I will do such things –
What they are yet I know not –
But they shall be the terrors of the earth.
Shakespeare, KING LEAR
Concluded in mid-September, the sixth annual International Conference on Global Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, underscored the growing threat of mega-terror. To a large extent, this existential threat to Israel is made worse by the always-deliberate insertion of terrorist personnel and assets in the midst of civilian populations. Known to general public as “human shields,” this practice is also explicitly identified and criminalized under international law as “perfidy.”
Terrorism is itself a codified crime under international law. It follows that perfidious deception by Islamic terrorists adds a distinctly second layer of illegality to the first. After all, the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and Hizbullah insurgencies are illegal in themselves.
As I have indicated to my readers in previous columns, certain forms of deception are permitted to states, under the laws of war, but the use of human shields is always illegal to all combatants. During the recent Lebanon war, Hizbullah – assisted by Syria and Iran – intentionally placed most of its arms and fighters squarely in the areas of Arab civilian populations. In the future, perfidious violations of the laws of war by any of the ongoing regional insurgencies could involve the placement of chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons and infrastructures in various Islamic towns and cities, giving rise to very dramatic escalations of violence. To be sure, such prohibited placement is already well underway in Iran with respect to all three categories of planned mega-terror.
Sooner or later, certain of Israel’s Islamic enemies, under cover of perfidy (the United Nations, after all, recently chose to condemn Israeli self-defense, not Hizbullah war crimes) will begin to magnify their terror operations. Inevitably, as was pointed out at the recent Institute for Counter-Terrorism conference in Herzliya, these enemies will strive to exploit more fully the methods of WMD terror-violence. Presently, at least, there is little to suggest that they won’t succeed.
There are, says Albert Camus, “crimes of passion and crimes of logic.” But the precise boundary between these crimes is often unclear, vague, porous and not easily defined. Understood in terms of the ever-expanding mega-terrorist threat to Israel, the pertinent crimes display both passion and logic. While the level of passion has certainly increased, there has been no corresponding diminution of logic. On the contrary, the constantly growing terrorist passion – some would call it a heightened and murderous religious fervor – has been congruent with tactical logic. This passion has been enhancing Israeli fears and (until now) hastening Israeli territorial capitulations.
Over time, the terrorist slaughterers will decide that they must do “more” in order to achieve their goals. Here, logic will spawn new passions, which, in turn, will reinforce logic. Combining careful cost-benefit calculations with virulent Islamic religious frenzy, the terrorists will reason that “ordinary” suicide bombings have become old-fashioned and that maintaining “adequate” Israeli fear (the sort of fear that would impel more territorial surrenders) calls for new and substantially higher forms of destructiveness. Unless Israeli authorities have anticipated such escalations of violence (clearly, they have) AND are prepared to dominate the resultant escalatory process (this, however, is somewhat less clear), the number of new Israeli victims could become inconceivably large.
Significantly, the danger of unconventional terrorism could become great even in the absence of logic. Indeed, this danger might even be greater if terrorist enemies and their allies become more and more oriented to crimes of passion. Animated only by the call of jihad and operating far beyond the rules of rationality in weighing decisional alternatives, the terrorists might then opt for chemical, biological or even nuclear destruction – and apart from any considered calculations of geopolitical advantage. Here, violence would be celebrated for its own sake – for the sheer voluptuous joy of murdering and dismembering Jews – and a numbing Islamic irrationality would immobilize all Israeli hopes for terrorist restraint. As for compelling Israeli deterrence of terrorist attack, it would become fruitless by definition.
The “blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” says 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 purposeful, because of its “healing” effect upon the perpetrator. Galvanized by what they have long described as a “battle of vengeance,” these terrorists have seen in their attacks not merely 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 idea has long been at the heart of Fatah doctrine, and is now very much in fashion among all other Palestinian and Hizbullah 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 must ask, and how much better for the terrorist’s self-respect, if rockets and bombs kill thousands or even tens of thousands of Israelis rather than “mere” dozens? Let us recall, if there are any doubts, the huge crowds of Palestinians cheering on rooftops during Saddam’s 1991 Scud attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa. Their cheers openly urged the 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 be countered. Linked to a particular species of fear, this quality of terror must represent an absolutely crucial variable in any society’s war against terrorism. Reciprocally, it must elicit an appropriate quality of counter-terrorism.
Let us 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 radiological contamination. The difference would be considerable. Although it is certainly possible that a terrorist resort to such higher-order destruction would prove to be counter-productive, this does not necessarily suggest a 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 be felt by “one of ourselves.” This fear, or terror, has little or nothing to do with our private concern for an impending misfortune to others, but rather from our perceived resemblance to the victim. We feel terror on our own behalf; we fear that we may become the objects of commiseration. Terror, in short, is fear referred back to us. Naturally, therefore, the quality of this terror is at its highest point when this fear is especially acute and where suffering acutely is especially likely. And what could possibly create more acute fear of probable victimization for Israel than the threat of chemical, biological or nuclear terrorism?
Israel, of course, must take immediate heed. Facing certain terrible crimes of logic, it can communicate to its terrorist foes that Jerusalem is prepared to dominate escalation, and that terrorist excursions into higher-order destructiveness would elicit anything but capitulation. Facing certain terrible crimes of passion, it can only confront the enemy in advance. Insofar as an increasingly impassioned enemy armed with unconventional weapons might not be susceptible to deterrent threats, the only reasonable course would lie in some greatly-expanded forms of preemption. Although this seems obvious enough, it is, presently, implausible that Israeli officials would authorize such wider efforts at anticipatory self-defense.
“In a dark time,” says the poet Theodore Roethke, “the eye begins to see.” Now, with a rapidly expanding darkness all over the region, Israel must finally acknowledge that it is in a relentless war against enemies who will fight without any civilized regard for limits or boundaries. It is absolutely imperative for us all that Israel be permitted to win this war.
Copyright: The Jewish Press, November 10, 2006. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 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 U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Defense Nuclear Agency (Pentagon), JFK Special Warfare Center (DOD) and the Nuclear Control Institute. Professor Beres’ work is also well known in Israeli military and intelligence communities. He is Chair of Project Daniel and is Strategic and Military Affairs correspondent for The Jewish Press.