Israel needs to prepare for a wholesale breakdown of the Middle East

tags: Middle East, Israel

Louis René Beres, professor of political science and international law at Purdue University, is the author of many books and articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war, including several very early works on nuclear terrorism.

Ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria, signals potentially catastrophic regional transformations. For Israel, always attentive to strategic synergies between area wars and revolutions, the greatest danger now stems from a growing prospect of authentic chaos. To be sure, the world system has been anarchic since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, but anarchy is not the same as chaos. Not at all.

Anarchy means only the absence of government. In world politics, the prevailing structure of power and authority remains anarchic because, quite literally, there exists no designated center of control above the separate nation states. That is why professors of international law are quick to note, in their standard introductory lectures, that although each country on earth is separately sovereign, there are still more or less promising ways to sustain legal connections through a shifting balance of power.

Chaos is much more than anarchy. In virtually any form, it can play havoc with the best laid plans of nations. By definition, particularly from the pertinent standpoint of national military operations, it is a constantly changing condition, one that can impair normal and possibly even indispensable security preparations.

Significantly, especially for devoted students of 19th century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, this condition is markedly different from the more normal chaos that has been associated with the fog of war. Chaos describes a genuinely deep and wholly systemic unraveling that can rapidly create unprecedented and even utterly primal forms of conflict. Even in an improved world system that was no longer anarchic, chaos could quickly smother any new hopes for national or global survival.

In world politics, which is not geometry, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. For Israel, the most obvious chaos-based perils concern the currently expanding violence in both Iraq and Syria, and the near-simultaneous developments of Iranian nuclearization and Palestinian statehood. In facing these variously intersecting perils, Jerusalem is also aware that the contrived Hashemite monarchy in neighboring Jordan is increasingly vulnerable to Islamic radicalism, and that the authoritarian military regime in Cairo will not be able to control the Muslim Brotherhood indefinitely...

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