In military and counter-terrorism planning, truth may emerge from paradox. Aware of this, we are currently faced with a peculiar and ironic, but nonetheless persuasive, enemy juxtaposition.
America’s and Israel’s terrorist enemies have very distinctive and deceptive orientations to peace. This stark asymmetry puts us all at a foreseeable and grievous disadvantage. While these jihadist foes manifest their “positive” expectations for immortality, individual and collective, by the intentional and doctrinal slaughter of so-called heathen, our political leaders manage to remain unaware of their enemies’ systematically murderous fusion of violence and the sacred.
America and Israel now face steadily expanding mega-threats of unconventional war and unconventional terrorism. Faced with adversaries who are not only willing to die, but who actively seek their own “deaths” in order to live forever, Washington and Jerusalem should finally understand the unavoidable limits of military remediation and homeland defense. These limits could become even more unmanageable if unconventional war and unconventional terror were at any time forged against us in assorted possible synergies.
For our Palestinian jihadist enemies in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and Gaza, killing Americans and Israelis always offers an optimal immunity against personal death. Understood in appropriate psychodynamic terminology, the death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the sacrifice, of the infidel. Generically, this idea is best captured by 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.”
Our jihadist enemies do not intend to do evil. Rather, they commit to the killing of Americans and Israelis with an absolute purity of heart. Though mired in blood, their search for “infidels” is always tranquil and self-assured. It is, after all, born of certain knowledge that the lofty goals of Holy War can never be shameful, only heroic.
To weaken and defeat jihadist terrorists, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu must first understand that any Palestinian state would be contrary to their most basic national interests. For the sake of indispensable American and Israeli security, it is now high time to replace the self-defeating cartography of a twisted and rutted “road map” with a more thoughtful and direct route to effective counter-terrorism.
Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.