‘Before the Storm’ — For Israel, Existential Benefits of a Time-Advantaged War With Iran Commentary
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‘Before the Storm’ — For Israel, Existential Benefits of a Time-Advantaged War With Iran

“That calm before the storm, when the aggressor is gathering new forces for a great blow, is most dangerous for the defender.”

Carl von Clausewitz, On War

A Gathering of New Forces

Whether with contrived enthusiasm or calculated strategy, Iran is “gathering new forces for a great blow” against Israel. For the moment, at least, this means a resumption of direct war with Israel. This time around, however, the conflict could be protracted and also coincide with de facto creation of an irredentist Palestinian state.[1] Most worrisome would be a war in which Iran was “already nuclear.” It follows from such interrelated expectations that Israel would be best served by waging any re-started war against a still pre-nuclear national enemy.

How, more specifically, should Jerusalem proceed? What steps and calculations could best ensure the tiny state’s survival? In this connection, it ought never to be overlooked that Israel is less than half the size of America’s Lake Michigan.

What about “simply”[2] avoiding further war with Iran, any war and in any form? In the best of all possible worlds, such avoidance would represent the preferred Israeli option, but this is not yet the “best of all possible worlds.” Accordingly, Israeli thinkers and planners will have to choose their country’s best available strategies from a widening range of determinably bad options. In the final analysis, this should mean choosing to wage war against Iran before that jihadist adversary could “become nuclear.”[3]

Though counter-intuitive, it would not be gainful or cost-effective for Israel to delay new rounds of direct warfare with Iran.[4] In present and foreseeable circumstances, Iranian war-avoidance per se could represent a literally irrational choice for the Jewish State. To be sure, even war with a still non-nuclear Iran could be costly to Israel in blood and treasure, but these costs would pale beside the expected consequences of a genuine nuclear war.[5]

Presently, Israel’s survival vulnerabilities are daunting and unprecedented. Because its Iranian foe is (1) in the final stages of “going nuclear;” and is (2) openly genocidal toward Israel (i.e., displaying mens rea or “criminal intent” at its existential extreme), Jerusalem will soon have to choose an optimal timeline for preemptive military action. Prima facie, any such carefully calibrated action would have to be undertaken before the resumption of direct war with Iran or during such a conflict. Because a pre-conflict preemption would be a difficult to justify as a “bolt-from-the-blue” attack, Israel should fully understand the comparative advantages of an intra-war defensive strike. Linguistically, in terms of authoritative international law, such a strike would be an example of “anticipatory self-defense.”[6]

For Israel, avoiding war with Iran ought not to be considered a reasonable strategic objective as such. Under present and expected circumstances, a conventional war against this recalcitrant and steadily-nuclearizing foe could offer Israel its best last chance to avoid an Islamic nuclear adversary with explicit “martyrdom” elements. Though a conventional war between Israel and Iran could still produce significant casualties and massive destruction, even these costs would pale in comparison to a nuclear conflict.[7] This is the case, moreover, even if only “small” (low-yield) nuclear weapons were involved.

The Primacy of Avoiding Nuclear War

For Israel, the axiomatic or first principle of any purposeful Iran strategy should be nuclear war avoidance. In any delineated hierarchy of national military objectives, no other national security goal could even come close. For the moment, at least, Israel’s presumptive nuclear deterrence posture should be oriented toward a non-nuclear Iran. Among other things, this orientation would intend to keep Iran non-nuclear as long as possible.

What are the pertinent particulars? Variously specific adjustments and clarifications of Israel’s deterrence posture should be focused on essential (a) weapons (both offensive and defensive); (b) weapon system infrastructures; and (c) tangible correlates of threat credibility. Regarding this last requirement, Israel will need to calculate optimal equilibrium points between “escalation dominance” and “conflict management.” Nonetheless, because certain relevant scenarios would be without any precedent (sui generis), Israeli decision makers could never determine the scientific accuracy and utility of associated strategic calculations.

There is more. Increasingly specific questions will need to be raised and answered in Jerusalem[8] – sequentially and dialectically.[9] How should these complex intellectual operations actually proceed?

In partial reply, a revealing expression of the world’s current balance-of-power[10] could be aptly summarized as “Cold War II.” This is not because an implicit US-Russia-China dynamic is immediately critical per se or more determinative than the still-prevailing structure of global anarchy bequeathed at the Peace of Westphalia (1648),[11] but because such rivalry has become “tri-polar.” China, with its intersecting links to Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, is already a major actor in the dissembling Middle East. Such links, moreover, would involve certain “peremptory” considerations of authoritative international law.[12]

For planners of Israeli nuclear strategy, US-Russia-China antagonisms should be studied as a partial but relevant context for evaluating Israel’s major weapon systems and nuclear threat credibility. In constant flux, such system-defining antagonisms are changing in foreseeable and unforeseeable ways. One obvious and ominous example of these mutations would be adversarial preparations for nuclear warfighting.[13]

There will be further details. Superpower antagonisms, whether tempered or buffered by international law, could become vital for Israeli nuclear deterrence. At some point, these primary antagonisms could be impacted by a “biological variable” (disease pandemic). In principle, at least, asymmetrical levels of success in dealing with any future pandemic outcomes could render one side or another more or less aggressive.[14] Accurate recognition of such determinative asymmetries could represent an unexpectedly important part of Israel’s calculable “strategic equation.”

Much more will need to be examined. A great deal will depend on the precise manner in which a resurrected and China-augmented Cold War rivalry (“Cold War II”) could impact Israel’s strategic calculus and the underlying foundations of Israel’s strategic posture. Ultimately, to the extent discoverable, this manner would depend in part on Jerusalem’s and Tehran’s geopolitical power alignments with Russia, the United States, China and/or North Korea. Because these particular alignments would be multiple, overlapping and potentially synergistic,[15] Israel’s strategic calculations would be correspondingly complex.

Prior to undertaking such bewildering considerations, Israel will need to advance informed predictions regarding the expected rationality or non-rationality of each tri-polar nuclear power[16] and the reasonably expected interactions/synergies. About the first concern, Israel’s strategic planners ought to bear continuously in mind the special wisdom of German philosopher Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Existence (1935): “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.”

Everything Is Simple, But….

“Everything is very simple in war,” counsels Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but even the simplest thing is difficult.” This generally useful insight remains persuasively valid not only during periods of active military conflict, but also in those unsteady periods of latent hostility that obtain between certain still-possible or still-impending wars of aggression.[17]

Israeli analysts and decision-makers will also need to take more specific heed of future pandemic prospects, a variable that could prove determinative for several reasons, including its potentially plausible effects upon national decisional rationality. These effects would need to be explored among friends as well as foes and could make each adversarial party (state, sub-state or “hybrid”) wary of the others’ “pretended irrationality.” In essence, this “pandemic variable” could make “normally” complex decisional calculations even denser and more difficult to decipher.

There is more. In such existential matters, history will deserve conspicuous pride of place. The idea that considerations of operational difficulty may obtain “only” during a “cold war” was already described by seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. In Leviathan, this foundational political thinker (and one widely read by founding fathers of the United States, especially Thomas Jefferson) opines that a condition of war exists not only during periods of “actual fighting,” but also when there exists “a known disposition thereto.” Today, such a perilous “disposition” is easily recognizable between Israel and Iran. In classical Hobbesian terms, Israel and Iran are in a “state of war.”

Jewish Historical Background and an Israeli Preemption Against Iran

Ironically, perhaps, current issues of ongoing or protracted war between Israel and Iran have deep legal roots in ancient Israel. According to Grotius, citing to Deuteronomy in The Law of Prize and Booty (1603), the Israelites were exempted from the issuance of any warning announcements when dealing with previous enemies (what we might reference today as enemies in an ongoing or protracted war, precisely the condition that currently obtains between Israel and Iran.) The Israelites, recounts Grotius, had been commanded by God to “refrain from making an armed attack against any people without first inviting that people, by formal notification, to establish peaceful relations ….””Yet,” he continues, “the Israelites..

thought that this prohibition was inapplicable to many of the Canaanite tribes, inasmuch as they themselves had previously been attacked in war by the Canaanites.”

“Hence,” says Grotius, “we arrive at the following deduction”:

Once the formality of rerum repetitio [a request for restitution or reparations] has been observed, and a decree on the case in question has been issued, no further proclamation or sentence is required for the establishment of that right which arises in the actual process of execution.For [and this is especially relevant to ongoing war between Israel and Iran] in such circumstances, one is not undertaking a new war but merely carrying forward a war already undertaken. Thus the fact that justice has once been demanded and not obtained suffices to justify a return to natural law.[18]

Even during the expansive pre-nuclear era in international law and world politics, a precarious logic of deterrence obtained in the Hobbesian and Grotian state of nature. Already, there existed a zero-sum condition of raw competition, corrosive violence and institutionalized anarchy. Despite considerable nuance from century to century and even from year to year, this so-called “balance of power” has been in continuous existence since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. Significantly, this purported equilibrium has never “worked.”


Long before nuclear weapons, the worst “state of war” (including those conditions without “actual fighting”) would have been characterized by a “dreadful equality.” In this inherently unsteady condition, world politics took place in a broadly chaotic bellum omnium contra omnes, an ambiguous structure wherein “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” In such blatantly “opaque” circumstances, all potential sources of decision-making bewilderment inevitably multiplied.

There is more. In any such worst case scenario – one wherein nuclear proliferation would continue without correlative legal constraints – the lives of individual human beings and entire states would assuredly become (per Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan) “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” For Israel, the shifting parameters of Cold War II and related issues of Iranian enemy rationality could soon have foreseeable and unforeseeable effects upon its presumptive nuclear doctrine. These effects would include diverse policy issues distinguishing “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” from “selective nuclear disclosure.”[19]

Planning an End to ‘Deliberate Nuclear Ambiguity’

For Israel, a state altogether lacking in strategic depth,[20] the former or “ambiguous” posture has managed to prevail without serious challenge. A diminishingly useful stance, it is commonly referred to as Israel’s “bomb in the basement.”[21] At some stage, needed modifications of this no-longer-viable stance could require coinciding Israeli resorts to “anticipatory self-defense.”[22]

Until today, Israel’s national nuclear doctrine and posture have remained “deliberately ambiguous.” At the same time, traditional ambiguity was already breached at highest possible levels by two of Israel’s prime ministers, Shimon Peres on December 22, 1995 and Ehud Olmert on December 11, 2006. Peres, speaking to a group of Israeli newspaper and magazine editors, had affirmed publicly: “…give me peace, and we’ll give up the atom. That’s the whole story.” When Olmert later offered similarly general but revelatory remarks, they were widely but perhaps wrongly interpreted as “slips of the tongue.”

Today, as Moscow and Washington are once again open adversaries -in part because of their different positions and involvements throughout the Middle East and because of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine – a basic doctrinal question should be raised more systematically in Jerusalem:

 Is comprehensive nuclear secrecy in the survival interests of the Jewish State?[23]

To respond “cost-effectively,” Israel should start from the assumption that in any such many-sided strategic matter, “truth” could be counter-intuitive. A full answer to this query should be grounded in the expectations and exigencies of formal strategic doctrine. Whatever else Jerusalem may have in mind concerning such policy-shaping doctrine, it’s response ought never be just a series of incremental off-the-cuff decisions or unreflective seat-of-the-pants observations. Israel could never have any need for strategic postures that are casually invented or re-invented in extremis, from one crisis to the next.

Fashioning Israeli strategic doctrine ought never to consist of disjointed or narrowly ad hoc calculations. Any purposeful loosening of Israeli nuclear ambiguity would need to be subtle, nuanced and indirect. Contrary to the oft-parodied views of such prospective disclosure that are found in popular news stories, on the web or on television, this loosening would not have to take the provocative form of an openly forthright or otherwise official Israeli policy pronouncement. Instead, it could be allowed to “spill out” on its own, thereby making a crucial security point without precipitating immediate crisis or irremediable misfortune.

Formal Israeli strategic doctrine should represent the conceptual framework from which a pragmatic security posture of selective nuclear disclosure could be extrapolated. In all military institutions and traditions, such doctrine would describe the tactical or operational manner in which designated national forces could fight in variously plausible combat situations; the prescribed “order of battle;” and all manner of corollary or contingent military operations. Appropriately, the literal definition of “doctrine” derives from Middle English, from the Latin doctrina, which means teaching, learning and instruction.

The central importance of codified Israeli military doctrine lies not only in the way it can animate, unify and optimize national military forces, but also in the manner it could transmit desired “messages” to enemy state Iran, enemy sub-state proxies[24] or state-sub-state “hybrids.[25] Understood in terms of Israel’s strategic nuclear policy, any indiscriminate, across-the-board ambiguity could prove net-injurious to the country’s national security. Though counter-intuitive, this understanding is persuasive because any truly effective Israeli deterrence and defense posture would call for military doctrine that is at least partially recognizable by Iran and by Israel’s sub-state terrorist foes (e.g., Hamas, Hezbollah).

In any routine Israeli military planning, having available options for strategic surprise could prove helpful (if not actually prerequisite) to successful combat operations. But successful nuclear deterrence is another matter. On occasion, in order to persuade already-nuclear adversaries not to strike first, projecting too much secrecy could prove counter-productive.

In the matter of Israel and existential enemy Iran, any significant nuclear success for the former must lie in credible deterrence, not in actual nuclear war-fighting.[26] Examined in terms of ancient Chinese military thought offered by Sun-Tzu in The Art of War, “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” With this time-worthy dictum in mind, there are times for Israel when successful nuclear deterrence policies would require the deliberate “loosening” of information that had formerly been tightly held. Such information would concern Israel’s capabilities, its intentions, or both of these qualities together.

Sometimes, strategic truth will be counterintuitive. There are, after all, circumstances wherein ordinary secrecy could also be too much secrecy and would undermine Israel’s national security. We may recall, in this connection, a popular Cold War I-era movie in which Dr. Strangelove, an “eccentric” strategic advisor to the American president (and the name of the film) discovers, to his horror, that the existence of America’s “doomsday machine” had not been made known in advance to the Soviets: “The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost,” complains Dr. Strangelove, “if you keep it a secret.”

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

To have been suitably deterred, the film instructs, the Soviets ought to have been given prior warnings of the “doomsday machine.” This device had been designed to ensure the perceived automaticity of America’s nuclear retaliatory response. Remembering the commonly-held strategic posture then known as MAD, this response should have been made instantly recognizable to the Kremlin as “assuredly destructive.”

Deterrence Ex Ante, Not Revenge Ex Post

It follows from all this as well as the general expectations of the laws of war that Israel’s nuclear weapons should remain oriented to deterrence ex ante, not to actual war fighting or revenge ex post. As designated instruments of a law-based system of deterrence, nuclear weapons can succeed only in protracted non-use. Once they have been employed for any tangible “battle,” deterrence will have failed.[27] And once such weapons were actually used, any traditional meanings of “victory” (especially if both sides were already nuclear) would instantly become moot.[28]

Cold War I is over, but Israel’s emerging deterrence relationship to a prospectively nuclear Iran is not reasonably comparable to the historic American-Soviet “balance-of-terror.”[29] Nonetheless, there are crucial elements of “Cold War II” antagonisms that could substantially impact Israel’s nuclear strategic choices concerning Iran. This means that Israel should never construct its nuclear strategic doctrine apart from continuously close assessments of US-Russia-China relations.[30]

Still, there are certain “Cold War I” deterrence lessons to be learned and adapted by Israel during Cold War II. Any unmodified continuance of total nuclear ambiguity concerning Israel’s (a) strategic targeting doctrine; (b) secure basing modes; and/or (c) capacity to penetrate a designated enemy’s active air defenses could cause a steadily-nuclearizing Iran to underestimate Israel’s retaliatory capacity or resolve. In this connection, Israel should understand that (1) even a not-yet-nuclear Iranian enemy (i.e., a foe not yet able to combine rockets or missiles with chain-reaction nuclear explosives) could threaten massive attacks against large Israeli cities; and (2) even an Iranian enemy still limited in nuclear ordnance to radiation dispersal weapons could be deterred by Israeli nuclear threats. Moreover, these Israeli threats would likely benefit from (3) visibly antecedent shifts from deliberate nuclear ambiguity to selective nuclear disclosure; and (4) more-or-less coinciding revelations about a “Samson Option.” This residual option would be oriented toward enhanced nuclear deterrence, not to any prospectively apocalyptic outcomes drawn from the Biblical Book of Judges.

In all cases, the Samson Option’s sole function should be to help Israel “live,” not to let it “die with the Philistines.”[31]

There is more. As a subsidiary but still-urgent nuclear concern, Israeli planners will need to assess the capability and intentions of Pakistan, an already-nuclear Islamic state and one that has declared a “nuclear war fighting” concept of national nuclear deterrence. Returning to the formative lexicon of Cold War I, this non-Arab Islamic state has already taken a tangible and formal shift from “mutual assured destruction” to “nuclear utilization theory.” In the specialized discourse and parlance of orthodox nuclear strategic theory, this represents an overt shift from MAD (“mutual assured destruction”) to NUT (“nuclear utilization theory”).[32] By definition, any such shift could have profound legal consequences concerning the presumed likelihood of a nuclear conflict (probability) and the presumed injuriousness of such a conflict (disutility).

Examined during Cold War II, uncertainties surrounding presumed components of Israel’s nuclear arsenal could lead Iran to reach substantially incorrect conclusions. To some extent, this is because Israel’s willingness to make good on any threatened nuclear retaliation could be seen as inversely related to weapon system destructiveness. Ironically, this means that because Israel’s nuclear weapons were presumed “too-destructive,[33] they might not deter.

Derivative inferences should be highlighted. To wit, any continuing policy of complete nuclear ambiguity could cause Iran (whether already-nuclear or merely pre-nuclear) to overestimate the first-strike vulnerability of Israel’s nuclear forces. In part, such an overestimation could be the result of a too-complete silence concerning measures of national protection that had been deployed to safeguard Israeli nuclear weapons. Such silence, in turn, could be the product of Israel’s perceived alignments with the United States.

A related problem would reflect Israeli doctrinal obfuscations regarding the country’s defense potential, a silence that could be mistakenly taken by Iran as indication of inadequate Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD). To be maximally useful, certain strengths and capabilities of active defense (interrelated and multi-layered) would need to be revealed, perhaps in previously unimaginable operational detail. Any such revelations should always be accompanied by information pertinent to credible Israeli nuclear deterrence. While it is plain that during the recent first-phase of direct war with Iran Israel “scored” remarkable successes with enemy missile interceptions, a 100% reliability of interception would be needed against an already-nuclear Iran.

No such level of reliability could be possible.

Nuclear Deterrence Posture Clarifications

Immediately, to best understand the utilitarian and legal content of Israel’s nuclear posture, designated strategic planners should clarify the core foundations of Israeli nuclear deterrence. These foundations concern prospective Iranian attackers’ perceptions of Israel’s nuclear capability and also its willingness to actually use this capability. Potentially, any selective telegraphing of Israel’s strategic nuclear doctrine could enhance Israel’s overall nuclear deterrence posture. Jerusalem would accomplish this enhancement by heightening Iranian perceptions of capable Israeli nuclear forces and by an announced willingness to use these forces in reprisal for designated (first-strike and/or retaliatory) attacks.

To deter an Iranian attack or post-preemption retaliation against Israel,[34] Jerusalem should always prevent a presumptively rational aggressor, by threat of unacceptably damaging retaliation or counter-retaliation, from deciding to strike. Here, Israel’s national security would be sought by convincing a potential and rational Iranian attacker (irrational state enemies would pose an altogether different problem[35]) that the costs to Tehran of any considered attack would always exceed the expected benefits. Assuming that Iran will (1) value national self-preservation most highly; and (2) always choose rationally between alternative options, Iran will refrain from launching any attack on an Israel that is presumed willing and able to deliver an unacceptably destructive response. It is in such foreseeable circumstances that Israeli nuclear weapons and doctrine would most clearly benefit from “selective nuclear disclosure.”

In particular circumstances, Iran could also be deterred by the plausible prospect of a more limited Israeli attack, one that would be directed only at the Islamic Republic’s national leaders. In usual parlance adopted by both military and intelligence communities, this unpredictable prospect would refer to more-or-less credible threats of “regime targeting.” Whether credible or incredible, however, such threats could prove severely problematic in legal terms,[36] even when compared to the more evidently catastrophic consequences of a broad-spectrum military strike.

There would be further nuances and particularities. Always, two factors must combine to communicate Israel’s deterrent credibility: capability and willingness. In terms of military capability, there are two components, payload and delivery system. It must be successfully communicated to any calculating Iranian attacker that Israel’s firepower and its available means of delivering that firepower are invariably capable of inflicting unacceptable levels of destruction. This means that Israel’s retaliatory or counter-retaliatory forces should always appear sufficiently invulnerable to Iranian first-strikes and sufficiently elusive to penetrate the prospective Iranian attacker’s active defenses.

It may not need to be communicated to Iran that such Israeli firepower and delivery vehicles are in any way superior. Deterrence, Israel’s planners should continuously bear in mind, is never about “victory.” The capacity to deter may or may not be as great as the capacity to “win.”[37] Moreover, in the Israel-Iran matters at hand, “winning” per se should never express a primary goal.

For better understanding, Israeli planners could think about North Korea vis-a-vis the United States. In this potentially war-prone dyad of international adversaries, the U.S. is clearly superior to North Korea in all traditional expressions of battle-readiness, but Pyongyang could still bring formidable harms to US armed forces and even to certain American civilian populations. This is to say nothing about parallel or corollary damages that could be visited by Kim Jung Un on US allies South Korea or Japan.

With Israel’s strategic nuclear forces and doctrine kept “locked” in a metaphoric basement, Iran could sometime conclude, rightly or wrongly, that a first-strike attack or post-preemption reprisal against Israel would be rational and cost-effective. But if relevant Israeli nuclear doctrine were selectively made more obvious to Iran – a disclosure concerning payload and delivery system capacities – Israel’s nuclear forces could more reliably serve their existential security functions.

The second element of strategic doctrine concerning Israel’s required communication of nuclear deterrent credibility is willingness: How could Israel best convince a potential Iranian attacker that it possesses the resolve to deliver an appropriately destructive retaliation and/or counter retaliation? The core answer to this question should always be discoverable in Israeli doctrine; that is, in Israel’s codified strength of commitment to carry out such an attack and its operationally “usable” nuclear ordnance.

Here, too, continued across-the-beard ambiguity over nuclear doctrine could wrongfully create the impression of an unwilling Israel. Conversely, any doctrinal movement toward some as-yet-undetermined level of disclosure could gainfully heighten the impression that Israel was actually willing to follow-through on now-explicit nuclear threats. In such calculations, Jerusalem would need to ensure that its perceived “follow through” willingness not be taken by Iran as an incentive to strike first.

Persuasive connections would obtain between any incrementally disclosed Israeli nuclear doctrine/strategy and Iranian perceptions of Israeli nuclear deterrence. One such connection would center on the expected relationship between prospectively greater doctrinal openness and the perceived vulnerability of Israeli nuclear forces to preemptive destruction. Another connection would concern the relationship between greater doctrinal openness and the perceived capacity of Israel’s nuclear forces to penetrate Iran’s active defenses.

To be deterred by Israel, a newly-nuclear Iran[38] would need to believe that at least a critical number of Israel’s retaliatory forces could successfully survive enemy first-strikes and that these forces could not be prevented from hitting pre-designated targets in Iran. Regarding the “presumed survivability” component of such adversarial belief, continued or enhanced sea-basing (submarines) by Israel could become a singularly clarifying case in point.

Carefully reasoned and articulated, expanding doctrinal openness or selective nuclear disclosure represents a prudent option for Israel, at least to the extent that Iran were made aware of Israel’s comprehensive and secure nuclear capabilities. The presumed operational benefits of any such expanding doctrinal openness would accrue from certain deliberate flows of information about dispersion, multiplication and hardening of strategic nuclear weapon systems and certain other technical features of these systems. Most importantly, doctrinally-controlled and orderly flows of information could serve to remove any lingering Iranian doubts about Israel’s assorted nuclear force capabilities and intentions. Left unchallenged, such doubts couldundermine Israeli nuclear deterrence and correspondingly pertinent war-avoidance expectations of international law.

In the Matter of “Friction”

A key problem in refining Israeli strategic nuclear policy on deliberate ambiguity issues has to do with what Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz famously called “friction.” No military doctrine can ever fully anticipate the actual pace of combat activity, or, as a corollary, the precise reactions of individual human commanders under fire. It follows that Israel’s nuclear doctrine must be encouraged to combine adequate tactical flexibility with selective doctrinal openness. To understand exactly how such seemingly contradictory objectives could best be reconciled in Jerusalem now presents a primary intellectual challenge to Israel’s national command authority.[39]

In the end, Israeli planners will need to think about paths to nuclear war that include risks of an inadvertent or accidental conflagration. Though the risks of a deliberate nuclear war involving Israel and Iran could conceivably be small, the Jewish State would still be vulnerable to conflict occasioned by mechanical/electrical/computer malfunction and/or by assorted decisional errors (i.e., leadership miscalculation).

To properly assess the different but intersecting risks between a deliberate nuclear war and an inadvertent or accidental nuclear war should be overriding in Jerusalem. These risks, including various corollary legal implications, could exist independently of one another and/or could be impacted in various ways by Cold War II alignments. Israel, like the much larger United States, will continuously need to prepare for the bewildering scenarios of cyber-attack and cyber-war. Such perplexing scenarios will now need to be considered together with the unpredictably destabilizing growth of various “digital mercenaries.”

One more core conceptual distinction warrants prominent mention. This distinction references the difference between an inadvertent and an accidental nuclear war. By definition, any accidental nuclear war would need to be inadvertent. Conversely, however, an inadvertent nuclear war would not necessarily need to be accidental. False warnings, for example, which could be generated by various types of technical malfunction and/or sparked by third-party hacking/digital mercenary interference, would not be included under the causes of an unintentional or inadvertent nuclear war. Instead, they would represent cautionary narratives of an accidental nuclear war.

Most critical among the plausible causes of any inadvertent nuclear war would be errors in calculation by one, both or several sides. The most blatant example could involve misjudgments of enemy intent or enemy capacity that would emerge and propagate as any particular crisis escalated. Such consequential misjudgments could stem from an understandably amplified desire by one or several belligerent parties to achieve “escalation dominance.” During any major crisis between Israel and Iran, it would be the mutual desire for “escalation dominance” that could prove unmanageable.

There are variously applicable nuances. In any crisis competition for “escalation dominance,” each side, acting rationally, would strive for calculable advantage without incurring too-great a risk of existential harms. But what would be the operative standards for determining rational striving? Plausibly, there would still be “opportunities” for serious misunderstanding and miscalculation. Naturally, where the risk-taking Israeli and Iranian competitors were no longer rational, all once-reassuring deterrence “bets” would be “off.”

Other causes of inadvertent nuclear war between Israel and Iran could include flawed interpretations of computer-generated nuclear attack warnings; an unequal willingness between adversaries to risk catastrophic war; overconfidence in deterrence and/or defense capabilities on one or both sides; Iranian regime changes; outright revolution or coup d’état in Iran and poorly-conceived pre-delegations of nuclear launch authority by Iran and/or (at least in principle) by Israel.

Serious problems of overconfidence could be aggravated by successful tests of a contending nation’s missile-defense operations, whether Israel or Iran. In part, these problems could be encouraged by any too-optimistic assessments of Cold War II alliance guarantees. An example might be intra-crisis judgment in Jerusalem that Washington would stand continuously behind Israel’s every crisis move. Reciprocally, Iran could exaggerate the seriousness and commitment of its own preferred Cold War II guarantor, whether Russia or North Korea. Significantly, North Korea continues to maintain close ties with both Tehran and Damascus and could conceivably act as a pre-nuclear Iran’s nuclear surrogate during crises with Israel.

A potential source of inadvertent nuclear war coinciding with Cold War II could be the “backfire” effect from strategies of “pretended irrationality.” A rational Iranian enemy of Israel that had managed to convince Jerusalem of its own decisional irrationality could spark an otherwise avoidable Israeli military preemption. Conversely, an Iranian leadership that had begun to take seriously any presumed hint of decisional irrationality in Jerusalem could be frightened into striking first. Regarding this second scenario, it should be remembered that many years back, General Moshe Dayan, then Israel’s Minister of Defense, argued: “Israel must be seen as a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”

Though analytic and science-based, Israeli thinkers and planners are facing a unique adversarial “nightmare.” According to the etymologists, the root is niht mare or niht maere, the demon of the night. Dr. Johnson’s dictionary says this corresponds to Nordic mythology – which regarded all nightmares as the product of demons. This would make it a play on or a translation of the Greek ephialtes or the Latin incubus. In all such interpretations of nightmare, the non-rational idea of demonic origin is central and determinative.

But the demons of nuclear strategy and nuclear war take a different form. For the most part, their mien is not incoherent, but (though often bombastic) “rational.” If Iran’s leaders are thought to be sinister, it’s not that particular quality that should be most strategically or legally worrisome to Israel. While the state of nations has always been in the “state of nature,”[40] at least since the seventeenth century and the historic Peace of Westphalia (1648), current conditions of nuclear capacity and worldwide anarchy portend a sui generis amalgam of law-violating circumstances.

Among other things, the reasons behind such dire portents lie in the indispensability of rational decision-making to nuclear deterrence and in the subtly interpenetrating fact that rational decision-making could become subject to corrosive modifications. Though not reassuringly predictable, such impacts upon Iranian enemy rationality could be derived from the ever-changing dynamics of Cold War II. An example of what is being described here would be any future nuclear decisions in Tehran based in whole or in part on that enemy state’s subjective interpretations of U.S./Russia/China relations.

The Complexity Of Israel-Iran War Scenarios

With largely unpredictable enlargements of Cold War II in the offing, Israeli decision-makers should systematically prepare for progressively complex war scenarios. To manage these challenging and largely unforeseeable events, these leaders will first have to prepare for unprecedented levels of world-systemic upheaval. In some cases, these decision-maker calculations would have to acknowledge varying levels of prospective Iranian irrationality. What then?

For Israel, ultimate survival will require durable “victories” of “mind over mind.”[41] In turn, these analytic victories will depend on prior Israeli capacities to more fully understand the context-shaping elements of Cold War II. In principle, at least, such antecedent capacities could lead Israel to consider certain ambitious preemption options. Properly, any final decisions on such residual options would be based upon (a) expectations of Iranian rationality or irrationality; (b) expected likelihood of Iranian first-strikes; (c) expected costs or disutilities of Iranian first-strikes; (d) expected schedule of Iranian nuclear or biological weapons deployments; (e) expected efficiencies of Iranian active defenses over time; (f) expected efficiencies of Israel’s active defenses over time; (g) expected efficiencies of Israeli hard-target counterforce operations over time; (h) expected reactions of still-unaffected regional enemies; and (i) expected US, Russian, Chinese and world community reactions to Israeli preemptions.[42]

Ultimately, Israel’s remedies for resumed military aggression from Iran lie in nuclear deterrence and its correlative capacities for “escalation dominance.” This many-sided objective could represent an existential challenge for Israel even before the Islamic Republic of Iran became a nuclear power. At some point, a still pre-nuclear Iran, together with various state and sub-state allies or proxies, could push Israel toward the escalatory brink, a situation leaving Jerusalem with just a binary choice between asymmetrical nuclear weapons use and outright capitulation. The only way for Jerusalem to prevent or modify such an intolerable choice would be to upgrade its nuclear deterrent from the standpoints of selective nuclear disclosure and a tactically-meaningful “Samson Option.”

At this stage, confronting a still pre-nuclear Iran in a conventional war would be reasonable, rational and law-enforcing. Optimally, any such war would be initiated by Iran and render unnecessary any “bolt-from-the-blue” Israeli preemption. In a next-to-worst case scenario, Israel would be forced to strike hard military targets in Iran as a first move of war, and not as a reprisal. A worst-case scenario would be to allow Iran to “become nuclear” and thereby eliminate Israel’s survival advantage.

In circumstances where competitive risk-taking could no longer be undertaken by Israel with strategic time benefit, Jerusalem could no longer count on “escalation dominance.” While it is plausible that Israel would still display significant nuclear superiority vis-à-vis Iran, such a seemingly advantaged position would also remain subject to enemy misperceptions and miscalculations. Though Jerusalem could leverage its presumptive nuclear superiority vis-à-vis Iran (most plausibly, in increments), that asset would be contingent upon a prior Israeli shift from “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” to “selected nuclear disclosure.”

To avoid having to face an already-nuclear Iran, Israel’s only rational course will be to accept near-term conventional war as its “least bad” option. More precisely, Israel should do what it takes to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, a survival imperative that should be satisfied within the bounds of authoritative international law. By failing this two-sided obligation (strategic and legal), Israel would soon face not “only” existential missile aggressions from Iran, but simultaneous and force-multiplying assaults from Hamas, Hezbollah and kindred jihadist foes. Foreseeably inconspicuous, these assaults would be mutually reinforcing, thus strengthening a newly-nuclear Iran and an expansionist Palestine at the same time.

For Israel, there could be no more ominous simultaneity.

Iran is “gathering new forces for a great blow.” In this “most dangerous” moment for Israel, it will be necessary for decision-makers in Jerusalem to recognize the inherent limitations of all active defensive measures.[43]

Though these measures will remain a matter of primary importance -especially the country’s recently-validated system of ballistic missiles defense – a time-advantaged war with Iran ought not necessarily be avoided. However ironic, entering into such war with a pre-nuclear enemy would likely represent Israel’s best available path to survival. “In such circumstances,” recalling Hugo Grotius, “one is not undertaking a new war but merely carrying forward a war already undertaken.”


Louis René Beres, Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971). He is the author of many major books, articles and monographs dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war, including Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (Westview,1979); Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press,1980); Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (D.C. Heath/Lexington, 1983); and Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (D.C. Heath/Lexington, 1986). His twelfth and latest book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016; 2nd ed., 2018).. Professor Beres has lectured widely on law and strategy matters at United States and Israeli military/intelligence institutions, including the IDF National Security College. He is the author of many annual contributions to Oxford University Press, Oxford Yearbook on International Law and Jurisprudence.Professor Beres was born in Zürich at the close of World War II.

[1] Such creation would be de facto rather than de jure because statehood (under authoritative international law) has nothing to do with recognition by other states. See Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (Montevideo Convention, 1933):https://hlrn.org/img/documents/Montevideo_Convention.pdf

[2] Recall Carl von Clausewitz, “In war everything is simple, but the simplest thing is very difficult.” See On War, Book 1, Chapter 7.

[3] Presently, and at any time before Iran crosses the nuclear warfighting threshold, Israel could commence an asymmetrical nuclear war (i.e., only Israel uses nuclear weapons). Plausibly, such action would only be undertaken in extremis, when both sides were vying for “escalation dominance.”

[4] Regarding this argument, see, at RAND: :https://www.rand.org/pubs/commentary/2024/04/the-iran-israel-war-is-just-getting-started.html

[5] Even in its extant pre-nuclear circumstances, Tehran could sometime use its radiation dispersal weapons or launch conventional rocket attacks against Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor. Also possible, but not estimable in strict scientific terms, would be Iran’s use of already-nuclear North Korean surrogates against Israel.

[6] The origins of anticipatory self-defense under international law lie in the Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925) (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).

[7] In this connection, it should be understood that a war against a pre-nuclear Iran could still involve the use of Israeli nuclear weapons and/or an Iranian resort to radiation dispersal weapons. Moreover, at some undeterminable point Iran could fire conventional missiles against Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona or (at least in principle) engage an already-nuclear North Korean ally to act on its behalf.

[8] Here, reference to “Jerusalem” is understood to also include Tel-Aviv based military agencies and institutions

[9] Taken from Plato’s lexicon of philosophical investigation, dialectic has its root in the Greek verb meaning “to converse,” where the objective of any such conversation is to discover “what each thing actually is.” (Republic.) Speaking through Socrates, Plato regards dialectic as the highest or supreme form of knowledge.

[10] Historically, the idea of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is a current variant – has never been more than a facile metaphor. In fact, it has never had anything to do with ascertaining any true equilibrium. As such a balance is always a matter of individual and more-or-less subjective perceptions, adversary states can never be sufficiently confident that identifiable strategic circumstances are “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, each side perpetually fears that it will be left behind, and the continual search for balance only produces ever wider patterns of insecurity and disequilibrium.

[11] See Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct 1648, 1, Consol. T.S. 119. This “Westphalian” anarchy stands in stark contrast to the legal assumption of solidarity between all states in the presumably common struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a peremptory expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption), is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925 (1690); and Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[12] According to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “…a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.679 (1969).

[13] Conspicuous preparations for nuclear war fighting could be conceived not as distinct alternatives to nuclear deterrence, but as essential and even integral components of nuclear deterrence.Earlier, Colin Gray, reasoning about U.S.-Soviet nuclear relations, argued that a vital connection exists between “likely net prowess in war and the quality of pre-war deterrent effect.”(See:Colin Gray, National Style in Strategy: The American Example,” INTERNATIONAL SECURITY, 6, No. 2, fall 1981, p. 35.)Elsewhere, in a published debate with this writer, Gray said essentially the same thing:”Fortunately, there is every reason to believe that probable high proficiency in war-waging yields optimum deterrent effect.”(See Gray, “Presidential Directive 59: Flawed but Useful,” PARAMETERS, 11, No. 1, March 1981, p. 34.Gray was responding directly to Professor Louis René Beres, “Presidential Directive 59: A Critical Assessment,” PARAMETERS, March 1981, pp. 19 – 28.).

[14] Reciprocally, almost by definition, it could have an opposite effect upon the adversarial state or terror group.

[15] On synergies, by this author, see Louis René Beres: https://jewishwebsite.com/opinion/overlooked-synergies-iranian-nuclear-weapons-and-a-palestinian-state/99307/

[16] Expressions of decisional irrationality could take different and overlapping forms. These forms include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[17] For the specific crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (xxix), 29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No. 31), 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631 (1975), reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[18] See Grotius, Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty (1603). See also, by Professor Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2021/12/louis-rene-beres-natural-law-us-constitution/

[19] See, by this writer, Louis René Beres, at INSS Tel-Aviv:https://www.inss.org.il/publication/changing-direction-updating-israels-nuclear-doctrine/See also, by the present writer, Louis René Beres: Surviving amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016; 2nd. ed., 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[20] Much has been written on questions of Israel’s “strategic depth.” The heart of this issue was addressed as early as June 29, 1967, when a U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum specified that returning Israel to pre-1967 boundaries would drastically increase its vulnerability.The then Chairman of the JCS, General Earl Wheeler, concluded that for minimal deterrence and defense, Israel must retain Sharm el Sheikh and Wadi El Girali in the Sinai; the entire Gaza Strip; the high ground and plateaus of the mountains in Judea and Samaria; and the Golan Heights, east of Quneitra.

[21] The writer, Professor Louis René Beres, is author of one of the earliest books on this theme, Security of Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington Books; 1986).

[22] This permissible option can be found not in conventional international law (art. 51 of the UN Charter supports only post-attack expressions of individual or collective self-defense), but in customary international law.

[23] The actual security benefits to Israel of any explicit reductions in nuclear secrecy would remain dependent, more or less, upon Clausewitzian “friction.” This term refers to the inherently unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties; on Israeli and Iranian under-estimations or over-estimations of relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence, and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.

[24] Explicit applications of the law of war to insurgent combatants’ dates to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. As more than codified treaties and conventions must comprise the law of war, the obligations of jus in bello (justice in war) are part of “the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations” (from Art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice) and thereby bind all categories of belligerents. (See Statute of the International Court of Justice, art. 38, June 29, 1945, 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. 993).Further, Hague Convention IV of 1907 declares that even in the absence of a precisely published set of guidelines regarding “unforeseen cases,” the operative pre-conventional sources of humanitarian international law obtain and still govern all belligerency. The related Martens Clause is included in the Preamble of the 1899 Hague Conventions, International Convention with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War by Land, July 29, 1899, 187 Consol. T.S. 429, 430.

[25] See Ehud Eilam, https://www.ebooks.com/en-us/book/96178545/israel-s-military-doctrine/ehud-eilam/

The best current example here for Israel is the Iran –Israel hybrid.

[26] This was a major conclusion in this author’s Project Daniel Report (2003) to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It was titled Israel’s Strategic Future. http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm

[27] There could also be attendant and possibly unprecedented crimes of war. Moreover, criminal responsibility of leaders under international law is not limited to direct personal action or limited by official position. On this peremptory principle of “command responsibility,” or respondeat superior, see: In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1945); The High Command Case (The Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb), 12 Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals 1 (United Nations War Crimes Commission Comp., 1949); see Parks, Command Responsibility for War Crimes, 62 MIL.L. REV. 1 (1973); O’Brien, The Law of War, Command Responsibility and Vietnam, 60 GEO. L.J. 605 (1972); U.S. Dept. Of The Army, Army Subject Schedule No. 27 – 1 (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907), 10 (1970). The direct individual responsibility of leaders is also unambiguous in view of the London Agreement, which denies defendants the protection of the act of state defense. See AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Stat. 1544, E.A.S. No. 472, 82 U.N.T.S. 279, art. 7.

[28] On “victory” in a nuclear war, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, https://blog.oup.com/2016/04/war-political-victories/ See also:https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/28931

[29] Recalling the Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman, Cicero, in The Letters to His Friends: “For what can be done against force, without force?” During the nuclear age, the traditional term, “balance of power” has sometimes been replaced with a more technologically appropriate “balance of terror.” For the conceptual origins of this historic replacement, see: Albert Wohlstetter, “The Delicate Balance of Terror,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 37, No.2., January 1959, pp. 211-234.

[30] In this connection, Jerusalem must always ensure that it does not enter into any legal agreements that might threaten its overall physical survival. Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, wrote about this core obligation as generic for all nations. Writing in his Opinion on the French Treaties (April 28, 1793), Jefferson opined: “The nation itself, bound necessarily to whatever it’s preservation and safety require, cannot enter into engagements contrary to its indispensable obligations.” See: Merrill D. Peterson, The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello Monograph Series, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1993, p. 115.

[31] See by this author, Louis René Beres (BESA/Israel):https://besacenter.org/navigating-chaos-israel-nuclear-ambiguity-and-the-samson-option/

[32] Several of this author’s earlier books deal expressly with the pertinent distinctions. See, for example, by Louis René Beres: The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis; Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics; Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order; Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy; Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy; and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy and US National Security (Tel Aviv), a 2016 monograph authored by Professor Beres (with a special postscript by General (USA/ret.) Barry McCaffrey.

[33] The underlying idea here of some palpable apocalypse seems to have been born in ancient Iran (Persia), specifically, with the Manichaeism of the Zoroastrians. Interestingly, at least one of these documents, The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, found in a Qumran cave, is a comprehensive description of Jewish military tactics and regulations at the end of the Second Commonwealth. In essence, the “Sons of Light” were expected to prevail in battle against the “Sons of Darkness” before the “end of days,” and the later fight at Masada was widely interpreted as an apocalyptic struggle between a saintly few and the wicked many.

[34] Regarding preemption, the obvious Israeli precedents for any such defensive moves would be Operation Opera directed against the Osiraq (Iraqi) nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981, and, later (though lesser known) Operation Orchard against Syria on September 6, 2007. In April 2011, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that he bombed Syrian site in the Deir ez-Zoe region of Syria had indeed been a developing nuclear reactor. In this writer’s judgment, both preemptions were lawful assertions of Israel’s “Begin Doctrine.”

[35] On deterring a potentially irrational nuclear 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/deceased) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[36] Such legal difficulties could bring up the authoritative “Nuremberg Principles.”In this connection, the principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal were affirmed by the U.N. General Assembly as AFFIRMATION OF THE PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL LAW RECOGNIZED BY THE CHARTER OF THE NUREMBERG TRIBUNAL.Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, Dec. 11, 1946.U.N.G.A. Res. 95 (I), U.N. Doc. A/236 (1946), at 1144.This AFFIRMATION OF THE PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL LAW RECOGNIZED BY THE CHARTER OF THE NUREMBERG TRIBUNAL (1946) was followed by General Assembly Resolution 177 (II), adopted November 21, 1947, directing the U.N. International Law Commission to “(a) Formulate the principles of international law recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal, and (b) Prepare a draft code of offenses against the peace and security of mankind….” (See U.N. Doc. A/519, p. 112).The principles formulated are known as the PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL LAW RECOGNIZED IN THE CHARTER AND JUDGMENT OF THE NUREMBERG TRIBUNAL.Report of the International Law Commission, 2nd session, 1950, U.N. G.A.O.R. 5th session, Supp. No. 12, A/1316, p. 11.

[37] See by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Jurist: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/06/louis-beres-winning-war/

[38] Regarding this issue, see Louis René Beres and John T. Chain (General/USAF/ret.), “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran”? The Atlantic, August, 2012; and also: Professor Louis René Beres and General Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[39] “It must not be forgotten,” writes French poet Guillaume Apollinaire in “The New Spirit and the Poets” (1917), “that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”

[40] Says Thomas Hobbes: “But though there had never been any time wherein particular men were in a condition of war one against another, yet in all times, Kings and Persons of Sovereign Authority, because of their Independency, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of Gladiators, having their weapons pointing and their eyes fixed on one another…(Leviathan).

[41] For this term I am indebted to F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (1957)

[42] For early scholarly commentary by this author on anticipatory self-defense under international law, with special reference to Israel, see:Louis René Beres and (COL./IDF/Res.) Yoash Tsiddon Chatto, “Reconsidering Israel’s Destruction of Iraq’s Osiraq Nuclear Reactor,” TEMPLE INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW JOURNAL, Vol. 9., No. 2., 1995, pp. 437 – 449; 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;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,Nov. 1991,No. 1.,pp. 1 – 24;Louis René Beres,”Israel and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”ARIZONA JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW,Vol. 8, 1991,pp. 89 – 99;and Louis René Beres,”After the SCUD Attacks:Israel, `Palestine,’ and Anticipatory Self-Defense,”EMORY INTERNATIONAL LAW REVIEW,Vol. 6,No. 1.,Spring 1992,pp. 71 – 104.For an examination of assassination as a permissible form of anticipatory self-defense by Israel, see, Louis René Beres, “On Assassination as Anticipatory Self-Defense: The Case of Israel,” HOFSTRA LAW REVIEW, Vol. 20, No. 2., Winter 1991, pp.321 – 340.For more general assessments of assassination as anticipatory self-defense under international law by this author, see:Louis René Beres, “The Permissibility of State-Sponsored Assassination During Peace and War,” TEMPLE INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW JOURNAL, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1991, pp. 231 – 249; and Louis René Beres, “Victims and Executioners:Atrocity, Assassination and International Law,” CAMBRIDGE REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, Winter/Spring, 1993.

[43] Warns Karl von Clausewitz in Principles of War (1812): “Defensive warfare does not consist of waiting idly or thing to happen. We must wait only if it brings us visible and decisive advantages.”[43] Long before the Prussian military theorist, ancient Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu had already observed in his The Art of War: “Those who excel at defense bury themselves away below the lowest depths of the earth. Those who excel at offense move from above the greatest heights of Heaven. Thus, they are able to preserve themselves and attain complete victory.”


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