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Israel’s survival in the midst of growing chaos

By Louis René Beres


Nowadays, chaotic disintegration seems widely evident in world politics, especially in the visibly-fragmenting Middle East. What does it mean to live with a constant and unavoidable awareness of such fracturing? This vital question should be asked everywhere on earth, but most urgently in Israel.

For the Jewish State, an expanding shroud of anarchy may portend a special sort of vulnerability. Inevitably, Israel, the individual Jew in macrocosm, could become the world’s principal victim of any further deterioration and disorder. Given the natural interrelatedness of world politics, even the precipitating events of war, terror, and genocide could occur elsewhere.

Ultimately, bombs may fly conspicuously over Syria and Iran, but the most severe consequences could be experienced not in Damascus or Tehran, but in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.

Chaos, however, can be instructive. In a strange and paradoxical symmetry, even sorely palpable disintegrations can reveal determinable sense and form. Spawned by carefully rehearsed explosions of large-scale conflict and related crimes against humanity, the diminution of any residual world authority processes could display a discernible shape. How exactly should this eccentric geometry of chaos be correctly deciphered by Israel, and also by its generally reluctant allies in Washington?

Always the world, like the many individual countries that comprise it, is best understood as a system. It follows that what happens in any one part of this world, must affect, differentially, of course, what happens in all or several of the other parts. When a particular deterioration is marked, the corollary effects can undermine regional and global stability. When a deterioration is sudden and catastrophic, the perilously unraveling effects could be immediate and overwhelming.

Recognizing that any rapid and far-reaching collapse of order could occasion a substantial or even complete return to “everyone for himself” dynamics in world politics — what the seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, had called a “war of all against all” — Israel’s leaders must consider how they would best respond to imperiled national life in a crumbling “state of nature.”

As we are well aware, especially from urgent current news coming out of the Middle East, any such consideration is prima facie reasonable. It is all the more critical, to the extent that a decisive triggering mechanism of collapse could originate from certain direct attacks upon Israel. These potent aggressions could be chemical, biological, or ultimately nuclear. Moreover, pertinent prohibitions of international law would likely be of little protective benefit.

The flea market in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Ester Inbar, available from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:ST, via Wikimedia Commons.
The flea market in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Ester Inbar, available from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:ST, via Wikimedia Commons.

Any chaotic disintegration of the larger international system, whether slow and incremental, or sudden and catastrophic, will impact the Israeli system. In the most obvious manifestation of this predictable impact, Israel will have to orient its core strategic planning to a nuanced variety of worst-case scenarios. Analytic focus would be more on the entire range of conceivable self-help security options than on any more traditionally-favored kinds of alliance guarantees.

Diplomatic processes premised on assumptions of reason and rationality will soon have to be reconsidered, and reimagined. Israel’s judgments about any “Peace Process” or “Road Map” expectations will not become less important, but they will need to be made in evident consequence of anticipated world-system changes. From the standpoint of Israel’s overall security, any such reorientation of planning, from anticipations of largely separate and unrelated threats, to presumptions of interrelated or “synergistic” dangers, would provide a badly-needed framework for strategic decision. Should Israel’s leaders react to a presumptively unstoppable anarchy in world affairs, by hardening their commitment to national self-reliance, including certain preemptive military force, Israel’s enemies could surely respond, individually or collectively, in similarly “self-reliant” ways.

There are crucial and tangibly complex feedback implications of this “creation in reverse.” By likening both the world as a whole, and their beleaguered state in particular, to the concept of system, Israel’s leadership could finally learn, before it is too late, that states can die for different reasons. Following a long-neglected but still-promising Spenglerian paradigm of civilizational decline, these states can fall apart and disappear not only because of any direct, mortal blow, but also in combined consequence of distinctly less than mortal blows. Minor insults and impediments can incrementally prove fatal, either by affecting the organism’s overall will to live, or by making it possible for a more corrosively major insult to take effect.

Taken individually, Israel’s past and future surrenders of land, its understandable reluctance to accept certain life-saving preemption options, and its still-misdirected negotiation of peace agreements, may not bring about the end. Taken together, however, these insults occurring within a substantially wider pattern of chaos and anarchy could have a weakening effect on the Israeli organism. Whether the principal effect would be one that impairs the Jewish State’s will to endure, or one that could actually open Israel up to a devastating missile attack, or to a calamitous act of terror, remains plainly unclear.

Israel must ask itself the following authentically basic question. What is the true form and meaning of chaos in world politics, and how should this shifting geometry of disintegration affect our national survival strategy? The answers, assuredly, will come from imaginative efforts at a self-consciously deeper understanding of small state power obligations, especially in a worsening condition of Nature.

In the final analysis, such existential obligations will be reducible to various improved methods of national self-reliance, including assorted preparations for deterrence, preemption, and absolutely every identifiable form of war-fighting. For Israel, among other things, this will mean steady enhancements of ballistic missile defense, and also recognizable movements away from the country’s increasingly antiquated posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity.

For Israel, in particular, further chaotic disintegration in world politics could soon offer a profoundly serious challenge. If this challenge is correctly accepted in Jerusalem, as an intellectual rather than political effort, the beleaguered country’s necessary strategies of national survival will stand a better chance of achieving success.

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. He was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II. Read his previous articles for the OUPblog.

If you are interested in the subject of world politics, you may be interested in Rethinking World Politics: A Theory of Transnational Neopluralism by Philip G. Cerny. Cerny explains that contemporary world politics is subject to similar pressures from a wide variety of sub- and supra-national actors, many of which are organized transnationally rather than nationally.

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