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United States- Iran Nuclear Crises: Portents for Israel

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ABSTRACT: In response to former US President Donald J. Trump’s unilateral American withdrawal from the July 2015 Iran Pact (JCPOA),[1] the Islamic Republic of Iran accelerated and reinvigorated its military nuclear program. More recently, nuclear talks between the two countries were re-started by President Joseph Biden, but are expected to be placed on hold until after Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahem Raisi, is sworn into office. Also plausible is that negotiations could break down altogether and that a precipitating event, either foreseen or unforeseen, would spark an Iran-US nuclear crisis. Such a crisis could quickly involve Israel.[2]

“Deterrence is concerned with influencing the choices that another party will make, and doing it by influencing his expectations of how we will behave.”-Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (1960)

Background of the problem

For many years, Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs had hoped for an American strike against Iran; ideally, a comprehensive preemptive attack on Iran’s pertinent nuclear infrastructures.[3] Nonetheless, any plausible US-Iran nuclear crisis could have become more costly than gainful for Israel. Any such crisis could have caused Jerusalem to recall too late the succinct maxim: “Be careful what you wish for.”

Explanations are required. If US President Joseph Biden should ever become embroiled in a major security crisis with Iran, all immediately relevant policy issues would center on strategy and tactics, not on considerations of law. These inherently complex policy issues could quickly become overlapping and interpenetrating. At times, therefore, whether witting or unwitting, Washington’s operational crisis decisions could sometimes prove jurisprudentially determinative.

Depending upon which country was to strike first in any belligerent US-Iran context, American military actions could become either law-violating or law-enforcing. Similar legal questions would follow from the particular types of weapons used and from the expressed regard or disregard shown for non-combatant (civilian) populations.

               “Everything is simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but even the simplest thing is very difficult.” None of these legal questions are meant to suggest that a first use of force would be ipso facto illegal. This is the case because customary international law (defined at Article 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice[4]) expressly allows for certain residual resort to “anticipatory self-defense.”[5] Following The Caroline (1837), international law need never be taken to represent some form or other of “suicide pact.”[6]

Intersecting jurisprudential and strategic considerations

               There is more. International law is always a part of each individual state’s corpus of domestic or municipal law, an authoritative incorporation most immediately conspicuous for the United States at Article 6 of the US Constitution (the Supremacy Clause) and in various US Supreme Court decisions, especially the Paquete Habana (1900) and Tel Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic (1981).[7]

               Certain antecedent questions now also arise. What, precisely, does US President Joseph Biden have in mind in preparing suitably for a prospective nuclear crisis or armed conflict with Iran? What would this presumptive American expectation mean for the derivative safety of US ally Israel?[8] What related benefits, if any, might be expected from the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords?[9] And what are the precise definitional parameters of “nuclear crisis”?

               This last question has an easy but still-complicating answer. Any US crisis with Iran must be considered per se “nuclear,” even if it takes place before that country becomes an operationally capable atomic power. Still, any crisis with Iran would become more demonstrably and dramatically nuclear where both states were “Members of the Nuclear Club.” This is the case even though a substantial and protracted nuclear force asymmetry would clearly obtain between Washington and Tehran.

               Once a genuine conflict was plainly underway between Iran and the United States,[10] full-scale military engagements could quickly or incrementally involve Israeli armed forces (IDF). In certain manifestly worst case scenarios, these clashes would involve unconventional weapons, and directly impact Israel’s vulnerable civilian populations.[11] The most fearful narratives here would obviously be ones that involve nuclear ordnance.[12]

               In anticipation, capable strategic and jurisprudential thinking is required in both Washington and Jerusalem. Even during a potentially fleeting time in which Israel would remain the only regional nuclear power, an American war with Iran could elicit Israeli nuclear deterrence threats[13] and/or Israeli nuclear reprisals.[14] For Israel, such threats or reprisals could be entirely rational[15]and fully legal.[16]

Plausible scenarios

How might such dissembling circumstances emerge? As a “bolt-from-the-blue” spasm of violence, or in less blatant stages; that is, in variously difficult-to- fathom increments of harm? Most credibly, a “collateral war” would come to Israel as a catastrophic fait accompli, a multi-pronged belligerency wherein even the most comprehensive security preparations in Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv would quite suddenly prove inadequate. What then? What would likely happen next, operationally and legally?

               The only meaningful answer to such inherently problematic queries must include aptly candid affirmations of strategic unpredictability. In science and mathematics, accurate statements of probability must always be drawn from the discernible frequency of relevant past events. In those increasingly dense strategic matters currently dangling before America, Iran and Israel,[17] there are no relevant past events.

               Matters here are made even more bewildering by already ongoing non-nuclear problems in the Middle East. Most urgent of these problems is the increasingly dramatic shortage of water and the growing uncertainty of electrical power. Though military strategists might not ordinarily factor in such “non-military” difficulties as primary to nuclear war avoidance, national security decision-making is ultimately carried out by flesh and blood human beings. Prima facie, such kindred creatures of biology will always be affected by the most elementary primal needs and expectations.

               Strategically, there is more here to ponder. For the moment, at least, Joe Biden has identified no specific military doctrine for tangible application in this theatre. Once confronted with a “no doctrine” war launched against Iran by an American president, whether as defensive first-strike or as retaliation (both could conceivably be lawful), Israel’s senior strategists would need to fashion their own corresponding doctrines – more-or-less ex nihilo.  

               How exactly should Jerusalem/Tel Aviv accurately anticipate Iranian or Iranian-surrogate attacks on Israeli targets? As an antecedent question, how should these decision-makers and planners best identify which of these vulnerable targets would be presumptively “high value”? At some point, such an Intelligence Community/Ministry of Defense (MOD) operational challenge could include the small defending country’s Dimona nuclear reactor. In 1991 and 2014, the ultrasensitive facility at Dimona already came under rocket and missile attack from separate Iraqi and Hamas aggressions.[18]

               In any upcoming conflict with the United States, Tehran would likely regard direct attacks upon selected Israeli targets as proper “retaliations” for American strikes. This is the case whether these strikes were launched as an initial move of war against the Islamic Republic and its surrogates or a variously foreseeable response to Iranian first strikes. Potentially, Iranian forces could gain operational access to hypersonic rockets or missiles. Should such                                       access be obtained, Israel’s critical capacity to shoot down hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and/or hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs) might prove sorely inadequate.

               What would happen next? In logical response, considerations of law and justice would likely prove anterior to visceral considerations of victory and survival. Among other things, could mean military escalations that are anything but gainful or “cost-effective.”

               When pertinent options are examined dialectically, as they should, it could be to Tehran’s perceived advantage to drag Israel into any US or Iran-initiated war and to do this ostentatiously. Striking the US homeland would prove vastly more difficult for Iran, and also more likely elicit a range of intolerable reprisals. On its face, any US-initiated war against Iran would strengthen Saudi military power specifically and Sunni Arab military power in general. While such an expected strengthening might now seem less worrisome to Israel than expanding Iranian militarization, this delicate strategic calculus could reverse very quickly.

 Israeli planners would need to investigate a number of previously disregarded military options against specific Sunni Arab adversaries, including legal questions of jus ad bellum and jus in bello.[19]Simultaneously, these planners would need to calculate prospective Iranian activation of Hezbollah and Houthi militias against not only Israel directly, but also Saudi Arabia and/or the United Arab Emirates. Regarding direct Shiite militia attacks against Israel, the main threat would be to Israeli shipping in the Red Sea. At this point, the Houthis maintain a real but still-limited capacity to target Israel from Yemen with long-range missiles and drones. Earlier, Iran played a major role in enabling Gaza terror factions (mostly Hamas) to produce usable weapons; today, the Islamic Republic is exporting valuable technological know-how to expanding Houthi forces in Yemen.

A complex geopolitics

Iran is seeking to become a regional hegemon in a manifestly “opaque” theater of conflict. Over time, both the United States and Israel must do what is possible to curb further Iranian activation of Houthi and Hezbollah militias. Assuredly, once Iran is able to cross the nuclear military threshold, all such inhibiting tactics would become expansively dangerous. Unless the United States approaches these fragmenting sources of Middle East instability in a more suitably coherent fashion, Israel is likely to be left “holding the bag.” Now, of course, in the summer of 2021, American forces are rapidly abandoning Afghanistan to assorted and diverse Jihadi forces. A geo-strategic vacuum will emerge to the palpable detriment of Israel.

It’s a very delicate regional balance of power. For years, a Salafi/Deobandi (Sunni) Crescent has emerged to challenge the Shiite Crescent. The objective is an attempt by Al Qaeda and other Salafi/Deobandi Islamist groups to counter the Crescent created by Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. 

Unambiguously, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are in a state of near-collapse –  a result especially of severe water and electrical shortages coupled with pandemic disease. “Salafi Crescent” reflects Sunni ambition to establish a caliphate controlling much of the Middle East and forming the Islamic State “from Diyala (in eastern Iraq) to Beirut.” Al-Qaeda’s hatred of the Shiites was already expressed by its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who called them “the insurmountable obstacle, the prowling serpent…the enemy lying in wait, and ordered his followers to ’fight them.’”

                Should the Biden-led US military ever find itself in a two-front or multi-front war –  a complex conflict wherein American forces are battling in Asia (North Korea) and the Middle East simultaneously – Israel could find itself fighting on its own. For such an exceptionally complicating scenario to be suitably appreciated, Israeli strategists would first need to bear in mind that any “whole” of tangible deteriorations caused by multi-front engagements could effectively exceed the sum of constituent “parts.”[20]

               This means, among other things, that Israeli strategists and planners will need to remain persistently sensitive to all credible synergies. It must go without saying that the former Trump administration (ushered into power at the 2016 Republican National Convention by Keynote “Speaker” Duck Dynasty) was unaccustomed to any such challenging intellectual calculations. For those now-discarded planners in Washington, complex strategic decisions could best be extrapolated from the commerce-driven worlds of real-estate manipulation and casino gambling.

               If only the United States had earlier paid attention to Friedrich Nietzsche’s simple warning in Zarathustra: “Do not seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.”

               Presently, there is still time for Washington and Jerusalem to recall certain timeless insights of Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz. For the author of On War, the determining standard of reasonableness in any military contest must always lie in presumed political outcomes. For a state to get caught up in war – any war – without adequately clear political expectations is always a mistake. Here, both Washington and Jerusalem must concern themselves not only with Iranian power projections and expansions, but also with the perilously uncertain prospects of the “Sunni Crescent,” an array of more-or-less organized Sunni forces intending to combat Shiite adventurism. If this were not complicated enough, planners in Washington and Jerusalem/Tel Aviv must also consider various believable intersections or synergies, consideration’s that will inevitably pose a staggering measure of intellectual challenge.

Recent regional histories

For more years than we may care to recollect, futile American wars remained underway in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In short time, for Iraqis and Afghans, their once-hoped-for oases of regional stability will regress to what seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have called a “war of all against all.”[21] At best, what eventually unravels in these severely fractured countries will be no worse than if these wars had never even been fought. At worst, what unravels will be substantially more unstable.

               Either way, what is now unraveling in Iraq and Afghan will never represent a welcome political outcome.

               Shouldn’t we all now inquire, accordingly: Did Americans and others sacrifice so much blood and treasure to bring about, at best, status quo ante bellum?

               Over the years, with the now obvious exception of North Korea,[22] America’s principal doctrinal enemy has changed, dramatically, from “communism” to “Islamism” or “Jihadism.” This time, however, the ideological adversary is palpable, real and not merely presumptive.  This time it is also a formidable and finely-textured foe, one that requires continuously serious analytic study, not just ad hoc responses or seat-of-the-pants US presidential eruptions. There are times, perhaps, when real or contrived bellicosity can serve American national security policy objectives (e.g., the possible deterrence benefit of pretended irrationality) and objectives of certain close allies (e.g., Israel), but not where it is detached from previously-constructed theoretical foundations.[23]

               There is more. The Jihadist enemy of America and Israel remains a foe that can never be fully defeated, at least not in any measurable final sense. This determined enemy will not be immobilized on any of the more usual or traditional military battlefields.[24]  Never.

               If at some point a particular Jihadi adversary has seemingly been vanquished by US military forces in one country or another, it will likely re-group and reappear elsewhere. After Iraq, after Afghanistan, even after Syria (which now dissembles with Russian support of a genocidal regime that has always been hostile to Israel), America will face resurgent adversaries in hard-to-manage and geographically far-flung places. These locales include Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, and perhaps even Bangladesh or (in  the future) “Palestine.”[25] In the end, the “final” resolution to various conflicts will largely be a matter of will.[26]

               During the Trump Era in the Middle East, an American president and his National Security Advisor sounded alarm bells over Iran –  and this after the United States, not Iran, withdrew from an international legal agreement that was less than perfect,[27] but (reasonably) better than nothing at all.[28]

Preemption and anticipatory self-defense

When all these intersecting factors are taken into suitable intellectual account, there remains a residual argument (one that might quickly be anticipated in Israel) that a US-generated war with Iran would de facto amount to an anti-nuclear preemption[29] or to some similarly purposeful act of “anticipatory self-defense.”[30] Here, and with little reasonable doubt, the American war would be regarded as “cost-effective” or “net gainful” in Jerusalem/Tel Aviv.[31] This visceral assessment, however, could become a matter of what Sigmund Freud called “wish fulfillment” rather than of one of any serious strategic assessment (risks and benefits).

               Realistically, there is only a tiny likelihood that American bombs and missiles would soon be adequately targeted on widely multiplied/hardened/dispersed Iranian nuclear infrastructures.

               In reality, at least for the present, any US war against Iran would be contrary to Israel’s core national security interests and obligations. Glib reassurances to the contrary from Jerusalem/Tel Aviv or Washington (or both) could be prospectively lethal for Israel. Though assuredly genuine, the attack threat from Iran should never be taken as an opening for crudely simplifying political rhetoric. Instead, this threat should be assessed and calibrated dialectically,[32] as reliably as possible according to all normally verifiable standards of enemy force posture estimations.[33]

                If, at any point during crisis bargaining between Iran, Hezbollah, Israel and the United States, one side or the other should place too great a value on achieving “escalation dominance”[34] and too little value on parallel considerations of national safety, the expanding conflict could promptly turn “out of control.” Any such consequential deterioration would be especially or even uniquely worrisome if Israel threatened or launched some of its presumptive nuclear forces. This is the case irrespective of any promised strategic support for Israel from the United States.

The importance of doctrine

               In sum, if Israel should look again to the United States for seamlessly capable geo-strategic leadership, it could be taking unprecedented national security risks. At a minimum, Israel has the incontestable right (and also the obligation – to its own citizens) to expect fully decipherable expressions of US military doctrine. Going forward, unless it should insist more firmly upon maintaining this critical right, Israel could then have to face starkly injurious security outcomes. The considered prospect of a fully-sovereign Palestinian state would need to be taken here as a significant “intervening variable.”[35]

                Every state’s first responsibility is to assure and maintain citizen protection; citizen allegiance is therefore contingent upon such valid assurances.  Most famous in pertinent political theory is the classic statement of seventeenth-century Englishman Thomas Hobbes, expressed at Chapter XXI of his Leviathan: “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last so long, and no longer, then the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them.” Later, Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, described this obligation as binding upon all the nations. Writing his Opinion on the French Treaties (April 28, 1793), Jefferson opined: “The nation itself, bound necessarily to whatever it’s preservation and safety require, cannot enter into engagements contrary to its indispensable obligations.”[36]

               There is more. In law, every state has an enduring obligation to oppose and (if necessary) suitably punish aggression. Punishment of aggression is a longstanding peremptory expectation of international criminal law.  The foundational principle of Nullum crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its 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, which ispresented in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah

               For Israel, a uniformly continuous concern with certain basic jurisprudential principles could advance its legal as well as strategic objectives, most plainly those that jurist William Blackstone had identified in his Commentaries on the Law of England (Book 4 “Of Public Wrongs”): “Each state is expected, perpetually,” noted Blackstone, “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.”

                Such ideas did not arise in a theoretic or intellectual vacuum. Ultimately, Blackstone is indebted to Cicero’s description of natural law in The Republic: “True law is right reason, harmonious with nature, diffused among all, constant, eternal; a law which calls to duty by its commands and restrains from evil by its prohibitions….” Natural law is never an adornment. Always, it lies at the very heart of United States Constitutional law and of all that conceivably derives therefrom.

Just wars and cumulative complexities

               As for “just wars” pertaining to both jus ad bellum and jus in bello criteria, Hugo Grotius wrote that they “arise from our love of the innocent.”[37] Though it is most unlikely that such legal high-mindedness could ever factor into US President Joe Biden’s possible decision to encourage or initiate a war against Iran, it still remains a promising standard for Israel to bear continuously in mind. This will prove especially good advice if American military actions against Iran should sometime prod the Islamic Republic to “retaliate” against Israel.

More than ever before, the Middle East has become a complicated “neighborhood.” To wit, overlapping Arab-Israel and Iran-Israel hostilities are rapidly changing variants of Sunni-Shia rivalries, including an irremediably core geo-political struggle between “Shia Crescent” and Sunni-Crescent (Salafi/Deobandi) countries. While Israel and the United States continue to have overriding common strategic interests, it remains altogether likely that certain upcoming resorts to military force by Washington could “tie the hands” of relevant policy-makers in Jerusalem. Whether witting or unwitting, any such American “tying” could sometime place Israel in existential peril,[38] This would become markedly true as soon as Iran had crossed the nuclear weapons threshold.

               What is to be done? Above all, the United States must take care to keep Israel “in the loop” wherever possible and Israel must make a reciprocal effort to stay fully informed about America’s regional foreign policy orientations. In this connection, greater subtlety will have to be applied by Israeli assessments than was displayed during the Trump Era. As a still-inconspicuous example, the net effect of the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords could prove sorely negative for Israel. Though these agreements might first have seemed gainful to Israel prima facie, they actually have no tangible bearing on Israel’s core security problems. Simultaneously, the Abraham Accords antagonize and marginalize Iran, a destabilizing effect that can’t possibly prove helpful to Israel.

               Going forward, the United States will inevitably find itself embroiled in various crisis relationships with Iran. To best protect itself from any unwanted collateral consequences, US ally Israel should continue to refine its intellect-based policies of deterrence, both conventional and nuclear.[39] More precisely, to optimize its presumed nuclear deterrent, Jerusalem/Tel Aviv should finally confront the rapidly disappearing advantages of “nuclear ambiguity,”[40] thereby acknowledging that the Jewish state is now able to calibrate a nuclear response to any particular level of military threat.[41] Prima facie, such an acknowledgment would serve not only Israel’s strategic obligations, but its complementary jurisprudential ones as well.[42]

               For Israel, in all pertinent matters, strategy and law must go hand in hand. Yet, even under optimal conditions regarding stable nuclear deterrence, the United States could suddenly find itself in extremis atomicum. The very same steps needed to maximize a credible American deterrence posture could simultaneously enlarge the likelihood of inadvertent nuclear war.[43] For Israel and the United States, one core imperative ought never be minimized or disregarded:

“Be careful what you wish for!”


[1] See https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/trumps-jcpoa-withdrawal-two-years-on-maximum-pressure-minimum-outcomes/

[2] On deterring a prospectively nuclear Iran, see Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012; and Beres/Chain: Israel: https://besacenter.org/living-iran-israels-strategic-imperative-2/  General Jack Chain (USAF) was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), from 1986 to 1991.

[3]From the standpoint of international law, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking an enemy first in the expectation that the only alternative is to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack is launched not out of genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in a pertinent military balance.  Hence, in a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is very short, while in a preventive strike the interval is considerably longer. A problem for Israel, in this regard, is not only the practical difficulty of determining imminence, but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained imminence is acknowledged, could prove fatal.

[4] See: https://www.icj-cij.org/en/statute

[5] For early scholarly examinations of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, and 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.

[6] The obvious Israeli precedents for any preemptive 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. Both preemptions were arguably lawful assertions of Israel’s “Begin Doctrine.”

[7]See:  https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/517/542/2386834/

[8] Regarding specific effects of US nuclear strategy on security matters in the Middle East, by this author, see: Louis René Beres: https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/162-MONOGRAPH-Beres-Israeli-Nuclear-Deterrence-CORRECTED-NEW.pdf

[9] See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ Also to be considered as complementary to these agreements are the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and the Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).

[10] Under international law, the question of whether or not a condition of war actually exists between states is often left unclear.  Traditionally, a “formal” war was said to exist only after a state had issued a formal declaration of war.  The Hague Convention III codified this position in 1907.  This Convention provided that hostilities must not commence without “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum.  See Hague Convention III on the Opening of Hostilities, Oct. 18, 1907, art. 1, 36 Stat. 2277, 205 Consol. T.S. 263.  Presently, a declaration of  war could be tantamount to a declaration of criminality because international law prohibits “aggression.” See Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, Aug. 27, 1948, art. 1, 46 Stat.  2343, 94 L.N.T.S.  57 (also called Pact of Paris or Kellogg-Briand Pact); Nuremberg Judgment, 1 I.M.T.  Trial of the Major War Criminals 171 (1947), portions reprinted in Burns H. Weston, et. al., INTERNATIONAL LAW AND WORLD ORDER  148, 159 (1980); U.N. Charter, art. 2(4).  A state may compromise its own legal position by announcing formal declarations of war.  It follows that a state of belligerency may exist without formal declarations, but only if there exists an armed conflict between two or more states and/or at least one of these states considers itself “at war.”

[11] Israel’s anti-missile defense shield has four overlapping layers: The Iron Dome system for intercepting short-range rockets; David’s Sling for medium-range rockets; Arrow-2 against intermediate-range ballistic missiles; and Arrow-3 for deployment against ICBM’s and (potentially) satellites.

[12] On the probable consequences of nuclear war fighting by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 2018); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA; Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[13] Israel’s presumptive nuclear deterrence posture depends upon several separate but still-intersecting factors. Most important are the country’s significant weapons, infrastructures and missile defense capabilities. Less conspicuously urgent, but still important, are the defining structures of world politics. These structures include the fundamentally anarchic system created after the 1648 Peace of Westphalia (“The State System”) and also (though plainly more transient or temporary) US-Russian superpower rivalry. The carefully detailed essay that follows focuses critically-needed attention on the latter set of explanatory factors, one associated with “Cold War II.” To plan ahead optimally, Israel’s designated strategists should pay increasing attention to this particular expression of geo-political “context.” These strategists will also have to look more closely than usual within pertinent decision-making structures of the United States. This is because (1) America is experiencing steadily expanding levels of intra-national cultural incoherence, epidemic and disorder, and (2) such levels will have major inter-national implications.

[14] The legal problem of reprisal as a permissible rationale for the use of force by states is identified and explained 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)  Additionally, a possible prohibition of reprisals is 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 (codified and customary) by states to necessary self-defense.

[15] In authoritative studies of world politics, rationality and irrationality have taken on very precise meanings. A state is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational state is one that would not always display such a markedly specific preference ordering. On expressly pragmatic or operational grounds, ascertaining whether a particular state adversary such as Iran would be rational or irrational could easily become an overwhelmingly daunting task.

[16] No state on earth, including Israel, is under any per se legal obligation to renounce access to nuclear weapons; in certain distinctly residual circumstances, moreover, even the actual resort to such weapons could be presumed lawful. See generally The Legality of the Threat or Use of Force of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, 1997 I.C.J. (July 8). 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.”

[17] “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz, in his classical discussion of “friction” in On War, “but the simplest thing is difficult.” Herein, this concept refers to the 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.

[18] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[19] In law, states must judge every use of force twice: once with regard to the underlying right to wage war (jus ad bellum) and once with regard to the means used in actually conducting war (jus in bello). Following the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and the United Nations Charter, there can be absolutely no right to aggressive war. However, the long-standing customary right of post-attack self-defense remains codified at Article 51 of the UN Charter. Similarly, subject to conformance, inter alia, with jus in bello criteria, certain instances of humanitarian intervention and collective security operations may also be consistent with jus ad bellum. The law of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all belligerent calculations.

[20] See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/

[21] Apropos of Hobbes’ argument that the state of nature is worse among individuals than among states, the philosopher Spinoza suggested that “…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.

[22] Here it also ought to be recalled that North Korea once helped Syria build a nuclear reactor, the same facility that was later destroyed by Israel in its Operation Orchard, on September 6, 2007. Unlike earlier Operation Opera (June 7, 1981) this preemptive attack, in the Deir ez-Zor region, was presumptively a second expression of the so-called “Begin Doctrine.” It also illustrated, because of the North Korea-Syria connection, a wider globalthreat to Israel in particular.

[23] At the same time, 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 here by the author, from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.”

[24] Under international law, terrorist movements (of which Jihadist groups are a current manifestation) are always Hostes humani generis, or “Common enemies of mankind.” See: Research in International Law: Draft Convention on Jurisdiction with Respect to Crime, 29 AM J. INT’L L. (Supp 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615) (“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).

[25] See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/07/louis-beres-palestine-fiction/

For earlier and 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.

[26] Modern philosophic origins of “will” are discoverable 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 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).

[27] See Louis René Beres, “After the Vienna Agreement: Could Israel and a Nuclear

Iran Coexist?” IPS Publications, Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC Herzliya,

Israel, September, 2015 See also:   https://www.idc.ac.il/he/research/ips/Documents/iran/LouisReneBeres-Iran2014.pdf

[28] International law remains in essence a “vigilante” system, sometimes also called a “Westphalian” system. Such history-based reference is to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the now still-existing self-help “state system.” See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[29] Such a “life-saving” preemption option could be entirely permissible under international law. Known jurisprudentially as anticipatory self-defense, this potentially lawful option can be found not in conventional law (art. 51 of the UN Charter supports only post-attack expressions of individual or collective self-defense), but in customary international law. The most precise 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).

[30] Professor Louis René Beres was Chair of Project Daniel (PM Sharon) in 2003-2004. The rationale of Project Daniel was to examine the developing Iranian nuclear threat and to make pertinent suggestions about minimizing this threat.  See: http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm

[31] Historically, preemption has figured importantly in Israeli strategic calculations.  This was most glaringly apparent in the wars of 1956 and 1967 and in the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and later the Syrian facility.  It was essentially the failure to preempt in October 1973 that contributed to heavy Israeli losses on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts during the Yom Kippur war, and almost brought about an Israeli defeat.  Back during January, May, and October 2013, Israel, understandably apprehensive about Damascus’ supply of military materials to Syria’s Hezbollah surrogates in Lebanon, preemptively struck selected hard targets within Syria. For an informed jurisprudential assessment of these undeclared but still-appropriate expressions of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Striking Hezbollah-Bound Weapons in Syria: Israel’s Actions Under International Law,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, posted August 26, 2013.

[32] The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s strategy  vis-à-vis Iran, the following operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1)  a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.

[33] The de facto condition of Hobbesian anarchy within which Israel must make its pertinent assessments and calibrations stands in stark contrast to the legal assumption of solidarity between states. In essence, this idealized assumption concerns a presumptively common struggle against both aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, was already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit Des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[34] See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/28931

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

[36] See: Merrill D. Peterson, The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello Monograph Series, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1993, p. 115.

[37] See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace 70 (William Whewell, tr.), London: John W. Parker, 1853(1625).

[38] Much has been written concerning Israel’s irremediably limited strategic depth. This core security issue was addressed as early as June 29, 1967, when a US Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum specified that returning Israel to pre-1967 boundaries would drastically increase its existential vulnerabilities. The JCS Chairman, General Earl Wheeler, then concluded that merely for minimal deterrence and defense, Israel should retain Sharm el-Sheikh and Wadi El Girali in the Sinai; the Gaza Strip (entire); the high ground and plateaus of the mountains in Judea and Samaria (West Bank); and the Golan Heights, east of Quneitra.

[39] Notes Guillaume Apollinaire, “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” See this poet’s The New Spirit and the Poets (1917). See also, Professor Beres with Ambassador Zalman Shoval: (Pentagon): https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[40] See, by Professor Beres, “Changing Direction: Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” Strategic Assessment, INSS (Israel), Vol. 17, No.3., October 2014: http://www.inss.org.il/uploadImages/systemFiles/adkan17_3ENG%20(3)_Beres.pdf   Earlier, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Changing Direction? Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” INSS, Israel, Strategic Assessment, Vol. 17, No.3., October 2014, pp. 93-106. See also: 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); Louis René Beres and Leon “Bud” Edney, Admiral  (USN/ret.) “Facing a Nuclear Iran, Israel Must Rethink its Nuclear Ambiguity,” U.S. News & World Report, February 11, 2013; 3pp; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney,  “Reconsidering Israel’s Nuclear Posture,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2013. Admiral Edney served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT).

[41] Elements of essential doctrine could sometimes prove counter-intuitive. For example, the likelihood of any actual nuclear conflict between states could be inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms

[42] The law of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all belligerent calculations. Evidence for the rule of proportionality can also be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) at Art. 4. Similarly, the American Convention on Human Rights allows at Art. 27(1) such derogations “in time of war, public danger or other emergency which threaten the independence or security of a party” on “condition of proportionality.” In essence, the military principle of proportionality requires that the amount of destruction permitted must be proportionate to the importance of the objective. In contrast, the political principle of proportionality states “a war cannot be just unless the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensure from the war is less than the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensue if the war is not fought.” See Douglas P. Lackey, THE ETHICS OF WAR AND PEACE, 40 (1989). modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.  679 (1969).

[43] On 27 July 2921, US President Joseph Biden opined that the foreseeably greatest risk of a nuclear war would be as the result of cyber-terrorism or hacking. See: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/biden-warns-real-shooting-war-003405801.html

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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Defense

HTS enters Turkey’s plot against the Kurds

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Ever since Turkey entered the 2017 Astana agreement with Russia and Iran Ankara has been relentless in its efforts to sell the international community the idea of absolute necessity of Turkish military presence in North-East Syria to support the moderate opposition and deter the Assad government.

The Astana meetings that followed the initial agreement indeed resulted in making Turkey responsible for the state of the Syrian opposition in Idlib and Aleppo provinces but – and there is always a but when it comes to the decade-long Syrian conflict – Ankara’s mission was never defined as ‘support’ of the opposition. Instead, Turkey volunteered to perform an arduous task of separating moderate Syrian armed groups from those who were considered radical and posed a potential security threat on both regional and global levels. This process, dubbed ‘delimitation of the Syrian opposition,’ is hardly any closer to completion now than before raising the question of the extent of Ankara’s ability – and intention – to fulfill its pledge.

Shared goals

Turkey’s insistence on supporting the moderate opposition conveniently combines with the recent attempts of Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which is de-facto dominant power in the Idlib de-escalation zone, to recast the image of the group. Although HTS is considered a terrorist organization by the UN and a number of global powers al-Joulani made a number of high-profile media appearances to promote the group’s vision of the future of Syria and confirm that its ambitions are confined to national scale only.

Talking to the Turkish version of The Independent al-Joulani spoke against any foreign military presence in Syria, making no special mention of the Turkish army. Meanwhile in Idlib, a position of the Turkish military located next to those of HTS is a common, even natural occurrence. This co-existence of regular armed forces and radical terrorists is not affected neither by hard evidence of HTS involvement in committing war crimes, nor even by the fact that HTS is listed as a terror group by Turkey’s authorities.

Shared enemies

In his interview to The Independent al-Joulani has also touched upon the position of the Syrian Kurds, another key axis of Turkey’s policy in Syria. Commenting on the current developments in Afghanistan the HTS leader suggested that the aftermath of the US surprise withdrawal from Kabul will also have an impact on the Kurds or, as he put it ‘the US-backed enemies of the Syrian revolution.’ He also accused the Kurds of conducting attacks in living quarters in the areas of the “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield” operations carried out by the Turkish military in Northern Syria.

HTS has never been in direct confrontation with the Kurds. However, al-Joulani’s words highlighted his open hostility towards the Kurdish administration, that, as the HTS leader purports, is only able to control a huge swath of Syria and maintain relative stability thanks to the US support. This Kurdish dream will crumble as soon as the last US plane takes off from the Syrian soil, according to al-Joulani.

Does this opinion reflects Turkey’s intention to put an end to the ‘Kurdish threat’ should the US withdraw from Syria? The events in the Afghanistan provide enough evidence to conclude that it’s entirely possible. Indeed, such concerns have been expressed in a number of articles authored by both local and international analysts.

The bottom line

Turkey’s regional policies and HTS leader’s statements confirm that Ankara seeks to transform HTS into a bully of sorts. The group’s primary task would be to exercise pressure on other armed units to facilitate the delimitation process orchestrated by the Turkish authorities. As the US grip over the region gradually loosens and HTS control over Syria’s north-west tightens thanks to its efforts to achieve international recognition with the tacit support of Turkey, the Kurds are facing an uncertain future. Moreover, close coordination between Turkey and HTS harbors negative consequences not only for the Kurds but rather for all of Syria.

To prevent this, the international community must intervene and deny HTS the opportunity to position itself as a part of the moderate opposition and gain the right to establish legitimate administrative bodies. Otherwise Syria will face law-twisting terrorists running their own statelet with all the support that Turkey is able to provide as a prominent regional power.

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To include or not include? China-led SCO weighs Iranian membership

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The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan may help Iran reduce its international isolation. At least, that’s what the Islamic Republic hopes when leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) gather in Tajikistan next weekend.

Members are admitted to the eight-member China-led SCO that also groups Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, by unanimous consensus. Iran, unlike its rivals in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has long had observer status with the SCO.

The Gulf states have so far kept their distance to the China-dominated regional alliance created to counter the ‘evils’  of ‘terrorism, separatism, and extremism” so as not to irritate their main security ally, the United States.

Acceptance of the Iranian application would constitute a diplomatic coup for Tehran and Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi. Mr. Raisi, a proponent of closer relations with China and Russia, is expected to make his first appearance on the international stage at the SCO summit in Dushanbe since having assumed office last month.

Iranian officials hope, perhaps over-optimistically, that SCO membership would help them counter the impact of harsh US sanctions. Ali Akbar Velayati, an international affairs advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has advised the Raisi government to look East towards China, Russia and India asserting that they could “help our economy to make progress.”

Similarly, it is not clear that membership would substantially reduce Iran’s international isolation or significantly improve its existing relations with other SCO members. What membership would do is effectively give Iran a veto should Saudi Arabia and the UAE choose to seek more formal relations with the SCO in response to a reduced US commitment to their security. The SCO is expected to grant Saudi Arabia and Egypt the status of dialogue partner at its Dushanbe summit.

Gulf confidence in the reliability of the United States as a security guarantor has been rattled by the chaotic US departure from Afghanistan as well as the recent removal of the most advanced US missile defence weapon, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, and Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia  as Yemeni Houthi rebels were successfully hitting targets in the kingdom.

China and Russia have in the past been reluctant to entertain full Iranian membership because they did not want to upset their delicately balanced relations with both Iran and its detractors. Policymakers, in the wake of Afghanistan, may figure that the two-year application process will give them time to prevent upsetting the apple cart.

To be sure, Tajikistan, in anticipation of a Taliban victory, first publicly promoted Iranian SCO membership in late May.

Zohidi Nizomiddin, Tajikistan’s ambassador to Iran, told a news conference in Tehran “that Iran to become a major member is among plans of the Shanghai Organization and if other countries are ready to accept Iran, Tajikistan will also be ready.” Tajikistan opposed Iranian membership in the past, accusing Iran of supporting Islamist rebels in the country.

Mr. Nizomiddin’s comments have since been supported by reports in Russian media. “There is a general disposition for this, there is no doubt about it,” said Bakhtiyor Khakimov, Russia’s ambassador at large for SCO affairs.

Russian analyst Adlan Margoev noted that “the SCO is a platform for discussing regional problems. Iran is also a state in the region, for which it is important to discuss these problems and seek solutions together.”

The Tajik and Russian backing of Iranian membership raises tantalizing questions about potential differences within the SCO towards dealing with the Taliban. Iran and Tajikistan, in contrast to Russia and China that have praised the Taliban’s conduct since the fall of Kabul, have adopted a harder, more critical attitude.

Nonetheless, Russia has in recent weeks held joint military drills with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan near the Tajik-Afghan border. Russia further promised to bolster Tajikistan by supplying weapons and providing training.

Tajikistan is believed to support Tajik rebels in the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan that last week lost a potentially initial first round of fighting against the Taliban. It remains unclear whether the rebels will be able to regroup. Tajiks account for approximately one-quarter of the Afghan population. As the

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon recently awarded posthumously Tajikistan’s third-highest award to two ethnic Afghan Tajiks, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary father of current Tajik rebel leader Ahmad Massoud, and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, for their contribution to ending a devastating civil war in the 1990s in the Central Asian country.

Tajikistan and Iran agreed in April to create a joint military defence committee that would enhance security cooperation and counter-terrorism collaboration.

Iran recently changed its tone regarding Afghanistan after the Taliban failed to include a Hazara Shiite in their newly appointed caretaker government. Hazaras, who account for 20 per cent of the Afghan population, have reason to fear Taliban repression despite the group’s protection last month of Shiite celebrations of Ashura, the commemoration of the Prophet Moses’ parting of the sea.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, took the Taliban to task for  “ignoring the need for inclusive government, foreign intervention and the use of military means instead of dialogue to meet the demands of ethnic groups and social groups that are the main concerns of the friends of the Afghan people.” Mr. Shamkhani was referring to alleged Pakistani support for the Taliban in the battle for Panjshir.

Supporters of Iranian membership may figure that affairs in Afghanistan will have been sorted out by the time the application procedure has run its course with Afghanistan well on its way towards reconstruction. That may prove to be correct. By the same token, however, so could the opposite with an Afghanistan that is wracked by internal conflict and incapable of controlling militants operating from its soil.

The SCO may in either case want Iran to be in its tent to ensure that all of Afghanistan’s neighbours, as well as regional powers Russia and India, are seated at one table. Mr Margoev, the analyst, argued that “just like other countries in the region – (we should) sit at the same table with Iran and not call it a guest from outside.”

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Can Israeli Nuclear Threats Protect Against Non-Nuclear Attacks?

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Abstract: It is widely assumed that a state’s nuclear weapons and strategy are irrelevant to non-nuclear threats. A contrary argument is advanced by Louis René Beres with particular reference to the State of Israel. Urging greater “seamlessness”[1] in Israeli nuclear deterrence, special attention is directed by Professor Beres toward a prospective policy shift from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” to “nuclear disclosure.”[2] Any such shift, whether sudden or incremental, would still depend upon enemy rationality.[3] A related problem would concern various associated risks of unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. All things considered, the best time for Israel to upgrade its formal decision theory processes regarding nuclear deterrence and non-nuclear threats is the present. Unavoidably, on these critical processes, even the most nuanced and refined outcomes would represent some form of “glorified belief.”[4]

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“Formal decision-theory does not depend on data…. The task of theory is confined to the construction of a deductive apparatus, to be used in deriving logically necessary conclusions from given assumptions.”

Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964)

 Nature of the Problem

Though counter-intuitive and still unverifiable, Israel’s nuclear weapons and strategy remain at least potentially relevant to non-nuclear threats. Determining precise levels of relevance, however, would be inescapably difficult and depend upon such “fuzzy” factors as enemy rationality[5] and the plausibility/destructiveness of non-nuclear harms. This anticipated dependence would apply both to first strike attacks and to retaliatory or counter-retaliatory strikes.

There are several associated details. To begin, it would be unreasonable to argue that Israel’s nuclear deterrence posture should always parallel (or roughly parallel) prospective enemy destructiveness, and/or that non-nuclear enemy threats – whether issued from individual states, alliances of states, terror-group adversaries or state-terror group “hybrids”[6] – should be symmetrically countered.

               At first look, a “symmetry hypothesis” could appear to make perfect sense. Nonetheless, strategic truth is inherently complex and can prove stubbornly recalcitrant. Also, because virtually all Israel-related nuclear scenarios are sui generis (without any determinable precedent), nothing of authentic scientific value could be extrapolated. Concerning Israeli nuclear decision-makers’ usable “probabilities,” all that they would really be asked to accept would be variously convincing iterations of  “glorified belief.”[7]

               These are all very “dense” analytic matters. In addition to applicable history and law, Israel’s core strategists will need to be informed by appropriate philosophies of science. In this very significant connection, any meaningful assessments of hypotheses concerning “asymmetrical deterrence” and Israeli national security should be founded upon formal deductive examinations. This fixed imperative indicates, among other things, that intelligence assessments devoid of tangible empirical content can still be suitably predictive. In essence, these assessments should be supportable by stringent logical standards of internal consistency, thematic interconnectedness and dialectical reasoning.[8]

Enemy Threats of Biological War, Biological Terrorism and/or Large Conventional Attack

               Now, how best to proceed? A good place for working strategists would be within the “grey area” of enemy non-nuclear threats that is nonetheless unconventional. Most obvious here would be ascertainably credible enemy threats of biological warfare and/or biological terrorism. While non-nuclear by definition, biological warfare attacks could still produce grievously injurious or near-existential event outcomes for Israel.[9]

               In principle, Israeli policies of calibrated nuclear reprisal for biological warfare (BW) attacks could exhibit compelling deterrent effectiveness against very limited types of adversary. Such policies would be inapplicable, prima facie, against any threats issuing from terror groups that function alone, without recognizable state alignments. In such residual cases, Israel – lacking operational targets more suitable for nuclear targeting – would need to “fall back” upon more usual arsenals of counter-terrorist methods. Such a tactical retrogression would be required even if the particular terror group involved (e.g., Sunni ISIS-K; Shiite Hezbollah; Shiite Houthi) had revealed plausible nuclear threat capabilities.

There is more. Because such terrorists could identify personal death as an expression of religious martyrdom, Israeli planners would have to draw upon continuously challenging psychological factors.[10]

               What about enemy conventional threats that would involve neither nuclear nor biological hazards, but were still prospectively massive enough to produce existential or near-existential harms to Israel? On its face, in such all-too-credible cases, a prospective conventional aggressor could still reasonably calculate that Jerusalem would make good on some of its decipherable nuclear threats. Here, however, Israel’s nuclear deterrent threat credibility could prove dependent upon certain antecedent doctrinal shifts from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” (the so-called “bomb in the basement”) to “nuclear disclosure.”[11]

               Why? Any correct answer must hinge on Israel’s presumed operational flexibility. In the absence of any prior shift away from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity,” a would-be aggressor state might not understand or accept that the State of Israel had available a sufficiently broad array of graduated nuclear retaliatory responses. In the presumed absence of such an array, Israeli nuclear deterrence could be more-or-less severely diminished.

               Additional nuances arise. As a direct consequence of any presumptively diminished nuclear ambiguity, Jerusalem could signal its then relevant adversary or adversaries that Israel would wittingly cross the nuclear retaliatory threshold to punish all acts of existential or near-existential aggressions. Using more expressly military parlance, Israel’s recommended shift to certain apt forms of nuclear disclosure would be intended to ensure the country’s indispensable success in “escalation dominance.”[12]

               Inter alia, the nuclear deterrence advantages for Israel of moving from traditional nuclear ambiguity to selective nuclear disclosure would lie in the signal it could “telegraph” to non-nuclear foes. This signal would warn such adversaries (e.g., Iran) that Jerusalem was not limited to launching retaliations that employ massive and/or disproportionate levels of nuclear force. A still-timely Israeli move from nuclear ambiguity to nuclear disclosure – as long as such a doctrinal move were suitably nuanced and incremental – could improve Israel’s prospects for deterring large-scale conventional attacks with consciously “tailored” nuclear threats.[13]

               After America’s defeat in Afghanistan, a not-yet-nuclear Iran could sometimes expect a less determined Israel.[14]

               There is more. Stipulated Israeli nuclear deterrence benefits against non-nuclear threats could extend to certain threats of nuclear counter-retaliation. If, for example, Israel should sometime consider initiating a non-nuclear defensive first-strike against a pre-nuclear Iran, a preemptive act that could conceivably represent “anticipatory self-defense”[15] under Westphalian international law,[16] the likelihood of suffering any massive Iranian conventional retaliation might be correspondingly diminished. In essence, by following a properly charted path from deliberate nuclear ambiguity to nuclear disclosure, Jerusalem could expectedly upgrade its overall deterrence posture vis-à-vis both nuclear and non-nuclear threats.

Escalation Dominance and Inadvertent Nuclear War

               In protecting itself from any deliberate nuclear attack, Israeli strategists must accept certain core assumptions of enemy rationality. But even if these assumptions were well-founded, there will still remain variously attendant dangers of unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. These fully existential dangers could be produced by enemy hacking operations, computer malfunction (an accidental nuclear war) or by decision-making miscalculation (whether by the enemy, by Israel itself, or by both/all parties.) In the portentous third scenario, damaging synergies could arise that would prove extremely difficult or impossible to halt or reverse.

               To a largely unforeseeable extent, the geo-strategic search for “escalation dominance” by all sides to a potentially nuclear conflict would enlarge the decipherable risks of an inadvertent nuclear war. These risks include prospects of a nuclear war by accident and/or decisional miscalculation. The “solution” here could not be to simply wish-away the common search for “escalation dominance” (ipso facto, any such wish would be contrary to the “logic” of balance-of-power world politics),[17] but instead to manage all prospectively nuclear crises at their lowest possible levels of destructiveness. Plainly, wherever feasible, it would be best to avoid such crises altogether, and to maintain in place reliable “circuit breakers” against strategic hacking and technical malfunction.

               The above discussion has been highly abstract. To a conspicuous extent, however, such abstractness is indispensable. This is because generality is an inherent trait of all serious meaning in military theorizing and strategizing.

There is more. There does exist a co-equal need for relevant facts and usable empirical content. Today, this should bring to mind recently-changed ties between Israel and certain Sunni Arab states, and more-or-less corresponding threats (both explicit and implicit) from Shiite Iran. How, therefore, Israeli nuclear strategists should competently inquire, will Trump-era “Abraham Accords”[18] and America’s recent defeat in Afghanistan affect such major threats? Have these Accords actually given Israel reason for greater security confidence, or did they really enhance “peace” where there were never any actual adversaries? Have former President Trump’s contrived Accords (they were designed for domestic political interests only) effectively hardened the Middle East Sunni-Shia dualism and made Iran a still-greater threat to Israel?

At present, Israel has no regional nuclear adversaries, but the steady approach of a nuclear Iran could encourage rapid nuclearization among such Sunni Arab states as Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Also, following the turnover of Afghanistan to Taliban and (possibly) other Islamist forces, non-Arab Pakistan will likely become a more direct adversary of both the United States and Israel.[19] The Pakistani jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out the large-scale Mumbai, India attack in 2008.

There is more. Pakistan is an already nuclear Islamic state with substantial ties to China. And Pakistan, like Israel, is not a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or NPT.[20]

“Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but the simplest thing is very difficult.”

               On September 1, 2021, Israel officially moved into the U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of responsibility.  Taking over from European Command (EUCOM), Jerusalem likely sees its new role as defending U.S. and Israeli interests simultaneously, primarily by countering Iran within CENTCOM’s designated sphere of authority. This countervailing power would be directed at Iran-backed anti-Israel insurgents (especially Hezbollah and Houthi) and at a quickly expanding Iranian nuclearization.

 In regard to the second objective, Israel should consider where there could ever be an auspicious place for issuing nuclear threats against its still non-nuclear Shiite adversary in Tehran. In part, at least, the “answers” here would depend upon Jerusalem’s prior transformations of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” (the “bomb in the basement”) into variously recognizable postures of “deliberate nuclear disclosure.” Though all such considerations would necessarily concern matters that are sui generis or without historical precedent, Israel has no logical alternative to launching appropriately deductive investigations.

Palestine, Preemption and Nuclear Threats to Israel

                Salient issues of Israeli nuclear deterrence against non-nuclear threats could be impacted by Palestinian statehood.[21] To wit, while never ever mentioned “in the same breath,” the creation of Palestine could meaningfully affect Israel’s inclination to preempt against Iran. Because of Israel’s manifestly small size, its inclination to strike first at enemy hard targets could sometime become palpably high.  Deprived of its already minimal “strategic depth,” Israel might not be able to hold out for as long as was possible when Palestine was merely a pre-state “authority.” 

               It is plausible that once Palestine came into de jure formal existence as a state,[22] any shift in Israel’s nuclear strategy from deliberate ambiguity to nuclear disclosure could reduce Israel’s Jerusalem’s incentive to preempt against Iran. But this expectation could make strategic sense only if Israel were first made to believe that its nuclear deterrent threat, in determinable consequence of this shift, was now being taken with abundant seriousness by Iran. On its face, any such unique determination would be problematic at best.

               Several corollary problems would also need to be considered.  First, how would Israel’s leadership ever actually know that taking its bomb out of the “basement” had improved its nuclear deterrence posture?  To a certain unpredictable extent, the credibility of Jerusalem’s nuclear threats would be contingent upon the variable severity of different provocations.  It might prove believable if Israel were to threaten nuclear reprisals for provocations that endanger the very survival of the state, but it would almost certainly be unbelievable to threaten such reprisals for relatively minor territorial infringements or for absolutely any level of terrorist incursions. Whatever analysts might conclude on such questions, because there exists no discoverable frequency of pertinent past events, any judgments of probability by IDF/MOD planners would represent only “glorified belief.”

               There are other problems.  To function successfully, Israel’s nuclear deterrent, even after any conspicuous removal from the “basement,” would have to appear secure from enemy preemptive strikes. Israel would need to be especially wary of “decapitation,” of losing the “head” of its military command and control system by result of enemy first strikes.  Should Israel’s existential enemies (presently all still non-nuclear) remain unpersuaded by Jerusalem’s move away from deliberate ambiguity, they might sometime initiate such strikes as could effectively immobilize Israel’s order of battle.

               By definition, any such scenario would be unacceptable to Israel.

               But there are various contrary arguments. One such argument, about the effects of Palestine on Israel’s inclinations to preempt, suggests that because of Israel’s expanded vulnerability, its nuclear deterrent could actually become more credible.  As a result, goes this contrary argument, Jerusalem could better afford not to strike first than when it still controlled/administered disputed Palestinian territories.  In this particular situation, the principal benefit to Israel of shifting from nuclear ambiguity to nuclear disclosure would seem to lie in an explicitly-identified “escalation ladder,” a metaphoric process revealing a systematically broad array of considered Israeli reprisals. Optimally, these reprisals would range from certain limited conventional responses to measured nuclear strikes.

A Presumed Inevitability of War and Enemy Vulnerabilities

               In weighing different arguments concerning the effect of Palestine upon Israeli nuclear deterrence, specific attention should be directed toward Israel’s own recognizable presumptions about the inevitability of war and its long-term expectations for Arab and Iranian strategic vulnerability.  Should Israel’s leaders conclude that the creation of Palestine would make another major war more-or-less inevitable, and that, over time, enemy vulnerability to Israeli strikes would actually diminish, Jerusalem’s inclination to strike first against Iran could be increased.  To a certain extent, Israel’s tactical/operational judgments on preemption would be affected by various antecedent decisions on nuclear strategy.

               Namely, these critical decisions would concern “counter value” vs. “counterforce” objectives. 

               Should Israel opt for nuclear deterrence based on an “assured destruction” (“counter value”) strategy, Jerusalem would likely choose a relatively small number of weapons that might be relatively inaccurate.  A “counterforce” strategy, on the other hand, would require a larger number of more accurate weapons, ordnance that could destroy even the most hardened enemy targets.  To a certain extent, “going for counterforce” could make all Israeli nuclear threats more credible.  This conclusion would be based largely on the assumption that because the effects of war-fighting nuclear weapons would be more precise and controlled, they would also be more amenable to actual use.

               War-fighting postures of Israeli nuclear deterrence would be more apt to encourage an Israeli preemption.  And if counterforce targeted nuclear weapons were ever fired, especially in a proliferated regional setting, the resultant escalation could produce extensive counter value nuclear exchanges.  Even if such escalations were averted, the “collateral” effects of counterforce detonations could still prove devastating.

               In making its nuclear choices, Israel will have to confront a paradox.  Credible nuclear deterrence, essential to Israeli security and survival in a world made more dangerous by the creation of Palestine,[23]  would require “usable” nuclear weapons.  If, after all, these weapons were patently inappropriate for any reasonable objective, they would not deter.  At the same time, the more usable such nuclear weapons become in order to enhance nuclear deterrence, the more likely it is, at one time or another, they will actually be fired.  While this paradox would seem to suggest the rationality of Israel deploying only the least-harmful forms of usable nuclear weapons, the fact that there could be no coordinated agreements with enemy states on deployable nuclear weapons points to a starkly different conclusion.

                Unless Israel were to calculate that the more harmful weapons would produce greater hazards for its own population as well as for target populations, there could exist no tactical benefit to opting for the least injurious nuclear weapons. For the moment, at least, it appears that Israel has rejected any nuclear warfighting strategies of deterrence in favor of a still-implicit counter-value engagement posture. But this could change in response to the pace and direction of ongoing Iranian nuclearization. Significant, too, is that non-Arab Islamic Pakistan has adopted a nuclear warfighting strategy of deterrence vis-à-vis India, and has underscored this adoption by its deployment of certain low-yield nuclear missile forces.

The Bottom Line

               All things considered, Israel, if confronted by a new state of Palestine, would then be especially well-advised to do everything possible to prevent the appearance of any Arab and/or Iranian nuclear powers, including calculably pertinent (cost-effective) non-nuclear preemptions.  Under all conditions, Israel would require a believable (and hence usable) nuclear deterrent, one that could be employed against certain non-nuclear threats without igniting “Armageddon” for the regional belligerents. In the worst case scenario, these Israeli nuclear weapons could also serve certain damage-limiting military purposes against Iranian weapons (both nuclear and non-nuclear) should nuclear deterrence fail.[24]

               In sum, the creation of a fully sovereign Palestine could have dramatic effects on Israel’s decisions concerning anticipatory self-defense.  Israel’s own presumptive nuclear weapons status and strategy would strongly influence this decision.  More precisely, should Jerusalem determine that Israel’s nuclear weapons could support preemption by deterring hostile target states from retaliating, this status might encourage Israeli defensive first strikes.  If, on the other hand, Jerusalem were to calculate that these target states would be unimpressed by threats of any Israeli nuclear counter-retaliation, this status would likely not encourage any such Israeli attacks.

               A key question surfaces. Could the precise form of Israel’s nuclear strategy make a difference in these unique circumstances?  Relying upon nuclear weapons not to deter enemy first strikes, but to support its own preemptive attacks, Israel would then have to choose between continued nuclear ambiguity (implicit threats) and nuclear disclosure (explicit threats). That choice should now be perfectly clear.[25] Israel’s only rational posture, going forward, is to selectively remove “The Bomb” from its “basement.”

The Question of Israel’s National “Will”

               In view of what is now generally believed throughout the Middle East, and, indeed, all over the world, there is every good reason to assume that Israel’s nuclear arsenal does exist and that Israel’s assorted enemies share this assumption.  The most critical question about Israel’s nuclear deterrent, however, is not about capability, but will.[26]  How likely is it that Israel, after launching non-nuclear preemptive strikes against enemy hard targets, would respond to enemy reprisals with a nuclear counter-retaliation?

               To answer this core question, Israel’s decision-makers will first have to put themselves into the shoes of various enemy leaders.  Will these leaders calculate that they can afford to retaliate against Israel, i.e., that such retaliation would not produce a nuclear counter-retaliation?  In asking this question, they will assume, of course, a non-nuclear retaliation against Israel.  A nuclear retaliation, should it become technically possible for Iran, would invite a nuclear counter-retaliatory blow.

                Depending upon the way in which the enemy decision-makers interpret Israel’s authoritative perceptions, they will accept or reject the cost-effectiveness of a non-nuclear retaliation against Israel.  This means that it is likely in Israel’s best interests to communicate the following strategic assumption to all its existential enemies: Israel could be acting rationally by responding to enemy non-nuclear reprisals to Israeli preemptive attacks with a nuclear counter-retaliation.  Naturally, the plausibility of this assumption would be enhanced considerably if enemy reprisals were to involve chemical and/or biological weapons.

               All such “glorified belief” calculations assume enemy rationality.  In the absence of calculations that compare the costs and benefits of all strategic alternatives, what will happen in the Middle East could remain a matter of endlessly visceral conjecture.  The prospect of non-rational judgments in the region is always plausible, especially as the influence of Islamist/Jihadist ideology remains determinative among Iranian decisional elites. Still, various dangers of a nuclear war will obtain even among fully rational adversaries, both deliberate nuclear war and inadvertent unclear war.

               To the extent that Israel might one day believe itself confronted with non-rational enemies, particularly ones with highly destructive weapons in their arsenals, its incentive to preempt could suddenly become overwhelming.  Should such enemies be believed to hold nuclear weapons,[27] Israel might then decide, quite rationally, to launch a nuclear preemption against these enemy weapons.  This would appear to be the only calculable circumstance in which a rational Israeli preemptive strike could ever be nuclear. And though it remains impossible to offer any science-based probability predictions about unique events, ordinary dialectical reasoning would still seem to support such “glorified belief.”

There is more. Israel’s nuclear deterrent must always remain oriented toward dominating escalation at multiple and intersecting levels of conventional and unconventional enemy threats. For this to work, however, Israeli strategic planners must continuously bear in mind that all future operational success will depend upon prior formulations of suitable national doctrine or strategic theory.[28] In the end, the truest forms of Israeli power, whether expressed as anticipatory self-defense or as some other form of deterrence-maximizing effort, will have to reflect “a triumph of mind over mind” rather than any mere triumph of “mind over matter.”

Summing Up

               The most persuasive forms of military power on planet earth are not guns, battleships or missiles. Rather, they are conveniently believable promises of “life everlasting” or personal immortality.[29] When one finally uncovers what is most utterly important to the vast majority of human beings, this factor is a presumptive power over death.[30] Accordingly, and regrettably, individuals all over the world too often see the corrosive dynamics of belligerent nationalism (e.g., former US President Donald Trump’s “America First”) as a preferred path to personal immortality.[31]

               Why else, in essentially all global conflict (international and intranational) would each side seek so desperately and conspicuously to align with God? Always, the loudest nationalistic claim is manipulatively reassuring: “Fear not,” the citizens and subjects are counseled, “God is on our side.”[32] In our present analytic context, what promise could possibly prove more heartening to Israel’s enemies and more worrisome to Israel?

               Ultimately, Israel’s most compelling forms of strategic influence will derive not from high technology weaponry (an always ongoing preoccupation in Tel-Aviv), but from the immutably incomparable advantages of intellectual power. These always-overriding advantages must be explored and compared according to two very specific but overlapping criteria of assessment: law and strategy.  In certain circumstances, these complex expectations would not be helpfully congruent or “in synch” with each other, but contradictory or diametrically opposed. Here, the underlying “mind over mind” challenges to Israel would become excruciatingly difficult; nonetheless, successful decision-making outcomes could still be kept in plain sight and remain credible.

               What would be required, always, will be a suitably theoretical appreciation of decisional complexity[33] and a corresponding willingness to approach overlapping issues from the convergent standpoints of science,[34] intellect and dialectical analysis.[35] In principle, at least, cumulative policy failures could produce broadly existential outcomes. Acknowledging this, Israel’s policy planners and decision –makers, wherever possible, should strive to ensure that the beleaguered country’s nuclear deterrent can protect against large-scale non-nuclear attacks.[36] The first step in accepting such necessary assurance should be the systematic elaboration of formal decision-theory.

               This expressly deductive enterprise would not depend on any historical precedent or data, and could offer firm intellectual support to Israeli decision-makers’ most vital expressions of “glorified belief.”[37]


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

[2] The author’s first comprehensive examination of this issue was: Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986). See also his more recent: Louis René Beres, 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

[3] Expressions of enemy irrationality could take different or overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[4]This term is embraced by theoretical mathematician Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964).

[5] In world politics and law, a state or insurgent-group is determinedly rational to the extent that its leadership always values collective survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Of course, an insurgent/terrorist force will not always display such a clarifying or “helpful” preference ordering. Pertinent current examples regarding Israel are Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah.

[6] Following US defeat in Afghanistan, the Taliban led government in Kabul will likely cooperate closely with Islamist groups opposed to Israel, including Palestinian Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Congratulating the Taliban on August 17, 2021, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh observed: “The demise of the US occupation of Afghanistan is a prelude to the demise of the Israeli occupation of the land of Palestine.” See: Dan Diker, “The Taliban’s Palestinian Partners: Implications for the Middle East Peace Process,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, September 5, 2021.

[7] See: Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (1964).

[8]. The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s strategy  vis-à-vis Iran, the following operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1)  a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.

[9] We well know that a naturally occurring biological threat now confronts all states and peoples (Covid19). Though unrelated to threats of bio terror and bio war per se, there are various ways in which this “pandemic variable” could become pertinent to strategic questions here at hand. Accordingly, strategists would first need to think in terms of a dynamic and continuous feedback loop; to wit, one wherein the investigator systematically considers different ways in which the anarchic structures of world politics impact medical control of the pandemic and, reciprocally, how the pandemic could then impact “Westphalian” or “everyone for himself” (“state of nature”) global structures. In principle, there would be no final or conclusive end to this dynamic cycle. Rather, by definition, each successive impact would be more-or-less transient/temporary, thereby setting the stage for the next round of reciprocal changes, and so on.

[10] See, for example, by this author: Louis René Beres, “Martyrdom and International Law,” Jurist, September 10, 2018; and Louis René Beres, “Religious Extremism and International Legal Norms: Perfidy, Preemption and Irrationality,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No.3., 2007-2008, pp. 709-730.

[11] See by this author, Louis René Beres, at INSS (Tel Aviv):  file:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/adkan17_3ENG%20(3)_Beres.pdf

[12] Embedded in attempts to achieve this success would be variously credible threats of “assured destruction.” This term references ability to inflict “unacceptable damage” after absorbing an attacker’s first strike.  In the traditional nuclear lexicon, mutual assured destruction (MAD) would describe a stand-off condition in which an assured destruction capacity is possessed by both (or all) opposing sides.  Counterforce strategies would be those which target only an adversary’s strategic military facilities and supporting infrastructure.  Such strategies could be dangerous not only because of the “collateral damage” they might produce, but also because they could heighten the likelihood of first-strike attacks. Collateral damage would refer to harms done to human and non-human resources as a consequence of strategic strikes directed at enemy forces or military facilities.  Even such “unintended” damage could quickly involve large numbers of casualties/fatalities.

[13] In effect, Israel’s posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity was already breached by two of the country’s prime ministers, first, by Shimon Peres, on December 22, 1995, and second, by Ehud Olmert, on December 11, 2006. Peres, speaking to a group of Israeli newspaper and magazine editors, then stated publicly:  “…give me peace, and we’ll give up the atom. That’s the whole story.” When, later, Olmert offered similarly general but also revelatory remarks, they were described widely (and benignly) as “slips of the tongue.”

[14] It’s now a very delicate regional balance of power for Israel to negotiate. For years, a Salafi/Deobandi (Sunni) Crescent has emerged to challenge the Shiite Crescent. The objective is an attempt by Al Qaeda and other Salafi/Deobandi Islamist groups to counter the Crescent created by Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The recent fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban suggests, inter alia, growing Salafi/Deobandi power vis-à-vis Israel, Iran and the United States.

 

[15] This lawful option can be found in customary international law. The most precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in such authoritative 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).

[16]The Peace of Westphalia (1648) concluded the Thirty Years War and created the still-existing state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two treaties comprise the “Peace of Westphalia.” Incontestably, since this Peace put an end to the last of the major religious wars sparked by the Reformation, the “state system” has been ridden with evident strife and recurrent calamity. As a global “state of nature” characterized by interminable “war of all against all” (a bellum omnium contra omnes), the conspicuous legacy of Westphalia has proven disappointing and frightful.

.[17] The idea of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is merely a modern variant – has never been more than facile metaphor. Oddly, it has never had anything to do with ascertaining equilibrium. As such, balance is always more-or-less a matter of individual subjective perception. Adversarial states can never be sufficiently confident that identifiable strategic circumstances are actually “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, each side must perpetually fear that it will be left behind, a fear creating ever-wider patterns of world system insecurity and disequilibrium.

[18]See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ Also to be considered as complementary in this connection is the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).

[19]Seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, instructs that although international relations (the state of nations) is in the state of nature, it is nonetheless more tolerable than the condition of individual men in nature. This is because, with individual human beings, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” Now, with the advent of nuclear weapons, there is no reason to believe that the state of nations remains more tolerable. Rather, nuclear weapons are bringing the state of nations closer to the true Hobbesian state of nature. See, also, David P. Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 207. As with Hobbes, Pufendorf argues that the state of nations is not quite as intolerable as the state of nature between individuals. The state of nations, reasons Pufendorf, “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” And similarly, Spinoza suggests “that 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.

[20]See: https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt/

[21]For much earlier original writings by this author on the prospective impact of a Palestinian state on Israeli nuclear deterrence, 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.

[22]Contending Palestinian authorities still remain unable to meet variously codified expectations of statehood identified at the 1934 Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. This “Montevideo Convention” is the treaty governing statehood in all applicable international law. Jurisprudentially, Palestine still remains a “Non-Member Observer State.”

[23] It is important to understand that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that any Palestinian state remain “demilitarized” was not merely unrealistic’ it was also inconsistent with pertinent international law. On this point, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter, 1998, pp. 347-363.

[24] These complex and nuanced expectations bring to mind Sun-Tzu’s suggestion (in military matters) to embrace the “unorthodox.” For a recent and specific application to Israel of Sun-Tzu’s ancient wisdom, by this author, 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.

[25] Strategists should be reminded here of a warning speech of Pericles (432 BCE). As recorded by Thucydides: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies, is our own mistakes.” See: Thucydides: The Speeches of Pericles, H.G. Edinger, tr., New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1979, p. 17.

 

.[26]The modern philosophic origins of “will” are discoverable in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Friedrich Nietzsche drew just as importantly upon Arthur 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 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).

[27] From a jurisprudential point of view, any use of nuclear weapons by an insurgent group would represent a serious violation of the laws of war.  These laws have been brought to bear upon non-state participants in world politics by Article 3, common to the four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and by the two protocols to the conventions.  Protocol I makes the law concerning international conflicts applicable to conflicts fought for self-determination against alien occupation and against colonialist and racist regimes.  A product of the Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts that ended on June 10, 1977, the protocol (which was justified by the decolonization provisions of the U.N. Charter and by resolutions of the General Assembly) brings irregular forces within the full scope of the law of armed conflict.  Protocol II, also addition to the Geneva Conventions, concerns protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts.  Hence, this protocol applies to all armed conflicts that are not covered by Protocol I and that take place within the territory of a state between its armed forces and dissident armed forces.

[28] “Military doctrine” is not the same as “military strategy.” Doctrine “sets the stage” for strategy. It identifies various central beliefs that must subsequently animate any actual “order of battle.” Among other things, military doctrine describes underlying general principles on how a particular war ought to be waged. The reciprocal task for military strategy is to adapt as required in order to best support previously-fashioned military doctrine.

[29] In world politics, says philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, any deeply-felt promise of immortality must be of “transcendent importance.”  Seehis Religion in the Making, 1927.

[30] “I believe,” says Oswald Spengler in his magisterial The Decline of the West (1918), “is the one great word against metaphysical fear.”

[31] 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 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 legal regulation in their interactions with each other.

[32] Through the ages, and with “God on our Side,” conflicting states and religions have asserted that personal immortality can sometimes be achieved, but only at the sacrificial expense of certain despised “others,” of “heathen,” “blasphemers,” “apostates.” When he painted The Triumph of Death in ca. 1562, Peter Bruegel drew upon his direct personal experience with religious war and disease plague.  Already in the sixteenth century, he had understood that any intersection of these horrors (one man-made, the other natural) could be ill-fated, force-multiplying and even synergistic. This last term describes results wherein the “whole” outcome exceeds the calculable sum of all constituent “parts.”

[33]At the same time, strategists cannot be allowed to forget, that theoretical fruitfulness must be achieved at some more-or-less tangible costs of “dehumanization.” Accordingly, Goethe reminds in Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, And the golden tree of life is green.” Translated by Professor Beres from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.”

[34]In the words of Jose Ortega y’Gasset: “Science, by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual, is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…. The latter is not possible without the former.” (Man and Crisis, 1958).

[35] This does not mean trying to account for absolutely every pertinent explanatory variable. Clarifications can be found at “Occam’s Razor” or the “principle of parsimony.” This stipulates 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, because all too often, policy-makers and planners mistakenly attempt to be too inclusive. This attempt unwittingly distracts them from forging more efficient and “parsimonious” strategic theories.

[36]See: RESOLUTION ON THE DEFINITION OF AGGRESSION, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No. 31) 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631, 1975, reprinted in 13 I.L.M. 710, 1974; and CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS, Art. 51. Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945, 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, Bevans 1153, 1976, Y.B.U.N. 1043

[37] Throughout this essay, the term “glorified belief” is used not as a pejorative, but as a science-backed description of what is predictable in global military interactions that are sui generis.

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