Peace is the wrong strategy
By Avigdor Haselkorn
Jerusalem Post, Jan 1, 2001

    Instead of trying to put the peace process back on track, Israeli leaders should rethink the country's strategic doctrine. This is because reaching political accords with the frontline Arab states and the Palestinians was never meant just to bring peace, but to improve Israel's national security in the face of new strategic threats.

    In the minds of its originators Shimon Peres and the late Yitzhak Rabin, the peace initiative was intended to cope with the growing threat of Arab missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction. The inability to stop such weapons from reaching Israel meant that a political solution became essential. Israel would thus defuse the risk that it could become a target.

    Rabin announced his thesis on Israel's "window of opportunity" fresh on the heels of the Iraqi missile attacks during the Gulf War. Israel had a "window of two to five years" before the favorable strategic environment after the war vanished, and new existential threats emerged.

    Peres wrote in September 1991 that "in the era of non- conventional missiles it is not enough to defend the frontiers encompassing the state but [regional] relations must be established which will contribute to maximum security." Ehud Barak openly subscribed to this approach. Now in view of the ongoing war with the Palestinians it is apparent that, even if an accord is finally reached, the most which could be expected is a cold peace. At worst, a new Palestinian state would be a constant source of irredentism, incitement, and tension endangering Israel's relations with the rest of the Arab world. Thus, instead of the peace fulfilling its strategic mission of enhancing Israel's security vis-a-vis the new threats, it would have a marginal impact at best.

    The deal could even run counter to its designated strategic objective. Dramatic territorial concessions now would not only erode Israel's deterrent image, since it would appear that Israel has yielded to violence, but the country's vulnerability would increase.

    An agreement could thus actually increase the Arab incentive to attack. As a new Arab-Israeli war would likely heighten the threat of weapons of mass destruction to Israel, it follows that Israel must reassess the role of peace in its defense thinking. At a minimum, it should offer much lower prices for reaching a deal, given that Israel's central strategic rationale for it has been undermined.

    THE OTHER components of Israel's strategic doctrine, such as deterrence, would need revision as well. In his book The New Middle East, Peres advocated a political solution because "The concept of deterrence that would be relevant to [the combination of nuclear weapons and extremist ideology] deviates so sharply from what would be tolerable to the rest of humanity that the outcome is hard to imagine." Ironically, it is the peace process that has threatened to realize Peres's nightmare.

    Israel adopted a policy of military restraint to facilitate the negotiations. But this approach severely undermined Israel's deterrent image. Worse yet, the push to reach a final status agreement helped transform the conflict into a quasi-religious war where the liquidation of the Jewish state is openly sanctioned. Finally, the Palestinian leadership's calls for martyrdom may signal that the "deviant" behavior Peres feared is becoming the regional norm.

    Contrary to Peres's hopes, the nuclear race did not abate either. If peace is meant to prevent a mass destruction attack, it follows that those hampering it may be seeking a pretext to strike Israel. In this regard, Iran's active efforts to derail a Palestinian-Israeli deal while seeking nuclear weapons are especially worrisome. Israel, therefore, must reenergize its strategic deterrence policy. It must be seen as an aggressive and unpredictable power fully committed to using all means at its disposal to block threats to its survival. After the Gulf War, then US defense secretary Les Aspin ordered a review of America's nuclear strategy to cope with "un-deterrable regimes."

    Subsequently, in 1995 an advisory panel to the US Strategic Air Command said America should not appear too rational or cool-headed in dealing with rogues. It would be beneficial if "some [of the US national defense] elements appear potentially out of control." Indeed, "part of the national persona we project should be that the US may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked."

    A year later, then US secretary of defense William Perry issued a veiled nuclear threat to stop Libya from commissioning a new chemical weapons plant. Israel, on the other hand, sought to deal with the post-Gulf War threats by employing peace as an element of strategic defense. The effort failed miserably. It is high time Israel downplays the diplomatic effort in favor of unilateral means to assure its survival.

(c) Jerusalem Post 2001

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