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.
Pakistan is another critical source of wider area transformation from mere anarchy to true chaos. In this connection, if the already nuclear regime in Islamabad should fall to jihadists, all other regional sources of chaotic disintegration could promptly pale into insignificance.
In a presumptively worse case scenario for Israel, jihadists would take interpenetrating and simultaneous control in several of the more unstable Arab and North African governments. Ultimately, these martyrdom-driven leaders could get their hands on certain weapons of mass destruction. This altogether conceivable prospect, even if the acquired weapons were all to remain non-nuclear, could still bring to mind the usually unmentionable scenario of a suicide-bomber in macrocosm. This is a prospect that is already being taken seriously in coup-vulnerable Pakistan, and in nearly nuclear Iran.
With the advance of chaos, Israel might have to face certain nuclear and ideologically Islamist enemies on both Iranian and Arab fronts. Moreover, even in the absence of old enemies with new nuclear arms, nuclear and biological materials could still find their way to Hezbollah in Lebanon or to Hamas. All along the way, both Jerusalem and Washington could find themselves in a position of having to take sides with one set of enemies against another. Already, it seems, Washington is likely offering certain olive branches to Tehran, in a desperate (and ironic) effort to shore up the failed American Shiite client regime in Baghdad.