Iceland, Israel, and the Jews: A Largely Negative History

July 10th, 2018 by Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 888, July 10, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Whenever the media mention Iceland in the context of Israel, it is usually to report negative news. It is difficult to find in Iceland’s history more than one substantial occasion when it played a positive role for Israel. There have been many cases of anti-Semitism in Iceland over the centuries. Every year, during the Lent period before Easter, 17th century hymns full of hatred for the Jews are read out daily by distinguished citizens and broadcast on Iceland’s public radio station.

Whenever the media mention Iceland in the context of Israel, it is usually to report negative news. One recent development is a petition going around the country not to participate in the Eurovision contest, which will be held next year in Israel. So far this petition has received 11,000 signatories. That is significant in a country with only about 350,000 inhabitants. (Apparently the national broadcaster nevertheless intends to participate in the Eurovision program.)

It is difficult to find in Iceland’s history more than one substantial occasion when it played a positive role for Israel or Jews. The Icelandic representative at the UN, Ambassador Thor Thors, was the rapporteur for the 1947 Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). This committee recommended partitioning the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. In his autobiography, Abba Eban reports that Thors was “magnificent” in introducing the recommendation to the General Assembly where the vote would be taken.

In 2015, the city council of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, decided to boycott Israeli products. A week later, Reykjavik’s Mayor, Dagur B. Eggertsson, amended the proposal so that the city would be boycotting only those goods produced in the “occupied” areas. Council members said the boycott was a symbolic act designed to support Palestinian statehood and condemn Israel’s alleged policy of apartheid.

The Icelandic Foreign Ministry said the city council’s decision was not in line with the country’s policy. Yair Lapid, leader of the Israeli Yesh Atid party and a former finance minister, reacted by asking inter alia whether the boycott included Microsoft Office, cellphones, cameras, and Google, all of which contain elements that are produced in Israel. Lapid added that if the answer to all these questions is yes, he wishes them an enjoyable life until their sadly unavoidable heart attack, as pacemakers are also an Israeli invention.

For such a small country, Iceland has caused a great deal of international mischief this century. It made the international press in 2008 in a major way when it suffered a systematic banking breakdown. Bearing in mind the relative size of its economy, its financial collapse was the largest the world had ever seen.

In 2011, Iceland’s parliament was the first country in Western Europe to recognize a Palestinian state. The foreign minister at the time, Ossur Skarphedinson, was extremely anti-Israel. Iceland’s Birgitta Jonsdottir was the first parliamentarian of any country to visit participants of the failed second Gaza flotilla.

Iceland’s attitude toward Jews, both recently and in the past, can be described as wretched. The latest indignity was a proposal this year to be the first country in Europe to ban circumcision. In addition to politicians, 400 doctors supported the bill.

Iceland attracted much negative international attention for this. Reinhard Marx, the cardinal of Munich and Chairman of the Commission of the Bishops Conferences of the European Community, denounced the bill as an attack on religious freedom. The bishop of the National Church of Iceland said the ban could criminalize Judaism and Islam in that country and result in the barring of individuals who adhere to those religions.

The leading Republican and Democrat on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee together urged Iceland not to support the proposed bill. They wrote to the Icelandic ambassador in Washington, saying: “While Jewish and Muslim populations in Iceland may be small, your country’s ban could be exploited by those who stoke xenophobia and anti-Semitism in countries with more diverse populations.”  The Conference of European Rabbis announced that it had managed to convince doctors, academics, and heads of organizations of all faiths to call the proposal “anti-Semitic.”

There are many other examples of anti-Semitic behavior in Iceland’s past. Iceland gave warm refuge to the Estonian Nazi war criminal Evald Mikson. At the end of the 1980s, Nazi hunter Ephraim Zuroff tried to bring Mikson to trial for his involvement in the murder of Jews in Estonia. This led to many Icelandic media attacks against Israel. The country’s government took more than 10 years after Zuroff’s initial appeals to set up a commission to investigate Mikson’s war crimes. Only after his death did the investigators find that he had indeed committed atrocities.

In 2004, Iceland offered asylum to Bobby Fischer, the extremely anti-Semitic former chess world champion. In 2004 he was arrested in Japan and held for several months for using a passport that had been revoked by the US government. Fischer fought extradition to the US. Eventually, he was granted an Icelandic passport and citizenship by a special act of the Althing, Iceland’s parliament. This allowed him to live in Iceland until his death in 2008. (As an aside, he praised the September 11 attacks.)

Many cases of anti-Semitism in Iceland over the centuries have been described by Vilhjalmur Örn Vilhjálmsson, an expert on the country’s history towards the Jews. One example concerns the deportation in 1938 of an impoverished German Jewish refugee to Denmark. The Icelandic authorities at that time offered to cover all costs for his expulsion to Nazi Germany if Denmark refused him entry. Decades after the war, similar cases became known.

Vilhjálmsson also published the fact that several Icelandic members of the Waffen SS fought for Nazi Germany, and others served in concentration camps. He added that after the war various former members of Iceland’s Nazi party quickly “attained high positions in society, including a couple of chiefs of police, a bank director and some doctors.”

Iceland’s anti-Semitism still continues. Every year during the Lent period before Easter, daily hymns full of hatred for the Jews are read out by distinguished citizens and broadcast on Iceland’s public radio station. These texts were written in the 17th century – many years before the first Jews arrived in the country – by the Christian priest, poet, and anti-Semite Halgrimur Petterson. One hymn, entitled “The Demand for Crucifixion,” reads: “The Jewish leaders all decide that Jesus must be crucified. The Prince of Life their prey must be. The murderer set at liberty.” In 2012, the Simon Wiesenthal Center tried in vain to stop this hateful practice.

A Chabad emissary recently arrived in Iceland and a Chabad House was established in Reykjavik. It is the first permanent Jewish institution ever in the country. The highest estimate of Jews in the country is 250, a tiny presence.  One can only hope the new emissary will not be subjected to abuse.

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Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ is a Senior Research Associate at the BESA Center and a former chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He specializes in IsraeliWestern European relations, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism, and is the author of The War of a Million Cuts.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

The Iranian-North Korean Nexus After the Singapore Summit

July 9th, 2018 by Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 887, July 9, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The summit that took place in Singapore in June 2018 between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un likely had a significant impact on the Pyongyang-Tehran nexus. Given the depth of strategic cooperation between the two countries, Iran can be expected to take steps to minimize any challenges that will be posed to that cooperation, either directly or indirectly, by the tentatively developing Pyongyang-Washington relationship.

In the wake of the Singapore summit, it is plausible that North Korea will be required by the US to avoid technology transfer to, and interactions with, other states or entities with regard to military nuclear technologies or armaments. It is not yet known whether Iran will be specifically mentioned during negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. If it is, there will need to be control measures set up to validate that contact between Tehran and Pyongyang is not taking place. Beyond those agreed-upon control measures, a variety of surveillance steps will have to be taken by intelligence apparatuses checking for hermetic monitoring.

The surreptitious Iranian-North Korean interface has a long history. Its main component is a tight technological cooperation in the fields of missiles and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Each country has its own knowhow that it contributes to that cooperation. Iran substantially foots the bill.

The Iranian-North Korean interface has boosted Syrian strategic military capacities, a vector that climaxed in the form of the Syrian plutonium reactor that was destroyed by the IDF in 2007. But even irrespective of Syria, the Pyongyang-Tehran nexus ought to be broken.

The two states are more or less equivalent from a scientific standpoint, with each having certain advantages over the other that they share without reservation. Both possess arsenals of operational chemical and biological weapons, including weapons in the form of warheads carried on missiles. The cardinal difference is the possession of nuclear weapons – along with the related knowhow – by North Korea. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons persists undiminished, if restrained somewhat by the 2015 Vienna Nuclear Deal.

The summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un created an entirely new situation. It is now open to question whether or not Kim Jong-un intends to give up his full inventory of military nuclear assets – almost any conveyable component of which Iran would be happy to possess. The last thing Tehran wants is to be informed by Pyongyang that its precious inventory is being completely destroyed or dismantled to meet the terms of a nuclear disarmament regime to be created with the US.

The Iranian-North Korean nexus has been largely under wraps for a long time. In September 2012, however, a meaningful event took place in public when the Iranian Minister of Science and Technology signed an agreement with North Korea establishing declared cooperation. No details were provided about the agreement other than that it would include “setting up joint scientific and technological laboratories, the exchange of scientific teams, and the transfer of technology in the fields of information technology, energy, environment, agriculture and food.”

Given the generality and vagueness of this formulation, it was reasonable to infer that the agreement went far beyond its alleged civilian sphere. In fact, that was but a disguise. Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei has since clarified that the agreement is an “outcome of the fact that Iran and North Korea have common enemies, because the arrogant powers do not accept independent states.”

Overt observations concerning Iranian-North Korean military technological cooperation picked up in September 2017, when a retired US Marine officer noted: “North Korea is getting £2bn a year from Iran. They have merchandised their warfare, their chemical weapons and nuclear weapons,” while the buyers are the Iranians. Although unverified, this observation may well reflect a meaningful part of the Iranian-North Korean interface.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said recently that US and North Korean officials had set up working groups to deal with the “nitty gritty stuff,” including verification of efforts to achieve denuclearization. These groups will be headed on the US side by Sung Kim, a Korean-American who is also ambassador to the Philippines. It has to be assumed that any information – classified or unclassified, formal or informal – pertaining in any way to the denuclearization of North Korea will be passed in real time by Pyongyang to Tehran, which will be eager to receive it.

Iran can learn many vital lessons from such information – about how to reset and reconfigure its own plans for the future procurement of nuclear weapons, the practical implementation of those plans, and the means of coping with control measures. This is one context in which Iran will be reassessing the 2015 Vienna Nuclear Deal, taking into consideration the repercussions of the US withdrawal. Iran might even try to influence the conceptual essentials and pragmatic practicalities of North Korea, if and when it ventures towards actual denuclearization.

Given the depth of the Iranian-North Korean relationship, Pyongyang is highly likely to concur in the Iranian approach – in other words, to wish to maintain the cryptic interface with Tehran regardless of the degree of soundness of Pyongyang’s interface with the US.

Pyongyang’s connection to Tehran is officially undisclosed,  notwithstanding the fact that the North Korean embassy in Tehran was rebuilt last year – probably with fortified inaccessibility in terms of intelligence. But intelligence breakthroughs are always around the corner.

How will the Iranian-North Korean interface change now that Pyongyang is forming tentative ties to the US? First, it is likely to strengthen its counterintelligence elements in order to maintain covert reciprocal activities. North Korean knowhow regarding unconventional weapons – knowhow that has not yet passed to Iran – will presumably be transferred. Iran might try hard to get Pyongyang to convey to Iran, rather than declare, any elite North Korean personnel and as yet undeclared critical technological components – and possibly actual weaponry – currently in North Korean facilities. Existing joint programs concerning missiles, particularly those designed to carry unconventional warheads, might be relocated in part to Iran.

Bahram Ghassemi, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said about the Singapore summit, “Our principal position on the Korean Peninsula is clear. We want peace, stability and security in that region, and we welcome any step taken in that direction. However, [due to] what we know of America and our understanding of their breaking their international commitments, we think the government of NK must act very carefully.”

Right after the summit ended, Iranian government spokesman Muhammad Bagher Nobakht said, “We don’t know what type of person the North Korean leader is negotiating with. It is not clear that he would not cancel the agreement before returning home.”

Iran has much to lose if North Korea entirely meets the requirements likely to be posed by the US, and will endeavor to hamper any such development. The American-North Korean-Iranian triangle is geopolitically fascinating and has far-reaching strategic ramifications. The dynamics underlying it have two elements: a visible element comprised of the recently established relationship between Pyongyang and Washington; and a largely invisible element comprised of Pyongyang’s long relationship with Tehran. The first element will be influenced by China, and perhaps also by Russia – but the second will retain its autonomy, its clandestine nature, and possibly its inaccessibility. This is a matter of serious concern, as Iran stands to be endowed with rescued North Korean assets.

This situation has secondary implications for Syria. Joint Iranian-North Korean technological assistance to Syria in developing and producing missiles, rockets, and chemical weapons has been going on for a long time. Tehran and Damascus would both prefer that the North Korean contribution to this development continue unimpaired, and Tehran will make an effort to see that it does.

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Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, a microbiologist and an expert on chemical and biological warfare in the Middle East, is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He is a former senior intelligence analyst in the IDF and the Israeli Defense Ministry.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

Saudi Religious Diplomacy Targets Jerusalem

July 8th, 2018 by Dr. James M. Dorsey

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 886, July 8, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A United Arab Emirates-backed Saudi effort to wrest control from Jordan of Islam’s holy places in Jerusalem signals a sharper, more overt edge to Saudi religious diplomacy. The kingdom’s quest for regional hegemony risks deepening divides in the Muslim world.

The Saudi effort to take control of Islam’s holy places in Jerusalem serves, among other things, to support President Donald Trump’s plan for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a plan that has split the Muslim world even before it has officially been made public, and that has been clouded by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

At the very least, Saudi Arabia hopes – at the risk of destabilizing Jordan, where Palestinians account for at least half the country’s almost ten million people – to drop its resistance to the Trump initiative.

Riyadh’s and the UAE’s focus on Jerusalem has broad regional implications as they are battling Turkey for ownership of the Jerusalem issue. Both countries have tried to downplay the significance of two Islamic summits in Istanbul convened by Turkey to counter Trump’s moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Turkey and the Gulf states are also at odds over the Saudi-UAE-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar and policy towards Iran.

The power- and geopolitics-driven effort constitutes a marked shift in Saudi religious diplomacy, which, for much of the past four decades, involved a $100 billion public diplomacy campaign to globally promote Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism. More recently, Saudi Arabia has sought to project itself as a beacon of tolerance, interfaith dialogue, and an unidentified form of moderate Islam.

Riyadh has not officially announced its quest to wrest control from Jordan of the Temple Mount, home to the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third most holy site after Mecca and Medina, but evidence is piling up against a backdrop of ever closer relations among Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain.

Flexing the kingdom’s financial muscle, Saudi King Salman told an Arab summit in Dhahran in April that he was donating $150 million to support Islam’s holy places in Jerusalem. The donation counters a multitude of Turkish bequests to Islamic organizations in Jerusalem and efforts to acquire real estate.

But unlike Saudi Arabia, Turkey can capitalize on the fact that it maintains diplomatic relations with Israel to organize Islamist tours to the city. Thousands of Turkish supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Democracy Party (AKP) visited the city in the past year. Turkish activists allegedly participated in last year’s protests on the Temple Mount.

Striking a different chord from that of his powerful son, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who has been vocal in his support for Trump and his empathy with Israeli positions, King Salman denounced the “invalidity and illegality” of the US decision to recognize Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia, in opposition to the Jordanian endowment that administers the Temple Mount, last year backed Israel’s installation of metal detectors following an attack that killed two Israeli policemen.

Some Jordanians saw the Saudi support as a precursor to a US-backed agreement with Israel that would give the Gulf states a foothold on the Temple Mount by allowing Saudi and UAE personnel to be posted at its entrances.

According to Kamal Khatib, an Israeli Arab Islamist leader, as well as Arab media reports, the UAE – in competition with Turkey – is seeking to purchase real estate adjacent to the Temple Mount. Khatib asserted that the UAE is operating through an associate of Muhammad Dahlan, an Abu Dhabi-based former Palestinian security chief with presidential ambitions.

Jordan and Saudi Arabia clashed in December during a gathering of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union when the kingdom attempted to challenge Jordan’s custodianship of holy places in Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia, together with the UAE and Kuwait, pledged US$2.5 billion to Jordan after mass anti-government protests rocked the country earlier this year in a bid to gain leverage and prevent it from turning to Turkey for help.

Al-Monitor quoted Raed Daana, a former director of preaching and guidance at Al-Aqsa Mosque Directorate, as saying that Saudi Arabia had secretly invited Palestinian Muslim dignitaries in a bid to garner support for a Saudi power grab.

Saudi officials are further believed to be pressuring Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to allow Saudi Islamic scholars to visit Palestine. In a rare outreach, Iyad Madani, a Saudi national and secretary-general of the Jeddah-based, 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), visited the Temple Mount in January.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have used Bahrain, a financially weak state whose ruling family was bolstered in 2011 by the intervention of a Saudi-led military force to counter a popular revolt, as a front for some of their overtures towards Israel.

Bahrain, which recently granted entry to an Israeli delegation to participate in a UNESCO meeting, has been at the forefront of the Gulf states’ religious diplomacy and propagation of interfaith dialogue.

Israel’s only official presence in the Gulf is its under-the-radar mission to the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi, which is widely seen as the Jewish state’s embassy to the region.

A prominent American rabbi, Marc Shneier, and evangelist Reverend Johnnie Moore, a member of Donald Trump’s faith advisory board, keynoted at a dinner in Washington in May hosted by the Bahrain Embassy. Reverend Moore led a delegation of Bahraini and expatriate civic and business leaders on a visit to Israel last December, days after Trump had recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.

The delegation’s Palestinian reception suggests that Saudi-UAE efforts to gain a geopolitics-driven religious foothold in Jerusalem may not be straightforward. Palestinian guards barred the delegation from entering the Temple Mount while protesters in Gaza blocked it from visiting the Strip.

Said Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi in a comment about the visit that could have applied to the broader Saudi-UAE effort: “I don’t believe this whole lovey-dovey approach of ‘we’re here to show tolerance’. Then go home and show tolerance at home.”

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Dr. James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

How Sun Tzu Might Approach US Nuclear Strategy

July 6th, 2018 by Prof. Louis René Beres

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 885, July 6, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Although nuclear strategy must, by definition, be shaped without historical precedent, it should contain certain ancient core concepts. The strategic postulates first laid down by Sun Tzu could be referenced usefully by the current architects of US nuclear strategy, especially with reference to an already nuclear North Korea, and to a plausibly future nuclear adversary in Iran. These first principles could be applied to US ally Israel, in consequence of their direct impact on US policies, and to ongoing North Korean military activity in Syria or the wider Middle East.

Ancient Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu’s The Art of War should be studied by US President Donald Trump’s senior military advisors. Their examination of the text ought to focus on maximizing the credible range of America’s nuclear deterrent and on shaping the Pentagon’s correlative order of battle.

Any nuclear war would obviously be unprecedented. The August 1945 US bombings of Japan were not instances of nuclear war, but rather singular and non-replicable atomic attacks in a conventional war. Because there has never been an actual nuclear war, nothing can reliably be said about determining such a conflict’s probability. In science and mathematics, proper assessments of event probability must be based upon the determinable frequency of relevant past events.

President Trump could learn from Sun Tzu’s “Tao of Warfare” that the military world, like the world in general, is what it is.” Any contrived reduction in analytic complexity could result in a too risky distortion of strategic choices. To deal correctly with such inevitable complexity, what is needed is not attitude but preparation.

Ultimately, the US summit imbroglio with North Korea was about implementing necessary dissuasions from future war, conventional as well as nuclear. Preventing a conventional conflict with Pyongyang is imperative not only because such an engagement could prove starkly injurious to US forces and nationals in South Korea and also to certain US regional allies, but because it could quickly escalate towards the nuclear threshold. Such an escalation could prove uncontrollable.

Whatever the results of the Singapore summit (a meeting that Donald Trump felt would be best managed through attitude rather than preparation), America’s general strategy will remain embedded in various forms of deterrence, including nuclear deterrence. Going forward, whatever the ultimate outcomes of the summit, this basic strategy must remain rooted in one or several of the following six national security functions:

  1. deterrence of large-scale conventional attacks by enemy states;
  2. deterrence of all levels of unconventional attack by enemy states;
  3. preemption of enemy-state nuclear attacks;
  4. support of conventional preemptions against enemy-state nuclear assets;
  5. support of conventional preemptions against enemy-state non-nuclear assets; and
  6. nuclear war-fighting.

At some point in the future, President Trump may need to leverage US nuclear weapons in order to support certain forms of American conventional preemption. To proceed rationally in any such uncharted strategic territory, he would first need to determine whether any non-nuclear expressions of “anticipatory self-defense” could succeed operationally. In turn, this vital determination would then depend upon a number of critical, interpenetrating and possibly synergistic security factors, including:

  1. expected probability of North Korean first-strikes;
  2. expected costs of North Korean first-strikes;
  3. expected schedule of North Korean nuclear weapons deployment;
  4. expected efficiencies of North Korean active defenses over time;
  5. expected efficiencies of US active defenses over time;
  6. expected efficiencies of US hard-target or “counterforce” operations over time;
  7. expected reactions of unaffected regional enemies; and
  8. expected US and world community reactions to any considered American preemptions.

“Weighing strength,” reminds Sun Tzu, “gives birth to victory.” But any such prescribed measurement is exceedingly difficult to detach from subjective calculation. This means an American president ought never to assume he harbors an incomparably great capacity to maintain full control over unfolding events.

For President Trump and his counselors, other connections will need to be examined. Several would concern relationships between nuclear threat functions, primarily deterrence, and pertinent binding law. Contrary to conventional wisdom on law and geopolitics, nuclear deterrence does not function outside the ambit of international law. Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, international law (however regrettably) has had to rely upon assorted threat system dynamics of threat and counter-threat.

This candid appraisal concerns even preemption, which can sometimes be construed as “anticipatory self-defense” under customary international law. This judgment of legal correctness includes an 8 July 1996 advisory decision of the International Court of Justice. The summary assessment concludes, “…in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

In some respects, at least, this ICJ Advisory Opinion should concern US ally Israel even more urgently than the US directly. After all, nuclear deterrence, whether ambiguous or openly declared, remains indispensable to Israel’s core survival needs.

The adequacy of international law in preventing both nuclear and conventional war in Northeast Asia – a war that could conceivably “spill over” to other regions, plausibly the Middle East – will depend upon more than formal treaties, customs, or the so-called “general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.” Among other perils, North Korea has continued to send advanced weapons to Syria, including outlawed chemical weapons, thereby strengthening not only the openly criminal Damascus regime, but also the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, as well as Iran. The injurious consequences of any such arms transfers could be most consequential for Israel as it seeks to prepare for an expanding Iranian military presence within Syria. It will also be contingent upon the success or failure of any competing US and North Korean military strategies in the region.

If President Trump’s selected nuclear strategy should serve to reduce the threat and/or seriousness of future war, either because of successfully implemented forms of nuclear deterrence or because of “no alternative” preemptive strikes launched against an illegally nuclearizing North Korea, this strategy could be counted as an authentic component of international law enforcement.

How should Washington proceed? Initially, President Trump would do well to consider Sun Tzu’s principles concerning diplomacy. To be sure, suitable military preparations should never be neglected, but diplomacy must also preserve its place. By fusing power and diplomacy, says Sun Tzu, the objective of every state to weaken its enemies without engaging in armed combat can better be realized.

Sun Tzu’s overriding objective always links the ideal of complete victory to reciprocal strategies for planning offensives.

Today, this advice may seem obvious enough, yet current US strategic posture will depend heavily upon various forms of ballistic missile defense (BMD). In principle, at least, by placing too much faith in its active defense systems, the US could become willing to accept certain excessive risks, and also to disavow any still remaining preemption options.

There is really no good reason to believe that the US nuclear deterrent could ever suitably reduce all conceivable nuclear threats from North Korea. In spite of America’s advanced deterrent postures, there could still come a time when the power of Washington’s implicit nuclear threat would be immobilized by enemy miscalculation, inadvertence, mechanical accident, false warnings, unauthorized firings (e.g., coups d’état), hacking, or even outright irrationality. Furthermore, a calculated US willingness to make such threats more conspicuous need not necessarily be matched by any greater likelihood of operational success.

Assuming operational rationality in the White House and in the Pentagon, the single most compelling factor in any US presidential decision on preemption against North Korea will likely be the perceived rationality of Kim Jung-un. If, after all, Kim were expected to strike at America or certain US allies with nuclear weapons irrespective of any anticipated US counterstrikes, American deterrence could fail altogether. This means that North Korean nuclear strikes could be expected even if Kim Jung-un had already understood that President Trump was willing and able to respond to Pyongyang’s aggressions with devastating nuclear reprisals.

Any North Korean decision to strike in these circumstances would have been made in spite of US deployment of nuclear weapons in recognizably survivable modes, and in spite of the fact that those American rockets and bombs were able to penetrate North Korea’s most sophisticated, effective, and widespread active defenses.

Some might argue, more or less persuasively, that the US has already lost any preemption option it once had with respect to North Korean nuclear weapons. As a result of enemy multiplication, dispersal, and hardening of infrastructures, goes this argument, President Trump can now only wait until the time comes for an after-the-fact response; that is, for inflicting punishment or retaliation. If this purely retributive argument is correct, any such total US reliance upon deterrence and certain corollary active defenses could represent a fatal indifference to enduring general principles of classic Chinese military strategy.

Another section of The Art of War that could help President Trump compensate for any disproportionate reliance on nuclear deterrence and ballistic missile defense is the one in which Sun Tzu emphasizes the “unorthodox.” Drawn from the school of thought that had crystallized as Taoism, the ancient strategist observes: “…in battle, one engages with the orthodox, and gains victory through the unorthodox.”

In another complex passage, Sun Tzu discusses how the orthodox may be used in unorthodox ways, while an orthodox attack may still be unorthodox, at least when it is unexpected. Taken with appropriate seriousness by American strategic planners, this nuanced passage could prove a useful tool for meaningful tactical implementation, one that might exploit Kim Jung-un’s presumed matrix of identifiable military objectives.

For President Trump, the “unorthodox” should be fashioned not only on the battlefield but also before the battle. To prevent the most dangerous forms of battle, or those military engagements that could subsequently descend into all-out unconventional warfare, Washington should fashion a number of new military postures. These advanced postures would focus on a reasoned shift from “orthodox” rationality to “unorthodox” irrationality. This sort of thinking is what the late American nuclear strategist Herman Kahn had earlier called the “rationality of pretended irrationality.”

On several occasions, President Trump has demonstrated a quirky affection for postures of feigned irrationality. Such calculated pretense has to be performed with considerable finesse, however, to avoid its becoming a double-edged sword. Also worth noting is that any strategy of pretended irrationality would represent the diametric opposite of Sun Tzu’s more general counsel. In Chapter One, entitled “Initial Estimations,” he remarks that military success must always be based upon “rationality and self-control.”

President Trump requires a pattern of thinking adapted not only by Sun Tzu, but also by some of his classic contemporaries in ancient Greece. To create a nuclear doctrine, he will need to fashion a genuinely usable “strategic dialectic.” Any such interrogative method would ask and answer intersecting questions, sequentially, again and again, until all core security problems had been productively confronted head-on.

Following Sun Tzu’s prescriptions on the “unorthodox,” US strategists should approach the challenging North Korea security problem as an interrelated series of thoughts, one in which each thought necessarily presents a complication that then moves inquiry onward. Contained in this strategic dialectic, as Sun Tzu himself was no doubt aware, is a relentless obligation to continue thinking. (Logically, this imperative can never be satisfied entirely because of what philosophers call an “infinite regress problem,” but it must be attempted as completely and competently as possible.)

Armed with such an explicitly dialectical form of military strategy, Trump could then focus not only on discrete threats and situations (most plausibly, North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development), but also on multiple dynamic interactions between particular threats (“synergies”).

Sun Tzu can offer Trump the still timely wisdom that strategy and war planning are fundamentally intellectual activities. Especially because Kim Jung-un already commands a nuclear arsenal, one he will most assuredly refuse to destroy, America’s emphasis must be on using its combined military assets to create stable deterrence rather than to wage war. “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting,” says Sun Tzu in The Art of War, “is the true pinnacle of excellence.”

The ancient Chinese strategist also devotes a good deal of attention to the necessary “ruler’s qualifications.”

From this listing, Trump could be reminded that “The ruler cannot mobilize the army out of any personal anger.” He could also learn the following leadership strengths: wisdom; knowledge; benevolence; unconcern for fame; tranquility; and righteousness. Correspondingly, leaders’ weaknesses can include: obsession with achieving fame; quickness to anger; haste to act; inability to fathom the enemy; and personal arrogance.

In complex military affairs, generality is an indispensable trait of explanatory and predictive meaning. Strategic theory represents an important net with which both planners and policy-makers can catch whatever is most vital. To think otherwise, or to approach every major military crisis as somehow analytically discrete or ad hoc, would represent nothing less than a form of national surrender.

To avoid such a surrender, it would profit President Trump to heed the timeless strategic principles of Sun Tzu.

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Louis René Beres is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue and the author of 12 books and several hundred articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war. The second edition of his Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield) was published in 2018.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

Israel Must Stop Syria’s Advance Southward

July 5th, 2018 by Prof. Hillel Frisch

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 884, July 5, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israel must halt the reconsolidation of the Syrian regime, especially in the country’s south. Russia helped to bolster the regime through airpower. In response to the resulting and growing threat, Israel must now unleash the might of the IAF.

Ever since the 1982 Lebanon war, the Israeli leadership has repeated the mantra that non-involvement in foreign battlefields is better than engagement.

That spell continues to affect Israeli policies towards Syria despite the occasional aerial strikes leveled against Syrian and Iranian installations and forces.

No rule applies to all situations. In the case of Israeli involvement in Syria, minimal involvement is now downright dangerous.

Unlike the 1982 Lebanon war, when Israel sought to bolster the Lebanese government in the face of Palestinian and Syrian intervention, it must now become engaged in Syrian affairs to halt the reconsolidation of a regime that has long exacted Israeli blood and treasure and will continue to do so as an Iranian puppet. If the regime’s position is reconsolidated, especially in the south bordering the Golan Heights, Tehran will expect it to ramp up its conflict with Israel.

What must Israel do to prevent this?

The Syrians are advancing southward against the last rebel strongholds in the Daraa area. The IAF must stop that advance by striking at the movement of forces and Syrian positions. The drawing of heavy casualties must be added to the list of Israeli objectives in Syria.

This is of crucial importance because of the unique demographic attributes of Israel’s enemies, the Alawite regime, its Hezbollah supporters, and even the Iranians.

Professor Eyal Zisser, Israel’s leading Syria expert, has analyzed demographic growth across Syria as reflected in the 2004 census. He found that the areas where Alawites, the community behind the regime and that accounts for by far the largest reservoir of Syria’s fighters, had the lowest growth rates in the country. Zisser estimated that before the rebellion in 2011, the Alawite community represented only 6-7% of the population rather than the 10-12% usually attributed to it.

The Syrian regime’s demographic disadvantage can only have declined since 2011. Certainly that can be seen on the battlefield. Throughout the rebellion, the Syrian regime has fought in piecemeal fashion. Up to 2015, almost any advance on one front meant a loss on another.  For example, when the regime assaulted Homs, it lost ground in Idlib. It did not have sufficient manpower to conduct two-front assaults even with the help of Hezbollah and the popular militias.

Even when massive Russian air power tilted the balance of power in the Syrian regime’s favor in the fall of 2015, the difficulty of sustaining casualties and an aging fighting force meant it could only consolidate its hold haphazardly. Syria had to decide on which front to advance: either east of Aleppo and Homs against ISIS, or in the eastern suburbs and towns of Ghouta against other Islamic militias. These battles could never be conducted simultaneously. The numerous local truces between rebel militias and the regime, many of them “brokered” by the Russians and Iranians, allowed the regime to advance on one front at a time.

As the regime became more powerful, the truces were replaced by preplanned and highly organized withdrawals of rebel forces and their families from areas both west and east of Damascus to Idlib, brokered by Russia. There were regular photos of rebels and their families boarding buses surrounded by Russian military police and these cordons of buses being led by Russian military vehicles on the journey to Idlib through government-controlled areas.

Unfortunately for the Sunni community, certainly for the rebels and for Israel, the divided rebel forces, which numbered in the hundreds of groups, fought each other as much as they fought the Syrian army. It was this chronic divisiveness and internecine fighting that allowed the regime to consolidate its hold. Israel must prevent the continuation of this process.

The same demographic predicament in which the Alawites find themselves affects the Shiite community in Lebanon, which provides the pool of manpower for Hezbollah. Lebanese demographic data is notoriously inaccurate – the official demographic agency of the state gives estimates of the Lebanese population with a discrepancy of one-third, between 5 million and 3.5 million. It also provides no information about the communities that make up the Lebanese population. Estimates for the Shiite community range from one to two million.

I unearthed a detailed compilation of data for Lebanese schools in 2006, down to the exact number of students in every school. These data clearly demonstrate the paucity of both schools and students in predominantly Shiite districts. Through simple demographic extrapolation, one can safely say the smaller population estimate is closer to the truth.

This small community has been sacrificing its sons, with only brief respites, ever since the establishment of Hezbollah 36 years ago – first against Israel and its allied militia, and since then on Syrian battlefields.

Adding to the impact of the incessant bloodletting are studies that claim that Shiite fertility rates in Lebanon (and indeed in Iran) had dropped by 2004 to replacement levels and are now at European levels of around 1.7 children per woman. This means that those induced to replace aging fighters will increasingly come from very small families for whom their loss will be especially costly.

Israel must draw lessons from the successful Russian intervention in Syria and do the exact opposite.

The Russians helped consolidate the regime by pounding rebel troops into agreeing to truces and withdrawals through the strategic use of airpower. Israel must now unleash the IAF’s might to stop further consolidation of the regime as well as to try to unite and arm the rebel forces southern Syria as much as possible.

Not only is the will important, but so is the way – by exacting enemy losses. The more manpower the Syrian army and Hezbollah lose, the greater their reluctance will be to continue to fight Israel in the future.

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Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

The Limits of Technological Superiority

July 5th, 2018 by Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 883, July 5, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: There is no technological solution to the problem of kite/balloon terrorism. However decisive it may be, technology in and of itself does not guarantee victory.

Even against a simple and creative threat like kite/balloon terrorism, the Israeli defense establishment is aiming for a technological deliverance. To be sure, technological superiority on the battlefield should be exploited whenever possible (for example Israel’s Iron Dome system, which provides an effective solution to the rocket threat). But the phenomenon of war, like World Cup football games for that matter, shows that physical factors ultimately depend on the human spirit. As Yigal Allon, one of the architects of Israel’s 1948 victory, put it: “Without downplaying the value of arms, the Palmah learned to view the human spirit as the main source of strength in the war.”

The Greek victory in the Trojan War, after ten years of fighting, was achieved via the famous ruse of the Trojan horse. Modern screening technology might have exposed the ploy. Yet according to the story, the problem lay not in the absence of adequate technology but in disastrously flawed judgment. The king’s daughter, Cassandra, repeatedly warned against the danger posed by the wooden horse, but in the general euphoria attending the seeming end of the war, her warnings fell on deaf ears.

Technology has a calming effect in that it ostensibly eliminates the need for personal vigilance, resourcefulness, and responsibility. It seems to allow us to overcome the uncontrollable randomness of the human spirit, which has always been difficult to gauge in times of crisis and war. Soldiers, like athletes and artists, have always been aware of the critical dependence on inspiration and “a hidden power” that brings them to the peak of achievement in critical moments. Those who have experienced the blessing of inspiration are more aware than others of the painful deprivation that accompanies its disappearance. In the words of King David’s lamentation in the Psalms, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Technological support, on the other hand, is not capricious. It is stable in its operational mode and subject to control. When something goes wrong, it is nothing more than a technical failure that can be investigated and fixed. Technology thus mitigates our dependence on the vicissitudes of the human spirit. The machine has no self-doubts or panic attacks and no need for the power of faith. As a result, dependence on technological solutions has increased over the years and gained control of fundamental military and civilian operational modes. But this has come at a high cost. For the lower dependence on faith and the human spirit in times of crisis has diminished the individual and reduced him/her to a cog in a machine.

As shown by Allon’s words, a diminution of the human spirit did not characterize the IDF’s ethos during the first decades of its existence, something that was acknowledged by its Arab enemies in explaining their defeat in the 1967 War. In the words of Yusuf Karadawi, one of the spiritual leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Returning to the faith and raising the banner of jihad are particularly vital in the struggle against World Zionism, because the Zionists inculcate their soldiers with religious faith and religious dreams.” One can of course argue with this prognosis, but his words express a widespread Arab/Muslim perception of the spiritual source of the IDF’s strength.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, with the advent of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), military planners found themselves at a new juncture. The Israeli defense establishment chose to focus on the maximizing of Israel’s technological edge. Hezbollah and Hamas, by contrast, chose to strengthen their fighters’ faith and readiness for self-sacrifice. As Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted in the last days of the 2006 Lebanon War: “The confrontation that is currently taking place surprised the Israelis in terms of the human factor… They discovered that they are fighting people with faith, will, heroism, perseverance, and willingness to sacrifice.”

The IDF and the Israeli defense establishment must therefore clarify to themselves whether they have not strayed into excessive cultural and mental dependence on a technological support envelope. Not that one should not exploit one’s technological edge to the full, but technology in and of itself cannot guarantee victory.

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This article appeared in The Liberal in July 2018.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served in the IDF for forty-two years. He commanded troops in battles with Egypt and Syria. He was formerly a corps commander and commander of the IDF Military Colleges.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

The China-US Confrontation: A Russian View

July 4th, 2018 by Emil Avdaliani

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 882, July 4, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: China and the US have different geopolitical imperatives, so tensions are bound to increase between the two powers. Russia’s position in the nascent confrontation will be important to watch, as it is simultaneously under pressure from the West and in the shadow of Chinese economic strength. Russia will likely see US-China competition as providing an opportunity to improve its own geopolitical position.

China, which is poised to become a powerful player in international politics thanks to its economic rise and concurrent military development, has strategic imperatives that clash with those of the US. Beijing needs to secure its procurement of oil and gas resources, which are currently most available through the Malakka Strait. In an age of US naval dominance, the Chinese imperative is to redirect its economy’s dependence – as well as its supply routes – elsewhere.

That is the central motivation behind the almost trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is intended to reconnect the Asia-Pacific with Europe through Russia, the Middle East, and Central Asia. At the same time, Beijing has a growing ambition to thwart US naval dominance off Chinese shores. With these factors involved, mutual suspicion between Beijing and Washington is bound to increase over the next years and decades.

Analysts have proposed various foreign policy scenarios about the likelihood of a coming showdown between the two powers. However, most of those analyses – some of which are very good – neglect the Russian position. That country, which stretches from the Baltic to the Pacific and is ensconced between the West and China, is poised to play a pivotal role in a possible US-China confrontation due to its geography and military and economic capabilities.

Moscow believes the US-China conflict might enable it to advance the Russian geopolitical agenda, which has been much constrained by the Europeans and the Americans over the past three decades.

The current crisis between Russia and the West is the product of many fundamental geopolitical differences in both the former Soviet space and elsewhere. Relations are thus likely to remain stalled well into the future barring large concessions by one of the sides. The successful western expansion into what was always considered the “Russian backyard” halted Moscow’s projection of power and diminished its reach into the north of Eurasia – between fast-developing China, Japan, and other Asian countries and the technologically modern European landmass.

Russia claims that its western borders are now vulnerable because NATO and the EU are marching eastward. In fact, Russia has far more vulnerable territories, such as the North Caucasus and porous Central Asia.

In some respects, the Russians are simply spending too much of their national energies on problems with the West. Costly military modernization and the support for separatist regimes in Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia weigh heavily on the Russian budget.

Russians can rightly question why their country is spending so much on the former Soviet space when Russia’s current borders are more in Asia. Why is the country investing so much in unsuccessfully disrupting Western influence in many parts of the former Soviet space? This point is doubly strong when one looks at a map of Russia, with its vast tracts of uncultivated and largely unpopulated Siberian lands.

Today, Europe is a source of technological progress, as are Japan and China. Never in Russian history has there been such opportunity to develop Siberia and transform it into a power base of the world economy.

Russia’s geographical position is unique and will remain so for another several decades, as the ice cap in the Arctic Ocean is set to diminish significantly. The Arctic Ocean will be transformed into an ocean of commercial highways, giving Russia a historic opportunity to become a sea power.

Chinese and Japanese human and technological resources in the Russian far east, and European resources in the Russian west, can transform it into a land of opportunity.

Russia’s geographical position should be kept in mind when analyzing Moscow’s position vis-à-vis the China-US competition. However, apart from the purely economic and geographical pull that the developed Asia-Pacific has on Russia’s eastern provinces, the Russian political elite sees the nascent US-China confrontation as offering a chance to enhance its weakening geopolitical position throughout the former Soviet space. Russians are right to think that both Washington and Beijing will dearly need Russian support, and this logic is driving Moscow’s noncommittal approach towards Beijing and Washington. As a matter of cold-blooded international affairs, Russia wishes to position itself such that the US and China are strongly competing with one another to win its favor.

In allying itself with China, Russia would expect to increase its influence in Central Asia, where Chinese power has grown exponentially since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although Moscow has never voiced official concerns about this matter, that is not to deny the existence of such concerns within the Russian political elite.

However, if Moscow chooses the US side, the American concessions could be more significant than the Chinese. Ukraine and the South Caucasus would be the biggest prizes, while NATO expansion into the Russian “backyard” would be stalled. The Middle East might be another sticking point where Moscow gets fundamental concessions – for example in Syria, should that conflict continue.

Beyond grand strategic thinking, this decision will also be a civilizational choice for the Russians molded in the perennial debate about whether the country is European, Asiatic, or Eurasian (a mixture of the two). Geography inexorably pulls Russia towards the east, but culture pulls it towards the west. While decisions of this nature are usually expected to be based on geopolitical calculations, cultural affinity also plays a role.

Tied into the cultural aspect is the Russians’ fear that they (like the rest of the world) do not know how the world would look under Chinese leadership. The US might represent a threat to Russia, but it is still a “known” for the Russian political elite. A China-led Eurasia could be more challenging for the Russians considering the extent to which Russian frontiers and provinces are open to large Chinese segments of population.

The Russian approach to the nascent US-China confrontation is likely to be opportunistic. Its choice between them will be based on which side offers more to help Moscow resolve its problems across the former Soviet space.

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Emil Avdaliani teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University. He has worked for various international consulting companies and currently publishes articles focused on military and political developments across the former Soviet space.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 881, July 3, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Just as Israel is a Jewish state of nearly 9 million citizens, where some 2 million non-Jews live in peace and security, there is no reason why a Palestinian Arab state should not host a sizable Jewish minority living in peace and security with the Arab majority.

It is a historical irony that what was internationally recognized as an indisputable Jewish right nearly a century ago has become a foremost denigration of this very right.

In 1922 the League of Nations, the UN’s predecessor, endorsed the 1917 Balfour Declaration on the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine and tasked Britain with facilitating this goal. It was taken for granted that the biblical areas of Judea and Samaria, the bedrock of Jewish statehood from time immemorial, would be part of that prospective national home (or, rather, state). Indeed, the mandate given to Britain even included the vast territory east of the Jordan River, or Transjordan as it was known at the time (it is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan).

This was not to be. Transjordan’s emir-turned-king Abdullah I conquered these territories during his 1948 attack on the nascent state of Israel and made them the West Bank (of his kingdom) two years later, only to have their future become an internationally contested issue after their capture by Israel during the June 1967 war. With the passage of time, and in contravention of the November 1967 Security Council Resolution 242, which established the land-for-peace principle and envisaged Israel’s retention of some of the territories captured in the war, the perception of the West Bank as “occupied Palestinian territory” has become a widely accepted axiom, with Israeli communities established in this area (or settlements as they are commonly known) derided as flagrant violation of international law.

Given the impregnability of the Jewish ancestral attachment to these territories, let alone their vitality for Israel’s security needs, Jerusalem urgently needs a new argument to counter today’s dominant paradigm whereby the Jewish West Bank communities are the harbingers of either a binational state – something Israeli Jews wouldn’t accept – or one-sided Jewish rule in the West Bank, which Palestinians, the international community, and many Israelis cannot accept. In order to accomplish this, a third option attractive to both Israel and the international community must be devised, one that defends Jewish communities in the West Bank as the kernel of a tolerant and pluralistic Palestinian state.

Israel is a Jewish state of nearly 9 million citizens, 2 million of whom are non-Jews who live in peace and security with their Jewish neighbors. There is no reason why a Palestinian Arab state should not host a sizable Jewish minority. It is certainly true that at present the prospects for a Jewish minority to live in peace and security in an independent Palestine are virtually nil. Yet it is precisely the huge chasm between the woeful situation in the present and the desirable outcome to be sought in the future that must be fully leveraged by Israel to advance its interests.

If Jewish communities in the West Bank are internationally recognized as kernels of a democratic and tolerant Palestine, they will no longer need to be built stealthily, as occurs nowadays. Were Israel to advocate that these communities are essential for any future Palestinian state to be as tolerant and pluralistic as Israel, Mahmoud Abbas will eventually need to give up his plans to cleanse the West Bank of Jews. Once this happens, Israel could more effectively pressure the Palestinian leadership to demonstrate its seriousness and commitment to peace by teaching coexistence in Palestinian schools and abrogating all Palestinian laws imposing the death penalty on Palestinians who sell land to Jews.

These demands are so fair and progressive that not even Israel-bashing European social democrats would be in a position to criticize them. And once the Palestinian Authority accepts them, these reforms could finally trigger a process that might eventually lead to the emergence of a tolerant and pluralistic Palestinian state.

Many Israelis will understandably argue that this is a chimera and that under no circumstances must an independent Palestinian state emerge in the West Bank. They must, however, present a credible case for building more Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria that is not vulnerable to the charge of advancing a binational or apartheid state. So far none of the champions of a solid Jewish presence in this area have presented a vision or plan that justifies Jewish residential rights in the name of the enlightened and democratic values that Israel endorses.

Without a case for Jewish residential rights in Judea and Samaria based on values that Western public opinion can identify with, the Jewish presence in the area will be vulnerable to constant international criticism and condemnation. Israel must therefore adamantly defend this Jewish presence in the name of peace and coexistence between Jews and Palestinians, then leave the ball in the PA’s court.

As long as democratic values are openly spurned by the Palestinian leadership, Israel will be in a far stronger position to reject the establishment of a Judenrein Palestinian state. The reason for this is simple: Israel would move from arguing that Jewish communities in the West Bank are not a hindrance to peace to defending those communities as catalysts for genuine peace and coexistence. As such, the settlement enterprise would evolve from a serious liability into a valuable asset for Israel’s international diplomacy.

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Rafael Castro is a Yale- and Hebrew University-educated political analyst based in Berlin. He can be reached at [email protected].

Prof. Efraim Karsh is Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Emeritus Professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London, and editor of The Middle East Quarterly.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

The Decreasing Effectiveness of Hamas Terrorism

July 2nd, 2018 by Prof. Hillel Frisch

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 880, July 2, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The downturn in Hamas’s fortunes is not only political but also practical. From the 1990s through the “al-Aqsa intifada,” it made lethal use of suicide terrorism. Its substitutes since then – ballistic, tunnel, and now kite terrorism – are decreasingly effective.

Hamas’s recent political setbacks are well known. The most punishing was the downfall of Egyptian president and Muslim Brotherhood member Muhammad Morsi and his replacement by Abdel Fatah Sisi, who destroyed the tunnel industry from which Hamas derived most of its revenues.

That setback was worsened by the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to deny Hamas revenue by reducing salaries to 70,000 PA employees in Gaza, by far the largest group of consumers in the Strip. The PA’s goal was similar to that of Sisi: to generate less tax revenue for Hamas.

Yet the downturn in Hamas’s fortunes is not only political but also practical, as can be seen in its approach to the exercise of terrorism. In the 1990s through the “al-Aqsa intifada,” Hamas made lethal use of suicide terrorism. Its substitutes since then – ballistic, tunnel, and now kite terrorism – are decreasingly effective.

The effectiveness of suicide attacks by Hamas and its ally, Islamic Jihad, in the “al-Aqsa intifada” can be gauged by numbers of victims. Over the course of four years, these two organizations were responsible for the murders of 400 Israeli citizens (and dozens of foreigners), with Hamas responsible for the lion’s share of the bloodletting.

The effectiveness of suicide bombing did not end there. It brought about the only absolute contraction of the Israeli economy since the state’s inception, something no war with the Arab states has ever brought about – including the year-and-a-half long War of Independence.

The effectiveness of suicide bombing – in fact, the very phenomenon itself – came to an end after Israel reentered Area A in the Palestinian Authority in 2002. Ever since then, Area A has been subject to daily penetration and arrests of would-be terrorists.

The destruction of the sanctuaries that enabled Hamas to plan elaborate suicide bombings, coupled with the smashing of its human infrastructure through incessant arrests, considerably reduced the capabilities of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Hamas responded, as would most violent organizations under such circumstances, by looking for substitute means of hurting the enemy.

The decline in suicide bombings was followed, starting in 2004, by a spectacular rise in missile and rocket launchings. Hamas continually improved its missiles’ payload and distance – so much so that by 2006, the number of Israelis directly affected by the missiles increased from 25,000 inhabitants in the immediate areas bordering Gaza to the hundreds of thousands who live in major cities such Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and beyond.

For all the feelings of terror the launching of over 14,000 missiles between 2004 and 2014 engendered (the phenomenon largely came to an end after the third bout between Hamas and Israel in the summer of 2014), missile terrorism was not nearly as costly to Israel as suicide bombing had been.

Military expenditures as a percentage of GDP and as a percentage of total government expenditures continued to decline, whereas at the height of the “al-Aqsa intifada,” they remained level.

Missile terrorism was far less costly in human terms as well. Even if we take into account all the casualties of the three rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas, mortalities add up to approximately 120 – that is to say, less than one-third the number of Israelis who were killed during the wave of suicide bombing. Note also that the wave of missile terrorism took place over ten years compared to the suicide bombing wave, which lasted four.

Whereas the effectiveness of suicide terrorism was vastly reduced as a result of the military punishment meted out by the IDF and the Israel Security Agency, missile terrorism became less effective over time due to technological developments that denied Hamas much of the potency of this means of attack.

BESA associate Uzi Rubin, in his extensive studies published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies on the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system, has plotted that system’s growing effectiveness over time. In the third round in 2014, only two of the 72 deaths during the 55 days of fighting resulted from missile launchings.

By then, Hamas had figured out that tunnel attacks, initially considered a supplement to its arsenal, should become a substitute for missile strikes.

Just as missile terrorism was far less effective than suicide bombing, so too was tunnel terrorism less effective than both before it was essentially foiled by technological developments.

Following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas scored successes in tunnel forays in 2006 with the killing of two Israeli tank members and the capture of a third, in exchange for whom it successfully negotiated the release of over 1,000 Palestinian terrorists in 2011. Over the course of the 2014 campaign, Hamas used tunnels to surprise Israeli forces and succeeded in killing 11 of them in three separate incidents.

Significantly, it never used the tunnels it had dug into Israel territory, partially out of fear that Israel had developed the means to monitor and mine them. Israel did in fact succeed in killing at least 12 Islamic Jihad terrorists in a tunnel in October 2017.

In any event, the price tag for Israel of tunnel terrorism was only a fraction of the costs of missile terrorism.

It is against the backdrop of its never-ending quest to find substitutes for no longer effective terrorist measures that Hamas’s innovation of kite terrorism can be understood.

Though it is too early to say conclusively that this means is the poorest substitute of all those that preceded it, it would seem that a solution will be found before it becomes lethal rather than simply destructive, as it is at present.

Of course, a technological solution would be best, but in its absence, some innovative combat moves against the perpetrators would be welcome.

The IDF increasingly reacts to the innovations of its enemies. It is now faced with a golden opportunity to show that operating beyond enemy lines in daring and innovative ways is not only a legacy of the past.

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This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post on June 19, 2018.

Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

Assad Addresses the Chemical Weapons Issue

July 1st, 2018 by Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 879, July 1, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: In an unprecedented television interview on May 30, Syrian President Bashar Assad made detailed comments about his army’s alleged non-use of chemical weapons (CW). Referring to the (confirmed) employment of chemical weapons in Douma on April 7 and the subsequent US-British-French retaliatory raid, Assad claimed that CW had not been used by anyone (rather than by the rebels, as is usually contended).

On May 30, 2018, Syrian President Bashar Assad participated in a televised interview on Russia Today in which he was asked about the regime’s use of chemical weapons (CW). In keeping with a lasting tradition whereby Assad laconically addresses the question of his army’s employment of such weapons, he tried to detail why such employment is implausible and to deny that his army is in fact in possession of CW. Given the regional and global significance of the lingering issue of CW use by his regime, it is worthwhile to take a close look at his words.

Assad was asked in whose interest it was to gas opposition to the Syrian regime. He replied: “Is it in our interest? Why, and why now? Let alone that we don’t have CW anyway, and we are not going to use it against our people. Our main battle was about winning the heart of civilians, and we won it. So how can you use CW against civilians you want to be supportive to you?

“Second, let’s suppose we have CW and want to use them. Do you use them after you finish the battle, or before, or during? It is not logical, because the timing of the alleged chemical strike was after the victory of the Syrian troops in Ghouta.” He went on: “If you go to that area, it was a very crowded area by armies, by factions, and by civilians; wherever you use such armaments or weapons in that area, you are going to harm everyone, something that didn’t happen. And if you go to that area and you ask the civilians, there was no chemical attack by anyone. Even the western journalists who went there after Ghouta was liberated asked the people, and the people said we didn’t see any chemical attack, so it was just a pretext in order to attack Syria.”

As for the Western approach, Assad said:

They told a story, they told a lie, and public opinion around the world and in the West didn’t buy their story, but they couldn’t withdraw. So they had to do something, even on a smaller scale. The Russians announced publicly that they are going to destroy the Western bases that are going to be used to launch missiles, and our information – we don’t have evidence, we only have information, and that information is credible information – is that they were thinking about a comprehensive attack all over Syria, and that’s why the Russian threat pushed the West to make it on a much smaller scale. We were close to direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces, and fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership. We need Russian support, but we need at the same time to avoid American foolishness in order to be able to stabilize our country.

At any rate, Assad noted, the US “trampled on international law” and “there’s no guarantee that it won’t happen again. What was the legal basis of the attack?”

Assad’s arguments are unsound and inconsistent with established facts, and his purported drive to “win the hearts of civilians” is a cynical misstatement. Notably, the interviewer refrained from asking Assad to explain the 70 physically intact civilian victims who died during the episode.

Assad went on to elaborate on the geopolitical implications of US and Russian involvement and discussed the repercussions of the confrontation over the Douma chemical attack. He pointed to the brinksmanship involved in the sequence of events that followed the chemical attack, accentuating that it might be repeated under similar circumstances in the future. At the same time, he praised Russia for supposedly minimizing – though not hindering – the US-British-French attack on key facilities affiliated with Syrian CW. In that respect, Assad was fairly consistent with what Russian foreign minister Lavrov had said earlier: “We told the US where our red lines were, including the geographical red lines, and the results have shown that they haven’t crossed those lines.” It appears that Assad is aware of the potentially far-reaching implications of CW in Syria, but this is no guarantee that he will be cautious about its use in the foreseeable future.

There have been several other collateral developments recently. The Permanent Representative of Syria to the UN Office at Geneva took over the rotating presidency of the Conference on Disarmament (according to a decades-old practice among the body’s 65 member nations that assigns the presidency by alphabetical order). He will be chairing the Conference on Disarmament – the UN forum dealing primarily with unconventional weapons issues – for several weeks.

At the same time, the Syrian regime is preparing for a wide military operation against the rebels in the south of Syria, near the border with Israel. Presumably, that operation will rely on conventional weapons only and will not involve Iran. But in regard to Syria at large, the Iranian military involvement remains profound. Direct evidence has been revealed of the employment of Iranian-produced chemical rockets by the Syrian regime. Vital components needed for those rockets were purchased by Iranian companies from the German company Krempel. They were later identified after chemical rockets were used against rebels.

Any or all of these developments might be consequential within the Syrian CW sphere in light of Assad’s commentary.

Another fairly detailed yet different attempt to refute the employment of CW by Assad’s army in Douma was expressed on June 22 by Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the chief of the Russian military radiation, chemical and biological protection corps. He claimed, “The US, Britain, France, and their allies have misled the international community, relying on fabrications produced by activists to accuse Syria of violating the CW ban with Russian assistance.” Kirillov alleged that the White Helmet first responders working in rebel-controlled areas falsified samples and used explosive devices to make craters that resemble those left by bombs. He added that in the images shown by activists, they were working at a site where sarin had allegedly been used but were not wearing protective gear, which would have been impossible had the nerve agent indeed been used there. Kirillov ignored the fact that sarin is a highly volatile, non-persistent nerve agent.

Kirillov scoffed at the images of massive gas canisters that activists said had been dropped by government helicopters in the Douma chemical attack. He said, “Surprisingly, the 100-kilogram canisters left tableware and furniture undamaged, and even a bed on which a canister fell was intact, signaling that the canister had been dragged into the room, as indicated by signs left on the floor.”

More importantly, Kirillov claimed that a rebel chemical lab found in Douma after the town had been taken over by Syrian government forces contained components used in the production of mustard gas. He said a canister containing chlorine, similar to those used in the CW attack, was found in the same lab. Kirillov said rebel stockpiles had been discovered containing over 40 metric tons of chlorine (an incredibly high amount) and other toxic chemicals. But chlorine canisters, in whatever form, are at any rate marginal within that context. Sarin – which is possessed by Assad’s army, and the incriminating factor in the Douma chemical attack – is not included in the stockpiles attributed to the rebels by Kirillov.

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Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, a microbiologist and an expert on chemical and biological warfare in the Middle East, is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He is a former senior intelligence analyst in the IDF and the Israeli Defense Ministry.

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