by Louis Rene Beres

In using intermittent terrorism as a tactic of "peace," Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are preparing carefully for war. Planning cooperatively with certain Arab states and with Iran, as well as with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizb'Allah, Arafat understands that the periodic placing of bombs among Israeli civilians does more than simply terrify and demoralise. It increasingly preoccupies the Israel Defence Force in ways that systematically preclude the Jewish state's optimal military preparedness.

This Arab/Islamic strategy of terror-war has not been lost upon the Israeli General Staff. Recently, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Matan Vilna'i expressed his serious concern over the lack of training by Israeli combat troops for conventional war. Noting that while the emphasis in IDF planning is now toward anti-terrorism and "over-the-horizon" operations (ie: countering mass-destruction missile weapons), Israel must also be ready, he argued, for concerted first-strikes by enemy states. In General words: "... most IDF combat troops spend less time training for conventional war, being occupied with anti-terrorist and other duties. Israel must be ready to fight the next major conventional war ..."

War preparedness is a zero-sum activity. Whenever a nation's army dedicates larger and larger money and manpower allocations to one particular form of preparedness, it necessarily diminishes what it allocates to all other forms. Within Israel, this means that the growing (and entirely understandable) preoccupation with counterterrorism has now effectively compromised the country's indispensable preparations for war.

Arafat and his collaborators are operating according to a very precise strategy of attrition and annihilation. By practising terror against Israelis on a regular but intermittent basis--one that allows the charade of a "peace process" to enchant the Americans and others who always hope too much--a policy of attrition is successfully weakening Israel's capacity to ward off the coming war of annihilation. At the same time, the attritional benefits of such terrorism are augmented by a less tangible but still significant corrosion of Israel's will to survive.

Military analysts customarily distinguish between wars of attrition and wars of annihilation. Yet, such wars need not be mutually exclusive; they can be complementary parts of a single belligerent strategy. So it is today with respect to present and future aggression against the Jewish state by Israel's multiple Islamic enemies.

Consider Iran and Syria, which work closely with Arafat and his allies in Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizb'Allah. While these enemy states prepare patiently for an unconventional assault upon Israel, they first play their specific part to weaken the Zionist "cancer." Incrementally, bit-by-bit, they support and sustain the Hizb'Allah in south Lebanon. Once the peace process has "succeeded," Palestine--in concert with Iran and Syria among others--will assuredly prepare to shift military orientation from a terror-based strategy of attrition to one of annihilation.

Israel does not face a random set of wholly separate military threats. Rather, there now exists a general threat environment within which discrete threat components fit. Presently, these components are comprised of surrogate war and direct war, of ongoing low-intensity conflict fought by bomb and proxy, and future high-intensity warfare--possibly even chemical, biological or nuclear--to be fought by enemy states. Recognising the synergies between these components, Israel's state and nonstate adversaries have learned that attrition, including terrorism, is the optimal strategy for eventual annihilation of the Jewish state.

In all world politics, but especially in the Middle East, we are present at the gradual unveiling of a secret, but the nucleus of meaning--the essential truth of what is taking place--is what is not said. For the remaining future, the enemies of Israel will continue their preparations for war, and will regard as an integral part of such preparations the support and sustenance of pertinent terrorist operations. Altogether unaffected by parallel public commitments to a so-called peace process, these preparations will proceed on their own track, culminating, if not suitably obstructed, in a fully existential assault. It follows that Israel cannot afford to close its eyes to such enemy plans, or to the associated and interactive dangers of attrition warfare.

To survive into the Third Millennium, it will be necessary for Jerusalem, first of all, to recognise the calculated interactions between attrition and annihilation and then to hit hard against both threat dimensions simultaneously. At a minimum, this implies a readiness to undertake life-saving forms of pre-emption (most plausibly against selected hard targets in Syria and Iran) and to cease immediately the devastating territorial concessions still being codified by the suicidal Oslo Agreements.

* Louis Rene Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of numerous books and articles dealing with strategy and conflict in the Middle East.

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