Core Synergies in Israels Strategic Planning when the Adversarial Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

June 9, 2015

6 min read

Louis Rene Beres

To best serve Israel, the country’s strategic studies community should favor more conceptual or “molecular” assessments of expected security perils. Going forward therefore, it will not suffice for this community to operate in ways that are roughly comparable to the purely reportorial activities of journalists and pundits, that is, of ordinary observers who focus exclusively on current personalities and events. With this timely warning in mind, the following brief essay explains and argues for a specifically enhanced Israeli consideration of enemy “synergies.”

For the most part, the concept of synergy is already familiar to capable scientists and scholars. It signifies, above all, that the usually binding axioms of geometry can sometimes be overridden by various intersecting phenomena. Applied to Israel, this concept suggests that certain identifiable threats to the Jewish State should no longer be considered as wholly separate or discrete, but instead, as more-or-less interpenetrating and mutually-reinforcing.

The most obvious and portentous example of pertinent synergy for Jerusalem is represented by Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian statehood.[1]

At first, any such talk of “synergy” may sound needlessly pretentious, or at least more contrived, concocted, or complicated than is really the case. In medicine, after all, it would already seem plain that the dangers of smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol together must exceed either one behavior without the other. This is because the synergistic effect is presumptively much greater than those consequences ascertained by merely adding these two injurious activities together.

For Israeli planners, the still-widely-unrecognized synergy between Iranian nuclearization and “Palestine” should finally be treated with a more emphatic intellectual regard.[2] Notwithstanding the declared assumptions of virtually all acknowledged national strategists, Iran and Palestine,[3] as “negative force multipliers,”[4] do not represent thoroughly separate or unrelated hazards to Israel. To continue to assess each one independently of the other would be a serious conceptual error. It would be to consciously obscure what is potentially most revealing and most ominous.

Israel’s main security policies must involve carefully nuanced considerations of active defense, as well as of deterrence, preemption, and war-fighting. The country’s multilayered missile defenses are central to national survival. As long as incoming rocket aggressions from Gaza, West Bank, and/or Lebanon (Hezbollah) were to remain “only” conventional, the inevitable leakage could still be tolerable. But once these rockets were fitted with chemical and/or biological materials, such porosity could quickly prove “unacceptable.[5] This means, among other things, that the projected harms of rocket attacks upon Israel would depend not only upon the inherent dangers posed by a particular weapon system, but also upon the ways in which these individual harms would intersect.[6]

Once facing Iranian nuclear missiles, Israel’s “Arrow” ballistic missile defense system would require a fully 100% reliability of interception. To achieve any such level of reliability, however, would be impossible. Now, assuming that the prime minister has already abandoned any residual hopes for a cost-effective eleventh-hour preemption against pertinent Iranian nuclear assets , this means that Israeli defense planners must prepare instead, and longer-term, for stable deterrence.[7]

Theory is a net. Only those who cast, can catch.[8] Because of the expectedly corrosive interactive effects involving Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian statehood, for example, Israel will need to update and refine its existing theories of deterrence.

Looking ahead, there are various antecedent issues of theoretical concern. For one, Israel’s leaders will have to accept that certain more-or-less identifiable leaders of prospectively overlapping enemies might not necessarily satisfy the complex criteria of rational behavior in world politics. In such partially improbable but still conceivable circumstances, assorted Jihadist adversaries in Palestine, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, or elsewhere might sometime refuse to renounce certain still-contemplated aggressions against Israel.[9]

By definition, these irrational enemies could exhibit such more-or-less plausible refusals even in anticipation of fully devastating Israeli reprisals. But, would they still remain subject to alternative threats or forms of deterrence? And might an entire state sometime exhibit such non-rational orientations, thereby becoming, in essence, a suicide terrorist writ large?

These utterly core questions can no longer be ignored. Sooner rather than later, and facing new and prospectively incalculable synergies from Iranian and Palestinian aggressions, Israel will need to take appropriate steps to assure that: (1) it does not become the object of any non-conventional attacks from these enemies; and (2) it can successfully deter all possible forms of non-conventional conflict. To meet this ambitious but indispensable goal, Jerusalem, inter alia, absolutely must retain its recognizably far-reaching conventional superiority in pertinent weapons and capable manpower, including effective tactical/operational control over the Jordan Valley.

In this connection, a Palestinian state could make Israeli military and civilian targets more opportune for Iranian rockets. It could simultaneously undermine the Jewish State’s critical early-warning systems.

Maintaining a qualitative edge in conventional war-fighting capacity could reduce Israel’s overall likelihood of ever actually having to enter into a chemical, biological, or even nuclear exchange with regional adversaries. Correspondingly, Israel should plan to begin to move incrementally beyond its increasingly perilousposture of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.”[10] By preparing to shift toward prudently selective and partial kinds of “nuclear disclosure” – in other words, by getting ready to take its “bomb” out of the “basement,” but in carefully controlled phases[11] – Israel could best ensure that its relevant enemies will remain sufficiently subject to Israeli nuclear deterrence.

In matters of defense strategy, truth may emerge through paradox. Israeli planners, it follows, may soon have to acknowledge that the efficacy and credibility of their country’s nuclear deterrence posture could sometime vary inversely with enemy perceptions of Israeli nuclear destructiveness. However ironic or counter-intuitive, enemy views of a too-large or too-destructive Israeli nuclear deterrent force, or of an Israeli force that is not sufficiently invulnerable to first-strike attacks,[12] could substantially undermine this deterrence posture.

Here, too, carving “Palestine” out of the still-living body of Israel (what amounts to the unhidden Palestinian Authority plan for a “one state solution”), could impact the Iranian nuclear threat, and vice-versa. Once again, Israel’s defense planning must account for possible and prospectively prohibitive synergies.

Also critical, of course, is that Israel’s current and future adversaries will always acknowledge the Jewish State’s nuclear retaliatory forces as “penetration capable.” This suggests forces that will seem “assuredly capable” of penetrating any Arab or Iranian aggressor’s active defenses. Naturally, a new state of Palestine would be non-nuclear itself, but it could still present a new “nuclear danger” to Israel by its probable impact upon the prevailing regional “correlation of forces.”[13] Palestine, therefore, could represent an indirect but nonetheless markedly serious nuclear threat to Israel. Here, yet again, is an example of the need for Israeli planners to think synergistically.

More remains to be done. Israel should continue to strengthen its active defenses, but Jerusalem must also do everything possible to improve each critical and interpenetrating component of its nuanced deterrence posture. In this bewilderingly complex and dialectical[14] process of strategic dissuasion, the Israeli task may require more incrementally explicit disclosures of nuclear targeting doctrine, and, accordingly, a steadily expanding role for cyber-defense and cyber-war.

Even before undertaking such delicately important refinements, Israel will need to more systematically differentiate between adversaries that are presumablyrational,[15] irrational, or “mad.”[16]

Overall, the success of Israel’s national deterrence strategies will be contingent, inter alia, upon an informed prior awareness of enemy preferences, and of specific enemy hierarchies of preferences. In this connection, altogether new and open-minded attention will need to be focused on the seeming emergence of “Cold War II” between Russia and the United States. Any such emergence, of course, could have meaningful effects upon both Israeli and adversarial military postures.[17]

If, within a pattern of “Cold War II,” a newly-formalized state of Palestine does not find itself in the same ideological orbit as Iran, the net hazard to Israel could still exceed the sum of relevant intersecting threats. While attempting to survive amid growing regional disorder, therefore, Israel’s leaders should learn to understand the profound strategic limits of normal “geometry”—where, quite mundanely, the whole is always expected to equal to the sum of its parts—and to augment an enhanced understanding with certain new geometric orthodoxies. In essence, these decision-makers will then need to explore and acknowledge what amounts, paradoxically, to a geometry of chaos.

Still, even this long-hidden geometry could reveal a discernible sense of symmetry and form, including the precise shape of certain critically interwoven enemy threats. Wherever the belligerent whole might add up to more than the sum of its constituent parts, Israel’s leaders could discover lethal hazards of adversarial synergies. Significantly, the most insidious synergy of all could involve a rudimentary failure to understand that belligerent enemy intentions ultimately depend for their efficacy upon confused, partial, or inadequately thoughtful Israeli responses.

When Pericles delivered his famous Funeral Oration, with its meticulously elaborate praise of Athenian civilization, his geostrategic perspective was applicable to more than the particular struggle at hand. Recorded by Thucydides, Pericles had expressed confidence in a military victory for Athens (a confidence, of course, that turned out to be misplaced), but also grave concern for any self-imposed limitations along the way: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies,” he had warned, “is our own mistakes.” However unforeseen, there is a vital lesson here for present-day Israel: In observing enemy preparations for war and terror, never forget that the ultimate success of these preparations will depend upon Israel’s selected responses.

There exists an overarching or determinative synergy between certain individual or intersecting enemy preparations and Israel’s own prepared policies and reactions.

In all world politics, but especially in the Middle East, we are present at the gradual unveiling of a “big picture,” but the nucleus of meaning—the essential truth of what is taking place—involves what is left out. For the foreseeable future, Israel’s enemies will continue with their ardent preparations for every form of war and terrorism. Unaffected by any civilizing expectations of international law of comity, these calculated preparations will proceed largely on their own track, culminating, if left suitably unobstructed, in new and ever more serious aggressions against Israel. The Jewish State must remain vigilant of such an emergent “big picture,” but also of every imaginable intersection or pattern of intersections between its component parts.

Always, Israel’s leaders and planners must reflect, core dangers to national security are profoundly synergistic.

Always, Israeli policy must recall, these fundamental dangers are potentially much greater than the additive sum of their  respective parts.

Always, Jerusalem must insightfully recognize, even a bewildering geometry of chaos has potentially meaningful sense and form.

Always, it must be Israel’s consuming task, to discover this synergistic truth.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Harvard Law School National Security Journal

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