Lord G-d…How can Jacob stand, He is so small?
For the president of Iran, threats to annihilate Israel are now a daily ritual. Were it not for his country’s complementary capacity to inflict genuinely existential harms, these threats would not be worrisome. But Iran’s capacity to become fully nuclear is now more imminent than had ever been recognized by our own intelligence communities. It follows that a persistent refrain of genocidal intent issuing from Tehran must now be taken with utmost seriousness in Jerusalem.
The true goal of Israel’s many Islamic enemies, not only the goal expressed openly by Iran, is extermination. Even in a world that has grown comfortable with every conceivable form of slaughter, Israel is the object of glaringly new kinds of crimes against humanity. In the bitterest of ironies, an ancient nation that was ingathered to prevent another Holocaust has now become the dominant focus of future final solutions. What is worse, calls for lawful self-defense to prevent the undisguised Iranian plan to annihilate Israel are widely derided as “unreasonable” or even as outright “aggression.”
For the Jews, it seems yet again, there is nothing new under the sun. The goal of Israel’s enemies, especially Iran and the impending Hamas-led Palestinian state, is to be left standing while Israel has been made to disappear. For these irremediable enemies, there can be no coexistence of any kind. Their survival absolutely requires Israel’s extinction. For them, nothing could be more obvious.
It is surely time that all friends of Israel – and indeed, the entire community of nations recognize this true goal of Israel’s enemies – and that Israel’s government be given an immediate green light to defend itself against Iran. International law is not a suicide pact. Under the longstanding customary rule of “anticipatory self-defense,” Israel now has every right to strike first at developing Iranian nuclear infrastructures. Further, to undertake such an essential preemption while there is still time is more than a legal right. It is a distinct obligation, not only to the existentially imperiled people of Israel, but also to the most elementary expectations of civilized international relations. For Israel to decline this obligation would be nothing less than an implicit acknowledgment that international law expressly defies international justice – might makes right in world politics.
It is a fatal mistake for Israel to believe that reason and justice govern the world. It is an unforgivable error for Israel to project its own Western, rational and humane sentiments upon its most relentless and barbarous foes. It is a life-risk for Israel to seek to remain standing by clinging to manifestly false hope.
What a mistake it is for Israel to fashion policies upon fundamentally incorrect assumptions. Whether in Gaza or Tehran, Israel’s enemies wish to kill Jews because such murder is felt to be a sacred obligation. For these enemies, killing Jews is always an expression of religious sacrifice, one that will even confer immunity from personal death. Could there be any greater incentive to plan the next genocide of Jews, in this case one in which war and terror are the prescribed method of extermination? This idea of death as a zero-sum commodity – “I kill you; I therefore remain alive forever” – has been explained in some of the finest psychology literature. It is captured exquisitely in Ernest Becker’s paraphrase of Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti: “Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun and declares life good.” Shouldn’t this idea be especially obvious to the Jewish People after enduring the largest mass murder in human history? Isn’t it time that Israel elect leaders who can finally understand what Otto Rank revealed so courageously in 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.”
Israel’s enemies, in order to remain standing – and prevent Israel from standing up – seek to sacrifice the Jewish State on an altar of war and terrorism. The idea of sacrifice is central to what is now happening in the Middle East. Their planned genocidal destruction of Israel is integrally part of a system of religious worship that is oriented toward the conquest of personal death.
What a mistake it is for present-day Israel to ignore 4,000 years of Jewish history and world politics. The true source of global influence is always power, and the greatest expression of power is assuredly the conquest of death. For the president of Iran and for the Hamas government of executioners in the still-impending Palestinian state, killing Jews – indeed, killing Israel itself – offers an incomparable feeling of ecstasy and personal survival. These enemies of Israel are more than dimly aware that in killing Jews and in killing Israel they will have killed their own death. For the Islamic “martyr,” whether as a terrorist individual or as a murderous individual in macrocosm (e.g., the state of Iran), killing Jews and the Jewish State is the altogether optimal way of affirming life.
When Israel learns to understand and to appreciate this grotesque enemy awareness, it will finally understand the overriding obligation to stay alive itself. To accept this authentically-sacred obligation, Israel should combine a willingness to preemptively destroy Iran’s now, nearly-complete engines of atomic annihilation (a willingness spawned by the almost-certain refusal of the United States to exercise this essential expression of anticipatory self-defense) with a clear and parallel determination to resist any further territorial withdrawals from Judea/Samaria.
Ehud Olmert did not receive any sort of mandate for further surrender of Jewish land to the Palestinians, and the People of Israel are entitled to live on this land without new threats of intimidation from their own leaders. The security costs to Israel of the misguided Gaza disengagement are already being felt in various parts of the country, and these potentially existential costs will soon be borne as well by unwary citizens of the United States. Still generally unreported, Hamas has already begun to allow certain al-Qaeda elements to fashion a whole new generation of WMD terror weapons for use in New York, Washington and/or Los Angeles.
Israel is so small, so very small, but it can still stand.
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LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters. His work is well known in Israel’s political, military and intelligence communities, and to these communities in the United States. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.