Explaining The Coming Catastrophe In The Middle East

By Louis Rene Beres

The so-called Middle East Peace Process will soon bring forth a new round of terrorism and an unprecedented spasm of war. From the start, the Oslo Accords which are the codification of this Process, have been used by the Palestinian Authority (PA) - in close cooperation with Syria, Iran and Iraq - as the optimal means to destroy Israel once and for all. By any reasonable expectation, this attrition/annihilation strategy of war through "peace," so long as it remains unopposed in Jerusalem and Washington, will prove successful.

In their very wildest dreams, Israel's Islamic enemies could never have imagined the extent to which the Jewish State would cooperate in its own destruction. Encouraged by an altogether naive President of the United States, the Netanyahu Government, in the fashion of its immediate predecessors, still refuses to recognize what should now be perfectly obvious to everyone: The state now being created by the Palestinian Authority, with its allies in Damascus, Teheran and Baghdad, is to be erected upon the ruins of the State of Israel. The fact that Netanyahu insists that there will be no Palestinian state, but only an "entity" like "Puerto Rico," is doubly foolish, combining insupportable optimism with a demeaning image of paternalism.

What about Jerusalem? Here the Prime Minister plans to draw the line. There is no way, says Mr. Netanyahu, that Israel will even consider a redivision of its eternal capital. Yet, we have heard such claims before, and no post-Oslo Israeli Government has simply declared, as it should have, that Jerusalem is altogether nonnegotiable. Instead, these governments have merely postponed the Jerusalem question by relegating it to "final status" consultations.

Yasser Arafat is completely truthful when he declares that the developing state of Palestine will have Jerusalem as its capital. He can certainly offer nothing less to a collaborative Islamic world that now acts as an essential midwife to the birth of another Arab state and as gravedigger at the death of the Jewish State. This means that, in the near future, Netanyahu can either surrender Jerusalem the way in which he recently surrendered Hebron - in which case the incremental and "peaceful" removal of Israel by the Oslo Accords will continue - or he can hold on to Jerusalem. If he chooses the second option, which is certainly more plausible, the Palestinian Authority and its allies will assuredly unleash a new round of terrorism in Israel, one that might even include chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

This brings us to war. As reported recently by the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, national leaders in most Arab states and in Iran "are convinced that the present vulnerability of Israel is so great that there is a unique opportunity to, at the very least, begin the process leading to the destruction of Israel." Preoccupied with the battle against expanding terrorist violence throughout Israel, Netanyahu will be forced to concentrate his military strength internally, leaving the country's peripheries exposed. Aided by Palestinian "police" created by the "peace process," the terrorists will open up many fronts that could ultimately immobilize Israel's capacity to defend itself. In the ensuing chaos, for which Israel remains largely unprepared, Arab citizens of Israel - now almost one million strong - might join their Palestinian brethren in "Palestine" to finally rid the region of its hated "Jewish cancer."

Yasser Arafat has already destroyed Israel's intelligence network in Judea/Samaria/Gaza (Palestine), and is now in full control of the Islamic terror group Hamas, according to a recent "revolutionary reassessment" of the PLO Chairman by Israeli intelligence services. As part of an agreement with Syria, Damascus will begin to provide the Palestinian Authority with advanced weapons. In Gaza, where Arafat has built himself a personal command bunker four stories deep, the PA security services are accumulating large stockpiles of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, including missiles, even though they are prohibited by the Oslo Accords.

When the time comes, and Israel is in chaos because of its diffused response to multiple acts of terrorism, the Palestinian Authority - together with sympathetic Israeli Arabs, Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians - will commence full scale war, a war likely to be joined by Israel's first "peace partner" Egypt. The Israelis, having forsaken the preemption option while it might still have been purposeful (because they didn't want to upset the "peace process" or The Americans) may then also have to face coordinated ballistic missile attacks against population centers involving unconventional warheads. Lacking an operational ballistic missile defense capability, which Israel's enemies know is still years away, Jerusalem's only real option will be to wreak parallel destruction upon its enemies. The final result of the American-led Middle East Peace Process will thus be catastrophic regional war, a conflagration from which there will be neither escape nor sanctuary and in which Washington's expert participation will be limited to burying the dead.


How shall we explain the coming disaster? Elias Canetti, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Literature, once wrote of not being dead as the essence of power. Confronted with what he called "the terror at the fact of death," humankind - individually and collectively - seeks above all else "to remain standing." In the final analysis, it is those who remain upright (however temporarily) who are victorious. It is these fortunate ones, who have "diverted" death to others, who have power.

There is a lesson here for states as well as for individual persons, and for the State of Israel in particular. The situation of survival is the central situation of power.(1) Yet, as the Middle East Peace Process makes Israel's survival more and more problematic, this misnamed Process now deprives Israel of its power. Left to proceed, this Process will permit Israel's enemies to enjoy a triumph that still remains concealed, the triumph experienced by the living person who is confronted by one who is dying.

I refer to the triumph of power. Israel's enemies understand this power. Israel does not. Believing, naively, in a common international obligation to preserve life, Jerusalem fails to understand that death is identified by its enemies as a zero-sum event. It follows that anything done to sustain Israel's survival is necessarily, for these enemy states, a threat to their own continued "life" and a diminution of their own most essential power. Conversely, anything that is done to eliminate Israel enhances their own collective life and augments their own collective power. What is more, because of the intimate associations between collectivity and individual, the perceived enemy life-advantages of Israeli death and dying that are spawned by the Peace Process are enjoyed doubly.

"Normally" the living person never considers himself more powerful than when he faces the dead person; here the living one comes as close as he can to feelings of immortality.(2) The living state, in similar fashion, never regards itself as more powerful than when it confronts the "death" of an enemy state. Only slightly less power-giving are the feelings that arise from confrontation with the "dying" of this enemy state, precisely the feelings concerning Israel now generated in Arab capitals and in Iran by the Middle East Peace Process. In both cases, individual and collective, convention and good taste require that zero-sum feelings about death and power be properly suppressed. Such feelings are not to be flaunted, but they are vital nonetheless.

In world politics, power is so closely attached to the terror of death that it has been overlooked altogether. As a result, students of world politics continue to focus foolishly on epiphenomena, on ideologies, on territories, on the implements of warfare. It is not that these factors are unimportant to power (indeed, they are not) but that they are of secondary or reflected importance.

During war, the individual soldier, who ordinarily cannot experience real power in peacetime, is offered an opportunity at such experience. The presence of dead men here cannot be minimized. It is the central fact of war. The soldier who is surrounded by corpses and knows that he is not one of them is imbued with the radiance of invulnerability, with the aspect of monumental power. In like fashion, the state which commands these soldiers to kill and not to die themselves "feels" similar power at the removal of its collective adversary. This surviving state, like the surviving warrior, is indisputably a very source of power.

These points that I am making are hardly fashionable; rather, they appear barbarous, almost uncivilized. But I am seeking not to prescribe behavior for states, but merely to describe such behavior. True observations may be objectionable, but they are no less true.

In an apparent paradox, Israel's nonstate enemies also seek to "remain standing" vis-a-vis the Jewish State, to seek power in the life-or-death struggle against a particularly despised other. I say "apparent paradox" here because some of Israel's terrorist enemies seem not only unconcerned to remain standing, but seek specifically to die themselves. Indeed, as we have witnessed the dreadful terrorist suicide attacks against buses in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramat Gan, it would appear that the perpetrators actually "love death."(3) Consider, for example, a recent statement by Jamal Abdel Hamid Yussef, explaining operations of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades (military wing of Hamas) in Gaza: "Our suicide operations are a message...that our people love death. Our goal is to die for the sake of God, and if we live we want to humiliate Jews and trample on their necks."

What is most important to understand here is that "to die for the sake of God" is, above all, not to die at all. By dying in the "divinely commanded" act of killing Jews (Jews, not Israelis), the Hamas terrorist actually seeks to conquer death (which he fears with special terror) by living forever. In this eternal life, Hamas videotapes reveal, there will be rivers of honey and 72 brides for each hero "martyred" fighting the enemies of God.

Hence, the "love of death" described by the Hamas nonstate enemy of Israel is the ironic consequent of an all-consuming wish to avoid death. Since the death that this enemy "loves" is merely temporary and temporal, leading in "fact" to a permanent reprieve from death, accepting it as a tactical expedient is an easy matter. If, however, the death of the individual Muslim body in holy war against the Jew were not expected to ensure authentic life ever-after, its immense attractions would surely be reversed.

So, Israel's nonstate terrorist enemies, in the fashion of its state enemies, also seek to "remain standing," and to believe that this objective can be realized only when Israel - as the Jew in macrocosm - has become the dead man lying down. When the civilized and decent human being watching the evening news about the latest bus bombing in Israel asks incredulously, "Why do they do this?" there is a correct answer: They do this out of passion for the ultimate form of power; the greater the number of Jewish corpses, the more powerful they feel. Real power, as a zero-sum commodity, is to gain in aliveness through the death of enemies.

There is more. An enemy of Israel, state or nonstate, cannot possibly kill as many Israelis as his passion for survival may demand. This means that he may seek to induce or direct others to meet this passion. As a practical matter, this points toward an undeniable impulse for genocide, an impulse that could be actualized by future resort to higher-order forms of terrorism (chemical/biological/nuclear) and/or unconventional forms of war.


Israel has much to learn. But before its leaders can fully understand the nature of enemy intentions and capabilities, they must first understand the connections between war, power and survival. Once it is understood that enemy definitions of power are contingent upon Israel's loss of the latter, these leaders will finally be positioned intellectually to take remedial action. At the outset, such action must entail a complete reversal of the so-called Peace Process, which - if left to proceed - will fulfil the fondest enemy hopes for power.

The true goal of Israel's enemies, a goal furthered greatly by the Peace Process, is as grotesque as it is generally unrecognized. It is to be left standing while Israel has been made to disappear. These enemies must survive Israel so that Israel does not survive them. They cannot conceivably survive together. So long as Israel exists, they cannot survive themselves in any meaningful sense. So long as Israel exists, no matter how cooperative it may be, they will not feel safe, they will not feel powerful.

It is time that this true goal be recognized. Without such recognition, the dreadful foolishness of prevailing political "thought" in Israel's government and universities may continue to be taken seriously, a circumstance that could have genuinely fatal survival outcomes for the Jewish State. With such recognition, however, this foolishness could be revealed widely for what it is, the ill-conceived product of "experts," of poorly-educated specialists who have likely never had a serious original idea.

What a mistake it is for Israel to believe that Reason governs the world. The true source of governance here is Power, and power is ultimately the conquest of Death. This conquest, which we have shown to display a zero-sum quality among Israel's enemies, is not by any means limited to conflicts in the Middle East. Rather, it is a generic matter, a more or less universal effort that is made especially manifest between Israel and its enemies. On this generic matter, consider the remark made by Eugene Ionesco in his Journal in 1966. Describing killing as an affirmation of one's own survival, Ionesco says:

I must kill my visible enemy, the one who is determined to take my life, to prevent him from killing me. Killing gives me a feeling of relief, because I am dimly aware that in killing him, I have killed death. My enemy's death cannot be held against me, it is no longer a source of anguish, if I killed him with the approval of society; that is the purpose of war. Killing is a way of relieving one's feelings, of warding off one's own death.(4)

Significantly, while Israel's enemies accept the zero-sum linkages between power and survival, Israel apparently does not. While this may certainly suggest that Israel stands on a higher moral plane than its enemies, it also places the Jewish State at a marked security disadvantage, one that will make it difficult to "remain standing." Logically, this consequential asymmetry between Israel and its enemies may be addressed by reducing enemy emphases on power-survival connections and/or by increasing Israeli emphases on power-survival connections. The first option is effectively impossible; the second would require extraordinary national excursions from idealism toward Realpolitik.

Must Israel become a barbarous state in order to endure? Must the Jewish State "learn" to identify true power with its survival over others, a survival that cannot abide the endurance of its enemies? By no means! What is required is not a replication of enemy barbarism, but a policy that recognizes such barbarism as the essential starting point for Israel's national security and national defense. With such recognition, the present Peace Process would be rejected immediately and a new peace process - one based on Israel's commitment to "remain standing" at all costs - could be implemented.(5)

1. This idea is explored further by Ernest Becker in two very important books: THE DENIAL OF DEATH (The Free Press, 1973) and ESCAPE FROM EVIL (The Free Press, 1975). Both books explore the thesis that the root cause of human evil lies in the common struggle to transcend death. Becker, in turn, drew heavily upon the work of Otto Rank.

2. "All power," Ernest Becker reminds us, "is in essence power to deny mortality. Either that or it is not real power at all, not ultimate power, not the power that mankind is really obsessed with." (See ESCAPE FROM EVIL, p. 81).

3. Vocalization of the "love of death" is not unique to the Middle East, nor is it unprecedented in world politics. In 1936, on the occasion of a speech by the nationalist general Millan Astray at the University of Salamanca in Spain, the hall thundered with the general's favorite motto: Viva la Muerte! "Long live death!" When the speech was over, Miguel de Unamuno, rector of the University, rose and said: "Just now I heard a necrophilious and senseless cry...this outlandish paradox is repellent to me." The cry that was repellent to the philosopher was the passion of the Falangists and is today, for Israel, the lurid and potentially decisive undertone of certain Islamic terrorist beliefs about power and survival.

4. There are two separate but interdependent ideas here. The first is the rather pragmatic and mundane observation that killing someone who would otherwise kill you is a life-supporting action. Why assume that your intended victim would otherwise be your assassin? Because your own government has already clarified precisely who is friend and who is foe. The second far more complex idea is that killing in general confers immunity from mortality. This idea (now familiar to us) of death as a zero-sum commodity, is captured by Ernest Becker's paraphrase of Elias Canetti: "Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good." Or according to Otto Rank's Will Therapy and Truth and Reality: "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."

5. In the best of all possible worlds, of course, individuals and states, liberated from the "terror at the fact of death," could reimagine power, detaching it from prevailing notions of survival at the expense of others. Here the ancient ideal of Epicurus would hold sway. In his Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus counseled: "Become accustomed to the belief that death is nothing to us. For all good and evil consists in sensation, but death is deprivation of sensation. And therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not because it adds to it an infinite span of time, but because it takes away the craving for immortality." We are not yet ready, as a species, for the wisdom of Epicurus.

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