Not long ago I examined a short story (a sort of Talmudic examination) by Franz Kafka, THE VULTURE, with a view toward extrapolating some insights for present-day Israel. In this story, a man is being destroyed, slowly and painfully, by a fierce and predatory bird.
Repeatedly, the bird hacks at its victim, immobilizing him systematically and purposefully, piece by piece by piece. The man, of course, has not allowed this process of sequential dismemberment to proceed without some sort of defensive reaction. Fearing, above all, for his face, for his very being, he has preferred to sacrifice his feet.
Rather than confront his enemy head-on, frontally, with at least some hope of emerging victorious, he has calculated, instead, quite rationally he maintains, the cost-effectiveness of appeasement. In the end, his "rational" calculations prove altogether erroneous.
This parable has remarkable import for Israel and the so-called Peace Process.
The lure of carrion only inflames the vulture.
The Peace Process is an oxymoron, a paradoxical conjunction of terms that would only seal the fate of the victim. How can we ensure the survival of Israel? There is, of course, no way to ensure such survival - especially at this late date. At this moment, Israel's survival is very much in doubt. Such survival has always been in some doubt, but never as much as now. Why, exactly, is the current situation so grim, so portentous?
For the most part, the answer is obvious: A dreadfully misnamed peace process has opened the country to uncontrollable terror, radical instability and catastrophic war. What is not obvious are some of the reasons behind the terrible foolishness of Oslo and some of the altogether unimaginable existential outcomes for Jewish survival in the Middle East.
What is also not obvious, but of considerable importance, is the limited value of the upcoming Israeli elections for Israeli survival. In the very best case scenario, a Likud victory over Labor, the resultant Prime Minister will likely be unwilling/unable to rollback Israel's prior territorial surrenders and unwilling/unable to halt further Oslo concessions.
Even if this were not the case, and Mr. Netanyahu were able to stop Oslo before Oslo stops Israel, the consequent Arab unrest would generate new sources of anti-Israel terror, this time much of it coming directly (just like in the old days) from the PLO.
(Over the past year, I have transmitted, to Bibi Netanyahu, many formal legal arguments calling for Israel's abrogation of Oslo. These transmittals have been to Bibi directly, and via AMB. Zalman Shoval and MK Uzi Landau. Mr. Netanyahu's response has been to confirm Israel's willingness to "abide by international law, and honor its agreements.")
BUT../..../..../..../..../..The Oslo Accords are inherently illegal. They violate international law because: (a) they ignore: Nullum crimen sine poena, "No crime without a punishment; (b) they free terrorists, also a violation of Nullum crimen sine poena as well as of expectations of comity (protection of other states from egregious international criminality); and (c) they ignore Israel's peremptory obligation to preserve itself (Jefferson wrote on the right to terminate treaties when self-preservation is in jeopardy).
Israel's best case scenario, therefore, is that it be able to avoid annihilation in the short term. Israel's worst case scenario is that it will be the target of a near-term bolt-from-the-blue unconventional missile attack, most likey from Iran or from Iran and Syria simultaneously.
An even worse case, perhaps, would couple such an attack with simultaneous spasms of chemical/biological/nuclear terrorism.This worst case, incidentally, is apt to be made more probable because of the "Peace Process." Israel is like an individual organism. It is weakened by progressive "insults," even those that are not manifestly or immediately lethal. Aware of this organismic resemblance, states like Iran could feel more encouraged to embark upon war.
In this connection, one needn't be terribly sophisticated about military strategy matters to understand that Israel currently lacks any form of anti-tactical ballistic missile defense, and that its nuclear deterrent (still undisclosed) rests entirely upon presumptions of enemy rationality. (The only reason that Israel wasn't harmed seriously by Iraqi Scuds during the 1991 Gulf War was dumb luck).(Stated before lecture with Maj.Gen. Avihu Ben-Nun in Tel-Aviv, without disagreement).
Should Iranian leaders think like Hamas terrorists in macrocosm - like the very terrorists that they nurture and sustain - these leaders might even be willing to absorb an expected and overwhelming Israeli nuclear reprisal as the tolerable cost of wiping out the infidel Jewish "cancer."
This means that Israel's only chance to survive could lie in an effective preemptive attack against Iranian hard targets, a chance that is now already lost (the window of tactical opportunity is already closed) and a chance that was overlooked largely because of the presumed expectations of the Peace Process.
There is, incidentally, an important linkage between Israel's vulnerability to terrorism (which we have already taken note of) and Israel's vulnerability to enemy missile attacks.
Curiously, this important linkage is almost never mentioned, certainly not by Israel's principal strategic thinkers - who are generally not very thoughtful.
Those who are familiar with Israel's two principal centers for strategic studies, Jaffee and BESA, will understand just how rudimentary their academic assessments happen to be. At Jaffee, a senior reserve general - Maj. Gen. Danny Rothschild recently argued in favor of bringing experienced Arab terrorists inside the PA's security services in order to better protect Israelis from terrorism. In other words, argued the general, Arab terrorists with direct experience in killing Jews would be best prepared to protect the Jewish State. (This is the reductio ad absurdum of Peace Process logic.)
Now, as I have already mentioned, the progressive weakening of Israel via terrorism would provide a certain incentive to states like Iran to close in for the "kill" with a potentially genocidal war.
A year or so before he died, Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv,a former Chief of Aman, the IDF Intelligence Branch, told me that he agreed with my sober assessment of Iran, stating (I recall his exact words: "Rene, I smell fire!"
Israel is very much like an individual human organism. Like an individual human being, it will not "die" from minor insults, but, over time, the cumulative effect of such insults may weaken its "immune system," leading pertinent "pathogens" to take root and destroy the whole body. Over time, terrorist attacks of the sort we have witnessed these past several years could cause many Israelis to become unglued, an outcome that would also take its toll in IDF planning and morale.
Sensing, also over time, Israel's incremental surrender to despair, Islamic state enemies - again, most likely Iran - will have new reasons to strike first. Indeed, if such strikes are launched before Israeli ATBM deployments, and before Israel's nuclear weapons can be deployed at sea, they could have a reasonably high probability of destroying the Third Temple altogether, and possibly before Israel could respond with enormously destructive reprisals.
This is not a pretty picture.
It is a picture that becomes even less pretty when we consider the possibilities of "higher order" terrorism (chemical/biological/nuclear) that could follow an improbable termination of the Oslo Process or a probable continuation of that codified expression of self-destruction.
The Peace Process has ushered in some irreversible harms. Should a Netanyahu Government ceas territorial surrenders (and a Netanyahu election is problematic because the Prime Minister of Israel - to be elected - now needs the Arab vote -), Hamas terrorism would likely be replaced by PLO terrorism. (In past years, before the "peace," Israeli governments gave money to Islamic fundamentaliststo counter PLO). If a Netanyahu Government should continue with territorial surrenders, Israel will likely face a continuation of Hamas terror.
Really, so many mistakes have already been made - and so many mistakes that are irremediable - that plausible scenarios for long-term survival may well be nonexistent. But we have no real choice; we must seek out these scenarios, and try to identify them, however faint the hope for success. In other words, it is time to ask: "Where, exactly, should Israel go from here?"
It is a question that must be asked much more broadly than in narrowly political/electoral terms. The answer, if it is to be productive of Israeli survival, will have to go far beyond demands for a Likud victory. Indeed, it will have to make very specific suggestions for security that rest upon a reaffirmation of the very fundamental tenets of Zionism.
Right now, Israel's Islamic enemies - however much we might dislike them - stand for something. Israel, on the other hand, stands increasingly against itself; against its heritage; against its religion; against its past; against its future.
Freeing Arab terrorists and imprisoning religious Jews, Israel's Labor Government is now embarked upon a betrayal so huge - so immense, so overwhelming, so indecent - that it is barely recognized by a considerable majority of the world's Jews.
There are multiple ironies here.
Anyone who visits Israel frequently, as I do, knows that most Israelis are very proud of the fact that they are detached from traditional Judaism. Most visitors to Israel recognize, very quickly, that most young Israelis are less concerned about Jerusalem than they are about Los Angeles - indeed, certainly in Tel Aviv, most young Israelis would prefer being in Los Angeles, but barring that prospect, they would like Tel Aviv to become Los Angeles.
Let us be frank!
Israelis now inhabit a tiny land of enormous spiritual emptiness and intellectual mediocrity - a disappearing land of surface glitter, smug comforts, sham conventionality and wholly irrational optimism.
It is a nation where the true arbiters of personal meaning are located in the shopping malls and where a great number of citizens have traded their Jewish souls for presumed opportunity in the interrelated worlds of quick pleasure and expanding commerce. In this barren land of Israel, all vital rapport with authentic Jewish meaning has been lost.
Here, in the land of Jewish learning, real wisdom is not only rejected; it is despised. We see, then, that the great existential dangers to Israel cannot be undone or halted entirely by elections. Something more is needed, for Israel, than the coming of a new political leadership.
What is this "something more?"
First, Israelis must ask themselves - "Do we insist upon remaining a truly Jewish State?"
If the answer is "yes," then they will have to accept a different form of democracy than the one that they presently have - a form so "generous" that it gives Arab voters who despise Israel the power of life or death over their state. And make no mistake about it, these voters despise Israel; they are already hard at work with their Palestinian brothers and sisters across the Green Line to replace Israel with "Palestine."
There is nothing at all controversial about this assertion. Every issue of THE JERUSALEM POST now carries a story about a "terror cell" uncovered within Israel proper.Truly brilliant scholarship on this dimension of the probelm has been done by Paul Eidelberg (see DEMOPHRENIA: ISRAEL AND THE MALAISE OF DEMOCRACY.)
Israel's most fundamental problem, as Paul Eidelberg has observed, is not the Arab Problem, but the Jewish Problem: "This problem consists, not in changing the hostile attitude of the Arabs, so much as in changing the un-Jewish attitude of the Jews." Jews, of course, always want desperately to be fair, to be liked. And Jews, of course, are always uncomfortable with power. Yet, Israel's enemies are altogether unconcerned with fairness. And they are especially comfortable with power.
Israel must learn that it can't have it both ways.
If Israel wants to endure - and this is still by no means obvious - it will have to decide whether maintaining full citizenship for one-fifth of its population that has only hatred for the Jewish State is more or less important than the survival of that state (survival in a region of Islamic states where Jews have no rights of any comparable kind).
Such a decision cannot be avoided.
Naturally, liberal-minded Jews, decent Jews, will shrink from such talk (even though not a single Arab state would even dream of extending recipriocal rights to Jews in their midst), but all Jews must understand that no decision is a decision of great consequence.
Israel has grown comfortable with defeat - with persistent, unrelieved humiliation and defeat. In contrast to stirring military and moral victories of the past (Six Day War; Entebbe; Osiraq) we now see only Iraqi Scud attacks that go unpunished; steady attrition of IDF forces in Lebanon; murders of Jewish children in Tel-Aviv, Ramat Gan and Jerusalem.
No country can endure only as a willing sponge for enemy assaults. It is not only self-defeateing; it is positively indecent. For me, for the first time in my life, I must say, Israel makes me ashamed.
Force has a proper place sometimes in human affairs. We all wish it would be otherwise. But it isn't. For now, Israel must decide whether it wishes only to absorb the force of sworn enemies or whether it is willing once again to recognize that the unilateral renunciation of force in the face of sworn enemies spawns only death.
Israel has an obligation to endure, not only to itself, to its citizens, and even to millions of Jews still in the diaspora, but also - and perhaps most importantly of all - to those millions of slaughtered Jews who now sleep in the dust.
Like it or not, the Islamic world is at war with Israel.
This war will not cease because the Prime Minister of Israel claims that it does not exist, or that such a war would be irrational, or that it is incompatible with his vision of the New Middle East.
There is no new Middle East. There is only the old Middle East. And the Old Middle East is being transformed into a theater of truly apocalyptic proportions - a theater wherein the Final Solution to the Jewish Question remains a very serious and present danger.
For now, Israel's enemies have very clear strategic and tactical advantages.
Let me mention, for a moment, our own country. The Government of the United States, under President Clinton, must bear some of the responsibility for Israel's condition of existential insecurity. Although preeminent responsibility surely lies with Israelis - and especially with their current government - the Clinton Administration - driven by cliches - prods Israel to maintain its present course.
President Clinton means well, of course, but he understands very little. Beyond their obvious advantages - great numbers and great spaces - Israel's Islamic enemies will soon reach the point where a bolt-from-the-blue unconventional attack could be launched with existential outcomes for Israel - and possibly even with relative impunity for the aggressors.
Israel's Islamic enemies understand that all things move in the midst of death, and that it is death - not Mr Peres's economics - that gives rise and shape to politics in the Middle East.
While Israel dabbles with the fantasy of regional markets (Shimon Peres recently asked that Israel be admitted to the Arab League), Syria and Iran attend to preparations for the next major - very major - war. While Israelis are enlivened by thoughts of becoming Los Angeles, Muslims in the Middle East are enlivened by remaining aware of their role as divinely- mandated destroyers of a hated people. (To appreciate just how hated are the Jews by the Muslims, see Arie Stav's new book on Arab cartoons.)
While Israelis are experts in creating self-delusions - a quality inherited perhaps from our Jewish past - the Islamic enemies of Israel are experts in counter-creation, transforming their particular horrrors of death into the life terrors of Israel.
It is madness to try to appease Israel's Islamic enemies.
In his timely work, The firebugs, Swiss playwright Max Frisch tells the distressing story of Gottlieb Biedermann, a cautious businessman who contends with an epidemic of arson by implementing a deadly series of self- deceptions. Ultimately, Biedermann invites the arsonists into his home, lodges them, feeds them a sumptuous dinner, and even provides them with matches.
Not surprisingly, the play ends, for Biedermann, on an incendiary note.
It also ends, predictably, with a pathetic and revolting disclaimer from an "expert" who has counseled appeasement all along. There is an obvious lesson here for present-day Israel.
Faced with an ongoing epidemic of "arson," Jerusalem has responded exactly like the Swiss playwright's foolish and weak character. Asking the terrorists into Israel's very "home," the Government of Israel, too, is prepared to help light the fuse.
Pretending that Hamas and PLO are truly distinct and discrete - a delusionary pretense that fits comfortably with the simple polarities favored by Israeli "experts," Mr Peres now looks to his "Palestinian partners" as subcontractors for ensuring Israel's survival.
It is time to conclude.
Israel must decide, soon, whether it can abide an enormous percentage of its population that seeks only Israel's destruction. It must decide, even sooner, if it will continue to abide an erosion of democracy for Jews while it simultaneously and perversely preserves democracy for its Arab populations - populations that seek only Israel's disappearance.
Israel must decide, soon, what it is that it stands for; and thereafter, how willing it is to identify those forces it must stand against.
Israel must decide, immediately after the coming elections, to abrogate the Oslo Accords and reassert control over all of Judea and Samaria (Gaza may be another story). Naturally, the Golan must remain entirely in Israeli hands. Naturally, the fate of Jerusalem should not be negotiated under any circumstances. Naturally, no further territorial concessions must be undertaken.
In the short run, reassertion of control in Judea and Samaria will entail short-term political and human costs. It would have been better for Israel, quite obviously, not to have been placed in this sorry position in the first place.
According to a recent videotaped interview in Nablus with Nabil Shaath, the PA's minister of planning and one of Arafat's closest advisers:
" If the negotiations reach a dead end, we shall go back to our struggle and strife, as we did for 40 years. It is not beyond our capabilities../..../..As long as Israel goes forward (with the Process) there are no problems, which is why we observe the agreements of peace and non-violence. But if and when Israel will say, "That's it, we won't talk about Jerusalem, we won't return refugees, we won't dismantle settlements and we won't retreat from borders," then all the acts of violence will return. Excep that this time we'll have 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers who will operate in areas in which we have unprecedented elements of freedom."
But looking at all conceivable options and outcomes, and taking into account the ongoing Lebanonization of "Palestine," allowing the creation of Palestine from Judea, Samaria and Gaza will ultimately place Israel in an altogether indefensible position.
The alternatives, however painful, will be less costly.
Finally, Israel must look carefully at the development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capabilities in the Islamic world, and consider all preemption options while they are still viable. If necessary and tactically feasible, such options must be exercised in a timely fashion.
One last observation.
Israel's Islamic enemies despise the Jewish State not only because it is Jewish, but also because it has become so oblivious to its Jewishness. In other words, their hatred of Israel is magnified by their sense that Israel cares so little for itself, that it reveals so little regard for its own honor; that is displays so little collective self-respect.
Israel's Islamic enemies despise weakness as much as they depise Jews; weak Jews represent an invitation to Islamic slaughter that is altogether irresistible.
Let us recall The Vulture, the predatory bird of Kafka's insightful parable.
At the very end of the tale - a cautionary tale for Israel - the bird "takes wing, leans back far to gain impetus, and then - like a javelin thrower, thrusts its beak through the victim's mouth, deep into him."
Falling back, says the victim, "I was relieved to feel him (the vulture) drowning irretrievably in my blood, which was filling every depth, flooding every shore."
Israel, in the fashion of Kafka's victim, could bring down its enemies together with itself. Perhaps it could avoid dying alone. There is increasing talk these days of a Samson Option.
But, but - while enemies of the Jewish State would "drown irretrievably" in the full fury of Israel's most terrible weapons - in the unspeakable lifeblood of a victim that has waited for too long to ensure its survival - this fate would occasion no celebrations in Jerusalem.
Faced with the end of the Third Temple, Israel's leaders will curse the vulture, but it will be an indecipherable curse, a curse heard by no one.
Let me conclude with a remark on the personal imperative to action. What can we do?
The best way to answer this question is to point with great pride and admiration, to the work here in Houston of Bernard J. Shapiro, the splendid MACCABEAN and the remarkable importance of the Freeman Center.
I am proud of my friendship with Bernard, and honored to be associated with THE MACCABEAN and the Freeman Center. Would there be more such people and institutions!
By countering terrible foolishness and deception with wisdom and truth, this marvelous Houston-based institution is now playing a major part in ensuring Israel's survival. It goes without saying that Americans for a Safe Israel is performing similarly vital and outstanding service to ensure Israel's survival.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of fourteen books and several hundred journal articles dealing with international relations and international law. His opinion pieces appear regularly in THE MACCABEAN and in OUTPOST. Professor Beres's Op Ed columns are also featured in such newspapers as THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE, THE NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, LOS ANGELES TIMES, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, and THE JERUSALEM POST.
[This article was a lecture delivered in Houston, Texas on March 24, 1996 to a joint meeting of Americans for a Safe Israel, Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.]