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March 30, 2015 / 10 Nisan, 5775
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Staying Alive: Israel In An Age Of ‘Martyrdom’

Louis Rene Beres

Louis Rene Beres

Everyone who reads newspapers should know at least one thing. Threats to annihilate Israel have always been unremarkable. Almost never, it seems, have Israel’s existential enemies sought any reason for concealment.

Significantly, in this connection, if not for Israel’s “bomb in the basement” – its still-unacknowledged nuclear force – these openly genocidal threats could already have been actualized. Were it not for Israel’s “ambiguous” nuclear ace in the hole, such threats would likely have represented substantially more than verbal bluster or unheroic bravado.

This utterly critical point is not widely recognized or understood. Today, the common goal of all Israel’s Islamist enemies is still Jewish extermination. This grotesque goal remains unhidden. In perhaps the bitterest of ironies, therefore, our ancient nation that was ingathered and reborn to prevent another Holocaust has become the uncamouflaged focus of yet another Final Solution.

In essence, the goal of all Israel’s Islamist enemies, especially Iran and the Palestinian “state,” is to be left standing while Israel is made to disappear. For these determinedly lascivious enemies, there can be no coexistence with Israel. Ever.

The reason, as I have pointed out here before, is not a matter of pragmatic politics or convenience. It is, rather, a matter of irremediable core doctrine. It is because, religiously, their own survival requires Israel’s extinction.

In Washington, President Obama still does not understand. Repeatedly, ritualistically, almost on cue, Obama extols the alleged virtues of a very twisted and sinister cartography. In the fashion of his equally misguided predecessors (let us not forget the earlier errors of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush), Obama ostentatiously favors a Road Map to Peace in the Middle East.

Viscerally, it is a pleasing metaphor. Like the misconceived and ill-fated Oslo Agreements that came before, this one-sided plan is ultimately premised on Israel’s coerced acceptance of land for nothing. At best, it is a dreadful cliché, a humiliating self-parody. Nothing more.

Notwithstanding Obama’s cheerful belief in progress, it would be a fatal mistake for Israel to believe that reason and justice govern the world; a grievous error for Israel to continue to project its own Western, rational, and humane sentiments upon the most relentless and barbarous jihadist foes. It would assuredly be a “life risk” for Israel to seek to endure by continuing to cling to numbingly false promises, and to manifestly false hopes.

Far better, among other security-maximizing steps, to enhance deterrence by ending nuclear ambiguity. Far better to bring the Israeli bomb out of the “basement.”

Barack Obama will not save Israel. Hillary Clinton will not save Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu will not save Israel.

Once Iran has decided to launch nuclear missiles at Israel – at the very least a plausible prospect in just a few years – Washington’s only real assistance would be to help Jerusalem bury the dead. For this, whole Israeli cities would first have to be transformed into cemeteries. Here, with grudging assistance from the “international community,” Israel would become the world’s largest and most enthusiastically stocked necropolis.

Whether in Gaza, the West Bank or Tehran, Israel’s jihadist enemies wish to kill Jews because every such homicide is felt to be a sacred obligation. For these enemies, killing Jews is an indisputably praiseworthy expression of religious sacrifice. Specifically, such killing is expected to confer immunity from personal death. What could be better?

The idea of death as a zero-sum commodity – “I kill you; I therefore remain alive forever” – has rarely been explained elsewhere. It is captured perfectly, however, in Ernest Becker’s graphic and meticulously primal paraphrase of Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti: “Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.”

To stay alive, Israel must finally understand what psychologist Otto Rank had earlier revealed in his 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.” This admittedly difficult insight is at the very heart of Islamist orientations to Israel. Indeed, it explains almost everything Israel needs to know about these unambiguously genocidal orientations.

Israel’s enemies, in order to remain standing, and to prevent Israel from standing up, seek to sacrifice the Jewish state on a (literally) bloodstained altar of war and terrorism. Sacrifice is now deeply central and elemental to what is evolving in the Middle East. The hoped-for destruction of Israel is integrally part of a system of religious worship, one directed toward an enhancement of life, and, simultaneously, to the authentically sublime conquest of personal death.

The truest source of global influence is always power, but the highest expression of power is not, as conventionally believed, superior military force. It is, rather, a perceived triumph over mortality. For Iran, and also for that proposed government (Hamas, Fatah, it makes little difference) of executioners now battling each other for control of some emerging Palestinian state, killing Jews – killing Israel itself – offers an incomparable fusion of private ecstasy and personal survival.

Sometimes, truth may emerge through paradox. Yet again, sworn enemies of Israel are convinced that in killing Jews, and, even more grand, in “killing” Israel, they will overcome their own insufferable mortality. For the Islamist “martyr,” whether as a terrorist murderer, or as a murderous terrorist writ large (as a suicide state), killing Jews and killing Israel is the ideal affirmation of a meritorious life.

Israel will remain standing. This is certain. Still, we must inquire, softly but also soberly, at what expected cost?

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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