Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, `Palestine,’ and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East,” Strategic Review, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp, 48-55; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Prospects for Nuclear War in the Middle East,” Strategic Review, Vol. XXI, No.2., Spring 1993, pp. 52-60; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Nuclear War: A Tactical and Legal Assessment,” Jerusalem Letter, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem, Israel, November 1993, pp. 1-7; Louis René Beres, “North Korea Today, Iran Tomorrow,” Midstream, June/July 1994, pp. 5-7, co-authored with COL. (IDF/res.) Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto (former Chief of Planning, Israel Air Force); Louis René Beres, “The Security and Future of Israel: An Exchange,” Midstream, Vol. XXXXI, No. 5., June/July 1995, pp. 15-23, a debate between Professor Beres and Maj. General (IDF/res.) Shlomo Gazit, a former Chief of IDF Intelligence Branch (Aman) and later, military advisor to Prime Minister Shimon Peres; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment,” UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs, Spring 1996, Vol. 1., No. 1, pp. 65-97; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Iran and Preemption: Choosing the Least Unattractive Option Under International Law,” Dickinson Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 2., Winter 1996, pp. 187-206; Louis René Beres, “The Iranian Threat to Israel: Capabilities and Intentions,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 9., No. 1., Spring 1996, pp. 51-62; Louis René Beres, “The Iranian Threat to Israel,” Midstream, Vol. 44, No. 6., September/October 1998, pp. 8-11; Louis René Beres, “Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel’s Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options: A Comprehensive Master Plan for the Jewish State in the Third Millennium,” The Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, “Iran’s Growing Threat to Israel,” Midstream, Vol. XXXXVI, No. 7, November 2000, pp. 2-4; and Louis René Beres, “Israel and the Bomb,” a Dialogue with Professor Zeev Maoz, International Security (Harvard University), Vol. 29, No.1., Summer 2004, pp. 1-4.

[19] On deterring a potentially nuclear Iran, see: Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?” The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. General Chain (USAF/ret.) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[20] It can also underscore Sun-Tzu’s oft-cited suggestion to “embrace the unorthodox.” For a specific application of Sun-Tzu to Israel’s prospective calculations, see: Louis René Beres, “Lessons for Israel from Ancient Chinese Military Thought: Facing Iranian Nuclearization with Sun-Tzu,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, posted October 24, 2013.

[21] Regarding preemption, the most obvious Israeli precedents for such defensive moves would be Operation Opera directed against the Osiraq (Iraqi) nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981, and, later (though lesser known) Operation Orchard against Syria on September 6, 2007. In April 2011, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the bombed Syrian site in the Deir ez-Zoe region of Syria had indeed been a developing nuclear reactor. Arguably, both preemptions were fully lawful assertions of Israel’s “Begin Doctrine.”

[22] The origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie in The Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984)(noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925)(1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916)(1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law,  32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).

[23] This does not mean trying to account for absolutely every pertinent explanatory variable. Clarification can be found at “Occam’s Razor,” or the “principle of parsimony.” In essence, it stipulates a preference for the simplest explanation still consistent with scientific method. Regarding current concerns for Israel’s nuclear strategy, it suggests, inter alia, that the country’s military planners not seek to identify and examine every seemingly important variable, but rather to “say the most, with the least.” This presents an important and often neglected cautionary idea, because all too often, military strategists and planners mistakenly attempt to be too inclusive, unwittingly distracting themselves from forging more efficient and “parsimonious” theory.

[24] For early assessments of the expected consequences of nuclear war fighting, by this author, see: 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, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

[25] This reminder references the largely unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties; on Israeli and Iranian under-estimations or over-estimations of relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence, and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

[26] Such appraisals will also need to take account of a possible chaos in world politics, a condition classically foreseen by Thomas Hobbes, and one made far more likely by ongoing disease pandemic. Although composed in the seventeenth century, Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers a prospectively illuminating vision of chaos, a view that goes far beyond “ordinary” conditions of “mere” anarchy. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:” during chaos, a condition which Hobbes identifies as a “time of War,”  it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings  – because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons.

[27] See, by this author, Louis René Beres:  https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1318&context=auilr

[28] https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/29389

[29] See, by this writer at Israel Defense: Louis René Beres,  https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/38613

[30] In the nineteenth century, in his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred and sacrilizing end in itself, drew its originating strength from the doctrine of sovereignty advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of meaningful legal regulation in their interactions with each other.

[31] Whether it is described in the Old Testament or other major sources of ancient Western thought, chaos can also be viewed as a source of human betterment. In essence, chaos is that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. Further, as its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but where all civilizational opportunity must originate. Appropriately, the great German poet Friedrich Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic which stands at the roots of the things and which prepares all things.” Even in the pagan ancient world, the Greeks thought of such a desert as logos, which indicates to us that it was presumed to be anything but starkly random or without conceivable merit.

[32] See, by this writer: Louis René Beres, https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/33558

[33] For early scholarly examinations of preemption and anticipatory self-defense, by this author, with particular reference to Israel, see:  Louis René Beres,  “Preserving the Third Temple:  Israel’s Right of Anticipatory Self-Defense Under International Law,”  Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law,  Vol. 26,  No. 1,  April 1993,  pp. 111- 148;  Louis René Beres,  “After the Gulf War:  Israel, Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”  Houston Journal of International Law, Vol. 13,  No. 2,  Spring 1991,  pp. 259 – 280;  and Louis René Beres,  “Striking `First’: Israel’s Post Gulf War Options Under International Law,” Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Journal  Vol. 14,  Nov. 1991,  pp. 1 – 24.

[34] The Israeli analytic “cast” must always be linked to expressly dialectical thought processes. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerged as the preferred form of early “scientific” investigation. Plato describes the dialectician as one who knows how to ask and then to answer questions. In fashioning a usable strategic theory, Israeli planners will first need to better understand this core expectation –  even before they proceed to the usual compilations of facts, figures, orders of battle, and regional balances of power.

[35] In a well-known passage in Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning, the early philosopher of science says that the medieval scholastics were like spiders, weaving webs out of their own heads, without any consideration of surrounding facts. These webs were admirable on account of their workmanship and fineness of thread, but they were nonetheless lacking in any true explanatory substance. (I, iv., 5). Presently, in explaining and advancing Israel’s nuclear strategy, it is important to construct theory upon suitably fact-based foundations, not on the perilously diaphanous constructions of modern-day scholastics.

[36] See by this writer (USMA West Point/Pentagon):  Louis René Beres,  https://mwi.usma.edu/israel-samson-option-interconnected-world/

[37]          Similarly,  Israeli preparations for nuclear war fighting could be conceived not as distinct alternatives to nuclear deterrence, but as essential and even integral components of nuclear deterrence.  Some years ago, Colin Gray, reasoning about U.S.-Soviet nuclear relations, argued that a vital connection exists between “likely net prowess in war and the quality of pre-war deterrent effect.”  (See:  Colin Gray, National Style in Strategy: The American Example,” INTERNATIONAL SECURITY, 6, No. 2, fall 1981, p. 35.)  Elsewhere, in a published debate with this writer, Gray said essentially the same thing:  “Fortunately, there is every reason to believe that probable high proficiency in war-waging yields optimum deterrent effect.”  (See Gray, “Presidential Directive 59: Flawed But Useful,” PARAMETERS, 11, No. 1, March 1981, p. 34.  Gray was responding directly to Louis René Beres, “Presidential Directive 59: A Critical Assessment,” PARAMETERS, March 1981, pp. 19 – 28.) .                      

[38] See earlier, by this writer: Louis René Beres, Looking Ahead: Revising Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity in the Middle East, Herzliya Conference Policy Paper, Herzliya Conference, March 11-14, 2013 (Herzliya, Israel). See also: Louis René Beres and Admiral (USN/ret.) Leon (Bud) Edney, “Facing a Nuclear Iran, Israel Must Re-Think Its Nuclear Ambiguity,” U.S. News & World Report, February 11, 2013, 3 pp; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon (Bud) Edney, “Reconsidering Israel’s Nuclear Posture,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2013.

[39] Punishment of aggression is a longstanding and authoritative expectation of international criminal law.  The underlying legal principle of Nullum Crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its discernible origins in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728 – 1686 B.C.E.);  the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 B.C.E.);  the even earlier Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the law of exact retaliation, or Lex Talionis, presented in three separate passages of the Torah

[40] The expected security benefits to Israel of any considered reductions in “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” must remain more-or-less dependent upon Clausewitzian “friction.” Here, this classic term of operational military planning references the always-unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties, Israeli and adversarial underestimations or overestimations of relative power position and the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between abstract theories of deterrence and actual enemy intentions.

[41]  More generally, the expressly  legal problem of reprisal as a permissible rationale for the use of force by states is identified  in the U.N. Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States (1970)(https://cil.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/formidable/18/1970-Declaration-on-Principles-of-International-Law-Concerning-Friendly-Relations.pdf) . A possible prohibition of reprisals is also deducible from the broad regulation of force expressed in the UN Charter at Article 2(4); the obligation to settle disputes peacefully at Article 2(3); and the general limiting of permissible force by states (codified and customary) to necessary self-defense.

[42] In the words of Israel’s Strategic Future, the Final Report of Project Daniel (Israel, 2004): “The primary point of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.” See also: Louis René Beres, “Facing Iran’s Ongoing Nuclearization: A Retrospective on Project Daniel,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 22, Issue 3, June 2009, pp 491-514; and Louis René Beres, “Israel’s Uncertain Strategic Future,” Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College, Vol. XXXVII, No.1., Spring 2007, pp. 37-54.

[43] See, by this writer: Louis René Beres, “Facing Myriad Enemies: Core Elements of Israeli Nuclear Deterrence,” The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Fall/Winter 2013, Vol. XX, Issue 1., pp. 17-30.

[44] The idea of biological war may take on a whole new urgency in view of the current Covid-19 pandemic. More precisely, this extraordinary disease outbreak remains of unproven national origin, and could influence various countries either to move more assertively toward biological weapons preparation or away from any such production. At this point, the correct expectation must remain entirely subjective and hence problematic.

[45] Non-nuclear Iran may already rank ahead of Israel in overall or cumulative military capacity. According to a summarizing  article in The Jerusalem Post (August 12, 2019),Israel ranked behind regional enemy Iran for the second year in a row. Global Firepower states that Israel has 170,000 active personnel in all branches of the armed forces, with a further 445,000 people in reserve, meaning a total of 7.3% of Israel’s population are somehow involved a military role. Compared to Iran, which has around 873,000 people on active duty and in reserve, but only 1.1% of the population involved in the armed forces.

[46] It is worth noting here that Israel’s nuclear strategy could have certain meaningful implications for U.S. national security. On these generally ignored connections, see Louis René Beres and (General/USA/ret.) Barry McCaffrey, ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY AND AMERICA’S NATIONAL SECURITY, Tel-Aviv University and Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, Tel-Aviv, December 2016: https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[47] See, by this writer: 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.

[48]This brings to mind an insightful warning by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917): “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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From ‘Decisive Storm’ to Secret Talks: The Journey of Saudi Conquest of Yemen

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In the last days of the spring of 2015, Saudi generals were sitting around a V-shaped table in front of a newly appointed defense minister, dwelling on the answer to the rise of Houthi rebels in Yemen which had critically threatened the security of the southern border. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been known for its wise and cagey foreign policy, often following the lead of Washington, in any regional or global military conflict but this time was different.

When the 29-year-old defense minister, Muhammad bin Salman, ordered, “Send in the F-15s,” it shocked all of them. Despite having spent only eight months heading the armies of the kingdom, he was about to shape an aggressive or rather reckless foreign policy of one of the most resourceful and conservative countries in the world.

The Unresolved Conflict

After six years of war in Yemen, 233,000 lives have been ravaged of which more than 3,000 were children, 3.3 million have been displaced from their homes, 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian support, while 16.2 million Yemenis are on the verge of food insecurity. Now, Saudi Arabia is finally looking for a way out.

“We want the guns to fall completely silent,” remarked Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, in March, laying out the Yemen Peace Initiative. The Houthis rejected the plan as it imparted “nothing new” according to them. “We expected that Saudi Arabia would announce an end to the blockade,” stated the Houthis’ chief negotiator, Mohammad Abdulsalam, to Reuters.

Riyadh had severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in January 2016 after the Saudi embassy was stormed by the protestors angry at the execution of Sheikh Nimr, a top Shia cleric from Saudi Arabia’s eastern province—a region known for being marginalized on the sectarian basis.

Saudi Arabia and Iran held the first official talks, brokered by the Iraqi government, in Baghdad on 9th April. The Baghdad talks canvassed the Yemen conflict as well as the political and economical instability of Lebanon to evaluate whether both countries can reach a common understanding of the situation.

The Zaidiyyah Imamate

Coming to the Yemen conflict, the rugged Yemeni mountains known for their finest coffee growing regions have a thousand-year-long history of the rule of Zaidiyyah imamate carved on them.

The Zaydism Shia sect is rooted in the unsuccessful rebellion of Zayd bin Ali, the grandson of Husayn bin Ali – the direct descendent of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – against the Umayyad Caliphate in 740AD. Zaidiyyah’s theology differs from Iran’s Twelver Shiism and Ismaili branches in being far more tolerant towards early Islamic caliphs and in set qualifications for an imam to be a ruler.

The Creation of the Yemen Arab Republic

The imamate resisted the Romans and Ottomans to some extent for centuries but a revolution was brewing and the imams provided the catalyst themselves. Amid 1930’s modernism, Yemeni Imam Yahya Hamid al-Din stepped up from his conservative policy of not allowing foreign travel and authorized around forty boys to study abroad. He envisioned them as his “Famous Forty”—leaders of politics, military, and administration.

Until 1959, several hundred boys had gone through advanced studies from Iraq, Egypt, and Europe but they had envisioned something else. They laid the foundation of a progressive republican movement marked with several attempted coups and the assassination of Imam Yahya (1948) till 1962 when the last imam, al-Badr, was deposed by the revolutionary movement. This led to the emergence of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) with Abdullah Sallal as its leader and after that, Yemen was never the same.

Tracing the Root of the Saudi-Yemen Conflict

Al Saud had troubling relations with the imamate since Saudi Arabia had emerged as a kingdom in 1932. “Who is this Bedouin coming to challenge my family’s 900-year rule?” stated Imam Yahya once, which erupted the 1934 war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and ended up in the Treaty of Taif. The treaty demarcated the border and granted Jizan, Asir, and Najran to Saudi Arabia after the kingdom’s victory.

The Saudis then cultivated alliances within the bordering Yemeni tribes to erect a makeshift buffer zone during the 1960s civil war in Zaydi Imamate. Al Saud sided with Yemeni loyalists when the republican government tossed away the Treaty of Taif in 1962 and Egypt lined up 70,000 troops to assist the republic against Imam Badr’s guerrilla opposition.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, North and South Yemen struggled for coexistence and peace with continuous border clashes, including a bloody civil war in the South, which John Kifner aptly referred to as MassacrewithTea, that cost thousands of souls. Eventually, after 20 years of political and military turmoil, South Yemen’s Ali Salim al-Baidh joined with the North’s Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign the unification agreement of the two states on November 30, 1989.

Yet, while Ali Abdullah Salih was being declared as the president of a unified Yemen and the country was facing an economic collapse, something worse was brewing in the heights of northern Yemen.

The Houthis and the Saudi Construct

Feeling his unique sect threatened by the Saudi-funded proselytization through Salafist preachers, Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, a Zaydi scholar from Maran range established a seemingly political and revivalist movement, Ansar Allah (Supporters of God)to preserve the Zaidiyyah sect, followed by 40% of the Yemeni population, which turned into an aggressive armed insurgency in no time.

The point is that the current regional discord has centuries-old bad blood embedded in its roots. The Houthi movement, their substantial public support, and their military successes must be deconstructed from the local perspective, along with the regional one, to reach a better understanding of the conflict.

The Saudi-led coalition has been portraying Houthis just as an Iranian proxy, which is far from reality. In their annual policy paper, the Middle East Institute of Washington D.C stated that the current civil war of Yemen is entrenched in widespread public resentment over political marginalization, a paralyzed economy, and a corrupt and failed state.

Where Saudi Arabia’s policy of sectarian expansionism across the borderlands made the descendants of Zaidiyah Imamate, ousted from a centuries-long rule, feel more vulnerable, discrimination for Shia sects by Abdullah Saleh’s regime and corrupt practices tossed Yemen into a cycle of political upheaval and violence—all of which had nothing to with Iran.

The Houthis took arms against the Yemeni government six times from 2004-2010, a chapter remembered as the Saada Wars, long before Tehran came into the picture.

Civil War in Yemen

In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, the Houthi leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, called countrywide demonstrations to end Saleh’s 33-year rule but after Saleh resigned and declared his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the head of state in exchange of immunity, hopes rose for peace. However, Hadi, shockingly, stepped down in January 2015 and fled the country after the National Dialogue Conference failed to agree on the division of Yemen in the UN-backed transitional process and the Houthis stormed the Presidential Palace.

After the Houthis took over Sanaa in February 2015, Jamal Benomar, the UN special envoy for Yemen, went straight to Riyadh, which highlights Saudis’ concerns over the matter. On March 26, 2015, the Saudi-led coalition launched Operation Decisive Storm, with Saudi jets targeting the military compounds around the capital overnight.

The tactical inabilities of the coalition air force manifested to reality when three days later, Saudi warplanes accidentally bombed a refugee camp killing at least 40 and injuring 200. It was the beginning of one of the most horrible bombing campaigns, a disaster from a civilian and military perspective.

As civilian casualties mounted, the United States, concerned by the human cost of the conflict, urged Saudi Arabia to reach a negotiating position as soon as possible. Riyadh ended Operation Decisive Storm on 21 April, claiming the achievements, and rolled out Operation Renewal of Hope. But the truth was, the Saudis failed to deliver a considerable blow to the Houthis’ hold of the capital.

In May and June, the first reports came of mortar and Scud missile attacks by Houthis across the Saudi border. The Houthis proved tenacious and provoked Riyadh for a ground invasion, which worked out disastrously for the Saudi-led coalition. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Sudan, and others had deployed hundreds of ground troops by the end of the year.

Although they spawned some temporary gains in forcing the Houthis out of key southern provinces, like the vital Aden seaport in July, Zinjibar, and Al-And Airbase in August, the Houthis also inflicted heavy casualties to the coalition. In just one Houthi missile attack on a weapon depot in Marib in September 2015, 45 Emirati and Five Bahraini troops were killed.

The Kuwait Talks: A Failed Attempt at Resolving the Conflict

After a year into the war with no end in sight, reports came in March 2016 of the first Houthi delegation’s visit to Saudi Arabia, led by Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the Houthis’ senior advisor and spokesperson.

Two weeks later, the UN envoy for Yemen, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, stated that talks will circumvent the withdrawal and disarmament of militias and inclusive political dialogue. Kuwait’s emir and legendary peacemaker, late Sheikh Sabah, mediated talks between the delegations of the Houthis, Abdullah Saleh, and ousted president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who had returned to coalition controlled Aden in September 2015. Riyadh kept its distance from the Kuwait talks held in April  2016.

“Saudi Arabia seeks through the Kuwait talks to exonerate itself from its aggression against Yemen and to portray said aggression as a civil Yemeni war,” accused Yahya Saleh, a former general and Saleh’s nephew, after the Kuwait talks struck a stalemate over Houthis demanding a new consensual transitional regime while Hadi’s delegation insisted on a return to the current government, an out and out surrender for Houthis.

The peace talks were formally suspended in August 2016 when Houthis announced a new ten-member governing body to replace the interim Supreme Revolutionary Council, which had run the country since February 2015. The unilateral move was immediately denounced by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations. “Houthis, as well as their supporters, are making the search for a peaceful solution more difficult,” declared the statement issued by the group of G18 ambassadors of nations that backed the UN peace talks while tens of thousands of Houthi supporters rallied through Saana to show their support for the Houthis.

In all of this, a frangible ceasefire was held throughout the year with occasional skirmishes. In October 2016, a coalition double airstrike cremated a crowded funeral hall, killing around 140 mourners, adding to the domestic and international pressure on the US to review the billion dollars arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition.

Previously, The Guardian had concluded that each one in three Saudi strikes hit civilian targets but the coalition kept sweeping all of this under the rug. The Houthis also left no stone unturned to kill any hopes of negotiations when in March 2017, a Pro-Houthi court sentenced President Hadi and six other top officials to death in absentia for high treason. This was followed by the Burkan missile attack on Mecca in July 2017, although the Houthis claimed that it was aimed at the King Fahad airbase.

The United States’ Endless Support of Saudi Arabia

In August 2017, the Middle East Eye reported an email leak between UAE’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, and a former high-level US diplomat, Martin Indyk, which revealed that the kingdom’s de-facto ruler, Muhammad bin Salman, wanted out of Yemen but Riyadh could not withdraw without ensuring the cross-border security.

On the other hand, in a striking development, the Houthi-Saleh split went real in December 2017 amid Saleh’s attempt to switch sides with the coalition and turned up in Houthis killing the former president of Yemen, who had been the sole ruler for more than three decades.

As 2018 unfolded, the international criticism for Saudi intervention and Washington’s role in the Yemeni chapter of war crimes plummeted. Houthis were no angels either as a UNHCR report published in Aug ‘18 noted coalition hitting civilian targets, it also documented blanket use of force on the civilian population in Houthi controlled areas.

“The group of experts is concerned by the alleged use by the Houthi­-Saleh forces of weapons with wide-area effect in a situation of urban warfare.” stated the report. It also stated that the Houthis were hitting women and children through shelling and snipers in their homes, fetching water at local wells, or traveling to seek medical attention.

On August 18, another coalition strike annihilated 40 boys, aged from six to eleven, in their school bus. As Bellingcat traced back the Mk-82 bomb, approved by the US Department of State, used in the attack to Lockheed Martin, it added to the criticism of the US’s unconditional support to the Saudi regime.

In June 2018, the Yemeni National Army backed by a Saudi-led alliance had launched an offensive to recapture the northwestern port city of Hodeidah, a significant economic hub and fourth-largest city. After six months of intense fighting, both parties agreed to a truce, total withdrawal from Hodeidah, and a “mutual understanding” in Taiz.

Blaming Iran

In January 2019, the Council of Foreign Relations and the Italian Institute of International Political Studies had listed Yemen in the Top Conflict Watch of the year. As Houthis scaled up their military capabilities, shooting down US MQ-9 reaper drone with Iranian assistance—according to CENTCOM—reports came of UAE pulling out from Aden, amid intensified tensions between the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf.

On September 14, 2019, at 3:31 to 3:42 am in morning, the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry and the world’s largest oil processing facilities, Abqaiq and Khurais Oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia, were attacked by Houthi drones, shutting down half of the kingdom’s crude output.

Despite the Houthis’ taking credit for the attack and the UN’s claims regarding the Houthis acquiring long-range drones (1200-1500km) capable of hitting Riyadh, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, the United States and Saudi Arabia asserted that the attack hadn’t stemmed from Yemen. Instead, Iran was directly behind the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” tweeted the US Secretary of State at that time, Mike Pompeo.

Tehran immediately refuted all such accusations. Despite this continuous rhetoric, US President Donald Trump’s statements had hinted that Washington would avoid any additional escalation with Iran which would have doomed global energy supplies further down the hill while markets hadn’t recovered from the previous attacks on Saudi facilities.

The Saudi-Emirati Rivalry in Yemen

On the other hand in a dramatic twist, the civil war turned multi-layered when the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) separatists seized Aden’s control from coalition-supported government forces. Few days after a joint statement was released from both Saudi and Emirati foreign ministers urging for peace talks between the Yemeni government and southern separatists, the UAE struck Hadi’s forces to aid southern separatists, killing 30 Yemeni troops as per Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In November 2019, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia successfully struck the Riyadh agreement, between the southern separatists and the Yemeni government, which entailed power-sharing in cabinet and the military withdrawal of all forces from Aden, Abyan, and Shabwah. The landmark deal granted the absolute authority of southern Yemen to Saudi Arabia. Later in the same month, Reuters reported indirect talks in Oman between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis.

In January 2020, the Houthis claimed to seize 1,500 square miles of territory in Al-Jawf and the Marib governorate, and in March, they successfully captured the strategic city of Al Hazm. “Control of the capital of Al-Jawf could totally change the course of the war. The Houthis are changing the balance in their favor,” Majed al-Madhaji, executive director of Sanaa Centre, deciphered the situation to AFP. 

Bethan McKernan, The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent reported the same that Saudi-Emirati tussle had been dragging the conflict as Riyadh was already back channeling with Houthis through Oman while the UAE was pressing the attacks to keep the Saudi-backed Islah faction in check.

The One-sided Agreement

In April 2020, in light of the proposal sent by UN Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, the coalition announced a unilateral ceasefire amid the globally surging COVID-19 pandemic, although the coalition forces kept violating the ceasefire with at least 106 airstrikes in just a week.

The Houthis had already called it a “ploy”, demanding the lifting of air and naval blockade of Yemen which had been depriving the population of food and medicines. It seemed like the international pressure on the coalition, and the financial strain on Al Saud was dealing with, had not gone unnoticed by those controlling most of northern Yemen.

The Houthis had released their own proposal which Elana DeLozier from the Washington Institute narrated as a “wish list”, as it had thrown all the responsibility of ceasefire on the coalition with demands of demilitarization of borders and above all, war compensations and salaries in northern Yemen for a decade, but all were non-starters for Riyadh.

The Saudis kept extending the one-sided ceasefire but things only got worse. The STC separatists withdrew from the Riyadh agreement six months after signing, announcing the establishment of self-rule in southern Yemen. The Saudi-backed Yemeni government immediately denounced the declaration while the Houthis were claiming to “liberate” 95% of the Al-Jawf governorate; this left only the Marib province in the north under the control of Hadi’s forces.

The Houthis were keenly observing and seizing the fruits of coalition infighting. Separatists moved to redirect the revenues from ports, free zones, and an oil refinery to the STC accounts as reports surfaced of the Yemeni government attacking the separatists in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province.

A week later, the STC president, Aidarous al-Zubaidi, landed in Riyadh to talk over the deadlock that persisted between supposedly anti-Houthi allies. The Yemeni government and STC separatists agreed to a ceasefire to begin peace talks in June 2020. In December 2020 while a freshly established cabinet of coalition-backed government arrived in Yemen after agreeing to equal power-sharing, two blasts shook Aden International Airport. With cabinet members remaining safe, 22—with most being aid workers—were killed in this fatal attack.

Coalition’s Failure in Yemen

“Incompetence, lack of unified leadership, and the absence of a military strategy by the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition played into the hands of the Houthis,” stated Nadwa Al-Dawsari from the Middle East Institute. Local tribes lacked the medium-range surface-to-air ballistic missiles and other advanced weaponry on which Houthis built their tactical achievements.

The Houthi combat units constituted 20, or even fewer men, and three trucks for higher mobility to counter the constant aerial surveillance by coalition UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and the US satellites. According to Jamestown Foundation, disregard for meritocracy and skills, the weary chain of commands, and persisting corruption in Yemeni government forces due to Saudi black-cheque strategy laid the ground for coalition failures. While perpetual imprecise bombings cost thousands of civilian lives and the worst humanitarian crisis due to the air and naval blockade, the public resentment against the coalition fueled.

In the aftermath of King Abdullah’s death in January 2015, his brother Salman bin Abdulaziz ascended to rule but being 79 with speculations of dementia and Parkinson’s enabled his most ambitious son, Muhammad bin Salman, to rise as a de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Reportedly he is named “little general” behind his back due to his craving for respect from Washington and turning down his advisers who predicted a catastrophic outcome from an all-out Yemeni offensive, including former foreign minister Saud al-Faisal. Saudi military failure in Yemen hatched from a “panicked reaction of an inexperienced prince with too much to prove” rather than from his desire to check Iranian influence and rescue Yemen, wrote Sophia Dingli, a lecturer in international relations from the University of Hull.

Besides all this, Washington has also altered its course with Joe Biden in the Oval Office. “The war in Yemen must end,” stated President Biden in his first significant foreign policy speech. A week later, the state department repealed the Houthis’ status of Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization(SDGT) and Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) enacted a day before Donald Trump left the Oval Office.

Saltana Begum, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) advocacy manager in Yemen, voiced that at that time “We had famine warnings where 16 million people – that’s one in two Yemenis – were close to starvation.”

Setting Terms for Peace

In June this year, the Saudi-led coalition even ceased the air raids temporarily for “preparing the political ground for a peace process in Yemen,” remarked the coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki. The gesture came as efforts ramped up for a political settlement. The US Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking had visited Riyadh in the same month where he met several government officials along with UN Envoy Martin Griffiths.

Saudi and Houthi camps have been reportedly close to a ceasefire deal. The Houthis want the end of the blockade “without impossible conditions” before a “comprehensive ceasefire”, stated Houthi’s chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam. As promising as it all might seem, and although Oman has been an excellent mediator with its impartial and carefully measured foreign policy, there are still a lot of bridges to cross and compromises to be made from both sides for a mutually beneficial post-war arrangement.

The Saudis would not just demand guarantees on border security from Oman and Iran but also a check to Iranian influence and even that won’t cater to the grievances of anti-Houthi factions battling alongside coalition forces. So, the peace process has to be inclusive for sustainable accords.

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Turkey’s Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Artsakh

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The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church has recently hosted a conference on international religious freedom and peace with the blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

Tasoula Hadjitofi, the founding president of the Walk of Truth, was one of the invited guests. She spoke about genocide and her own experience in Cyprus, warning of Turkey’s religious freedom violations. Hadjitofi also called for joint legal actions against continued ethnic cleansing and destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and other places by the Turkish government and its regional allies including Azerbaijan.

During the two-day conference, access to places of worship in war and conflict zones, the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and preservation of cultural heritage were among the topics addressed by many distinguished speakers.  The conference paid particular attention to the situation of historic Armenian monasteries, churches, monuments, and archeological sites in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been under Azeri occupation since the 2020 violent war unleashed by Azerbaijan.

Hadjitofi presented about the situation of Cyprus, sharing her recent visit to the Cypriot city of Famagusta (Varoshia), making historic parallels between the de-Christianisation of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey, and its allies such as Azerbaijan. See Hadjitofi’s full speech here.

Author of the book, The Icon Hunter, Hadjitofi spoke with passion about her recent visit to the ghost city of Famagusta, occupied by Turkey since 1974. Her visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the occupation. She was accompanied by journalist Tim Neshintov of Spiegel and photographer Julien Busch as she made several attempts to visit her home and pray at her church of Timios Stavrou (Holy Cross).

Hadjitofi explained how her own human rights and religious freedoms, alongside the rights of tens of thousands of Cypriots, were violated when Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan illegally entered her country and prayed at the newly erected mosque in her own occupied town whereas she was kneeling down in the street to pray to her icon in front of her violated Christian church. In comparison, her church was looted, mistreated and vandalized by the occupying forces.  

Hadjitofi reminded the audience of the historic facts concerning Turks discriminating against Christian Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians. They also massacred these communities or expelled them from the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey, a process of widespread persecution which culminated in the 1913-23 Christian genocide. Hadjitofi then linked those genocidal actions with what Erdogan is doing today to the Kurds in Syria, and the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting Turkey’s wealthy friends such as the government of Azerbaijan.  She also noted that during her recent visit to her hometown of Famagusta, a delegation from Azerbaijan referred to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as “Turkish land” and a “part of Greater Turkey”. This is yet another sign of Turkish-Azeri historic revisionism, and their relentless efforts for the Turkification of non-Turkish geography.

Hadjitofi called for a series of legal actions against Turkey and its allies, reminding Armenians that although they signed the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC), they have not ratified it. She noted that it must be the priority of Armenians if they want to seek justice. Azerbaijan and Turkey, however, neither signed or ratified the Rome Statute.

During her speech Hadjitofi also emphasized the need for unity amongst all Christians and other faiths against any evil or criminal act of destroying places of worship or evidence of their historical existence anywhere in the world. 

In line with this call, the Republic of Armenia instituted proceedings against the Republic of Azerbaijan before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

In its application, Armenia stated that “[f]or decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination” and that, “[a]s a result of this State-sponsored policy of Armenian hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse”.

Hadjitofi said that “Armenia’s lawsuit against the government of Azerbaijan is a positive move in the right direction and more legal actions should be taken against governments that systematically violate human rights and cultural heritage. I’m also in the process of meeting members of the Armenian diaspora in Athens, London, and Nicosia to discuss further joint legal actions. But the most urgent action that Armenia should take is the ratification of Rome Statute of the ICC,” she added.

Other speakers at the conference included representatives of the main Christian denominations, renowned scholars and experts from around the globe, all of whom discussed issues related to international religious freedom and the preservation of the world’s spiritual, cultural and historical heritage.

Baroness Cox, a Member of the UK House of Lords and a prominent human rights advocate, was among the participants. She has actively defended the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through her parliamentary, charity and advocacy work.

Meanwhile, the organizing committee of the conference adopted a joint communiqué, saying, in part:

” We re-affirm the principles of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international and regional human rights treaties. We claim this right, equally, for all people, of any faith or none, and regardless of nation, history or political circumstances – including for those Armenian prisoners of war still illegally held in captivity by Azerbaijan, for whose swift release and repatriation we appeal and pray, and for the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh whose rights to free and peaceful assembly and association necessarily implicate the sacred character of human life.”

On September 11, the delegates of the conference were received by the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, in his palace in Yerevan where they were thanked. The guests also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial-Museum (Tsitsernakaberd), where Hadjitofi was interviewed on Armenian national TV. She said:

“I read about the Armenian Genocide and I am glad that more countries recognize it as such but I am disappointed that politicians do not condemn actions of Turkey and its allies in their anti Christian attitude towards Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. I see an interconnection between the genocide and the adopted politics of Azerbaijan, when the ethnic cleansing takes place, when cultural heritage is destroyed, gradually the traces of the people once living there are eliminated and that is genocide”. 

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After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

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The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.

The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.

“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.

“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”

Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. 

Blockades and bombardment

The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.

“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.

In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.

Living in fear

In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.

At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.

Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.

Division remains

The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”

Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants

The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.

“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”

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