Louis René Beres lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters. Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University, he was Chair of Project Daniel.
President Barack Obama–today launching a special nuclear security summit in Washington–finally acknowledges that Iranian threats to annihilate Israel are serious. Still, Obama fails to understand that applying so-called economic sanctions to Iran will be ineffectual. Somehow, despite very good reasons to the contrary, the president is now insisting that Israel learn to “live” with a nuclear Iran.
Obama confidently assumes that Tehran could be dealt with using the normally-compelling dynamics of nuclear deterrence. The problem with such threat-based optimism, however, is the always-underlying presumption of enemy rationality. Without rationality, deterrence will fail.
No system of nuclear deterrence can operate unless all of the involved countries value their own physical survival more highly than anything else. Significantly, Tehran’s new nuclear status could coincide with an unshakable leadership belief in the Shi’ite apocalypse. Here, Israel would face not only more Palestinian suicide-bombers (President Obama’s recycled Road Map toward a “Two-State Solution” will only encourage Palestinian terrorism), but also a “suicide state.”
Barack Obama stubbornly fails to recognize something critical. This is the unspeakable goal of all Israel’s Islamist enemies, which remains Jewish extermination. Oddly, this expressly genocidal goal is unhidden. In the bitterest of ironies, an ancient nation that was ingathered in 1948 precisely to prevent another Holocaust has become the fevered focus of another Final Solution.
The goal of all Israel’s enemies, especially Iran and the soon-to-be-born (and Obama-favored) Palestinian state, is to be left standing while Israel is made to disappear. For these refractory enemies, there can be no coexistence with Israel. At the end of the day, this is because their own survival is believed to demand Israel’s extinction.
Pressured by President Obama to exchange land for nothing, Israel is being pushed to collaborate in its own disappearance. Israel’s prime minister should take notice. It would be a fatal mistake for Binyamin Netanyahu to embrace Obama’s cheery belief that reason and rationality govern the world, a belief implicit, for example, in the president’s hope for “a world free of nuclear weapons.”
Barack Obama will not save Israel. Once Iran had decided to launch nuclear missiles at Israel, perhaps a plausible prospect in just a few years, Washington’s best assistance would be confined to help bury the dead. Even for this “assistance,” whole Israeli cities would first have to be converted into cemeteries.
Whether in Gaza, West Bank (Judea/Samaria) or Tehran, Israel’s Jihadist enemies wish to kill Jews because every such homicide is a deeply felt and genuinely sacred obligation. For them, killing Jews remains a praiseworthy expression of religious sacrifice. President Obama should bear in mind that such killing is expected to confer upon the perpetrators immunity from personal death. Could there ever be a more compelling expectation?
In the Islamic Middle East, power over death always trumps all other forms of power. There is no greater power in the Dar al Islam (the World of Islam) than the religiously-authoritative promise of immortality, and this promise is always linked to total war against “unbelievers.”
The core idea of death as a zero-sum commodity–“I kill you; I therefore remain alive forever”–has already been explained in certain literatures, and in psychology. It is captured perfectly in philosopher 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.”
Just to stay alive, Israel must understand what Freud inner-circle member Otto Rank once called a general principle of psychology: “The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the Sacrifice, of the other; through the death of the other one buys oneself free from the penalty of dying, of being killed.”
Israel’s enemies, to remain standing, and to prevent Israel from standing up, seek to sacrifice the Jewish state on a joyously bloodstained altar of protracted war and terror.
This planned destruction of Israel is not about geopolitics. It is integrally part of a system of religious worship that is directed toward the conquest of personal death.
True peace in the Middle East will never be brought about by political clichés and empty witticisms. Real wisdom is necessary, and this insight will need to be based upon a true awareness of jihadist goals and capabilities. For Barack Obama, this calls for a much deeper understanding of the interpenetrating and existential threats to Israel posed by Iran and “Palestine.”