US attacks, Syrian 'perfidy,' and future mega-terror on Israel

The same perfidious behavior that we might expect to witness in Syria, in any Assad-regime response to threats of an impending American attack, could also be used against Israel, in future Arab or Iranian resorts to terrorism.

Syria Chemical materials and gas masks 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syria Chemical materials and gas masks 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Should American  bombs and missiles actually land in Syria, a more or less substantial number of Syrian noncombatants would be killed. For the most part, these anticipated losses would be the result of a Syrian regime resort to "human shields," that is, to the legally unacceptable practice of moving civilians into designated military areas, or into those places most apt to be targeted. In  jurisprudence, the precise name for this violation of humanitarian international law is "perfidy."
Perfidy represents an egregious violation of the law of war, one expressly identified as a “grave breach,” in Article 147 of Geneva Convention No. IV. The principal formal effect of any perfidy committed by Syrian President Bashar Assad would be to immunize the United States from any legal responsibility for inflicting "collateral harms." Nonetheless, once American resorts to force had actually generated Syrian civilian casualties, most of them glaringly burned and bloodied, the perilous power of "the image" would quickly trump the authority of any law.
Although seemingly unrelated to Israel, there are potentially pertinent messages here for Jerusalem. The same perfidious behavior that we might expect to witness in Syria, in any Assad-regime response to threats of an impending American attack, could also be used against Israel, in future Arab or Iranian resorts to terrorism. Such future expressions of terror-violence could include assorted mega-assaults, some involving weapons of mass destruction.
Terrorism, like perfidy, is a codified crime under international law. Jurisprudentially, any "human shields" deception by anti-Israel terrorists would automatically add a second layer of illegality to the first. Among others in the region, the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and Hezbollah insurgencies are all illegal in themselves.
Certain forms of deception are permitted to states under the laws of war. Still, the use of human shields is always illegal, to all combatants. During Israel's wars with Lebanon, Hezbollah, then actively assisted by both Syria and Iran, intentionally placed some of its weapons and fighters squarely in the areas of Arab civilian populations. 
In coming years, certain perfidious violations of the laws of war by any of the actively ongoing regional insurgencies could involve the calculated placement of chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons and infrastructures in populated Arab/Islamic towns and cities. Over time, this deliberately protective placement could deter all Israeli expressions of "anticipatory self-defense," thus exposing Israel to large-scale destruction, and giving rise to dramatic and possibly unprecedented escalations of violence.
Sooner or later, certain Arab/Islamic enemies of Israel, will begin to magnify their growing terror operations. Inevitably, these enemies will strive to exploit, more fully, the particular methods and harms of WMD terror-violence. Presently, there is little evidence to suggest that they would be unable to succeed.
There are, says Albert Camus, "crimes of passion, and crimes of logic." But the precise boundary between these seemingly discrete crimes is unclear, vague, and porous. Understood in terms of an ever-expanding mega-terrorist threat to Israel,  the crimes in question could display both passion and logic. 
While the level of anti-Israel terrorist passion has increased palpably, there has been no corresponding diminution of terrorist logic. On the contrary, the constantly growing terrorist passion, some might call it a heightened and murderous religious fervor, has generally been  congruent with tactical logic. Recognizably, this passion has been enlarging assorted Israeli fears, and, until now, hastening Israel's incremental territorial capitulations.
Over time, impassioned anti-Israel terrorists may decide to do "more" in order to achieve their unhidden exterminatory goals. Here, logic could spawn insidiously new passions, which, in turn, would reinforce strategic logic. Combining careful cost-benefit calculations with a virulent religious frenzy, these killers could reason that "ordinary" suicide bombings had already become old-fashioned, and that maintaining an "adequate" level of Israeli fear (a level that could impel meaningfully more territorial surrenders) calls for new and conspicuously higher spasms of destructiveness. 
Unless Israeli authorities have prudently anticipated such escalations of violence, and are also prepared to dominate the resultant process, the number of new Israeli victims could become almost inconceivably large.
The danger of unconventional terrorism could become greater even in the absence of logic. This significant danger might even be more substantial if terrorist enemies of Israel and their allies had become increasingly oriented to crimes of passion.  Animated only by the call of jihad, and operating beyond the ordinary rules of rationality in making decisions, the terrorists might then opt for inflicting chemical, biological, or even nuclear destruction. It is even possible that this choice could be detached from any considered calculations of presumed geopolitical advantage.
Violence, in such circumstances, could be celebrated merely for its own sake. A numbing Arab/Islamic irrationality could immobilize all remaining Israeli hopes for long-term terrorist restraint. As for any compelling Israeli deterrence of mega-terrorist attacks, it could become fruitless, by definition.
The "blood-dimmed tide is loosed," prophesied the poet Yeats, "and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned." From the start, all anti-Israel terrorists, especially Fatah, have accepted the idea of violence as uniquely purposeful, usually because of its expectedly “healing” effect upon the perpetrator. Galvanized by what they had long cheerfully described as a "battle of vengeance," these terrorists have already experienced in their murderous attacks, not only the obvious logic of influencing the victims, but also the Fanonian logic of "purifying" the perpetrators.
"Violence," says Franz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, "is a purifying force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex, and from despair and inaction.  It makes him fearless, and restores his self-respect." 
This coalescing idea has long been at the heart of the Fatah doctrine, and is now very much in fashion among virtually all Palestinian, Muslim Brotherhood, and Hezbollah insurgents. An early Fatah pamphlet, "The Revolution and Violence, the Road to Victory," informed the reader that slaughter serves not only to eliminate the opposition, but also to transform the "revolutionary." It is, says the pamphlet, "a healing medicine for all our people's diseases."
How much more healing, we should now inquire, and how much better for the terrorist’s self-respect, if rockets and bombs were to kill thousands or even tens of thousands of Israelis, rather than "mere" dozens? Let us recall, if there should be any doubts, the huge crowds of Palestinians cheering on rooftops during former president of Iraq Saddam Husseins's 1991 Scud attacks on Tel-Aviv and Haifa. Their enthusiastic cheers had strongly urged an Iraqi mass killing of Israeli civilians.
Terror has an appreciable impact beyond incidence. It also has a distinct "quality," a potentially decisive combination of venue and lethality that cannot be ignored, and that must, sooner or later, be effectively countered. Linked to a particular species of fear, this quality of terror must ultimately represent an absolutely crucial variable in any society's war against terrorism. Reciprocally, it must elicit an appropriate quality of counter-terrorism. 
One may imagine, in this connection, the qualitative difference, for Israel, between bus or market suicide-bombings, and the murder of masses of Tel-Avivians or Jerusalemites, either by "small" nuclear explosions, or by deliberate radiological contamination. The difference here would be more than a matter of scale.  rather, it would represent an authentic quantum-leap of annihilatory destruction.
Although it is possible that any terrorist resort to such higher-order levels of destruction would prove counter-productive, this does not necessarily suggest any corresponding terrorist reluctance to undertake such an escalation. After all, if they are "logical," the terrorists might not foresee such counter-productiveness, and if they are "passionate," they might not care.
Writing about that species of fear that arises from tragedy, Aristotle emphasized that such fear "demands a person who suffers undeservedly," and that it must also be felt by "one of ourselves." This fear, or terror, has little or nothing to do with our private concern for any impending misfortune to others, but instead from our perceived resemblance to the victim. We feel terror on our own behalf; we fear that we may become the reluctantly final objects of commiseration. 
Terror is fear referred back to ourselves. The quality of terror is at its highest point whenever this fear is especially acute, and wherever suffering acutely is especially likely. And what could possibly create more acute fear of intolerable victimization than the threat of chemical, biological, or nuclear terrorism?
Israel, especially in the likely aftermath of any American attacks on Syria, should take special heed. Facing certain terrible crimes of logic, it must communicate to its many dedicated terrorist foes that Jerusalem is constantly prepared to dominate escalation, and that any planned terrorist excursions into higher-order destructiveness would never elicit capitulation. Facing decipherably terrible crimes of passion, it could rationally confront the mega-terrorist enemy in advance. 
Insofar as an increasingly impassioned enemy armed with unconventional weapons might not even be susceptible to orthodox deterrent threats, the only residual course would appear to lie in certain expanded forms of preemption. Although this conclusion seems obvious enough, it is presently implausible that Israeli officials would authorize any such wider efforts at "anticipatory self-defense."
"In a dark time," says the Poet Theodore Roethke, "the eye begins to see." Now, with an incrementally expanding darkness over the Middle East, Israel must finally acknowledge that it is locked in an utterly relentless war against prospectively perfidious enemies, and that this war could accelerate without any sufficient enemy regard for legal limits.
-----------LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (PhD, 1971), and is the author of many books and articles dealing with WMD forms of terrorism, including nuclear terrorism.  He has previously worked and lectured on these problems for the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Defense Nuclear Agency (Pentagon), JFK Special Warfare Center (DoD) and the Nuclear Control Institute.  Many of his major published writings on terrorism have appeared in Parameters: The Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare (DoD); the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; and the Harvard National Security Journal. Professor Beres' work is well-known in selected Israeli military and intelligence communities.  In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel (2003).