But What If Israel’s Enemies
Should Still Prefer War To Peace?
It’s farewell to the drawing-room’s civilized cry,
The professor’s sensible whereto and why,
The frock-coated diplomat’s social aplomb,
Now matters are settled with gas and with bomb.
W.H. Auden, Danse Macabre
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already indicated approval of a Palestinian state, subject, however, to some codified and verifiable forms of “demilitarization.” Leaving aside the inherent infeasibility of this declared contingency -no Palestinian leader will ever accept a condition of fundamentally abridged sovereignty – there is also an overriding and antecedent policy question: Can any form of diplomacy with the Palestinians, Fatah and/or Hamas, prove reasonable and productive? Although, on the surface, such a stark and cynical question may appear distinctly odd or foolish or even needlessly bellicose, there may in fact be no clear benefits for Israel to proceed diplomatically.
From its imperiled beginnings in May 1948, and indeed, even before statehood, Israel sought desperately and courageously to negotiate with its enemies. Always, always – Jerusalem has preferred peace to war. Nonetheless, challenged by relentless and interminable Arab aggressions, diplomacy has generally failed Israel. This sad conclusion is pretty much incontestable. It follows that Mr. Netanyahu is now obligated to ask: What real chance is there that, somehow, this time, diplomacy might actually be productive?
Although ultimately settling upon Operation Cast Lead, previous Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had originally determined to seek Israel’s basic security through diplomacy. Although there was assuredly nothing inherently wrong with such a conciliatory posture, especially as Israel had remained under constant pressure from Washington to negotiate, there was also very good reason for skepticism. From Oslo to the ironically twisted cartography of the present “Road Map,” diplomacy over Israel’s rights and obligations has always been a determinably asymmetrical process.
“Land for nothing!” In essence, this unspoken and suicidal mantra has been Israel’s persistent “marching order” from the “civilized world.” Now, after the Goldstone Report, Israel also hears that this world will not even allow the Jewish State elementary self-defense.
Ironically, Israel’s principal enemies remain candid. On some things, they do not lie. On their irremediable intention to annihilate the “Zionist entity,” they are sworn to truth.
The key disputing Palestinian factions (Fatah or Hamas, it makes little difference) and Iran will never accept anything less than Israel’s removal. This is already obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention. They say this every day, either openly or obliquely. Moreover, in a corroborating cartography, every PA Hamas or Iranian map already includes all of Israel within “Palestine.”
Toward the end of his corrupted regime, Mr. Olmert released several hundred Palestinian terrorists as a “goodwill gesture.” Together with then-U.S. President George W. Bush, he had decided to aid Fatah against Hamas with outright transfers of weapons and information. Soon after (surprise, surprise), the American and Israeli guns were turned against Israel. As for Mr. Olmert’s graciously extended “goodwill,” it had only served to elicit the next round of rocket fire. Matters were not helped at all by Washington’s corollary support for a Palestinian state, a thoroughly misconceived support now extended by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Regarding Middle East diplomacy, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Rooted deeply in Jihadist interpretations of Islam, there is an obvious and enduring inequality of objectives between Israel and its principal enemies. For both Palestinian insurgents and Iran’s president, conflict with Israel is always “zero-sum,” routinely an all or nothing proposition. In this starkly polarizing view of incessant strife between “the world of war” and “the world of Islam,” there can never be any proper place for authentic treaties or settlements with the Jewish State, save, of course, as a temporary tactical expedient.
For Israel, on the other hand, a negotiated peace with its Arab “neighbors” and Iran persists as an elusive but presumably plausible hope. This is true even when the prospect of Islamic reciprocity is plainly preposterous and historically unimaginable.
A truly fundamental inequality is evident in all expressions of the Middle East Peace Process.On the Palestinian and Iranian side, Oslo and “Road Map” expectations have never been seen as anything more than a cost-effective method of dismantling Israel. On the Israeli side, these expectations have generally been taken, quite differently, as a presumably indispensable way of averting further war and terror.
Mr. Netanyahu should take note: The core problem of Israel’s life or death vulnerability lies in the Jewish State’s ongoing assumptions on war and peace. While certain of Israel’s regional enemies, state and nonstate, believe any power gains for Israel represent a reciprocal power loss for them – that they coexist with Israel in a condition of pure conflict – Israel assumes something else. For Mr. Netanyahu’s several immediate predecessors, relations with certain Arab states, the Palestinian Authority/Hamas and Iran were not taken to be pure “zero-sum,” but rather a mutual-dependence connection. In this optimistic view, conflict is always mixed with cooperation. For no identifiable reason, it would seem, Israel may still believe certain of its Arab enemies and Iran reject zero-sum assumptions about the strategy of conflict. Israel’s enemies, however, do not make any such erroneous judgments about conformance with Israeli calculations. Further, these enemies know that Israel is wrong in its belief that certain Arab states, Iran and the Palestinians also reject the zero-sum assumption, but they shrewdly pretend otherwise. There has remained, therefore, a dramatic and consequential strategic disparity between Israel and certain of its frontline Islamic enemies.
Israel’s strategy of conflict has, at least in part, been founded upon multiple theoretical miscalculations and upon an indifference to certain primary and flagrant enemy manipulations. The annihilatory policies of Israel’s enemies, on the other hand, have been and remain founded (a) upon correct calculations and assumptions; and (b) upon an astute awareness of Israel’s strategic naiveté. This means that Israel’s prime minister should now make certain far-reaching changes in the way Israel conceptualizes the continuum of cooperation and conflict.
A “new Israel,” ridding itself of injurious wishful thinking, should finally acknowledge the zero-sum calculations of its enemies, and thus begin to accept that the constant struggle must still be fought largely at the conflict end of the spectrum. Right now, this means, especially (and somewhat belatedly, in the particular case of Iran) attention to certain plausible preemption imperatives.
Left unchallenged by Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s mistaken assumptions, and the combining of these assumptions with correct premises of its enemies, could deeply undermine Israel’s survival. These still-remediable Israeli errors have had the additional effect of creating an odd “alliance” between Israel and its enemies. This is surely not the sort of coalition that can ever help the Jewish State, but is rather a one-sided and unreciprocated “pact” in which Israel actively and inexcusably serves its enemies.
To be sure, Israel’s prime minister should not become the best ally Israel’s Arab enemies and Iran could hope to have. Instead, he should now seek to serve Israel’s long-term survival with real wisdom, supplanting the plainly false assumptions that stem from persistently misguided hopes with correct premises based upon sound reasoning. In the end, Mr. Netanyahu should understand, it is really all about logic.
What does this mean? In the language of formal logic, invalid forms of argument are fallacies. The basic problem with Israel’s continuous search for “peace” through negotiated surrenders (Land for nothing) has been its persistent commission of fallacies.
Unlike simple instances of falsity, these arguments are insidious because they could involve a devastating policy outcome. Distinguishable from singular mistakes, these deviations from correct thinking ensure that all subsequent calculations will also result in error. This means it is in the very process of strategic thinking, and not in the assessment of particular facts and issues, that Israeli policy changes are now most sorely needed.
Without these changes, all matters will be settled “with gas and with bomb.”
Louis Rene Beres, Professor of International Law at Purdue, was born in Zurich, Switzerland (1945) and educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971). The author of several very early books on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, he has lectured and published widely in Israel, Europe and the United States on current matters of strategy, jurisprudence and operational theories of conflict.
Louis Rene Beres