Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR)

ACPR Research – Summary


Israel's Strategic Future:
Project Daniel

The Project Daniel Group,

Louis René Beres, Chair

Policy Paper No. 155, 2004

April 2004

ISRAEL’S STRATEGIC FUTURE: The Final Report of Project Daniel

Foreword by Professor Louis René Beres, Chair

Further to the issuance of The National Security Strategy of the United States of America on September 20, 2002, US President George W. Bush launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in March of the following year. The results of that war, still substantially unclear at the time of this writing, derive from a greatly broadened American assertion of the right of unilateral preemption. A conceptual and implemented right, it expands the binding and well-established customary prerogative of “Anticipatory Self-Defense”a under international law. Although there have as yet been no subsequent legal codifications of this new American expansion, the precedent established by the world’s only remaining Great Power is certain to impact the actual policy behavior of other states. Not surprisingly, many in the international community have criticized this new policy. Yet history is replete with examples where nations have correctly reserved unto themselves the right of preemption when they have determined that their vital national interests, or very existence, were under threat.

In short, whether or not the presumptively expanded right of striking-first as self-defense will soon become a generally accepted norm of authoritative international law, this right will, in practice, likely acquire enhanced credibility and legitimacy. Even if the broadened idea of anticipatory self-defense does not achieve the status of a peremptory norm as defined at Article 53 of The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties,b it will be invoked more often by certain imperiled states. In this connection, the growing spread of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world – now exclusively to unstable and undemocratic states – fully underscores the broadened doctrine.

Israel’s Strategic Future: The Final Report of Project Daniel, was completed in mid-January 2003, several months before commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Nothing associated with America’s 2003 war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq or the still ongoing conflict within that fragmented country suggests a changed reality for Israel and the Middle East. On the contrary, the “lessons” of Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrate not only that our Final Report remains valid, but that its validity has been significantly enhanced. Today, more than ever before, the State of Israel – a state so small that it could fit twice into America’s Lake Michigan – must include appropriate preemption options in its overall defense strategy. Vastly more vulnerable to catastrophic first-strike aggressions than the United States, Israel must prepare now for existential harms in every available fashion. Consistent with The National Security Strategy of the United States of America and the strategic objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Israel has an inherent right to defend itself without first absorbing biological and/or nuclear attacks. This is true irrespective of the cumulative outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom or of particular criticisms now directed toward the United States.

Project Daniel began with the assumption that Israel’s security environment must be appraised continuously, and that the threat of irrational state and nonstate enemies armed with WMD assets represents the single most urgent danger to the countrys survival. Early on in our deliberations, however, we (“The Group”) agreed that while the overall impact of this threat was extraordinarily high, its probability was considerably less than that of WMD assaults from rational enemy quarters. Reflecting this judgment, we concluded that Israel’s main focus must now be on preventing a coalition of Arab states and/or Iran from coming into possession of weapons of mass destruction. Preferably, we urged this objective be pursued while Israel continues with its present policy of deliberate ambiguity regarding its own nuclear status. We also concluded that the classic paradigm of war between national armies could become less predictive in the developing Middle East, and that an Israeli “paradigm shift” is therefore required. This shift in orientation and resources would place new emphases on short-range threats (terrorism) and long-range threats (ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction). Here we also recommended a corresponding reduction in the resources Israel should now allocate to classical warfighting scenarios. Today, at the end of April 2004 – 15 months after our presentation of Israel’s Strategic Future to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – we strongly reaffirm these recommendations.

Our Group notes emphatically that Israel should avoid non-conventional exchanges with enemy states wherever possible. It surely is not in Israel’s interest to engage these states in WMD warfare if other options exist, but rather to create conditions wherein such forms of conflict need never take place. Israel’s Strategic Future does not instruct how to “win” a war in a WMD Middle-East environment. Rather, it describes what we, its authors, consider the necessary, realistic and optimally efficient conditions for nonbelligerence toward Israel in the region. Altogether unchanged by Operation Iraqi Freedom, these conditions include a coherent and comprehensive Israeli doctrine for deterrence, defense, warfighting and preemption.

Our precise strategic theses, validated by the 2003 Iraq War and its aftermath, are intended to aid policymakers in bringing stability and predictability to a troubled region.

Following the main body of Israel’s Strategic Future, which remains exactly as it was completed originally in January 2003, a newly-prepared “Addendum” will bring the reader up-to-date with current circumstances and allow him or her to better understand the Final Report in full and proper historical context. It is strongly suggested, therefore, that the reader consider this brief annex as an integral part of Israel’s Strategic Future.

Louis René Beres, Ph.D.

Professor of International Law

Purdue University

Chair of Project Daniel


a   The right of anticipatory self-defense under international law was established by Hugo Grotius in Book II of The Law of War and Peace (1625). Here, Grotius indicates that self-defense is permissible not only after an attack has already been suffered, but also in advance – “where the deed may be anticipated”. Or as he says later in the same chapter: “It be lawful to kill him who is preparing to kill...” A similar argument is offered by Samuel Pufendorf in his treatise, On the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law (1672). The customary right of anticipatory self-defense has its modern origins in the Caroline incident, which concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule (a rebellion that elicited sympathy and support in the American border states). Following this event, the serious threat of an armed attack has generally been taken to justify militarily defensive action. (See J. Moore, A Digest of International Law 409 (1906)). Today some scholars maintain that the customary right of anticipatory self-defense expressed by the Caroline has been overridden by the specific language at Article 51 of the UN Charter. In this view, Article 51 fashions a new and far more restrictive statement of self-defense, one that does rely on the literal qualifications contained in the phrase, “...if an armed attack occurs”. This interpretation ignores, however, that international law cannot logically compel a state to wait until it absorbs a devastating or even lethal first strike before acting to protect itself. And the argument against the restrictive view of self-defense is reinforced by the well-documented weakness of the Security Council in undertaking collective security action against a prospective aggressor. For supportive positions on the particular reasonableness of anticipatory self-defense in the nuclear age, see: Louis Henkin,, International Law: Cases and Materials 933 (1980) (Citing Wolfgang Friedmann, The Threat of Total Destruction and Self-Defense 259-60 (1964); Joseph M. Sweeney et. al., The International Legal System: Cases and Materials 1460-61 (3rd ed., 1988) (citing Myres McDougal, The Soviet-Cuban Quarantine and Self-Defense, 57, American Journal of International Law 597, 598 (1963)).

b  Concluded at Vienna, May 23, 1969, Entered into force, January 27, 1988, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331; 1969 U.N.J.Y.B. 140; 1980 U.K.T.S. 58, Cmnd 7964; reprinted in 8 I.L.M. 679 (1969).

Final Report

Prepared Especially for Presentation to the Hon. Ariel Sharon
Prime Minister of the State of Israel
January 16, 2003

Project Daniel is a private and informed effort to identify the overriding existential threats to Israel and their prospective remedies. These remedies must be both plausible (capable of achievement) and productive. With this in mind,  the Group met in both Washington DC and  New York City on several occasions during 2002. In the periods between meetings, members of the Group regularly exchanged information. The result of this effort is conveyed in the following Final Report: Israel's Strategic Future. The perspectives expressed in this document are those of the individual members, and do not necessarily reflect views of any institution or government. Our hope is that Project Daniel’s unique configuration of member background and experience will contribute to the strengthening of US-Israel strategic relations and to the ongoing debate over how Israel should best respond to existential threats to its national security.

The Group is comprised of the following individual members:

Professor Louis René Beres, Chair, USA

Naaman Belkind, Former Assistant to the Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense for Special Means, Israel

Maj. Gen. (Res.), Israeli Air Force/Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, Israel

Dr. Rand H. FishbeinFormer Professional Staff Member, US Senate Appropriations Committee, and former Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to Senator Daniel K. Inouye, USA

Dr. Adir Pridor, Lt. Col. (Ret.), Israeli Air Force; Former Head of Military Analyses, RAFAEL, Israel

Fmr. MK./Col. (Res.), Israeli Air Force, Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, Israel




  1. Considering issues of both probability and disutility (harms), the principal existential threat to Israel at the present time is a conventional war mounted against it by a coalition of Arab states and/or Iran.

  2. Israel is also endangered (presently or potentially) by Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), nuclear and/or biological weapons that could be used against it either by enemy first-strikes or via escalation from conventional war. Israel’s particular vulnerability to such weapons is a consequence of its tiny area, its high population density and its national infrastructure concentrations. We recommend, therefore:

    1. Israel do whatever possible to prevent an enemy coalition from being formed and from coming into possession of WMD. This could include pertinent preemptive strikes (conventional) against enemy WMD development, manufacturing, storage, control and deployment centers. This recommendation is consistent both with longstanding international law regarding “anticipatory self-defense” and with the newly-stated defense policy of The United States of America.

    2. Israel should continue with present policy of ambiguity regarding its own nuclear status. This would help to prevent any legitimization of WMD in the Middle East. It is possible, however, that in the future Israel would be well-advised to proceed beyond nuclear ambiguity to certain limited forms of disclosure. This would be the case only if enemy (state and/or non-state) nuclearization had not been prevented.

    3. Israel should provide all constructive support to the United States-led War Against Terror (WAT). It must insist upon aiding the American objective to prevent/eliminate WMD among rogue states and terror groups in the Middle East. There is a clear coincidence of interest between Israel and the United States in matters of security and counter-terrorism.

    4. Israel must do everything within its means to prevent a Middle Eastern rogue state or terror group from attaining WMD status. Irrespective of its policy on nuclear ambiguity vs. disclosure, Israel will not be able to endure unless it continues to maintain a credible, secure and decisive nuclear deterrent alongside a multi-layered anti-missile defense. This recognizable (second-strike) retaliatory force should be fashioned with the capacity to destroy some 15 high-value targets scattered widely over pertinent enemy states in the Middle East. The overriding priority of Israel’s nuclear deterrent force must always be that it preserves the country’s security without ever having to be fired against any target. The primary point of Israel’s nuclear forces must always be deterrence ex ante, not revenge ex post.

  1. If WMD status were attained by any Middle Eastern rogue state or coalition of states, the probability of joint-enemy conventional attack against Israel would be raised considerably. Faced with adversaries who now might believe themselves shielded under a WMD “umbrella”, Israel would have to do the following:

  1. Maintain its conventional forces at full war-waging strength and with a decisive qualitative edge. Hopefully this would be accomplished with full material support from the United States, whose interests would be coincident with Israel’s interests.

  2. Adapt its planning priorities and budgetary requirements to the “paradigm shift” described later in this Report. In this connection, Israel is urged to reduce the priority it assigns to conventional warfighting without impairing its undisputed superiority against any plausible enemy coalition.

  1. The Group is aware that many of its strategic recommendations are contingent upon adequate funding. Should the substantial funds needed by Israel to deal with so-called “Low Intensity” and Long-Range WMD threats be sought via increased taxation, it could threaten Israel’s economy and (ironically) undermine Israel’s security in other ways. To deal purposefully with these threats (threats which are delineated in this Report’s following presentation of “paradigm shift”), Israel’s government must trim all nonproductive costs and seek to encourage dramatic increases in productivity. The resultant rise in per capita GNP could allow the needed increase for Israel’s national defense.

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