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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
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On Practicing Realism In An Unreal World: A Jewish Imperative (Second Of Two Parts)


It is not just our enemies who show us no mercy and who “love death” who bring us death. The triumph of the absurd (the world of Chelm or the world of Kafka?) can be found also in sober actions of the United Nations. Consider, for example, that on January 11, 2005, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan established a formal registry to record claims of damage attributed to Israel’s security fence. This registry was mandated by the UN General Assembly last August, in a resolution issued by emergency special session. Payments are to be made by “Israel’s existing compensation mechanisms.”

So, Israel builds a fence to protect its citizens from wanton murder, and the UN condemns not the murderers, but the fence. Where is the UN call for a registry of Jewish claims arising from Palestinian barbarism? This important question has now been raised correctly and publicly by ZOA National President Morton A. Klein and by Stephen Flatow, the father of Alisa Flatow, a 20-year old American citizen and Brandeis University student who was murdered in Israel by a suicide bomber on April 9, 1995.

Some decisions will have to be made. And soon. The Bush-advanced “Road Map” has been accepted (however reluctantly) by Israel’s Prime Minister Sharon. Mr. Sharon is now making final plans to “disengage” from Gaza and also from portions of Samaria. At the same time, Israel’s enemies still see in the Jewish State only an irremediable foe. This is not to suggest that Israel abandon the search for more durable peace with its many enemies, but only that this search be conducted always with a sober awareness of what these Arab/Islamic states identify as “sane” behavior.

Sooner or later, even after America’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” certain Arab states and/or Iran could acquire nuclear weapons. Should this be allowed to happen, these enemy states – emboldened by their atomic might – could fall upon Israel in an apocalyptic frenzy of destructiveness. It follows that Israel must now do everything in its power to prevent Arab/Iranian nuclearization, including – if necessary – non-nuclear preemptive strikes against pertinent enemy infrastructures. Simultaneously it must stand ready to use certain of its nuclear weapons in reprisal for large-scale enemy aggressions involving particular nuclear and/or biological weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, this readiness should not be kept as a secret; not at all. In one fashion or another, it should be communicated to those for whom humane behavior against Jews is invariably a contradiction in terms.

Much as these strategic conclusions should seem obvious enough to any intelligent observer – Jew or gentile – they are not now embraced by many in Israel’s academic security establishment. Recently, for example, the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel-Aviv University issued very contrary kinds of recommendations. Rejecting the idea of an Israeli preemption against Iranian nuclear infrastructures, the new Jaffee report stands in stark contrast to Project Daniel: Israel’s Strategic Future, which has been described earlier in a number of my columns in this newspaper. And along similar lines, a prominent strategist at Tel-Aviv University, Zeev Maoz, recently argued in the distinguished American journal International Security (Harvard) for Israel’s unilateral nuclear disarmament. (My own rebuttal to Maoz appears in the Summer 2004 issue of that same journal).

A Hasidic tale instructs us that we shall only be able to determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins, when we can look into the face of another human being and recognize in him a brother, a real brother. Until that moment, night and darkness shall remain with us. Understood in terms of the State of Israel, this tale reminds us that in the best of all possible worlds, we humans, all of us, will finally be able to go beyond the most primordial forms of tribalism and acknowledge triumphantly our basic Oneness: “The dust from which the first man was made was gathered from all the corners of the world” (Sanhedrin 38b).

For the moment, such an acknowledgment would be both premature and suicidal. Our enemies simply don’t share a generous vision of cosmopolitan coexistence, and we cannot afford to be more “humane” about the “Road Map” at the predictable cost of collective disintegration. Instead, for now, Israel must harden its resolve to preemptively remove certain Arab/Iranian weapons of mass destruction. Following United States policy, it should also act promptly to codify a formal strategy of anticipatory self-defense in its national strategic doctrine. And if preemption should fail, for one reason or another, Israeli deterrence of existential attack should include explicit and credible threats of nuclear retaliation against multiple high-value enemy targets – that is, major cities in the Arab/Islamic world.

We learn from Rabbi Kook that “the loftier the soul, the more it feels the unity that there is in all. And when the thought of unity grows stronger, the light of loving and forgiveness appears.” Yet, Rabbi Kook – who had even explored such cosmopolitan notions in Buddhism and other religions – was keenly aware of their “real world” limitations. Perhaps, in the future, all of humanity will finally witness the “light of loving and forgiveness” and begin to understand that war and terror are “crazy.” Here, witnessing the hour of a true dawn, each individual will be able to look into the eyes of another and affirm in him or her the real brother or sister. Until such time, however, we Jews must continue to act realistically and courageously, even if this should mean a seemingly endless dependence upon military power and vigorous self-defense. Such dependence would be entirely consistent with the international law of self-defense, with our own Torah-based obligations on self-defense at Exodus 22:1 and – when faced with a choice between life and death, “the blessing and the curse” – our imperative to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20.)

(c) Copyright The Jewish Press. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli security matters and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for THE JEWISH PRESS, and Chair of “Project Daniel.”

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.

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