All Writings
February 11, 1989

Israel’s Pre-Emptive Strategy and Peace

In the wake of the recent "discovery" of a chemical weapons plant in Libya and a biological weapons plant in Iraq, the need for Israel's pre-emptive strategy and maintenance of military superiority has now come into renewed focus.

The chemical weapons stockpiled in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, and soon in Iran and Libya, along with long range missiles that can carry conventional, chemical or biological warheads, have altered dramatically the military balance in the Middle East and how future wars may be fought.

Israel has been watching the rapidly changing military equation with alarm. Accordingly, Israel began a systematic revision of its military doctrine, which now, more so than at anytime before, focuses on pre-emptive strategy and maintaining clear military superiority.

For more than two decades, Israel has maintained nuclear ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying the possession of a stockpile or its ability to quickly assemble nuclear weapons.

The Israelis reason that while such ambiguity serves as deterrence, it will not force the Arab states to obtain their own nuclear weapons.

Israel's pre-emptive strike on nuclear plants in Baghdad, Iraq five years ago provided a clear signal to the Arab world that Israel will not capitulate under the threat of nuclear weapons nor allow its "nuclear edge" to diminish.

To strengthen their regional power base and offset Israel's nuclear capability, which has become more evident over the last few years, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and now Libya have turned to manufacturing and stockpiling chemical weapons (the poor nations' nuclear weapons).

Moreover, the ability of these countries in the near future to mount chemical or even biological weapons on long-range missiles seriously eroded Israel's nuclear deterrent strategy.

What worries Israel is that while it views nuclear weapons as a deterrence to be used only as a last resort when its very survival is at stake, the Arab states are known to have used chemical weapons with devastating effect.

Iraq used poison gas against Iran and against its own people, the Kurds, and Egypt used a similar agent against South Yemen.

Israel, which continues to enjoy overall military superiority, believes that it was the country's military preponderance that eventually forced moderate Arab states to come to terms with its existence and that only continued military superiority coupled with a pre-emptive strategy will bring the remaining Arab extremists to heel. The growing consensus among Arab leaders, however, is that Israel cannot maintain its military superiority indefinitely.

Now that the mainstream Arab states are more disposed to peace than at any time before, Israel might benefit if it abandoned its effort to maintain military superiority. Mutual deterrence and a comprehensive peace settlement, they reason, should provide the basis for the future Arab-Israeli relationship.

Israel, though, does not believe that the Arab states have yet reached the political maturity and discipline to maintain a strategy of mutual deterrence or "assured mutual destruction."

Israel's national security considerations go beyond any immediate peace. Israel's historical perspective and experience with the Arab states offer little comfort. As long as there arc Arab states such as Libya, and factions such as the Abu Nidal group, which are bent on Israel's destruction, most Israelis would not trade territory for a mere peace agreement.

As a result, the Israelis insist on maintaining not only military superiority, but also seek an ironclad guarantee from the superpowers even after they have achieved a comprehensive peace agreement.

The rationale behind Israel's insistence is based on:
* The lack of territorial depth in the West Bank that would provide a buffer zone.
* Limited human and material resources, which inhibit prolonged wars and increase the need for a pre-emptive strategy.
* The possession of chemical and biological weapons and long range missiles by Arab extremists.
* The diminishing return of Israel's nuclear ambiguity and the limitations of its nuclear strategy.
* The Middle East's political volatility and lack of political maturity that makes long range adherence to an agreement questionable.

Since "assured survival" rather than "assured mutual destruction" must be pursued, the "new" Israeli military doctrine continues to emphasize the maintenance of overall military superiority but with a greater reliance on a pre-emptive strategy. To achieve that, Israel has:
* Expanded intelligence gathering (including spy satellites) to monitor military activities and the development of new weapons facilities throughout the Arab world.
* Prepared to strike targets, such as terrorist training camps, ammunition dumps and especially missile sites, anywhere in the Middle East before they are deployed.
* Developed the technology to deploy anti-ballistic missiles that would intercept incoming missiles.
* Devised a strategy that would shorten the length of any armed conflict to days, if not hours.
* Decided that should a peace agreement finally be achieved Israel will still seek international guarantees and perhaps a defense treaty with the United States.

Naturally, the Arab states oppose Israel's strategy and reject its position on what constitutes security guarantees. They view absolute security for Israel as absolute insecurity for them.

Thus, the Arab states see chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and quantitative military hardware as peace inducements that will eventually persuade Israel to be more flexible on territorial issues and accept the strategy of mutual deterrence.

Israel, however, sees peace as only phase one in the development of a relationship with the Arab world. It might be another generation or two before a comprehensive, genuine and lasting peace can be attained.

Until then, Israeli leadership reasons, it will have to rely on military superiority and pre-emptive strategy while the search for peace continues.