How a Nuclear War Might Begin Between Israel and its Enemies
LOUIS RENÉ BERES, Chair of Project Daniel, is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.
How a Nuclear War Might Begin Between Israel and its Enemies
LOUIS RENÉ BERES, Chair of Project Daniel, is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.
Over the years, regular readers of my column in The Jewish Press may have noticed a continuing regard for the concept of time. On the surface, it might not appear that chronology can possibly have much to do with war and terror. Some deeper reflection, however, should reveal several interesting and intimate connections. Moreover, much of what we can now learn about time, war and terror has its essential roots in original Jewish ideas of community. Here, in these Jewish prophetic visions, authentic community was actually defined by very explicit reference to existing in time under a transcendent G-d. Land and space were also important, to be sure, but derivatively; only because of the verifiably sacred events that would necessarily take place therein.
Time now has a great many different meanings. It certainly means very discrepant things to the very assorted players in world politics. Historically, the specific idea of felt time – of time as lived rather than clock time – also has its origins in ancient Israel. Deliberately rejecting the concept of time as mere linear progression, the early Hebrews approached chronology as a fully qualitative experience. Thus dismissed as something that can submit to abstract or quantitative measure only, time was understood in ancient Israel as something that is always logically inseparable from a distinctly personal content.
We can learn a great deal from this today. Drawing from this ancient Jewish wisdom, true chronology in understanding war prevention and counter-terrorism must now embrace more than the uniform intervals of clocks. For Israel, time must also be understood in the acknowledged and exquisitely meaningful terms of its enemies. What are these terms?
For Israel’s determined Islamist terrorist enemies, real time means something very different from what is measured by clocks. There is, therefore, an ironic but altogether noteworthy commonality between Israel and its enemies in the complex matter of time. For the still-expanding legions of Jihad, real time also has significant foundations in ancient Israel. Much as they would be loathe to admit it – and, more than likely, it is not a commonality they even recognize – these legions of death dutifully obey the manifestly subjective idea of felt time.
The idea of Jihad is not animated by any standard measures of duration. Not at all. If it were otherwise, and Israel’s enemies were to calculate solely or primarily in ordinary strategic and hence measurable terms, there would never be any cessation of Arab violence. Why would there be?
“Yesterday,” says Samuel Beckett in his analysis of Proust, “is not a milestone that has been passed, but a day stone on the beaten track of the years, and irremediably part of us, heavy and dangerous.” Newly aware that tomorrow will always be structured by “yesterday,” at least in part, and especially by the all-important memory of “yesterday,” Israel’s Prime Minister – beginning to think more conceptually – should finally be made aware that time is power. But this imperative will make sense only insofar as time is first correctly understood.
Presently, Mr. Olmert’s plan to capitulate to the so-called “Road Map” and to the corollary creation of “Palestine,” indicates that this crucial awareness is fading. Naturally, this capitulation has everything to do with the new $30 billion in military aid promised by Washington. Although this aid will surely be valuable to Jerusalem, in the end it will prove to have been a foolish exchange. In other words, the actual gain afforded by the aid will be overshadowed by the actual loss.
The subjective metaphysics of time, a reality that is never based on equally numbered moments, but rather upon particular representations of time as lived, should immediately impact the way in which Israel confronts its Arab/Islamic enemies. At a minimum, this means struggling to understand even more precisely the manner in which these enemies – both state and sub-state adversaries – live themselves within time. How then do they live in terms of chronology?
For Israel today, encumbered by the twisted cartography of a Road Map to a 23rd enemy Arab state called “Palestine,” the pertinent space-time relationship must necessarily be seen along two complex dimensions. Any planned further surrenders of territory by Israel will inevitably reduce the time that Israel still has left to resist certain mega-forms of both war and terror. Moreover, such surrenders, considered cumulatively, have already provided time to Israel’s enemies to await more perfect opportunities for eliminating the hated “Zionist entity.” It follows, in an apparent paradox, that time now best serves Israel’s enemies, and that it does this by both its diminution and its extension.
These are difficult ideas to grasp, especially for political and military decision makers unaccustomed to imprecise and “unscientific” modes of analysis. Nonetheless, there are many things that science can never understand, and that must therefore be understood according to very different but certainly not inferior forms of reasoning. A markedly greater awareness of the subjective metaphysics of time, a reality that is based not on equally numbered moments, but rather upon representations of time as lived, should impact the way in which Israel now confronts its principal terrorist enemies. This means, inter alia, struggling to fathom the manner in which these Islamist enemies (again, both state and sub-state) actually live within time. Ultimately, this has to do with conceptualizing the very precise religious obligations that are drawn from very particular Arab/Islamic interpretations of faith and law.
Let me be more “operational.” If Israel should determine that certain Jihadist terror groups and/or their state mentors now accept a very short time horizon in their plan for future attacks, its apt response to planned aggressions and materialized expectations would have to be correspondingly swift. If, on the other hand, it would seem that this time horizon is substantially longer, Israel’s defensive response could reasonably be more patient and less urgent. The exact duration of this enemy time horizon must always be determined by identifying the enemy’s own idea of divine expectation. It must now be Israel’s main task, therefore, to accurately determine this idea, an indispensable task that would also affect the way in which Israel may have to decide the increasingly critical trade-off between civil liberties and public safety.
Copyright The Jewish Press, April 11, 2008. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many major books and articles dealing with war, terrorism and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.
From a national survival standpoint, the candidate debates remain pretty much beside the point. Not a single presidential aspirant has answered (or even attempted to answer) a very important question: Are we Americans now involved in a merely tactical struggle against particular terror groups and individuals, or are we, instead, embroiled in something much larger? Should we now be focusing on assorted political, military and logistical issues (the effective position, more or less, of all candidates), or upon the much wider religious and cultural context from which our principal terror enemies are spawned?
These questions are politically sensitive, to be sure, but the answers will determine precisely which security measures we should adopt. Here are some preliminary answers: The roots of past and still-impending anti-American terror lie deeply embedded in civilizational hostility, in a partial but widespread Arab/Islamist hatred for Western values and post-Enlightenment modernity. This constructed and codified hatred extends primarily to Judaism, but also to certain parts of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Although it is true that the greatest portion of Arabs and Muslims strenuously reject terror violence as a means of fulfilling Islamic expectations, the remaining minority portion numbers in the tens of millions. Literally millions of Jihadists are still unhesitatingly prepared to enter “paradise” at a moment’s notice. For them, there can be nothing better than an obligatory “martyrdom.”
The current “War on Terror” should not be based solely upon the operational eradication of “extremists.” This is not a truly military matter. Rather, our war must be founded upon the grim but correct understanding that, for the most part, Arab/Islamist terror is simply the most visible and painful expression of an enraged civilization. Steeped in fundamental hatreds, this fragmented community is not coextensive with the entire Arab/Islamic world, but it does explicitly affirm a perilously primal union between violence and the sacred.
More than anything else, it is this portentous union that now threatens America. Our War on Terror must confront a far-reaching enemy effort to usher in a new Dark Ages. We must wage a genuinely civilizational struggle against a resurgent seventh-century medievalism that seeks to bring fear, paralysis and death to whole legions of “unbelievers.” In the next several years, a preferred terrorism tactic in this war is apt to involve chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons – a dire but informed prediction that should be more openly affirmed by all presidential contenders.
Our truest war is not against Osama Bin Laden or even those Arab/Islamic states that nurture and encourage his program for mass murder. Even if Bin Laden and every other identifiably major terrorist were apprehended and prosecuted in authoritative courts of justice, millions of others in the Arab/Islamist world would not cease their planning for an impassioned destruction of “infidels.” These millions, like the zealots who destroyed the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon, would not intend to do evil. On the contrary, they would mete out death to innocents for the sake of an imagined divine expectation, prodding the killing of Israelis, Americans and certain Europeans with steadfast conviction and pure heart.
Sanctified killers, these millions would generate an incessant search for more “Godless” victims. Though mired in blood, their search would be tranquil and self-assured, born of the altogether certain knowledge that its perpetrators were neither evil nor infamous, but “heroic.”
For our current enemies, terrorism is fundamentally an expression of religious sacrifice. For them, violence and the sacred are always inseparable. To understand the rationale and operation of planned terrorism it is first necessary to understand these particular conceptions of the sacred. Then, and only then, will it become clear that most Arab/Islamist terror is, at its core, a distinct manifestation of worship.
All civilizations hope for immortality. Political scientists may prefer to identify global power with guns, battleships and missiles, but the most sought after form of power in this world is always power over death. In essence, Arab/Islamist terrorism is a longstanding form of sacred violence oriented toward the sacrifice of both enemies and martyrs. It is through the presumably indispensable killing of Americans, Jews and many others that the “Holy Warrior” embarked upon Jihad can buy himself free from the unendurable penalty of dying.
It is only through such sacred killing, and not through compromise or diplomacy, that divine will can actually be done.
Forget the so-called “Road Map” or shortsighted plans for durable economic ties with Saudi Arabia. Everywhere in the Arab/Islamic world, America is routinely characterized as a pathology. A recent and very typical article from an Egyptian newspaper speaks characteristically of the U.S. as “the cancer, the malignant wound, in the body of Arabism, for which there is no cure but eradication.” Such inflammatory references are more than a vile metaphor. They are profoundly theological descriptions of a despised enemy that must be lanced, cut out, excised. Where this liquidation can be accomplished by self-sacrifice, possibly even terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction, it would be life-affirming for the killers. Naturally, most Arab/Islamic governments and movements would deny this zero-sum, end-of-the-world thinking, but such denials would be dishonest.
The unvarnished truth of the terrorist threat to the United States and the West still remains widely misunderstood. We face suicidal mass killings with unconventional weapons in the future not because there exists a small number of insane terrorist murderers, but because we are embroiled – however unwittingly – in an authentic clash of civilizations. While we all wish it weren’t so, wishing will get us nowhere. Our only hope is to acknowledge the relentlessly bitter and primal source of our existential danger, and then proceed to fight the real war on terror from there.
Copyright © The Jewish Press, February 8, 2008.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books and articles dealing with terrorism, war and international law. Among these was one of the earliest books on nuclear terrorism (Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat, Westview, 1979). Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.
Terrorism is not always what it seems. When it involves suicide bombing in Iraq or Israel, it often has little if anything to do with war or politics. Rather, its truest meanings are rooted in distinctly private expressions of fear, dissatisfaction, cowardice and loathing. In no particular order, these personal feelings are an all-consuming fear of death (to be relieved for would-be “martyrs” by an ironclad promise of immortality); an unfulfilled wish for intense pleasure; a hideously un-heroic joy drawn from the targeting of “others;” and a religiously-nurtured hatred of “apostates” and “infidels.”
To be sure, the truest meanings of suicide-bombing terrorism are not discoverable in declarations, charters, and covenants or in assorted Arab/Islamic movement diatribes. They are rooted far more deeply in the enlarged suffering of sacrificial victims; in the unending pain that bores grotesquely within the impermeable space of each tormented human body. In large measure, these deeper meanings are the product of a violation that is always spawned by physical pain’s undeniable particularity.
No human language can ever really describe agony. This means that the real monstrousness of suicide terror-violence can never be understood or felt by others. It can never be reduced to any measurable inventory of casualties. Above all, it is incommunicable.
My readers in The Jewish Press will already understand that Arab/Islamic terrorism is a form of religious sacrifice, and that the deeper human meanings of suicide-bombing terror are obscured and anesthetized by the mainstream daily news. Human feelings of pain are also excised from this news because of the media’s inherent limitations. Such excision is not caused by error or dishonesty. It is, after all, through no fault of the media that human grammar and syntax can never reliably communicate suffering.
Everyone who is human has suffered physical pain, and everyone who has suffered understands that bodily anguish not only defies language, but that it is also language-destroying. This sheer inexpressibility of pain, although neither political nor social, can still have critical political and social outcomes. Ironically, in the case of suicide bombings, it generally stands in the way of recognizing terror-violence as inexcusable. Manifestations of this impediment can be seen in the widespread celebration of terrorists as “freedom-fighters.” No level of terrorist barbarism, it seems, can yet convince people generally that such violence is always wrong. But the ends can never justify the means. Even in Europe and parts of the United States, the incommunicability of pain often contributes to a twisted view of terrorists as legitimate opponents of “occupation” and/or as “liberators” seeking “self-determination.” Needless to say, such a perverse view is especially fashionable in universities.
It is largely because they are shielded by the irremediable limitations of language that Arab/Islamic suicide-bombers are now routinely able to present themselves as honorable armed combatants. In fact and in law, of course, these murderers are anything but authentic soldiers. They are merely fearful and gratuitously destructive criminals, killers who combine a decreasingly rare species of cowardice with a self-satisfying commitment to inflict harm.
It is time to understand a primary truth of terrorism. For the most part, suicide bombing in the Arab/Islamic world has literally nothing to do with victory or defeat. There is, from the insurgent terrorist’s point of view, absolutely no reasonable hope of transforming excruciating victim pain into authentic terrorist power. On the contrary, the suicide bomber either already knows that his or her resort to carnage and mayhem will inevitably stiffen even the most conciliatory hearts, or simply doesn’t care.
So why, then, do these particular terrorists continue to inflict pain upon hapless innocents, tearing up unprotected bodies without any foreseeable strategic benefit? Have these suicide bombers now abandoned the usual political playbook of policy advantage? Are their judgments based entirely upon irrepressible passions?
Suicide terrorists are imprisoned by the remorseless shortfalls of human language, but also by the palpably cherished voluptuousness of “sacred violence.” Suicide-bombers prepare for their missions of pain because of the incomparable ecstasy they expect to receive. In essence, this ecstasy from the execution of a presumed religious obligation is an exact reciprocal of the suffering to be endured by the victims and their families. Although it seems an oxymoron that ecstasy can stem from “suicide,” we must always bear in mind that the so-called martyr’s death is entirely brief and temporary. Such a death is hardly a problem. It is only a minor inconvenience.
For suicide bombing terrorists, the violent death meted out to others is always only an abstraction. The victims, we hear again and again, “lack sacredness.” Murdering these contemptible victims is therefore a proper occasion for joy. Nothing less.
Physical pain within the human body not only destroys ordinary language, it can actually bring about a visceral reversion to pre-language human sounds – that is, to those primal moans and cries and whispers that are anterior to learned speech. While the expanding number of victims of suicide bombing terror writhe agonizingly from the burns and the nails and the screws, neither the “civilized” world publics who bear silent witness nor the screaming murderers themselves can ever begin to experience what is actually being suffered. This incapacity is certainly not an excuse for the bystanders or for the perpetrators, but it does help to explain why even callous killing and mutilation by terrorists can sometimes be construed as agreeable.
The incommunicability of physical pain further amplifies injuries from terrorism by insistently reminding the victims that their suffering is not only intense, but that it is also understated. For the victims there is never an anesthesia strong enough for the pain, but for the murderers the victims’ pain is always anesthetized.
For all who shall hear about the latest incendiary attack upon a marketplace or train station or restaurant or school, the suffering that has been intentionally ignited upon civilians will never be truly felt. And even then, this suffering will flicker for only a moment before it disappears. Although it will be years before the “merely wounded” are ever again able to move their own violated bodies beyond immeasurable boundaries of torment, newspaper readers and television viewers across the globe will pause only for a second before moving on to lunch. For them, the torment of others will remain an abstraction.
By its very nature, physical pain has no decipherable voice, no touchable referent. When, at last, it finds some dimming sound at all, the listener no longer wants to be bothered. This human listener, mortal and fragile, wishes, pathetically but understandably, to deny his or her own flesh and blood vulnerabilities. This trait is not “inhuman” (which is what we would wish), but rather all-too human.
Let us now resolve – my dear readers and I – to make one thing perfectly clear to all who will soon fall within our own personal ambit of influence, conversation and dialogue: suicide bombing terrorists, whether in Iraq or in Israel, are always much worse than they might appear. This operational problem of justice can never really be solved, but the sources of any possible improvement lie deeply in a growing awareness that Arab/Islamic terrorism is not rooted in political ideology or strategic calculation, but in remorselessly violent visions of the sacred. This terrorism, still rendered less objectionable to worldwide publics and media because of the inherent limitations of human language, is nonetheless still unpardonable. It is never defensible under any acceptable standards of human law or morality. Never.
Copyright, The Jewish Press© September 7, 2007. All rights reserved
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on international law and international relations. Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, he is the author of some of the earliest major books on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism.
Jorge Luis Borges sometimes happily identified himself as a sort of Jew. Although without any apparent basis in Halachah, he obviously felt himself a deeply kindred spirit: “Many a time I think of myself as a Jew,” he is quoted in Willis Barnstone’s Borges At Eighty: Conversations (1982), “but I wonder whether I have the right to think so. It may be wishful thinking.”
Such an explicit Philo-Semitic sentiment is assuredly welcome and rare, especially when it is uttered in sincerity, by one of the modern world’s greatest thinkers and writers. It follows that we Jews ought to pay especially close attention to Borges’ ecumenical wisdom. I refer particularly to one of his best stories, wherein a condemned man, having noticed that expectations rarely coincide with reality, consciously imagines the circumstances of his own death. Because they have become expectations, he reasons, they can never actually come to pass.
So it should now be as well with the State of Israel. Recognizing that fear and reality go together naturally, the People of Israel should begin to imagine itself, even as the ingathered Jewish community, within the ambit of both individual and collective mortality. Only then could Israel effectively undertake the more specific political and military policies now needed to secure the Jewish State from forcible extinction.
Such paradoxical advice, of course, will appear foolish to many people. After all, they will argue, death fear is debilitating. Anxiety, we must surely understand, is an expression of weakness. What possible advantages, therefore, can there be to deliberately nurturing thoughts of national fear and trembling, of dread and disappearance?
Truth sometimes emerges only through paradox, and imaginations of a collective immortality – imaginations generally encouraged by a panoply of false hopes and false dawns – will inevitably discourage needed Israeli steps toward collective self-preservation. Even in those expanding circles of enlightenment where there is no longer any faith in the always-delusional “peace process,” many Israelis will instinctually resist any intimations of national annihilation.
Unable to understand that what is true for individuals is also true for States – that prudent lifestyles must flow from a prior awareness of fragility – these Jewish citizens will stubbornly choose to imagine an Israel that is necessarily forever. The only predictable result of such wrongheaded imagination would only be an even greater level of Jewish national transience.
There are multiple ironies here. In the fashion of many of its Arab/Islamic enemies, Israel insistently imagines for itself only life everlasting. But unlike these enemies, Israel does not see itself achieving immortality, individually or collectively, by the ritual murder of its enemies through war and terrorism.
Rather, it sees its collective survival as the permanent product of divine protection, reasoned diplomatic settlements and prudent military planning. Singly or collectively, there is nothing inherently wrong with these expectations, but they should never be allowed to displace an antecedent awareness of possible impermanence.
The asymmetry of purpose and expectation between Israel and its implacable foes places the Jewish State at a notable and foreseeable strategic disadvantage. While Israel’s enemies, most notably Iran, now manifest their “positive” hopes for immortality by the intended slaughter of Jews (religiously, their nexus between these hopes and such slaughter is fixed and strong), Israel’s leaders display their country’s own expectations for collective immortality by agreeing to steadily incremental surrenders of vital territories.
In the end, the protracted clash in the Middle East between Arab/Islamic believers in violence and Israeli believers in reason will likely favor the former. In the end, unless the prevailing asymmetry is replaced by new and far-reaching Israeli imaginations of existential disaster, the Jewish believers in reason will have to depart once again from the Promised Land. Exeunt omnes.
To be sure, it is difficult to ask of Israelis that they resist American-style “positive thinking” and choose, instead, to think the worst. Yet, all serious thought is steeped in pessimism, and it would now be far better for Israel to err on the side of candor. Spurred on by the most conspicuously dreadful imaginations of existential disaster, the People of Israel could finally begin to contemplate the stark connections between Palestinian statehood, Iranian nuclearization and apocalyptic war.
The alternative, to blindly celebrate the twisted cartography of a genocidal “Road Map” or to blithely accept the inevitability of atomic weapons in Iran, would encourage Israel’s military defeat.
Copyright The Jewish Press, June 29, 2007, All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters. Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, he is also Chair of “Project Daniel,” a private nuclear advisory group that reported authoritatively to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Based upon the author’s March 30, 2007 lecture at a conference on ‘Sacred Violence, Religion And Terrorism’, held at: Case Western Reserve University, School of Law, Cleveland, Ohio.
Another term that appears in the title of my remarks is “irrationality.” I have noted before − per Rene Girard − that violence need not necessarily be irrational. Usually, from the standpoint of strategic studies, we define a rational state as one that values its continued existence more highly than any other preference of combination of preferences.
What if, in the near future, a state such as Iran were willing to “die” in order to achieve a particular religious outcome − in essence, to become a suicide-bomber in macrocosm?
This is not a silly question. On the contrary, Iran’s current president is a believer in the return of the missing 12th Imam, and in the idea that such coming must take place in the context of an apocalyptic war against the unbelievers.
I have done some looking into the idea of apocalypse (it has interested me since I first wrote a book with that word in the title in 1980) and it seems certain that both the Jews and the Christians drew some of their eschatology (“last things”) from ancient Persia (modern Iran).
Indeed, there is substantial evidence that the Jews (I think especially of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the particular document called “The War Of The Sons Of Light And The Sons Of Darkness”) – who passed along their apocalypse in some form, to the Christians – were themselves deeply influenced by the earlier Persian Zoroastrians.
The latter were distinctly Manichean and subscribed to a stark dualism between Good and Evil. Not much has changed in the world of “sacred violence.” It is − to various Islamic terror groups and states − still a constant war between “us” and “them.” In this war, as I had mentioned earlier, there can be absolutely no possibility of compromise.
As for international law, it is little more than a tactical expedient; to be used and manipulated, only according to the presumed “will of Allah.”
Conceptually, my remarks have sought to link “sacred violence” with international law, perfidy, irrationality and preemption. The links here are tentative, but worthy of a continuing and much deeper examination. [In this connection, I hope that some of you here today will be inspired to look further into these particular linkages.]
At the most obvious level, virtually all of the violence that we now face as a civilization is “sacred violence,” and essentially all of this threatened violence (which could soon include mass-destruction terrorism) has its roots in acute death fear and systematically repressed sexuality.
It is also rooted in those elements of an Arab/Islamic civilization that positively loathe the individual (making it diametrically opposite to the individualism that we have learned to value in our own societies) and that make membership in the group (the so-called sacred group) the very highest kind of expectation.
Finally, “sacred violence” draws upon the universal human need for ecstasy, a need that cannot be readily fulfilled in portions of the Arab/Islamic world, and which therefore needs to be sublimated into very destructive forms of individual and collective behaviors.
Citing to fifth-century Greece, to Euripides’ Medea, Rene Girard reminds us of another fundamental truth about “sacred violence:”
“If left unappeased, violence will accumulate until it overflows its confines and floods the surrounding area. The role of sacrifice is to stem the rising tide of indiscriminate substitutions and redirect violence into ‘proper channels’.”
WE, [ladies and gentlemen] are those “proper channels.”
It follows that we must now work – with vastly more imaginative approaches to international law – in order to curtail the place of religious sacrifice in certain parts of the Arab/Islamic world. This means exploring paths for remediation that have never been explored before – indeed, have never even been imagined or understood.
In principle, we could try to think of ways to move from a no longer useful Westphalianism to a new global cosmopolis, but – in fact – this would never work in time. In principle, we could try to think of ways to limit certain Arab/Islamic death fears and institutionally repressed sexuality, but – in fact – that would take centuries (if ever) to work.
Much as I would prefer to end on a hopeful note, “sacred violence” will likely propel the planet toward mega-terrorism and apocalyptic war in the next several years unless we can fashion certain appropriate near-term solutions.
Recalling the legal implications of perfidy for anticipatory self-defense, and understanding the potentially dreadful fusion of enemy irrationality with weapons of mass destruction, our only immediate remedy appears to lie in preemption.
It is an imperfect remedy, to be sure, one with substantially damaging consequences, one that does not get even close to the heart of the problem and one that is necessarily partial and transient. Nonetheless, all options presently before us are manifestly unattractive, and our only rational choice is to select the least unattractive option.
“All those who are merciful to the cruel,” warns the Talmud, “will come to be cruel to the merciful.”
C’est beau, n’est-ce pas, la fin du monde?
Copyright The Jewish Press, May 11, 2007. All rights reserved
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of ten books and several hundred articles dealing with military strategy, counter-terrorism, international relations and international law. He was born in Zurich, Switzerland on August 31, 1945, and is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.
Delivered As The Keynote Address To The Intelligence Summit, March 5, 2007, Hilton Hotel, St. Petersburg, Florida
Good morning. Thank you, John (Loftus) and Bob [Dr. Robert Katz). The conference main theme is in essence: Our individual and collective survival amidst growing global chaos. With this in mind, the Irish poet Yeats reminds us: “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” But chaos, war, terror and genocide are not really new. Human nature has always tilted toward catastrophic destruction (think, for example, of Freud, Dostoyevsky, William Golding, etc.). What is new is the fusion of seemingly permanent human inclinations to do harm with the implements − the weapons − of mass destruction.
So, our principal task over the next several days is to figure out more precisely how to respond to this dreadful fusion. And we want to do this, of course, within the operational parameters of the now-prevailing global clash of civilizations − a clash between the more-or-less civilized West and Jihadi elements within the Arab/Islamic world. In our upcoming speeches and in our important discussions, let me urge us all to be a bit conceptual − to look substantially behind the news.
All of us know that it is easy to get passionate and blinded by the sheer horror of these complex issues, and therefore to be distracted from the primary task of theoretic and intellectual understanding. But nothing is more practical than good theory. If we focus too heavily on the shallow polemics and the immediate politics of the “Clash of Civilizations,” we will fail to understand the underlying anthropology and psychology of our enemies’ behavior. Such a failure would be counter-productive.
For example, the best way to fathom Arab/Islamic suicide-bombing terrorism is to understand that it is, in essence, a form of religious sacrifice. Here it is also vital to understand that the suicide bomber is not fearless at all, but rather that he is extraordinarily afraid of death. It is his death fear − not his fearlessness − that causes him to commit both suicide and homicide. The explanation for this paradox is that in the mind of the suicide bomber, a fiery death on earth (a so-called martyr’s death) is merely a momentary inconvenience on the path to immortality.
What about a suicide-bomber in macrocosm − an entire state willing to “die” in order to fulfill a presumed religious “obligation?” Think Iran. What would this do to the logic of deterrence? How would we have to respond if we were to suddenly recognize a fusion of nuclear capacity with irrationality?
One obvious consideration: A heightened reasonableness of preemption. But more on this in a later panel that I will chair, on Project Daniel.
International law is not a suicide pact. Normally, assassination is illegal (in time of war and in time of peace). But there are times when it has been considered not only lawful, but also distinctly law enforcing. There is a need here for a straightforwardly utilitarian calculation: The preemptive elimination of terrorists – especially those terrorists who plan mass casualty attacks – could save many innocent lives. This point should be easy to understand.
Assassination or “targeted killings” must always be attentive to the law of armed conflict − to the long-established criteria of discrimination, proportionality and military necessity – but this law must also take into account enemy perfidy (for example, “human shields”). The legal effect of perfidy is always to place responsibility for noncombatant deaths and injuries upon the perfidious party. Always.
Let me return specifically to preemption – in counter-terrorism and in self-defense against existential threats from other states. There are two basic issues before us here at the conference: Legal and Operational. Whether or not we can argue persuasively for preemption in Operational terms (and that will depend upon the great complexities of each pertinent theatre of conflict), there is an indisputable right under international law called “Anticipatory Self-Defense.” The so-called “international community” typically frowns upon such ideas as defensive first strikes (and they are ideas that can be abused), but no government is obliged to compel its citizens to simply sit back and await annihilation. Moreover, the risks in certain circumstances of not striking first are today far greater than ever before. This, too, should be quite obvious.
Anticipatory Self-Defense is an expression of customary international law. The sources of International Law are found at Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice. “International Custom” is identified there as a fully authoritative source.
Now, back to Iran. We already know that Iran today is not Iraq on June 7, 1981 (the day of Israel’s “Operation Opera” strike against the Osiraq nuclear reactor near Baghdad). We already know, operationally, that any act of anticipatory self-defense against hardened/dispersed/multiplied Iranian nuclear infrastructures and command control facilities would entail huge strategic, political and human costs. But we must compare these costs, always, to the expected costs of not preempting. Also, recalling the issue of perfidy under the law of war, a great many expected Iranian civilian casualties would be the indisputable legal responsibility of Iran.
International law is not a suicide pact. We are not obligated to sit back and try to coexist with a fully nuclearized Iran − especially an Iran that is openly genocidal. The inherent limits of defensive posture, articulated most famously by Sun-Tzu, were recalled last week in an article I did together with Major-General Paul Vallely.
Let me conclude with some specific recommendations of Project Daniel (completed in mid-January 2003, several months before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom). We (The Project Daniel Group) linked anticipatory self-defense to various preemption scenarios and to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America (September 20, 2002). We also examined and endorsed expanded strategic cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem, with particular reference to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative edge.” Project Daniel looked very closely at a recommended “paradigm shift” to deal with ascending low-intensity and long-range WMD threats to Israel. We also considered the specific circumstances under which Israel should purposefully end its current posture of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity.”
The Project Daniel Group urged continuance of constructive support to the US-led War On Terror. We stipulated that Israel should combine a strengthening of multilayered active defenses with a credible, secure and decisive nuclear deterrent. The shortfalls of too great a reliance on the Arrow ABM are detailed in another recent article I co-authored with Lt. General Tom McInerney.
Israel’s recognizable retaliatory force should be fashioned with the capacity to destroy some 10 to 20 high-value targets scattered widely over pertinent enemy states in the Middle East. The Project Daniel Group recognized a very basic asymmetry between Israel and large portions of the Arab/Iranian world concerning the desirability of peace, the absence of democracy, the acceptability of terror as a legitimate weapon and the overwhelming demographic advantage of the Arab/Islamic world. The Project Daniel Group concluded that non-conventional exchanges between Israel and its enemies must always be avoided. Most importantly, we argued that Israel must never allow a nuclear Iran, and that it absolutely must prepare for lawful preemptive strategies even if the United States and the “international community” reject the indispensable preemption option.International law is not a suicide pact!
Copyright The Jewish Press, March 23, 2007. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) was the keynote speaker at this year’s Intelligence Summit in St. Petersburg. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/on-assassination-preemption-and-counter-terrorism-the-view-from-international-law/2007/03/21/
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