The Synergies of Palestinian Statehood and Iranian Nuclear Weapons

To maximize security benefits of their planned analyses and assessments, Israeli strategists must consider the presumptively separate threats of Palestinian statehood and Iranian nuclearization as two intersecting and interactive perils

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly (Photo: AP)

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." (Archilochus, Ancient Greek Poet, Fragments)

Always, Israeli strategists treat Palestinian statehood and Iranian nuclearization as altogether separate perils. This is a potentially grave mistake, however, as the two evident threats are actually intersecting or even "force multiplying" in their calculable security implications. A nuclear Iran, however unwitting, could enlarge the regional stability costs to Israel of any Palestinian state. Reciprocally, at least in the plausible future, a Palestinian state could expand certain risks to Israel of an opportunistic nuclear attack from Iran.

We can even be more precise here. The relationship between these two seemingly discrete threats is apt to be expressly synergistic. In essence, therefore, the "whole" of its injurious effect upon Israel could sometimes prove greater than the simple sum of its constituent parts.

Since 2012, the Palestinian Authority has been recognized by the UN as a "Non-member Observer State." Looking ahead, if the Palestinian Authority and Hamas should sometime be able to restore a functional level of cooperation and unity, a fully-sovereign Palestine could emerge. In notably short order, this twenty-third Arab state could rapidly become an optimal platform for expanded war and terrorism against Israel, and also against assorted area allies of the United States.

Always, it follows, Israel and the United States must remain keenly aware of pertinent "force multipliers." Among expected regional consequences, distinctly virulent synergies between Iranian nuclearization and Palestinian statehood could create an authentically existential threat to the Jewish State. Oddly, perhaps, these potentially lethal and multiplying interactive effects remain unhidden, yet are still largely unrecognized.

In their response, Jerusalem and Washington must more systematically consider vital issues of geostrategic context. In the chaotic Middle East, certain core adversarial patterns remain unchanged. Most conspicuously, Israel still endures undiminished international pressures to (1) renounce its "ambiguous" nuclear forces, and (2) join in periodically resuscitated plans for a "Nuclear Weapon Free-Zone."

If Iran and its allies should ever come to believe that Israel had been sufficiently weakened by coordinated "nonproliferation" demands, a previously worked-out strategy of annihilation against Israel could proceed. This lethal strategy could expectedly advance in stages, from terror to mega-terror, and then, in successively added increments, from mega-terror to war and mega-war.  

For many reasons, nuclear weapons are still generally regarded across the world as destabilizing. Nonetheless, in the specific case of Israel, the recognizable possession of such weapons could sometimes become all that actually protects civilian populations from various catastrophic aggressions. Maintaining successful nuclear deterrence – whether still ambiguous or newly disclosed – will thus ultimately prove indispensable to Israel's physical survival.

In its authoritative Advisory Opinion of July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled:  “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…”  "Where the very survival of a State would be at stake…” continued the ICJ, even the actual use of nuclear weapons could at times be permissible.

Core distinctions must be made. Israel is not Iran. Israel makes no threats of aggressive war or genocide. For the moment, at least, it does not publicly acknowledge its plausibly advanced nuclear capabilities.

The geostrategic truth may sometimes be counterintuitive. Not all nuclear weapon states are created equal. Not all such states are automatically a menace. Some may even offer a genuine benefit to world peace.

On its face, Israel's small size precludes national tolerance of any nuclear attack. This point has even been made openly by a senior Iranian official, who stated ominously: "Israel is a one-bomb state."

From a regional security standpoint, Israel’s nuclear weapons are not the problem.  In the Middle East, the most persistent and resilient source of war and terror remains an Arab/Islamist commitment to "excise the Jewish cancer." Faced with this literally genocidal threat, Israel and its few allies will finally need to understand that the "Peace Process" is just another enemy expedient. To wit, on official Palestinian maps – all of which describe Israel as "Occupied Palestine" – the Jewish State has already been eliminated.

With these exterminatory maps, a cartographic genocide has already been imposed.

What about Iran? With a more openly declared nuclear weapons posture, Israel could more reliably deter a rational Iranian enemy’s unconventional attacks, and also most of its large conventional aggressions. With such a suitably updated posture, Israel, if necessary, could launch appropriately non-nuclear preemptive strikes against Iranian hard targets, and against associated counterforce capabilities.

These assets could otherwise threaten Israel's physical survival with impunity. In the absence of acknowledging its possession of certain survivable and "penetration-capable" nuclear weapons, therefore, Israeli acts of anticipatory self-defense would most likely represent the onset of much wider war. The reason is simple: There would then remain no aptly convincing threat of an Israeli counter-retaliation.

The decision to bring its “bomb" out of the "basement" would not be an easy one for Israel. Nonetheless, the realities of facing not only a nuclear-capable Iran but also other potential nuclear aspirants in the region – in compelling synergies with anti-Israel terrorists – obligate a serious reconsideration of "deliberate ambiguity." As a corollary, Jerusalem would need to clarify that its multiple-level active defenses will always operate in tandem with its decisive nuclear retaliations.  

What about "Palestine," the other half of a prospectively corrosive synergy? Soon, it may become apparent that ISIS and certain other related Jihadist fighters plan to move against certain state and sub-state enemies. Already, in fact, ISIS is challenging Hamas control of Gaza and is likely preparing to march westward, across the increasingly vulnerable country of Jordan.

In time, ISIS forces, even after suffering various operational defeats in both Iraq and Syria, could find themselves "at the gates" of the West Bank (Judea/Samaria), territories still widely expected to become Palestine. If, when ISIS actually arrives, a Palestinian state has not yet been created, these forces would effectively occupy the strategic territories for themselves. If a Palestinian state had already been formalized, they could then make quick work of the new sovereignty's fragile army, and subsequently, install themselves as the de facto government of "Palestine."

For Israel, going forward, all of this suggests that meaningful security assessments of both Palestinian statehood and Iranian nuclearization be undertaken with aptly due regard to their predictably complex intersections and consequent synergies.

For Israel, after all, the cumulative impact of these principal threats would almost certainly be tangibly much greater than the mere sum of its identifiable parts.


Louis René Beres is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. He lectures and publishes widely on matters of Israeli security and nuclear strategy.

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