Israel's core challenge - staying alive in an age of enemy 'martyrdom'

Whether in Gaza, the West Bank, or Tehran, Israel's Jihadist enemies wish to kill Jews because every such homicide is felt to be a sacred obligation.

Missile fired from warship during Iranian naval drill [file] (photo credit: REUTERS)
Missile fired from warship during Iranian naval drill [file]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For Israel, in at least one overriding sense, there is nothing new under the sun. At the most meaningfully basic or "molecular" levels, this means that utterly core sources of anti-Israel ideology remain what they have always been. To be sure, the particular or specific Arab and Islamic antagonists are more-or-less continually in flux. Nonetheless, their individual and cumulative orientations to Israel are largely fixed and unchanging.
Even now, open threats of "liquidation" against Israel are unremarkable. Significantly, especially in view of current international legal standards, Israel’s enemies have never felt any apparent need for subterfuge, camouflage, or concealment. In all likelihood, if not for Israel’s bomb in the basement, the Jewish State's unacknowledged military nuclear force, expressly genocidal enemy threats would already have inflicted far greater harms.
The enduring hope of Israel's myriad enemies is rather simple. Not only Iran and Hezbollah, but also the still-aspiring US-supported Palestinian state, wish to be left standing, while, at the same time, Israel is made to disappear. For these unambiguously recalcitrant foes, driven by both a medieval faith, and a modern geopolitics, the obligation is clear: There can be no coexistence with Israel. Ever.
Why? The answer is reasonably straightforward, and can readily be detected in their holy books, and their assorted literatures. Presumptively, these adversaries' own survival requires Israel's wholesale extinction. Knowing this "sacred" duty, could there be any conceivably greater incentive in the Islamic Middle East than to escalate acts of terror, and corollary wars of aggression? In Washington, even now, President Barack Obama blithely refuses to understand. Ritualistically, even as the residual remnants of a once-alleged Palestinian unity government are enthusiastically torn asunder by both Fatah and Hamas, Obama continues to extol the virtues of a conspicuously twisted cartography. On all official Palestinian maps, Israel has literally been excised. On these maps, all of Israel is unapologetically identified as “Occupied Palestine.”
Soon, primarily as a result of President Obama's failed diplomacy, Iran will join the nuclear club. Whether or not the Islamic Republic's leadership will then wind up acting according to certain religiously demanded Shi'ite narratives of "end times" remains to be seen. If this leadership does choose such an enforced conformance of policy to scripture, however, it would then cease all usual compliance with normally standard assumptions of rationality in world politics.
Any such cessation would follow by definition. It would imply, among other things, that Tehran might not be deterred by ordinarily compelling Israeli threats of retaliation or counter-retaliation. Reciprocally, for Israel, this could signify the immediate or progressive immobilization of its always-indispensable policies of deterrence.
Should Iran decide to launch its nuclear missiles at Israel – soon, a distinctly plausible prospect – Washington’s only real involvement could be limited to help burying the dead. Further, before any such grim forms of involvement could “work,” entire Israeli cities would first have to be transformed into giant cemeteries. In consequence, and with expectedly grudging assistance from the “international community,” Israel could promptly become the world’s largest recognizable necropolis. Before anything human could subsequently be born from any such devastation, a gravedigger would have to wield the forceps.
In essence, it's not complicated. Whether in Gaza, the West Bank, or Tehran, Israel's Jihadist enemies wish to kill Jews because every such homicide is felt to be a sacred obligation. For these foes, killing Jews remains an irremediably praiseworthy expression of religious sacrifice. Most importantly, of course, such killing, for both Shi'ite and Sunni opponents, is reliably expected to confer an absolute immunity from death.
In all world politics, from the time of the pharaohs to the present, there can never be any greater power than power over death. Ironically, the central idea of death as a zero-sum commodity – "I kill you; therefore I remain alive forever" – has rarely been examined or explained. It is captured perfectly, however, in psychologist Ernest Becker's graphic and meticulously primal paraphrase of Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti: "Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good." Merely to stay alive, Israel must finally understand what an earlier psychologist, Otto Rank, had revealed in his extraordinary Will Therapy and Truth and Reality: "The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the Sacrifice, of the other; through the death of the other one buys oneself free from the penalty of dying, of being killed." This admittedly difficult insight is at the very heart of certain Iranian, Palestinian, and other Islamic orientations to Israel. Indeed, as it is common to both Shia and Sunni expectations, it explains an incomparably great deal about these persistently Jihadist orientations to genocide.
Israel's enemies, in order to remain standing, and, in turn, to prevent Israel from standing up, seek to sacrifice the Jewish State on a blood-stained altar of war and terrorism. Always, sacrifice is at the heart of what is continually evolving in the Middle East, not only in Iran and “Palestine,” but also among (Sunni) ISIS and (Shi'ite) Hezbollah. Any planned liquidation of Israel is integrally part of authentically religious worship, an unceasing “prayer” that is directed toward a profound enhancement of personal life, and, simultaneously, to the manifestly blessed conquest of personal death. In time, many additional ironies are bound to surface. Of these, the most unexpected will concern the effective takeover of any new Palestinian state by ISIS, and/or ISIS allies.
Already, ISIS fighters are engaging Hamas forces from the Sinai, into Gaza, and are systematically arrayed in southern Syria (just across from the Israeli Golan Heights) preparing to defeat both Syrian and Hezbollah forces. These ISIS fighters can be expected to march westward, across Jordan, and toward the West Bank (Judea/Samaria), where they would then handily put a prompt end to any newly created state of "Palestine." All this means something unseen, something that virtually no one has yet acknowledged. It is that going forward, the single greatest threat to Palestinian statehood will not be Israel, but rather, another Sunni Arab terrorist organization.
Credo quia absurdum. "I believe because it is absurd." Yet again, diverse enemies of Israel are convinced that by killing Jews, and, correspondingly, by “killing” Israel as a state, they can overcome personal mortality. For the Islamist "martyr," whether as a terrorist individual, or as a murderous individual writ large, that is, as a "suicide state," killing Jews and Israelis is undoubtedly the very best they can ever hope to accomplish in the Dar al Harb – the "world of war." Israel will remain standing. The real question, however, is at precisely what calculable costs? To suitably answer this complex and nuanced question, Jerusalem must first understand, among many other things, that existential threats from Iran and “Palestine” are not separate or unrelated. Rather, whatever the raging sectarian differences between contending Islamic forces, these evident threats are always mutually reinforcing.
In more expressly military parlance, these threats may be seen as "negative force multipliers." Plus ca change...goes the classic French expression. "The more things change, the more they remain the same." For Israel, the names and identities of its regional enemies may be shifting, but the core adversarial appeal of Islamic "martyrdom" is basically unchanged. In the final analysis, learning how to effectively challenge this seemingly incomparable appeal could prove necessary to national survival.
The very same obligation applies to the United States, especially as America now also hopes to move ahead successfully against ISIS, and other relentless Islamist foes.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters. His work is well-known to certain of Israel's political, military, and intelligence communities, and to these communities in the United States. In 2003, he was Chair of Project Daniel. Professor Beres’ latest writings have appeared in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The Hill; US News & World Report; The Jerusalem Post; Israel National News; Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; Oxford University Press Blog; and the Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School). His tenth book, Israel's Nuclear Strategy; Surviving amid Chaos (Rowman and Littlefield) will be published later this year. Dr.  Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II.