Ayatollah Khomeini, in the foreword to his book on Islamic government, offered remarks which are today still taken as the dominant and incontestable orthodoxy in Iran: “The Islamic Movement was afflicted by the Jews from its very beginnings, when they began their hostile activity….”
Continuing on “The Zionist Problem” in Al-Ahram, Dr. Yahya al-Rakhawi writes: “… we are all, once again, face to face with the Jewish Problem, not just the Zionist Problem. We must reassess all those studies which make a distinction between ‘The Jew’ and ‘The Israeli’…. and we must redefine the meaning of the word ‘Jew’ so that we do not imagine that we are speaking of a divinely revealed religion or a minority persecuted by mankind.”
Al- Rakhawi concludes: “…we cannot help but see before us the figure of the great man Hitler, may G-d have mercy on him, who was the wisest of those who confronted this problem… and who, out of compassion for humanity, tried to exterminate every Jew, but despaired of curing this cancerous growth on the body of mankind.”
It is with such rabid views in the mind of its many enemies that Israel faces a real threat of unconventional war and unconventional terrorism. This threat is enlarged, substantially, by evidence of Arab and Iranian “sacrificers.” Israel is faced with adversaries who are not only willing to die, but who actively seek their own deaths, because this death is presumed to yield personal immortality. Israel must now understand the critical tactical and strategic limits of deterrence. In the final analysis, as Israel’s policies of deterrence are contingent upon assumptions of rationality in world politics, these policies will be immobilized by self-sacrificing enemies.
The danger to Israel lies at two discrete but interrelated levels. First, it exists at the level of the individual human beings who choose martyrdom through a path of terrorism. Second, it exists at the level of states, the individual self-sacrificers in macrocosm, which may someday soon choose collective self-sacrifice through initiation of chemical, biological or even nuclear war against the Jewish state. Such a war would be fought not for traditional military purposes, but for “liquidation of the Jews.” Jurisprudentially, it would represent the unholiest of marriages between aggressive war and genocide as crimes under international law.
From the beginning, Israel has been identified as a “cancer” by the Arab world. The following quote from Cairo Radio of April 20, 1963 is still echoed daily in Egypt and throughout the Arab world: “Israel is the cancer, the malignant wound, in the body of Arabism, for which there is no cure but eradication. There is no need to emphasize that the liquidation of Israel and the restoration of plundered Palestine Arab land are at the head of our national objectives.”
Such longstanding Arab/Iranian references to Israel as a “cancer” are far more than a vile metaphor. They are profoundly theological characterizations of an enemy that must ultimately be excised, that is – “liquidated.” Where this unavoidable removal of Jews from “Palestine” would be accomplished by self-sacrifice, possibly even by a nuclear attack, it would be life-affirming for the aggressors. Because the use of unconventional weapons would signify not only self-destruction, but also perpetual deliverance, this exchange would presumably grant the aggressors eternal life. Of course, every Islamic government and movement would deny such eschatological thinking up front, but it operates nonetheless.
The root problem here is Arab/Iranian death fear and the consequent compulsion to sacrifice despised “others.” This compulsion, in turn, stems from a widespread and doctrinal belief that killing Jews, and being killed by Jews, is simultaneously a path away from cowardice and toward immortality. The pertinent Arab/Iranian unwillingness to accept personal death leads, then, to the killing of others to escape this death. The ironies are staggering, but the connections persist. For Israel, they must now be examined with great care.
Citing a well-known “hadith” (an Arabic term which refers to the oral tradition attributed to the prophet Mohammed), King Sa’ud once informed a British visitor to his court: “Verily, the word of G-d teaches us, and we implicitly believe it, that for a Muslim to kill a Jew, or for him to be killed by a Jew, ensures him an immediate entry into Heaven and into the august presence of G-d Almighty.” This doctrinal premise is very widely accepted by Israel’s Islamic state and nonstate enemies.
Significantly, although not well-known, is that Ibn Sa’ud’s remarkable hatred for the Jews paralleled the Christian core of anti-Semitism: “Our hatred for the Jews dates from G-d’s condemnation of them for their persecution and rejection of Isa (Jesus), and their subsequent rejection of His chosen Prophet.” In other words, Islamic hatred of Jews, which leads doctrinally to obligatory killing of Jews, is also tied to Jewish “interference” with promises of immortality.
For so many of Israel’s enemies, killing Jews is the optimal immunization against death. The death fear of the enemy “ego” is lessened by the killing, the sacrifice, of the Jew. Generically, this idea has been captured by Ernest Becker’s paraphrase of Elias Canetti: “Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.”
The enemy of Israel that commits itself to mass butchery of Jews will not intend to do evil. On the contrary, this enemy will commit itself to meting out death for the sake of life, prodding the killing of Jews with utter conviction and purity of heart. A sanctified killer, this enemy will generate an incessant search for Jewish victims. Though mired in blood, the search will be tranquil and self-assured, born of the knowledge that its perpetrators are neither infamous not shameful, but sacrificial and heroic.
Let Israel take heed now, before it is too late.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and publishes widely on world politics and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press in New York City.