The eleventh-hour of danger is upon us.
The central truth of being human is the constant love of being alive. We Jews, of course, both in our prayers, and in our sacred rituals, have always understood the unassailable difference between life and death, between the “blessing and the curse.” In consequence, all Jewish survival, individually and collectively, is now closely bound up with the survival of the Jewish State. Quite plainly, for both its too few friends and its too many enemies, Israel's fate is now that of the individual Jew writ large.
How, then, shall the State of Israel survive? From their very beginnings, and even long before the United Nations conferral of statehood in 1948, Jews in Israel have faced war, terror and extinction. Now, Israel faces existential destruction from two main and mutually reinforcing sources: (1) the fully constituted state of Iran; and (2) the still-aspiring state of "Palestine." Together, largely in various unrecognized and unimagined synergies, the interactive effects of these two mega-threats portend incontestable reason for concern.
The situation is made more worrisome by President Obama’s persistent support of a “Two-State Solution,” and by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reciprocal acceptance of a Palestinian state that has allegedly been “demilitarized.” This is because the Palestinian side (Hamas, Fatah, it makes little difference) seeks only a One-State solution (on their maps, Israel is already drawn as a part of “Palestine”), and because a demilitarized Palestine would never actually “happen.” After all, any post-independence abrogation of earlier pre-state agreements to demilitarize by a now-sovereign Palestinian state could be permissible under international law.
Iran is an established state with an expanding near-term potential to inflict nuclear harms upon Israel. The so-called “international community” has effectively done nothing to stop Iranian nuclearization. Indisputably, the “sanctions” have represented little more than a mildly pestering fly on an elephant’s back.
The Palestinian Authority, with its Fatah “security forces” being expertly trained by the U.S. military in Jordan, under American Lt. General Keith Dayton, also has exterminatory plans for Israel. These plans are fully shared by the Hamas-led configuration of assorted terror groups that now collaborates regularly and systematically with both Iran and al-Qaeda. This summer, rapidly-developing Iranian-Syrian war plans against Israel from Lebanon that will involve Hezbollah proxies could add yet another decisive synergistic threat to the already-genocidal mix.
What shall Israel do in order to endure? If President Obama’s open wish for “a world free of nuclear weapons” were ever realized, the Jewish State wouldn’t stand a chance. Fortunately, of course, this presidential wish is not only foolish, but unrealistic, and Israel will likely retain the deterrence benefit of its “bomb in the basement.” The extent of this particular benefit, however, may vary, inter alia, according to a number of important factors.
One factor concerns Jerusalem’s observable willingness to make limited disclosures of the country’s usable and penetration-capable nuclear forces, and also the extent to which the Israeli government and military selectively reveal certain elements of Israel’s nuclear targeting doctrine. From the standpoint of successful deterrence, for example, it will make a major difference if Israel’s nuclear forces are recognizably counter value (targeted on enemy cities), or counterforce (targeted on enemy weapons and related infrastructures).
“For what can be done against force, without force?” inquired Cicero. The use of force in world politics is not inherently evil. On the contrary, in preventing nuclear and terrorist aggressions, force is almost always indispensable.
All states have a fundamental (“peremptory,” in the language of formal jurisprudence) right of self-defense. This right is explicit and unambiguous in both codified and customary international law. It can be found, in part, at Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, and also in multiple authoritative clarifications of anticipatory self-defense.
Israel has every legal right to forcibly confront the expected harms of both Iranian nuclear missile strikes, and Palestinian terror.
Albert Camus would have us all be "neither victims nor executioners," living not in a world in which killing has disappeared ("we are not so crazy as that"), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate. This is a fine expectation, yet the celebrated French philosopher did not anticipate another evil force for whom utter extermination of "The Jews" was actually its declared object.
Credo quia absurdum….”I believe because it is absurd.” Not even in a still-crazy world living under the shadow of Holocaust did Camus agree to consider such an utterly "absurd" possibility.
Israel, however, lacks the quaint luxury of French philosophy. Were the Jewish State to follow Camus' genteel reasoning, the result could be another boundless enlargement of Jewish suffering. Before and during the Holocaust, at least for those who still had an opportunity to flee, Jews were ordered: "Get out of Europe; go to Palestine." When they complied (those who could), the next order was: "Get out of Palestine."
My own Austrian-Jewish grandparents received “special handling” on the SS-killing grounds at Riga, Latvia. Had they somehow made it to Mandatory Palestine, their sons and grandsons, now Israelis, would likely have died in subsequent genocidal wars begun by Arab forces to get the Jews "out of Palestine."
Credo quia absurdum.
Cicero understood. Failure to use force against a murderous evil imprints an indelible stain upon all that is good. By declining the right to act as a lawful executioner in its struggle with annihilatory war and terror, Israel would thus be forced by Camus' tortured reasoning to embrace disappearance.
Why was Camus, who was thinking only in the broadest generic terms, so badly mistaken? The answer lies in the philosopher’s unsupportable presumption of a natural reciprocity among both individual human beings and states in the matter of killing. We are asked to believe, by Camus, that as greater numbers of people agree not to become executioners, still greater numbers will follow upon the same brotherly course. In time, the fallacious argument proceeds, the number of those who refuse to accept killing will become so great that there will be fewer and fewer victims.
Camus' presumed reciprocity does not exist. Indeed, it can never exist, especially in the Jihad-centered Middle East. Here, the unhidden Islamist desire to kill Jews remains unimpressed by good intentions, or by Israel's hugely disproportionate contributions to science, industry, medicine and learning. Here, there are no identifiable Iranian or Palestinian plans for any rational coexistence. Their only decipherable “remedies” are for an all-too-familiar Final Solution.
Martin Buber identifies the essence of every living community as "meeting." True community, says Buber, is an authentic "binding," not merely a "bundling together." In true community, each one commits his whole being in “God's dialogue with the world,” and each stands firm and resolute throughout this dialogue.
How should the dialogue be sustained with others who refuse to "bind" in the absence of murder? How can there ever be any conceivable solution to the genocidal enmity of Iran and "Palestine" to Israel so long as this enmity is presumably indispensable to their very lifeblood meanings in the world? These are not easy questions to answer, and they will never be answered by political leaders in Washington, Jerusalem, or anywhere else on this imperiled planet.
In national self-defense and counter-terrorism, Jewish executioners require an honored place in the government and army of Israel. Without them, evil would triumph again and again. For Iran and “Palestine,” murdered Jews are not so much a means to an end as they are a fervently prayed-for end in themselves. In this unheroic Islamist world, where sacrificial killing of Jews by war and terror is presumed to be a religious mandate, and also a coveted path to personal immortality, any Israeli unwillingness to use all necessary defensive force could invite individual and collective Jewish death.
Cicero understood. Legally and morally, killing is sometimes a sacred duty. Faced with undisguised sources of genuine evil, all civilized states sometimes have to rely upon the executioner. It follows that to deny the Israeli executioner his proper place at this eleventh-hour of danger would make a mockery of "Never Again.” Just as importantly, it could open the floodgates of several new man-made human catastrophes.
In the best of all possible worlds, Buber's "binding" would supplant all "bundling.” But we don't yet live in the best of all possible worlds, and in their present condition, Jews in Israel and elsewhere must remain prepared to fight strenuously and unceasingly for Jewish survival. For us, at least, even when it is absurd, life is always better than death.
Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on issues concerning international relations and international law, especially war and terrorism. Born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945, he is the author of some of the earliest major books on nuclear war and nuclear terror. In Israel, Professor Beres was Chair of Project Daniel.