ISRAEL'S SECURITY AFTER THE OSLO AGREEMENT
Lecture Presented in Israel on March 11, 1994 (Reissued May 4, 2005)
Professor Louis Rene Beres
The following is the original text of a lecture delivered by Professor Louis
Rene Beres to the Dayan Forum, Tel-Aviv, on March 11, 1994 (Ambassador
Zalman Shoval, presiding). It is especially relevant again, today, with the
approach of Prime Minister Sharon's "disengagement" from essential sectors
of Israel's Jewish heartland. Sharing the Dayan Forum podium with
Professor Beres on March 11, 1994, was Maj. Gen. Avihu Ben-Nun, Israel Air
Force Commander. Professor Beres is now Chair of "Project Daniel," a small
private group that has issued a special report on Iranian nuclearization to
Prime Minister Sharon. The specific issues/argument behind this report
were briefed to President Bush by PM Sharon in late April 2005.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The Oslo agreement has made a bad situation for Israel even worse.
Should it prove "successful," resultant Palestinian autonomy will rapidly
transform itself into a Palestinian state, a condition that would be
intolerable for all the already well-known reasons.
Should it "fail," Arab bitterness - paralleled to some extent by
unhappiness and frustration on the Israeli left - will accelerate the
intifada and enlarge cyclical acts of violence. This, too, will undermine
Israeli security, with steadily expanding acts of terror against Israeli
women and children, again for all the well-known reasons.
Clearly, it would have been better (in Voltaire's satirical "best of all
possible worlds") for the Oslo agreement never to have happened. It is a
terrible agreement, one that will occasion terrible casualties for Israelis.
But what is done is done, and cannot be undone.
Where, therefore, should Israel go from here? This is all that we can
To answer this overriding question, Israel must first decide, by
itself, how seriously it wishes to endure, as a state. This may seem an
almost silly bit of advice, gratuitous and perfectly obvious. After all,
every Israeli seeks preservation of the Third Commonwealth. But it is time
for Israelis to be reminded that states are not necessarily forever and
that the Jewish State is always especially fragile.
Building Israel's peace prospects upon erroneous assumptions of
enemy reasonableness and rationality would be a misfortune. From the Arab
and Iranian perspective generally, Israel is an enemy state because it is a
Jewish state. Period! The only step Israel could now take to reduce enemy
belligerence in the face of growing Islamicization ("Palestine" and Iran in
particular) would be to disappear. Right now, after Oslo, the government of
Israel is, in fact, cooperating in such a suicidal step.
Significantly, the Arab and Iranian worlds have been strikingly honest
in identifying their goals. They have made it clear, again and again, that
their overall war with Israel is a war with "The Jews," and that it is a war
that will continue until all of "Palestine" is "returned."
A good portion of the Jewish world, however, in Israel and in the
diaspora, refuses to act upon these strikingly honest expressions of
belligerent intent. Instead, learning nothing from two thousand years of a
murderous history, they create their own reality - a nicely balanced,
finely-tuned reality of diplomatic bargaining, negotiation and incremental
settlements - and assume that Syria, Iran, the Palestinians, etc., will be
The result, of course, is predictable. Israel's enemies call for more
and more. Israel, the individual Jew in macrocosm, asks for less and less.
Taken together, these calls portend a shrinking and enfeebled Israel in an
expanding Islamic sea. It is not a pretty picture.
Right now, Israel reminds me very much of Gottlieb Biedermann, the
cautious Swiss businessman in the brilliant play by Max Frisch, THE
FIREBUGS. Biedermann contends with a neighborhood epidemic of arson by
implementing a series of self-deceptions. Ultimately, Biedermann invites
the arsonists into his home, lodges them, feeds them a sumptuous dinner and
even provides them with matches. Not surprisingly, the play ends, for the
protagonist (read Israel, in this parable) on an incendiary note. It also
ends, predictably, with a pathetic and revolting disclaimer from an academic
observer, from the Ph.D., who has counseled capitulation all along. Removing
a paper from his pocket, as the sky reddens from fire, the all-too-familiar
"professor" disassociates himself from the calamity. He is, he
exclaims, "not responsible."
In his letters, the Roman statesman Cicero set the foundations for
realist thinking in world affairs. Inquired Cicero: "For what can be done
against force without force?" It is time for Israel to ask itself this same
question. At one time it already knew the answer. Today I am not so sure.
International law is not a suicide pact. Israel, in the fashion of
every state in world politics, has a right to endure. With respect to
Judea/Samaria/Gaza, Israel has eroded this right by itself. The ongoing
territorial surrender of the "peace process" was preceded by linguistic
surrender. By accepting, incrementally, the use of the term "occupied," a
term that is challenged almost nowhere in the world - it was inevitable
that events would come to where they are today - in 1994.
In this country (Israel), an academic journal - a distinguished law
review - refused to publish an article of mine dealing with Israel's rights
under international law because I did not accept that the disputed
territories were "occupied." The irony gets worse. The article was
subsequently accepted by a distinguished American law review sponsored by
the Jesuits. A "no" from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to a manuscript
supporting Israel; a "yes" from the Catholic university of Notre Dame.
With respect to the recent Gulf War (1991), Israel may feel, generally,
that absorbing 39 scud attacks without direct reprisal - that is, letting
the Americans do the job for them - was smart. It seems to me, however,
even recognizing full well the military code constraints of that moment,
that this deferral to Washington - a deferral reinforced by the demeaning
acceptance of minimally-capable patriot missiles - will have longer term
ill effects. I daresay this is the case even though I speak together today
with the distinguished commander of the Israel Air Force, Maj. Gen. Avihu
Israel's enemies understand Cicero. Israel does not.
What, precisely, am I suggesting? The peace process, of course, is
misconceived and potentially catastrophic. Associated efforts at so-called
"confidence building measures" and "security regimes" are the foolish
inventions of academics, of the professors, trapped as usual in their
hermetically-sealed world of erroneous assumptions and political
correctness. In the academic world, Cicero is not in fashion. Cliches are the
rage, especially when they are well-funded. Euphemisms are proper.
Forthrightness is unforgivable.
Incrementally Oslo will fail; Israelis will suffer increasingly numerous and more indiscriminate terror attacks; young Palestinians will be recruited to blow up Jews as a ticket to eternal life amidst seventy-two virgins.
What is only metaphor to the sophisticated Westerner will be altogether literal to a seventeen-year old Arab boy from Jenin.
There is, of course, one more arena of prospective war, an arena of
particularly great importance to Israel. I refer to Iran; especially the
development of Iranian unconventional weapons and the threat of Iranian
nuclear attack. This threat is becoming very real indeed. Regarding this
threat, Israel has essentially two options: (1) do nothing other than rely
on strategic deterrence, deliberately ambiguous or disclosed (a problem
because of willingness, capability, and rationality components of a credible
deterrence popsture); or (2) strike preemptively against Iranian hard
targets and/or associated infrastructures, a strike that would
necessarily reflect the permissible use of force known as "anticipatory
self defense" in international law.
Here an unfortunate synergy must be noted. Now that the "peace
process" is underway, Israel's effective capacity to preempt has already
been diminished. It is true that Iran is not a part of this process, but
surely the global community (a community not usually known for its good
feelings toward Israel or, for that matter, toward Jews in general) would
see a post-Oslo defensive strike against Iranian hard targets as evidence
of continuing Israeli "aggression."
But again, what is done is done? The only question that remains is:
what is Israel to do now? I have written widely about preemption and
anticipatory self defense by Israel, with special reference to Iran.
The tactical requirements of such actions are somewhat beyond my domain
and can be handled more adequately elsewhere (especially by my fellow
speaker today, IAF Maj. Gen. Ben-Nun). What Israel does need to keep in mind
is the essential time factor. Once Iranian unconventional or even nuclear
weapons are deployed, Jerusalem's preemption options will be severely
reduced. In essence, where Iran has already "gone nuclear," they will have
Of course, Israel continues to place substantial hopes in ATBM (Anti-
Tactical Ballistic Missile) defenses, principally the Hetz or Arrow project,
but the limitations of such defenses are significant and well-known,
primarily because a largely "leakproof" system is required, and such a
requirement is well beyond technical possibility. Moreover, the success of
deterrence is entirely contingent upon assumptions of enemy rationality.
Should the leadership in Iran prove willing to absorb massive Israeli
counterstrikes to achieve the allegedly Islamic benefits of a first strike
attack against the "Zionist cancer," Israeli nuclear deterrence would be
Is such Iranian willingness likely? Probably not. But are you
prepared to bet the country on it? And if you are not so prepared, timely
preemption by Israel emerges as the only alternative to waiting patiently
for annihilation. This is the case even where preemption would succeed only
Israel, like Biedermann in Max Frisch's ominous play, lives in a bad
neighborhood. Like Biedermann, Israel can pretend that everything will be
alright, that the "arsonists" will disappear on their own accord, or at
least that they will be deterred from doing harm if they are indulged in
their every whim and expectation. Like Biedermann, self delusion for Israel
will result in "fire," in an assortment of harms that threaten survival and
that should have been averted.
Israel must act unlike Biedermann, choosing not the path of
"reasonableness" in an unreasonable region, but of determination, self-
reliance and appropriate forms of forceful self-defense. Rejecting the
"disassociating" professors for whom Jewish history might just as well
have never happened, Jerusalem must now base its policies upon a sober
awareness of what has already been and upon a full consideration of what
is still possible. Should Israel choose such an awareness, as indeed it
must, acknowledging protracted, even permanent conflict, the short-term
will be markedly unpleasant (hasn't it always?), but the long-term will at
Louis Rene Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author
of many books and articles dealing with Israeli and Middle Eastern security
issues. His work is well known to Israel's military and intelligence
Louis Rene Beres, Ph.D. (Princeton, 1971)
Professor of Political Science and International Law
West Lafayette IN 47907
(765) TEL 494-4189
(765) FAX 494-0833