by Louis René Beres
For Israel, the basic Jewish philosophic choice between life and death, between the "blessing" and the "curse," has always been clear. What remains problematic, of course, is precisely how to best ensure the former. And in these especially uncertain times of a "New Middle East," the strategic search for Jewish national survival has become even more complex and perilous.
From their very ingathered beginnings, and even before the United Nations conferral of sovereign statehood in 1948, Jews in Israel have faced war, terror and extinction. Now, Israel confronts existential destruction from two increasingly plausible sources: (1) the already-constituted and nuclearizing state of Iran; and (2) the still-aspiring state of "Palestine." Together, largely in various unrecognized and even unimagined synergies, the interactive effects of these two mega-threats portend strong reason for very deep concern.
The fragile existential situation in an incrementally chaotic region is made more worrisome by U.S. President Barack Obama's misguided support for a "Two-State Solution," and, correspondingly, by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's formal acceptance of a Palestinian state that has been "demilitarized." The Palestinian side (Hamas, Fatah, it makes little difference) still seeks only a One-State solution (on all their maps, Israel is already drawn as a part of "Palestine"). As for a demilitarized Palestine, it could never actually happen.
This is true, in part, because any post-independence abrogation of earlier pre-state agreements to demilitarize by a now-sovereign Palestinian state could be entirely permissible under international law.
Iran is an established state with an expanding near-term potential to inflict nuclear harms upon Israel. The so-called "international community" has effectively done absolutely nothing to stop Iranian nuclearization. Metaphorically, the "sanctions" have represented little more than a mildly-pestering fly on the lumbering elephant's back.
The Palestinian Authority, with its Fatah "security forces" now expertly trained by the U.S. military in unstable Jordan (under American Lt. General Keith Dayton), maintains exterminatory plans for Israel. These unhidden plans are shared by the Hamas-led configuration of assorted terror groups that collaborates regularly and systematically with Iran, and that now draws renewed sustenance from its quickly-growing Muslim Brotherhood "parent" organization in Egypt. Still rapidly-developing Iranian-Syrian war plans against Israel from Lebanon that would involve Hezb'allah proxies could add yet another decisive synergistic threat to the explosive genocidal mix.
What shall Israel do in this more and more confusing regional maelstrom? If President Obama's openly expressed wish for "a world free of nuclear weapons" were ever realized, the survival issue would become moot. Fortunately, this presidential hope is not only foolish, but wholly unrealistic, and Israel will likely retain the critical deterrence benefit of its "bomb in the basement."
The extent of this particular benefit, however, may vary, inter alia, according to a number of important factors. These include Jerusalem's observable willingness to make limited disclosures of the country's usable and penetration-capable nuclear forces, and also the extent to which the Israeli government and military selectively reveal certain elements of Israel's nuclear targeting doctrine.
From the standpoint of successful deterrence, it will make a major difference if Israel's nuclear forces are recognizably counter value (targeted on enemy cities), or counterforce (targeted on enemy weapons, and related infrastructures). In turn, Israel's decisions on targeting policy may be affected, more or less, by current and ongoing regime transformations across the Middle East and North Africa.
"For what can be done against force, without force?" inquired the Roman statesman Cicero. The use of force in world politics is not inherently evil. On the contrary, in preventing nuclear and terrorist aggressions, force, though certainly not a panacea, is almost always indispensable.
All states have a fundamental ("peremptory," in the language of formal jurisprudence) right of self-defense. This right is explicit and unambiguous in both codified and customary international law. It can be found, in part, at Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, and also in multiple authoritative clarifications of anticipatory self-defense.
Israel has every legal right to forcibly confront the expected (and possibly mutually reinforcing) harms of both Iranian nuclear missile strikes, and Palestinian terror.
Albert Camus, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, would have us all be "neither victims nor executioners," living not in a world in which killing has disappeared ("we are not so crazy as that"), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate. This is a fine expectation, to be sure, but the celebrated French philosopher did not anticipate another evil force for whom utter extermination of "The Jews" was its declared object.
Credo quia absurdum. "I believe because it is absurd." Not even in a still-crazy world living under the shadow of Holocaust did Camus agree to consider such an utterly preposterous prospect.
Israel lacks the quaint luxury of French philosophy. Were the Jewish State to follow Camus' genteel reasoning, the result could be another boundless enlargement of Jewish suffering. Before and during the Holocaust, at least for those who still had an opportunity to flee, Jews were ordered: "Get out of Europe; go to Palestine." When they complied (those who could), the next order was: "Get out of Palestine."
My own Austrian-Jewish grandparents received "special handling" on the SS-killing grounds at Riga, Latvia. Had they somehow made it to Mandatory Palestine, their sons and grandsons, now Israelis, would likely have died in subsequent genocidal wars begun by Arab forces to get the Jews "out of Palestine."
Cicero understood. Failure to use force against a murderous evil imprints an indelible stain upon all that is good. A similar point can be found in the Talmud, which clarifies that by being merciful to the cruel, one becomes cruel to the merciful.
By declining the right to act as a lawful executioner in its struggle with annihilatory war and terror, Israel would be forced by Camus' stylized reasoning, and by neglect of its own authoritative scriptures, to embrace disappearance.
Why was Camus, who was thinking only in the broadest generic terms, so badly mistaken? The answer lies in the philosopher's unsupportable presumption of a natural reciprocity among both individual human beings and states in the primal matter of killing. We are asked to believe, by Camus, that as greater numbers of people agree not to become executioners, still greater numbers will follow upon the same brotherly course. In time, the neatly mathematical argument proceeds, the number of those who refuse to accept killing will become so great that there will be fewer and fewer victims.
Sounds nice. But Camus' presumed reciprocity simply does not exist. It can never exist, especially in the still-Jihad centered "New Middle East." Here, the unhidden Islamist desire to kill Jews (always "Jews," not Israelis) remains unimpressed by good intentions, or by Israel's disproportionate contributions to science, industry, medicine and learning. Here, in the basically unchanged "New Middle East," there are no identifiable Iranian or Palestinian plans for rational coexistence. Their only decipherable "remedies" are for an all-too- familiar Final Solution.
Martin Buber identifies the essence of every living community as "meeting." True community, says Buber, is an authentic "binding," not merely a "bundling together." In true community, each one commits his whole being in "God's dialogue with the world," and each stands firm and resolute throughout this dialogue.
But how should the dialogue be sustained with others who refuse to "bind" in the absence of murder? How can there ever be any conceivable solution to the genocidal enmity of Iran and "Palestine" to Israel so long as this enmity is presumably indispensable to their very lifeblood meanings in the world?
These are not easy questions to answer; moreover, they will never be answered by political leaders in Washington, Jerusalem or anywhere else.
The time for clichéd "wisdom" is over. In national self-defense and counter-terrorism, Jewish executioners require an honored place in the government and army of Israel. Without them, evil would triumph again and again.
For Iran and for an emergent "Palestine," murdered Jews are not so much a means to an end, as a prayed-for end in themselves. In this unheroic Islamist world, even while so much of the region is now seemingly struggling for "democracy," sacrificial killing of Jews by war and terror is still widely-presumed to be a religious mandate, and also a distinctly coveted path to personal immortality. It follows that any Israeli unwillingness to use all necessary defensive force could invite both individual and collective Jewish death.
Cicero understood. Legally and morally, killing is sometimes a sacred duty. Faced with undisguised sources of genuine evil, all civilized states sometimes have to rely upon the executioner. To deny the Israeli executioner his proper place at this eleventh-hour of danger would make a mockery of "Never Again." Just as importantly, it would open the floodgates of several new man-made human catastrophes.
In the best of all possible worlds, Buber's "binding" would supplant all "bundling." But we don't yet live in the best of all possible worlds, and there is absolutely nothing in the "New Middle East" to suggest any real chances for meaningful improvement. In their present condition, Jews in Israel must still remain utterly prepared to fight strenuously for Jewish survival.
Life is always better than death. Better the blessing than the curse.
Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on issues concerning international relations and international law, especially war and terrorism. He is the author of some of the earliest major books on nuclear war and nuclear terror.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.