ISRAEL AND THE VULTURE AFTER WYE RIVER

By Louis Rene Beres

A vulture was hacking at my feet. It had already torn my boots and stockings to shreds, now it was hacking at the feet themselves. Again and again it struck at them, then circled several times restlessly round me, then returned to continue its work. A gentleman passed by, looked on for a while, then asked me why I suffered the vulture. "I'm helpless," I said. "When it came and began to attack me, I of course tried to drive it away, even to strangle it, but these animals are very strong, it was about to spring at my face, but I preferred to sacrifice my feet. Now they are almost torn to bits." "Fancy letting yourself be tortured like this!" said the gentleman. "One shot and that's the end of the vulture." "Really?" I said. "And would you do that?" "With pleasure," said the gentleman, "I've only got to go home and get my gun. Could you wait another half hour?" "I'm not sure about that," said I, and stood for a moment rigid with pain. Then I said: "Do try it in any case, please." "Very well," said the gentleman, "I'll be as quick as I can." During this conversation the vulture had been calmly listening, letting its eye rove between me and the gentleman. Now I realized that it had understood everything; it took wing, leaned far back to gain impetus, and then, like a javelin thrower, thrust its beak through my mouth, deep into me. Falling back, I was relieved to feel him drowning irretrievably in my blood, which was filling every depth, flooding every shore.............Franz Kafka, THE VULTURE

Even by the standards of Kafka's uncannily prophetic insights, the parable of the Vulture is remarkable. Examined as a lesson for Israel in its protracted struggle for survival in the Middle East, especially after Wye River, this cautionary tale is right on the mark. Indeed, it reads as if it were written originally with no other struggle in mind.

Consider the scenario. 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. The man, of course, has not allowed this process of sequential dismemberment to proceed without defensive reaction. Fearing, above all, for his face, for his very being, he has preferred to "sacrifice my feet." Rather than confront his enemy head on, frontally, with 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. It is true that our victim does draw ironic satisfaction from the final mutuality of death - the vulture drowns "irretrievably" in the man's own blood - but it is a satisfaction that is necessarily short-lived.

There is more. Before the dreadful demise of both victim and victimizer, a "gentleman" promises aid to the former. The gentleman needs only to return with his "gun;" the man needs only to "wait another half hour." All the while, the vulture, not merely a beast animated by instinct, "understands" the plan against it, and decides, again after "calm" and careful calculation, to launch the decisive thrust. So what if it turns out to be a suicide attack. It is now too late to stop the hacking. Events have achieved an unstoppable momentum of their own. What must be done must be done!

The "gentleman," of course, never returns. Like the American president who urges Israel onward with the "peace process," he has other, more urgent, preoccupations. The problem with his promises is not that he is deceitful or meanspirited (he is, after all, a "gentleman"), but that he is blind.

For more than fifty years, the "vulture" has been hacking away at Israel. For more than fifty years, Israel has been heeding one "gentleman" or another. Although the United States has hardly urged the Jewish State to deal with its painfully progressive decomposition by explicitly recognizing the advantages of firing "one shot," the implicit promise is always present: "Negotiate, compromise, yield, beg; there is really no risk involved. There is always the last resort of overwhelming military power."

This promise, whether it refers to American or to Israeli forces, or to both, is of little or no value. Taken too seriously, it will likely lead Israel toward one form or another of the "Samson Option." While enemies of the Jewish State will "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 will occasion no celebrations in Jerusalem. Faced with the end of the Third Temple Commonwealth, Israel's leaders will curse their enemies and their "gentleman," but it will be an indecipherable curse, a curse heard by no one.

After Wye River, the "peace process" remains what it has always been, an oxymoron, a paradoxical conjunction of terms that would seal the fate of a state smaller than some counties in California. For Israel, a long- suffering and increasingly willing victim, the process is leading, day after day after day, to complete and irreversible helplessness. Sacrificing more and more essential territory in the hope that predators will be satisfied, it will learn too late - unless Kafka's revealing parable is understood by the endangered People of Israel - that the lure of carrion only inflames the vulture.

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LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University. His work is well-known to Prime Minister Netanyahu and to senior IDF and Knesset leaders.Professor of International Law.

E-MAIL: BERES@POLSCI.PURDUE.EDU


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