Interesting Times: Israel is not a bubble

Our existential battle is a global one and the West must defeat the jihadis at their source, in Teheran.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
The Atlantic asks, "Is Israel Finished?" The Economist wonders whether Israel's economic success is sustainable. Even at home, the Winograd commission, think tanks and recent Nobel Prize laureates mutter darkly that Israel is doomed if our education system is not swiftly infused with more quality and content. Meanwhile, Ibrahim Mudeiris, an imam in Gaza, tells the Atlantic that, "It does not matter what the Jews do. … They can be nice to us or they can kill us. … If we have a cease-fire with the Jews, it is only so that we can prepare ourselves for the final battle." Welcome to our 60th birthday celebrations! In Syria, poverty and oppression reign, while advances such as ATM machines and the Internet are slowly being rolled out, insha'alla. But no one asks whether Syria will exist in a few years. Here, existence is our specialty. It's what we do. It's what we would think about if anyone had time to think. As historian Benny Morris put it to the Atlantic: "The situation [Jewish] Israelis live in, and even more so, most likely face, is antediluvian, revolutionary and possibly apocalyptic." Morris called Israel an "amazing success story" that is also "the most dangerous place in the world for Jews as Jews, as a collective of 5 million people who are in danger of extinction in the short term from an Iranian nuclear bomb and in the long term by being overwhelmed by Arabs." BUT WHICH is it? Which is the bubble, Israel's existence, or the Arab/Islamist dream of wiping Israel off the map? Of all words to describe Israel, "antediluvian" is most ironic - as if hyper-modern Israel is antiquated because it is "before the Flood." The people around Noah didn't have a future, so they were living in the past. What this apocalyptic approach misses is that the flood is not necessarily going in our direction. For all their confidence that Israel will be destroyed, the Islamists see the flood coming their way; it is they who feel they are being engulfed by Western civilization, and are reacting with a desperate struggle to turn back the clock. Or as Amos Oz told me in an interview, "Who knew that the 20th century would be followed by the 11th?" So who is flooding whom? What does each side bring to the table, as Westerners say, or the battlefield, as the jihadis would put it? Let's be generous and say that the jihadis have faith, a long view of history, and a willingness to die and kill for their cause. This is generous because, while there are no doubt some jihadis who fit this description, Islamism is similar to other totalitarian schemes, such as Communism and Nazism, in which ideology is seamlessly corrupted by the drive to amass power. The confidence that such a framework brings is no small asset. The combination of a powerful sense of grievance, a strong belief in ultimate victory and an ethos of self-sacrifice is a powerful one. In the end, however, the core of the Islamist theory of victory lies elsewhere: on our side. Deep down, both sides know a powerful truth: the jihad can only win if the West never decides to fight. Jihadi strength is not intrinsic, but built on western weakness. To prevail, Islamism has to constantly camouflage its objectives. The most salient example is what is called the "Arab-Israeli conflict." Until the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab world openly fought to prevent, and then to reverse, Israel's establishment. After Israel's shocking victory in that war, the open pursuit of that goal became untenable. But the goal did not change; it was just put on a back shelf while other things, such as the suddenly urgent need to provide the Palestinians with a state (a non-issue when the Arab states themselves held the West Bank and Gaza) were placed in the window display. The Islamist cause is fundamentally weak. It controls the regime of only one medium-sized country, Iran, one satrapy, Syria, and a tiny quasi-state, Gaza. Two other regimes, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, have switched from the "asset" to "loss" columns. Another, Libya, has formally thrown in its jihadi towel. The West, by contrast, not only includes dozens of major governments, but its combined military and economic power dwarfs any that the Islamists might muster. Terror is supposedly the great equalizer. A few men with boxcutters were able to attack or even destroy symbols of Western power, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But it is not. Terror alone cannot take power. Jihadi terrorism can only win by exploiting Western weaknesses. Some of these are obvious, such as the openness of Western societies, respect for civil liberties, reluctance to "profile," religious tolerance bordering on submission, and so on. These "weaknesses" are also Western strengths, even though they create certain vulnerabilities. The greatest Western weakness of all, however, is one that is rarely mentioned and completely reversible: the refusal to admit to being under attack and therefore to act as if at war, along with the refusal to counterattack in a way that comprehensively exploits the weaknesses of the enemy. The main jihadi weakness is that, for all its ideology, its real fuel source is power and victories, not grievances. The more defeats that are dealt to jihadi groups and the regimes behind them, the more their claim of inevitable ascendance is punctured, and the weaker they will become. WHAT DOES all this have to do with Israel's 60th? A lot, since Israel stands at one of the most active fronts of Islamist jihad against the West. We need to keep hammering at a message that happens to be true: we are not defending ourselves against nationalists in a border struggle, but against jihadis with a global agenda. Moreover, this war will not be won by endless skirmishes on the West's territory, but by defeating the jihadis at their main source of strength, in Teheran. Israel's existential problem has become a global one. It is impossible to answer the question of Israel without asking another: will the West wake up and defend itself? It is the West that can cripple the Iranian regime by imposing draconian economic and diplomatic sanctions, not to mention military action. Israel's leaders, far from providing a coherent wake-up call, have contributed to the West's self-distraction through the absurd notion that Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking addresses Iran, rather than the other way around. Lopsided gloom-mongering, however, is neither helpful nor warranted. Unlike the jihadis, the West holds the ability to win in its own hands. We should not assume that Western idiocy is a given, as our enemies do, but that our self-abnegation will ultimately change, and dedicate our policies toward hastening that day. [email protected]