Very soon, in mid-September, Palestinian Authority leaders will seek statehood at the United Nations. There, the basic strategy will be to secure a presumably authoritative acceptance of Palestinian sovereignty. In essence, as this plan to circumvent both the original Oslo Agreements and the more recent “Road Map” would not succeed in the Security Council, where the United States has veto power, the PA will quickly bring the sensitive matter before the larger and more sympathetic General Assembly.
Legally, this strategy would mock all codified expectations of the governing treaty on statehood, the Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934). But the main danger for Israel would lie latent in Palestinian statehood itself. Once accepted by the UN, whether lawfully or unlawfully, a Palestinian state would increase the risks of both mass-destruction terrorism and regional nuclear war. These generally unforeseen risks of Palestinian statehood could ultimately dwarf the more routinely expressed fear that “Palestine” would systematically displace Israel in “stages.”
A Palestinian state would itself be non-nuclear. This incontestable fact is unrelated to the expanded post-Palestine nuclear threat to Israel. Concerning this threat, what only matters is that after Palestine, the resultant correlation of armed forces in the region would be cumulatively less favorable to Israel, something that could lower the general threshold of resort to nuclear weapons.
Any new state of Palestine would be carved out of the still-living body of Israel. Promptly, this 23rd Arab state would embark upon territorial extension, occasionally, in unopposed and audacious increments, well-beyond its UN-constituted borders, and deep into the now-porous boundaries of Israel proper.
At that point, despite the obvious new Arab aggression, the “international community” would almost certainly look away. By then, after all, Israel will already be widely regarded as an alien presence in the otherwise neatly homogeneous Dar al Islam, the Middle Eastern “world of Islam.”
Any Palestinian state would have an obviously injurious impact on U.S. strategic interests, as well as on Israel's sheer physical survival. After Palestine, Israel would require greater self-reliance in all existential military matters.
In turn, such self-reliance would demand: (1) a more comprehensive and explicit nuclear strategy involving refined deterrence, preemption and war fighting capabilities; and (2) a corresponding and thoroughly updated conventional war strategy.
The birth of Palestine could affect these two interpenetrating strategies in several important ways. Immediately, it would enlarge Israel's need for what military strategists call “escalation dominance” – namely, the capacity to fully determine sequential moves toward greater destructiveness. By definition, as any Palestinian state would make Israel's conventional capabilities far more complex and problematic, the Israel Defense Forces' national command authority would now need to make the country's still-implicit nuclear deterrent less ambiguous.
Taking the presumed Israeli Bomb out of the “basement,” could enhance Israel's overall security for a while; but over time, ending “deliberate ambiguity” could also heighten the chances of nuclear weapons use.
With a Palestinian state in place, a nuclear war could arrive in Israel not only as a “bolt-from-the-blue” surprise missile attack, but also as a result, intended or inadvertent, of escalation. If an enemy state were to begin with “only” conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem might respond, sooner or later, with fully nuclear reprisals. Alternately, if this enemy state were to begin with solely conventional attacks upon Israel, Jerusalem's conventional reprisals might still be met, in the uncertain strategic future, with enemy nuclear counterstrikes.
It follows that a genuinely persuasive Israeli conventional deterrent, at least to the extent that it would prevent enemy-state conventional and/or biological attacks in the first place, could significantly reduce Israel's eventual risk of an escalatory exposure to nuclear war.
Why should Israel need a conventional deterrent at all? Even after Palestinian statehood, wouldn't rational enemies desist from launching conventional and/or biological attacks upon Israel for well-founded fears of an Israeli nuclear retaliation? Not necessarily. Aware that Israel would cross the nuclear threshold only in extraordinary circumstances, these enemy states could be convinced, rightly or wrongly, that as long as their own attacks remained non-nuclear, Israel would respond “proportionately,” in kind.
The only credible way for Israel to deter large-scale conventional attacks after any UN creation of Palestine would be by maintaining visible and large-scale conventional capabilities. Naturally, those enemy states contemplating first-strike attacks on Israel using chemical and/or biological weapons would be apt to take more seriously Israel's nuclear deterrent. Whether or not this nuclear deterrent had remained undisclosed or “ambiguous” could seriously affect Israel's credibility, as could perceptions of Israel's corollary capabilities for anti-missile defense and cyber-warfare.
A continually upgraded conventional capability is needed by Israel to deter or to preempt conventional attacks, enemy aggressions that could lead, via escalation, to assorted forms of unconventional war. Here, Palestine's presence would critically impair Israel's strategic depth, and thereby its capacity to wage conventional warfare.
Finally, both the United States and Israel should assume that recent and ongoing revolutionary events in Libya and Syria will enlarge the theft and black-market trafficking of chemical and biological weapons stocks in the region. Depending upon where these dangerous materials would wind up, in the Middle East and North Africa, or even in North America, they could exacerbate the already-expected harms of any UN-declared state of Palestine.
Louis Rene Beres is an expert on Israeli security matters and the author of 10 major books and several hundred journal articles on international relations and international law.