Sometimes truth can emerge through paradox, especially in the always-confusing Middle East. Strangely, even now − even after Hamas builds new operational bridges to both Hizbullah and al-Qaeda, and even after Fatah’s recommitment to another Jewish genocide − much of the world remains willfully indifferent to Israel’s existential security dilemma. Even now, with a singular and inexcusable selectivity, the media continues to portray the Palestinians as “David” and Israel as “Goliath.” In the most charitable explanation, this contrived portrayal, apart from its stinging biblical irony, reflects a basic misunderstanding of both weakness and power in world politics.
In all world politics, appearances can deceive. Although power is powerful and weakness is weak, power can sometimes weaken itself, and weakness can sometimes become a source of power. Over the years, especially since the Oslo Accords and the successor “Road Map,” Israel’s power has regularly sabotaged itself.
From the start, the Palestinians, understanding the subtle influences of language on politics, have somehow managed to transform their widely presumed weakness into a genuine source of power. Again and again, the “weak” Palestinians have outmaneuvered the “powerful” Israelis. For example, a few years ago the UN’s International Court of Justice chose to condemn not the persistent criminality of Palestinian terrorism, but rather the fence erected by Israel to safeguard its most fragile citizens from suicide bombers.
Similarly, even while the terrorists intentionally rocket Israeli noncombatants from “liberated” Gaza, world public opinion typically blames the Israelis for defending themselves. This is the case, even though no other country would conceivably do any less to stay alive, and even though Israeli self-defense always employs the most inoffensive and offender-specific means possible.
Justice still cannot be uttered in the same breath asJews. And power is always a more complex relationship than it may first appear. The ordinarily assumed bases of power in world affairs can be exaggerated or misrepresented.
For almost 2,000 years, the Jews as a people remained stateless and defenseless − yet, in a number of important spheres of human activity, they were still enormously potent. Today, when there does exist a Jewish State endowed with modern weapons, as well as with advanced centers of science, learning and technology, the Jewish citizens of Israel comprise the most vulnerable Jews on the face of the Earth.
If we were also to consider ongoing Iranian nuclearization together with Iran’s openly exterminatory threats to Israel, Israel’s Jews would represent the most vulnerable people on the face of the earth. History remains unspeakable. The ironies here are terribly painful to acknowledge.
The Palestinians – Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, it certainly makes no real difference to Israeli or U.S. security – are fond of citing to their alleged “weakness.” Yet, they have displayed remarkable staying power in their pre-state form. Already under Arafat, who won the Nobel Peace Prize after celebrating his own leadership role in murdering Jewish children and American diplomats, their oft-repeated “weakness” had been the prime source of this power.
Persuading the world, again and again, how unfortunate and mistreated they are, the Palestinians repeatedly get their way at major international conferences and in associated diplomatic negotiations. How else can one explain the still-fixed and explicit U.S. support for a 23rd Arab state – a state that would inevitably become a staging area for mega-terror attacks against Washington and New York as well as Tel-Aviv? Even after assisting Saddam Hussein in the organized torture and murder of Kuwaitis during the period 1990-1991, and even after vigorously applauding the horrors of September 11, the Palestinians enjoy President Bush’s full support for independence and statehood.
Another irony surfaces.If America now stands ready to create a terror state in “Palestine,” why are its armies in Iraq? Are we not then sending our soldiers to die in vain?
The Arab world is presently comprised of 22 states, nearly 5 million square miles and more than 150 million people. The overall Islamic world contains 44 states with well over 1 billion people. The Islamic states comprise an area 672 times the size of Israel. Israel, with a population of a bit more than 5 million Jews, is smaller than New Jersey, and less than half the size of Lake Michigan.
Power vs. weakness? The State of Israel, even together with Judea/Samaria (West Bank) is less than half the size of California’s San Bernardino County. Leaving aside that present-day Jordan comprises 78 percent of the original British mandate for Palestine, and that it has long had a substantial Palestinian majority, the now fratricidal Palestinian Authority is being encouraged to declare a second Palestinian state on land torn from the still-living body of Israel. What will this particular terrorist victory suggest about power and weakness in the Middle East?
The Palestinians have typically enjoyed considerable global benefits from their alleged “weakness.” Will their new state effectively enlarge Arab/Islamist power, or will it produce an opposite condition? Perhaps, with a tiny Jewish State existing next to a tiny Palestinian state, there will develop a mutuality of weakness. But this would be unlikely or even illogical, as power is always a relative notion. Moreover, the Palestinians, according to all of their maps and all of their public policies, envision only one state − their own. Cartographically, throughout most of the Arab world, the physical removal of Israel remains entirely official doctrine. Nothing ambiguous here at all.
Plato first wrote magisterially of the reality of ideas. In matters of national security, conceptual understanding is always antecedent to good policy planning. Both Israel and the United States will now need to better understand the ideas ofpower and weakness. Israel, especially, should finally understand that advanced weapons of war, however destructive and necessary, do not always create decisive strength. By occasioning misjudgments of power, they can even create weakness.
There is, in all spheres of foreign policy making, a marked absence of true learning. The ingredients of usable power in world politics, however, can be very subtle, and may also remain intangible. At times, these ingredients may even include the presumed opposite of power, or weakness.
Truth can emerge through paradox.
Copyright © The Jewish Press, August 1, 2008. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated atPrinceton (Ph.D., 1971) and publishes widely on international relations and international law. He is the author of ten major books and several hundred articles in the field. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.