Power And Survival

By Louis Rene Beres

Some Pertinent Reflections On Israel And The Middle East Peace Process

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. 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. 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 thesesoldiers 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 and Ramat Gan, it would appear that the perpetrators actually "love death." 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 civilizedand decent human being watching the evening news about the latest bus bombing in Israel asksincredulously, "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 power and survival. Once it is understood that enemy definitions of the former 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 - would 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 madeto 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 in their imitative professional lives.

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."

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 securitydisadvantage, 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.

LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Professor of Political Science, Purdue University. He is the author of fourteen books dealing with international relations and international law. Born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1945, he lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters, always in non-mainstream fashion.

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