Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 6, Issue 1  /  

Looking Beyond System: Exploring the “Trump Factor” in Israel’s Strategic Choices

Looking Beyond System: Exploring the “Trump Factor” in Israel’s Strategic Choices Looking Beyond System: Exploring the “Trump Factor” in Israel’s Strategic Choices
To cite this article: Beres, Louis René, “Looking Beyond System: Exploring the ‘Trump Factor’ in Israel’s Strategic Choices,” Infinity Journal, Volume 6, Issue 1, winter 2018, pages 24-31.

"The existence of `system' in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom…."

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,
The Phenomenon of Man

In the final analysis, Israel's national security – in the fashion of every state in world politics – will have certain core systemic determinants. Although, by definition, these broadly contextual variables will have little or nothing to do with any specific foreign leadership personalities, the prospective policy impact of Donald J. Trump, the American president, represents a manifestly plausible exception. More precisely, and also perhaps, very suddenly, the idiosyncratic "Trump factor" could prove to be of very substantial importance to this beleaguered U.S. ally in the Middle East.

More than likely, and for a distinct variety of ascertainable reasons, this particular American decision-maker would prove to be a detriment to Israel, a net-negative to the tiny country, even starkly or irremediably injurious.

Let us start at the beginning. Israel's strategic posture remains closely intertwined with U.S. foreign policy.[i] This is hardly a newsworthy observation. Yet, today, in the increasingly incoherent Trump Era,[ii] such traditional linkages are potentially more perilous than before.

It can reasonably be expected that President Donald Trump's conspicuously belligerent approach to international relations (a textbook example of the fallacy logicians would call argumentum ad bacculum) could destabilize certain vital regional alignments. This destabilization could occur, moreover, in concert with other major US policy missteps, and without offering any foreseeable security benefits. It follows that Israel will need to adjust its expectations accordingly.

In the Jewish State, where several essential security questions display authentically existential correlates, the Trump orientation to threat-system dynamics will need to be countered, at least in part, by a selectively broadened commitment to national self-reliance.[iii] Above all else, this means more expressly focused attention on Israel's nuclear strategy, especially the continuance or modification of "deliberate nuclear ambiguity."[iv] By definition, of course, because there exists no codified or easily verifiable Israeli nuclear strategy, little if any such Trump-generated re-posturing will be generally recognizable or even visible.

Significantly, whether visible or not, various dynamic policy intersections could be expected.[v] Some presumptively required changes in Israel's nuclear strategy will then "feedback" into U.S. strategic policy, thereby engendering certain further alterations of Israeli policy, and so on. This means, prima facie, a more or less robust expansion of particular interpenetrations and interactions between U.S. and Israeli strategic postures, one that could prove not merely additive, but genuinely "synergistic."

With such an expansion, both Washington and Jerusalem could quickly begin to expect certain "force multiplying" Israeli nuclear policy changes, ones wherein the "whole" of the country's proposed alterations exceeds the simple sum of its component "parts."[vi]

For Jerusalem, many subsidiary questions will also need to be answered. How, exactly, should Israel's traditional stance on nuclear ambiguity be adapted to plausible expectations of Trump-policy bellicosity? For Israel, it can never just be about convincing adversaries that Israel is a bona fide nuclear power. Rather, it is necessary, inter alia, that these states further believe that Israel holds distinctly usable nuclear weapons, and that Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv would be ascertainably willing to employ these weapons in certain clear and operationally situation-based circumstances.

On Israel's "bomb in the basement" posture, the Trump Era will mandate identifiable changes. More precisely, certain soon-to-be-generated Trump instabilities in the Middle East will create enhanced reasons to doubt that Israel could benefit from any determined continuance of deliberate nuclear ambiguity. It would seem, moreover, from certain apparent developments within Israel's own defense and intelligence communities, that the country's senior leadership already understands such informed skepticism.

How should this leadership proceed?

It will be a complex or "mind over mind" task. Over time, Israel will be imperiled by certain existential threats that justify its nuclear weapons status, and that will call for a correspondingly purposeful strategic doctrine. Even now, this basic justification exists beyond any reasonable doubt. Without such advanced weapons and doctrine, after all, Israel could not survive indefinitely, especially if certain neighboring regimes should sometime become more adversarial, more Jihadist, and/or less risk-averse.

Going forward, Israeli nuclear weapons and nuclear doctrine could prove more and more vital to both predictable and unpredictable scenarios requiring preemptive military action or suitable retaliation.

For Israel, merely possessing its nuclear weapons, even when recognized by enemy states, cannot automatically ensure successful nuclear deterrence. Although counter-intuitive, an appropriately selective and nuanced end to deliberate ambiguity could improve the credibility of Israel’s critical nuclear deterrent. With this point in mind, the potential of assorted enemy attacks in the future could be gainfully reduced. This reduction would concern selective Israeli disclosure of certain nuclear weapons response capabilities.[vii]

Carefully limited, yet still more explicit, it would center on distinctly major and inter-penetrating issues of Israeli nuclear capability and decisional willingness. Much of Israel's underlying survival problem rests upon a limiting geography. It rests upon the literal absence of protective "mass."

Somehow, Israel must cost-effectively compensate for its irremediable lack of mass. Most important, in this regard, will be any ongoing and future reliance upon nuclear sea-basing (submarines).[viii] Naturally, this sort of reliance could make sense only if all relevant adversaries were simultaneously presumed to be rational.

Another key component of Israel's multi-layered security posture lies in its ballistic missile defenses.[ix] Yet, even the well-regarded and successfully-tested Arrow, now augmented by newer, shorter-range and systematically-integrated operations of related active defenses,[x] could never achieve a sufficiently high probability of intercept to adequately protect Israeli civilians. As no system of missile defense can ever be entirely "leak proof," and as even a single incoming nuclear missile that managed to penetrate Arrow or its corollary defenses could conceivably kill tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Israelis, Jerusalem should never seek ultimate existential security in active defense.

Still, potentially at least, this fearsome geographic debility could prove less daunting if Israel's continuing reliance on deliberate ambiguity were suitably altered. Always, Jerusalem must adapt. Any traditional Israeli stance of undeclared nuclear capacity is unlikely to work indefinitely, all the more so in an inherently unpredictable "Trump Era."

For now, at least, leaving aside a Jihadist takeover of nuclear Pakistan, the most obviously unacceptable "leakage" threat would come from a nuclear Iran. To be effectively deterred, a newly-nuclear Iran (an outcome not likely to be meaningfully stalled by any plausible forms of Trump-Era interference) would need convincing assurance that Israel’s atomic weapons were both invulnerable and penetration-capable. Without such assurance, a moment could conceivably arise wherein Tehran would accept the cost-effectiveness of a calculated first-strike.

Any Iranian judgments about Israel’s capability and willingness to retaliate with nuclear weapons would depend largely upon some prior Iranian knowledge of these weapons, including their degree of protection from surprise attack, and their presumed capacity to effectively “punch-through” all deployed Iranian active and (selected) passive defenses. Of course, it is entirely possible that any heightening of conflict between Israel and Iran resulting from a U.S. first-strike against designated Iranian assets would not quickly escalate to a nuclear dimension. Almost certainly, however, Iran would respond to any such American strikes with damaging ballistic missile attacks on Israel, and would simultaneously activate multiple and massive Hezbollah rocket strikes from Syria or Lebanon.

Reciprocally, Israel could fully activate its comprehensive air defenses, and retaliate – with or without further U.S. support – using long-range air (fighter jet and drone) strikes and/or surface to surface missile strikes. Most likely, in such expectedly opaque circumstances, the IDF would also insert special forces to conduct assorted "high-value" raids. To be sure, if U.S. air forces were to remain engaged against Iran, their vastly superior firepower could leave Iran's military capabilities decimated over a relatively short time frame.

But what if President Trump should decide not to remain so engaged?

Any rational preemptive first strike on Iran would have to be based upon a determined readiness to follow through and fully destroy Iranian offensive capabilities. Correspondingly, this readiness could also involve a tangible capacity and willingness to "decapitate" the Iranian senior leadership. If the U.S. were committed to following through in Iran, Israel would then still have to focus on a massive air campaign, accompanied by a rapid ground offensive against Hezbollah.

But what if President Trump should decide not to follow through?

There is more. For now, it is obvious that Israel has already undertaken some very impressive and original steps to dominate adversarial escalations in any pertinent cyber-defense and cyber-war, but even the most remarkable efforts in this direction might still not be sufficient to stop Iran altogether. For whatever reason, the sanctions leveled at Tehran over the years have had a distinctly measurable economic impact, but they also had no determinable effect in halting Iranian nuclearization, or stopping any associated enhancements of intercontinental ballistic missile testing.[xi]

Related scenarios warrant attention in Jerusalem. A nuclear Iran could decide to share certain nuclear components and materials with Hezbollah, or perhaps with another kindred terrorist group. To prevent this, Jerusalem would need to convince Iran that Israel possesses a range of distinctly usable nuclear options.

In these circumstances, Israeli nuclear ambiguity could be purposefully loosened by releasing very general information regarding the availability and survivability of (appropriately) low-yield weapons.[xii]

Regarding terror-group adversaries, Israel will need to consider the likelihood and corrosive prospects of "hybrid-wars" against various alignments of sub-state enemies,[xiii] and also of state and sub-state foes. In any such mixed-actor conflicts, the deterrent effectiveness of Israel's overall nuclear strategy and doctrine would plausibly be different from what it would be against exclusively sub-state or terrorist opponents. Moreover, a special question for Jerusalem in any such calculations would have to concern the role of nuclear strategy and doctrine against sub-state adversaries,[xiv] and the particular extent to which nuclear and conventional spheres of engagement ought to remain integrated or become more operationally distinct.

In the even larger planning picture, Israeli strategists will need to conceptualize Israel as both a recipient of hybrid warfare attacks, and as its more-or-less recognizable initiator. For both cases, any Trump-Era reluctance to stay-focused on Israeli security needs could prove significant.

Whatever its preferred policy changes of strategic direction, details will count. Israel should now be calculating (vis-à-vis a still prospectively nuclear Iran) the exact extent of subtlety with which it should consider communicating key portions of its nuclear positions. Naturally, Israel should never reveal any very specific information about its nuclear strategy, hardening, or yield-related capabilities. This is an observation hardly worth mentioning, but for the fact that oftentimes, in actual strategic practice, the obvious is misunderstood.

There is more. Any Israeli move from ambiguity to disclosure would not likely help in the case of an irrational nuclear enemy. It is possible that certain elements of Iranian leadership could sometime subscribe to certain end-times visions of a Shiite apocalypse.[xv] By definition, at least, such an enemy would not value its own continued national survival more highly than every other preference, or combination of preferences.

Were its leaders ever to be or become non-rational,[xvi] Iran could effectively resemble – at least in principle – a nuclear suicide-bomber in macrocosm. Such a uniquely destabilizing specter is certainly unlikely,[xvii] but it is not inconceivable. A similarly serious prospect exists in already-nuclear and distinctly coup-vulnerable Pakistan.

What sorts of collaborative protections might be offered to Israel by Donald Trump? Despite the continuous bluster and bravado of the American president, it is obvious that he could become entirely unpredictable or erratic in such circumstances, and actually leave Israel to entirely fend for itself.

To protect itself against military strikes launched by irrational enemies, particularly those attacks that could carry existential costs, Israel will need to reconsider virtually every aspect and function of its nuclear arsenal and doctrine.

Removing the bomb from Israel's basement could enhance Israel's strategic deterrence to the extent that it would heighten enemy perceptions of the severe and likely risks involved. This would also bring to mind the so-called Samson Option, which could better "allow" various enemy decision-makers to note and underscore that Israel is prepared to do whatever is needed to survive.

Irrespective of its preferred level of ambiguity, Israel’s nuclear strategy must always remain correctly oriented toward deterrence, not nuclear war-fighting.[xviii] The Samson Option refers to a policy that would be based in part upon a more-or-less implicit threat of massive nuclear retaliation for certain specific enemy aggressions. Israel’s small size means that any nuclear attack would threaten Israel’s very existence, and could therefore not be tolerated.

A Samson Option would make sense only in “last-resort,” or “near last-resort” circumstances. If the Samson Option is to be part of a credible deterrent, an end to Israel's deliberate ambiguity is essential. The really tough part of this transformational process will be determining the proper timing for such action vis-a-vis Israel’s security requirements, and also pertinent expectations of the international community

The Samson Option should never be confused with Israel’s overriding security objective: that is, to seek stable deterrence at the lowest possible levels of military conflict. Today, after a genuine technical "revolution" in the Israel Air Force, it is arguable that the critical nuclear threshold between prospective adversaries is becoming higher and therefore safer. Although it has yet to be tested on the battlefield, the IAF now has the capacity to strike many thousands of targets over 24 hour periods – every 24 hours – with specially- guided air-to-surface bombs.[xix]

This could be a "game changing" revolution, especially if considered together with IDF stand-off-strike capabilities, and increasingly detailed intelligence. Regarding our present concerns, it could prove especially gainful in the Trump-era.

In our often counter-intuitive strategic world, it can sometimes be rational to pretend irrationality. The precise nuclear deterrence benefits of pretended irrationality would depend, at least in part, upon an enemy state’s awareness of Israel’s intention to apply counter-value targeting when responding to a nuclear attack. But, once again, Israeli decision-makers would need to be wary of releasing too-great a level of specific information.

Also worrisome, of course, is that the hesitant American president could sometime be perceived as profoundly and genuinely irrational, an enemy perception that could then occasion various reciprocal forms of "anticipatory preemption" by Iran. It is also at least logically possible that this president would in fact be irrational, a bewildering prospect that would carry the very highest possible threat outcomes.[xx] Any such "preemption of the preemptor" would have been spawned by the latter's too great "success" in pretending irrationality.[xxi]

In the final analysis, there are specific and valuable critical security benefits that would likely accrue to Israel as the result of a purposefully selective and incremental end to its policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity. The right time to begin such an “end” may not yet have arrived. But at the precise moment that Iran would verifiably cross the nuclear threshold – a moment not likely to be delayed by any ad hoc Trump-Era attempts at dissuasion – Israel should already have configured its optimal allocation of nuclear assets, and the extent to which this particular allocation should now be disclosed.

Such preparation could importantly enhance the credibility of its indispensable nuclear deterrence posture, especially in the intrinsically destabilizing shadow of America's current president.

When it is time for Israel to selectively ease its nuclear ambiguity, a fully-recognizable second-strike nuclear force should be revealed. Any such robust strategic force – hardened, multiplied, and dispersed – would necessarily be fashioned to inflict a decisive retaliatory blow against major enemy cities. Iran, it follows, so long as it is led by rational decision-makers, should be made to understand that the actual costs of any planned aggressions against Israel would always exceed any conceivable gains.

This would not be the time for Israel to proceed in any such matters sotto voce.

To protect itself against potentially irrational nuclear adversaries,[xxii] Israel has no logical alternative to developing a properly pragmatic conventional preemption option. Operationally, especially at this already very late date, there could be no reasonable assurances of any success against multiple hardened and dispersed targets. Regarding deterrence, it is also noteworthy here that “irrational” is not the same as “crazy,” or “mad."

To wit, even an irrational Iranian leadership could still have certain distinct preference orderings that are both consistent and transitive.

Even an irrational leadership could be subject to threats of deterrence that credibly threaten certain deeply held religious as well as public values. The difficulty for Israel will be to ascertain the precise nature of these core enemy values. Should it ever be determined that an Iranian or other enemy nuclear leadership were genuinely “crazy” or “mad,” that is, without any decipherable or predictable ordering of valued preferences, more-usual deterrence bets would then have to give way to residual forms of preemption.

In such complex circumstances, what could Israel expect from US President Donald Trump?

In principle, at least, an Israeli nuclear preemption remains conceivable. Nonetheless, it could realistically be considered only if: (1) Israel's pertinent enemy or enemies had already acquired nuclear or other unconventional weapons presumed capable of destroying the Jewish State; (2) this enemy state or states had made explicit that fully genocidal intentions paralleled their capabilities; (3) this state or states was/were reliably believed ready to commence a final countdown-to-launch; and (4) Israel believed that residual non-nuclear preemptions could not possibly achieve the particular levels of damage-imitation still needed to ensure its most basic national survival.

Naturally, all such vital determinations and calculations are strategic, not jurisprudential. From the discrete standpoint of international law, however, especially in view of Iran’s expressly genocidal threats against Israel,[xxiii] a non-nuclear preemption option could represent a permissible expression of anticipatory self-defense.[xxiv] Still, this purely legal judgment should be kept entirely separate from any parallel or coincident assessments of operational success.

For now, at least, these assessments point overwhelmingly toward the avoidance of any conceivably remaining preemption option.

In the ancient world, Greek and Macedonian soldiers were constantly reminded that war is a matter of "mind over mind," not merely of “mind over matter."[xxv] Today, going forward, Israel must also be reminded that preparing for survival in the increasingly anarchic[xxvi] global "state of nature"[xxvii] is a preeminently intellectual task.[xxviii] A likely but regrettable corollary of this worthy dictum is that U.S. foreign policy in the Trump Era will be increasingly devoid of any serious or well-founded intellectual content.

Taken together, this means, inter alia, a more-or-less historically unique imperative for Israel to fashion its strategic nuclear policies apart from any traditional pledges of reliable American support.[xxix]

When the ancient Athenian leader, Pericles, delivered his first Funeral Speech, at the start of the Peloponnesian War, he wisely cautioned: "What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies is our own mistakes."[xxx] Looking ahead, in Jerusalem, this warning suggests, urgently, not to place any undue confidence in the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump. Although it is expected that this markedly unprepared president will discourage any emergence of "Cold War II," the particular reasons behind this seemingly benign attitude (now under special investigation in the United States) are profoundly worrisome. In Jerusalem, more specifically, this could sometime even mean a historically unique and utterly portentous collaboration between cooperating superpowers against designated vital Israeli security interests.

In other words, if recent past is prologue, US President Donald Trump could sometime prefer to align himself with Moscow against Jerusalem, rather than honor long-standing and often codified American security commitments to Israel.

Should this once-incomprehensible scenario ever be actualized, the already-corrosive "Trump Factor" for Israel's long-term and immediate security will have become more-or-less intolerable. It is assuredly not from Donald Trump, therefore, that Jerusalem should ever come to expect the gainfully stabilizing "wise counsel" prescribed at Proverbs. Rather, such indispensable guidance must stem from the intellectual obligation to continuously assess the region's overall "correlation of forces," a challenging imperative that includes (1) meticulous and comparative examinations of enemy leader rationality; and (2) derivatively needed distinctions that obtain between deliberate and inadvertent war. Moreover, an inadvertent war, whether conventional or nuclear (or both), would need to be further subdivided according to war by accident or war by miscalculation.

Without proper attention to this core imperative, Israel is apt to insufficiently systematize its national defense planning, a strategic dereliction that could sometime occasion distinctly existential costs.

Two further recommendations for maximizing national strength and security arise. First, IDF assessments must continuously consider the changing organization of enemy state units, their training standards, morale, reconnaissance capabilities, battle experience, adaptability to the next battlefield, and cumulative capacities for cyber-war. Although these assessments are not difficult to make on an individual or piecemeal basis, Israeli planners will soon need to more regularly conceptualize them together, in their entirety. Moreover, such an integrative re-conceptualization will have to factor in certain changing expectations of US presidential support.

Second, IDF assessments must consider with very great care the capabilities and intentions of Israel's sub-state adversaries – that is, the entire configuration of anti-Israel terror groups. These groups must be considered "synergistically," in their most holistic expressions, and specifically, as they interrelate with one another vis-à-vis Israel. These terror groups will also need to be examined in terms of their interactive relationships with certain states, an examination involving an IDF search for dominant synergies between hybrid (state and non-state) enemies.

In all such examinations, Jerusalem will have to be sure that all of its sub-state and hybrid adversaries are also seen as enemies by US President Donald Trump. It is at least conceivable, here, that Israel's particular hierarchy of pertinent adversaries is not the same as President Trump's. As an example, it is realistically possible that Mr. Trump would be willing to strengthen Hezbollah in an effort to prioritize continued US destruction of ISIS. Such willingness, moreover, could be driven more by certain presumed expectations of good domestic public relations (and bad geopolitics) than of any sensible strategic policy.

Looking ahead, Jerusalem's most conspicuous existential challenge will likely come from the prospect of "Iran as the next North Korea." To best deal with this challenge, little if anything will be gained from following US President Donald Trump's unsystematic and generally incoherent orientation to Pyongyang. Instead, necessary "wise counsel" for Israel would be better sought in Sun-Tzu's timeless advice about usable military power: "Subjugating the enemy's army without fighting," wisely commented the ancient Chinese strategist in The Art of War, "is the true pinnacle of excellence."

Even apart from the prospect of an Iran that follows in the nuclear footsteps of a North Korea, the latter's policies could have overwhelmingly serious effects upon Israel. These policies, which are apt to be more-or-less strongly influenced by military measures against Pyongyang imposed by US President Donald Trump, would depend in part upon the rationality or irrationality of the North Korean and American leaders, the yields and ranges of the respective weapons actually fired (including nuclear weapons), and the prompt aggregate calculation of civilian and military damage experienced in all the affected areas.

North Korea has already participated directly in the Middle East in ways markedly injurious to Israel. One prominent example is the Al Kibar plutonium-producing heavy water reactor built by Pyongyang in Syria, and subsequently destroyed by Israel's Operation Orchard in September 2007.[xxxi] More recently, in another conspicuous effort to help Damascus, Kim Jung Un has been sending assorted advanced weapons to Syria and Lebanon. Ultimately, of course, such intended assistance to certain Sunni Arab enemies of Israel could also likely support interests of Shiite non-Arab Iran.

Should nuclear weapons ever be introduced into conflict between Israel and Iran, a nuclear war, at one level or another, would ensue, this conclusion holds so long as (a) Iranian first strikes would not destroy Israel's second-strike nuclear capability; (b) Iranian retaliations for an Israeli conventional preemption would not destroy Israel's nuclear counter-retaliatory capability; (c) Israeli preemptive strikes involving nuclear weapons would not destroy enemy state second-strike capabilities; and (d) Israeli retaliations for Iranian conventional first strikes would not destroy Iran's nuclear counter-retaliatory capacity.

This means that in order to fulfill it’s most basic national security obligations, Israel must immediately take appropriate steps to ensure the likelihood of (a) and (b), and the reciprocal unlikelihood of (c) and (d).

This should bring Israeli planners back to considerations of preemption or anticipatory self-defense. This customary right of international jurisprudence had been widely and authoritatively supported before the nuclear age – when the imperatives of preemption were arguably less compelling. Emmerich de Vattel, the classical Swiss scholar, concludes in The Law of Nations (1758): "The safest plan is to prevent evil where that is possible. A nation has the right to resist the injury another seeks to inflict upon it, and to use force and every other just means of resistance against the aggressor."

Interestingly, Vattel, similar to Hugo Grotius in The Law of War and Peace (1625) drew upon ancient Hebrew Scripture and derivative Jewish Law. The Torah contains a provision exonerating from guilt a potential victim of robbery with possible violence if, in capable self-defense, he struck down and, if necessary, even killed the attacker before he committed any crime (Exodus, 22:1). Additionally, we may learn from Maimonides, "If a man comes to slay you, forestall by slaying him." (Rashi, Sanhedrin, 72a).

Although highly unlikely, an Israeli nuclear preemption against Iran is still possible. Such a self-defense strike could be expected only if: (1) Iran had already acquired nuclear and/or other unconventional weapons presumed capable of destroying the Jewish State; (2) Iran had been explicit that fully genocidal intentions paralleled capabilities; (3) Iran was believed ready to begin a final countdown-to-launch; and (4) Israel believed that non-nuclear preemptions could not possibly achieve the particular levels of needed damage-limitation.

For the foreseeable future, these notably ominous expectations are implausible. This means that Israel must do everything possible to minimize any eventuality where such an extraordinary preemption could conceivably make sense, and to blunt any sub-nuclear Iranian aggressions in the region. This could include further Israeli bombardments of certain Syrian military facilities linked to Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons program.

In essence, as the Damascus regime and Hezbollah are surrogates of Tehran, allowing further Syrian chemical weapons development would effectively be enlarging Iranian influence over Israel. Moreover, Israel's security obligations here stem from the de facto abandonment by Washington of its own coincident obligations. Needless to say, at least in a de jure sense, Moscow has been equally delinquent as a "Great Power" guarantor of regional well-being and security.

Traditionally, it should be recalled, Great Powers have always been accorded disproportionate responsibility for world peace and security in the anarchic State of Nations. Jurisprudentially, this "State" is sometimes referred to as "Westphalian," after the 1648 peace settlement that ended the Thirty Year's War.

Accordingly, Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli Chief of Military Intelligence, said that the early September 2017 raid against the Syrian Scientific Research Centre was intended to send three messages: "That Israel won't allow for empowerment and production of strategic arms. Israel intends to enforce its red lines despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them. And that the presence of Russian air defense does not prevent airstrikes attributed to Israel."

General Yadlin's three messages represent more-or-less unambiguous (though possibly unintended) indictments of US President Donald Trump's foreign policy toward Israel. Although message number 2 is the most straightforward in this regard, message number 3 is also an indirect acknowledgment of diminishing American power and influence in the region. A determined self-reliance has always been absolutely integral to Israel's national security posture, but this determination has now become more self-evident and overriding than ever before. It follows, inter alia, that Jerusalem must do whatever is needed to preserve its remaining "strategic depth," and to maintain its credible deterrence in both conventional and nuclear forms.

From time to time, it may also mean that Israel should not only continuously strengthen its variously intersecting missile defenses, but also prepare with exceptional creativity and imagination for all possible future wars that might have to be fought with less support from the United States. Here, it could be helpful to recall that President Trump's security commitments to the Jewish State are not deeply felt, and that any corresponding diminution of support from the US Congress could then provide "cover" for selected American policies of critical "disengagement" from Israel. To the extent that any such recollection would represent an instance of national daring, Jerusalem's relevant decision-makers might also remember the germane insight of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War: "There are times when the utmost daring is the height of wisdom."

In the end, although Israel ought never to de-emphasize the immutable importance of "system" upon all regional and world politics, its leaders must also bear in mind the occasional but still-consequential importance of certain "idiosyncratic" factors. Moving forward, this cautionary note points toward a special and continuing obligation regarding the Trump presidency in the United States. It is a responsibility to fashion all of Israel's national security policies and postures with an awareness of very serious and plausibly irremediable dangers from Washington. Even if President Donald Trump should somehow "mean well" toward Israel, his notable lack of analytic preparation for the presidency portends multiple and intersecting policy judgments[xxxii] without any adequate intellectual foundations.[xxxiii]

Heraclitus tells us: "Men who love wisdom must enquire into very many things."[xxxiv] Before US President Donald Trump can purport to meaningfully understand the pertinent complexities of world politics – an understanding that would not lead allies such as Israel away from enhanced national security – his relevant advisors will need to be vitalized by a more genuine knowledge of strategy. Israel could not possibly be well-served by a policy founded upon the inherently desolate clairvoyance of "common sense" analogies or popular clichés.

Long before the Nuclear Age, capable scholars reasoned coherently about the chaos and uncontrollability of war. While Carl von Clausewitz's notions of "friction" and "fog of war" come most quickly to mind (See On War), Isaiah Berlin has written usefully about Tolstoy, Schopenhauer, and de Maistre.[xxxv] In all such writings, one overarching message is clear: The largely unpredictable vagaries of human conduct can quickly lay waste to the most optimistic military planning. Recognizing US President Trump's conspicuous enchantment with simplistic metaphors and easily falsifiable assumptions,[xxxvi] Jerusalem must now be careful to fashion its presumptive nuclear strategy without any undue reliance upon the United States.

This cautionary imperative is especially compelling because all world politics is inevitably a system. Certain basic strategic mistakes by an American president could quickly and significantly resonate throughout the Middle East. If foolishly trusted in Jerusalem, therefore, President Donald Trump's crude conceptualization of Realpolitik would not only lay bare its own insubstantiality, it could also drag the Jewish State down toward the very nadir of national strategic failure.


[i] See Professor Louis René Beres and General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey, Israel's Nuclear Strategy and America's National Security, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel, December 2016.
[ii] One clear example of such marked incoherence is President Trump's joint declaration with Saudi Arabia against Qatar (alleging the latter "supports terrorism") and the simultaneous sale of billions of dollars worth of advanced weapons to both Riyadh and Doha. Another is his August 2017 coupling of an American threat for "fire and fury" against North Korea with the uncompromising position that "the time for talking is over." In so utterly removing diplomacy from America's remaining options vis-à-vis Kim Jung Un, he leaves North Korea to deconstruct a vague military threat that makes no decipherable operational sense.
[iii] This plainly Realpolitik orientation was clarified by Mr. Trump's National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, in a Wall Street Journal Op Ed piece, published on June 3, 2017. According to McMaster, "President Trump has a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a `global community,' but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage." In an additional emphatic coda, the senior official stipulated proudly: "Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it." For the reader who might have some interest in the political philosophy origins of such "realistic" thinking, see Thrasymachus in Bk. 1, Sec. 338 of Plato, The Republic: "Right is the interest of the stronger."
[iv] 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).
[v] In principle, at least, such intersections need not always be confined to the Middle East, For example, any major conflict in Asia involving the US and North Korea - especially if nuclear weapons are used - could have assorted and significant derivative implications for Israel's own nuclear posture. See, by this author: Louis René Beres, "Between Pyongyang, Washington and Jerusalem: Intersecting Nuclear Nightmares," Israel Defense, August 13, 2017.
[vi] The concept of "synergy" here would concern not only various intersections of national security policy, but also of possible attack outcomes. In this connection, regarding the expected consequences of specifically nuclear attacks, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America's Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1986), See also, more recently: Ami Rojkes Dombe, "What Happens When a Nuclear Bomb Hits a Wall?" Israel Defense, September 10, 2016.
[vii] On best identifying prospective nuclear disclosure options, see: Louis René Beres, "Israel's Strategic Doctrine: Updating Intelligence Community Responsibilities," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 28. No.1., Spring 2015, pp. 89-104.
[viii] On this most ambiguous element of Israeli nuclear deterrence, see: Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral (USN/ret.) Leon "Bud" Edney, "Israel's Nuclear Strategy: A Larger Role for Submarine Basing," The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2014; and Professor Beres and Admiral Edney, "A Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent for Israel," Washington Times, September 5, 2014.
[ix] See, on prospective shortcomings of Israeli BMD: Louis René Beres and (Major-General/IDF/ret.) Isaac Ben-Israel, "The Limits of Deterrence," Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Louis René Beres and M-G Isaac Ben-Israel, "Deterring Iran," Washington Times, June 10, 2007; and Professor Louis René Beres and M-G Isaac Ben-Israel, "Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack," Washington Times, January 27, 2009.
[x] Early in 2017, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) declared initial operational capability for the Arrow-3 interception system, the latest upper-tier layer of the country's multi-tiered missile defense network. Arrow-3, part of the joint US-Israel Arrow Weapons System (AWS) joined Arrow-2, David's Sling and Iron Dome to safeguard Israel against a full spectrum of ballistic missile and rocket threats. For the moment, at least, Israel has been assured $5 billion in missile defense funding from the United States from fiscal year 2019 through fiscal year 2028. Israel's advanced status in matters of ballistic missile defense is augmented by a Battle Management Center (made by Elbit) and a radar detection array (made by IAI/ELTA).
[xi] According to Brig. Gen. Tal Kelman, IAF Chief of Staff: "The region (Middle East) is in a raging storm. Everything is changing. There are some developments in recent months that we would not necessarily have predicted." See Yaakov Lappin: "IAF Very Disturbed by Significant Rise in Ballistic Threat," The Jerusalem Post, April 3, 2016.
[xii] A generally under-appreciated irony of all nuclear deterrence is that the credibility of any particular threat is sometimes apt to vary inversely with expected weapon destructiveness.
[xiii] These sub-state enemies could conceivably be very disparate, a quality that would then need to be factored in as an "intervening variable" in any pertinent IDF assessments of hybrid warfare. For example, see informative analyses by Ehud Eilam concerning Hamas and Hezbollah, in his valuable "The Struggle against Hamas/Hezbollah: Israel's Next Hybrid War," Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 10, No.2., July 2016, p.1.
[xiv] Although seemingly discrete and unrelated, there are actual historical intersections of sub-state terrorist actions against Israel, and certain "corollary" nuclear infrastructures. For one example, this plausible intersection concerns risks to Israel's nuclear reactor complex at Dimona. Already, in 2014, this facility came under missile and rocket fire from Hamas. Even earlier, in 1991, Dimona was attacked by a state enemy, Iraq. See, on these issues: Bennett Ramberg, "Should Israel Close Dimona? The Radiological Consequences of a Military Strike on Israel's Plutonium-Production Reactor?" Arms Control Today, May 2008, pp. 6-13.
[xv] "I believe," warns Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West, "is the one great word against metaphysical fear."
[xvi] Helpful here is the special insight of philosopher Karl Jaspers, in his classic Reason and Existence (1935): "The rational is not thinkable without it’s other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it."
[xvii] It must be remembered, however, that no true statement of probability can ever be offered in the absence of pertinent past events. A true statement would have to be based upon the determinable frequency of relevant past events. By definition, in this case, such a requirement is literally impossible to satisfy. Still the best treatment of problematic probability estimations in strategic thinking is Anatol Rapoport, Strategy and Conscience (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), 323 pp.
[xviii] This cautionary point was a major conclusion of The Final Report of Project Daniel: Israel's Strategic Future, ACPR Policy Paper No. 155, ACPR, Israel, May 2004, 64pp. See also: Louis René Beres, "Facing Iran's Ongoing Nuclearization: A Retrospective on Project Daniel," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 22, Issue 3, June 2009, pp. 491-514; and Louis René Beres, "Israel's Uncertain Strategic Future," Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College, Vol. XXXVII, No.1., Spring 2007, pp. 37-54.
[xix] Aryeh Savir, Tazpit, ‘IAF to increase operational capabilities by 400%,” Ynet News, 31 March 2014,,7340,L-4525786,00.html
[xx] On this point, see August 23, 2016 article by Professor Louis René Beres in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, See also, Professor Beres in US News & World Report:
[xxi] Many years ago, then Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan, urged: "Israel must be seen as a mad dog, too dangerous to bother." The reasonableness of that advice, however, does not automatically "carry over" to any current endorsement of an American president (and presumptive Israeli ally) feigning decisional irrationality.
[xxii] On deterring a potentially irrational nuclear adversary, most notably Iran, see: Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, "Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?" The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, "Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour," Oxford University Press (OUP Blog). February 23, 2012. General Chain (USAF/ret.) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).
[xxiii] War and genocide need not be mutually exclusive. War may represent the means by which a particular genocide is undertaken. According to Articles II and III of the Genocide Convention, which entered into force on January 12, 1951, genocide includes any of several listed acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such." See: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, done at New York, December 9, 1948. Entered into force, Jan 12, 1951, 78 UNTS 277.
[xxiv] For early scholarly assessments of anticipatory self-defense, with special reference to Israel, by this author, 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, November 1991, pp. 1-24.
[xxv] See, on this vital distinction: F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), especially Chapter IV.
[xxvi] This actual condition of global anarchy or "nature" exists in stark contrast to the legal presumption of solidarity between all states. This "peremptory" presumption is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, Le Droit des Gens (1758).
[xxvii] The historic origins of this global anarchy lay in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years' War - the last of the great religious wars sparked by the Reformation. The "state of nature" reference has its origins in Thomas Hobbes" Leviathan (1651), first published just three years after the Peace of Westphalia. At Chapter XIII, Hobbes famously references the state of nature as an anarchic condition in which there prevails "a continuall feare; and danger of violent death...."
[xxviii] Rabbi Eleazar quoted Rabbi Hanina, who said: "Scholars build the structure of peace in the world." See: Babylonian Talmud, Order Zera'im, Tractate Berakoth, IX.
[xxix] To best satisfy this critical imperative, Israeli strategists must always be guided by dialectical sorts of analysis. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic first emerged as the preferred form of scientific investigation. Plato defines the dialectician as the one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions. In preparing to secure their country during the expectedly erratic Trump Era, Israeli planners will need to recognize this core expectation before proceeding to the more usual compilations of facts, figures, orders of battle, and regional balances of power.
[xxx] See H.G. Edinger, Thucydides, The Speeches of Pericles (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishers, 1979), p. 17.
[xxxi] See, by Louis René Beres:
[xxxii] For a refined deductive theory that deals in general terms with leadership risk-tasking and the consequent probabilities of war, see Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, The War Trap (New Haven Ct: Yale University Press, 1981).
[xxxiii] Although Mr. Trump's advisors have sought to anchor the president's purported "realism" in H.R. McMaster's idea of classical Realpolitik (see June 3, 2017 Op Ed in Wall Street Journal by General McMaster), the effort lacks any true intellectual understanding. Niccolo Machiavelli joined Aristotle's earlier plan for a more scientific study of politics with certain assumptions about power-politics (see The Prince, especially Chapter XV), but his proposed fusion revealed another basic and altogether integral insight. It is that there exists a core difference between violence and power, and that ostentatiously accelerating belligerent preparations and verbal threats are not per se purposeful. For a more generic assessment of such conceptual issues, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass: D C Heath and Com., 1984), 143pp. (This early book includes an Introduction by Elie Wiesel.) On essential differences between violence and power, see also: Hannah Arendt, On Violence (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World), 1970, p.3.
[xxxiv] Fragment No. 49.
[xxxv] See Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957).
[xxxvi] We should be reminded here of Ludwig Wittgenstein's important insight from On Certainty: "Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry...."