A Tunnel Too Far
War is either the arm of political strategy or an existential moment. For modern national states, armed conflict is a late if not last resort. As a nation, the U.S., and its body politic, have a perspective rooted in its history and related cultural and religious roots. We presume that all conflicts should be rationalized, and that compromise is good and pragmatic. As a result, we see others through our lens.
As we are again in the Gaza, we misunderstand the driving forces by thinking in this way. This creates a false premise that there is no absolute “right,” and that the absence of fighting is, no matter the cost, advantageous.
To understand the paradox of our current thinking, reflect on our actions during the Second World War. To fight successfully, we developed a self-serving moral ground. The war comprised ”good” versus implacable “evil,” which legitimized victory at all costs. We affirmed the dictum that wars truly end only with an enemy’s complete destruction or surrender. Nighttime bombardments of cities from high altitude, purposeful targeting of Dresden, and the firebombing of Tokyo were not perceived as ambiguous or repugnant actions. We were preserving our “way of life” and confronting an adversary that would do the same and more, if it could, to us.
At its heart and soul, Israel confronts a reality that we choose to deny. Be it the charter of the PLA, the doctrine of Hamas, or the tripwire to the recent Kerry negotiations, the central challenge is to the right of Israel to exist and to be the homeland of the Jewish people.
It does not take much reading of primary sources to see that Israel is regarded, in whole or in part, as illegitimate. This is tacitly acknowledged during academic debates but rebutted by an argument that Israel is and will remain a fact on the ground and that, thus, the words are simply rhetorical.
History turns, however, on the proximate event. The shooting of the archduke, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin, and the World Trade Towers shifted the fulcrum. We used these events, each in its own time and context, as direction-finders, pointing to a path made clear and seemingly inevitable.
For Israel, I propose three recent events that will serve the same purpose. First was the celebration in song by the killers of the Israeli teenagers moments after their murder. Second was the targeting of population centers by longer-range and heavier-payload rockets. Third, and perhaps most telling, was the attempted infiltration by Hamas of Israel proper, via tunnels, towards a kibbutz with the intent of slaughter. These were neither tactical nor strategic events. They are existential and, in a telling way, biblical.
Christian nations, defined as those whose values and belief systems favor peaceful and tolerant outcomes, assume that others, even of a different ethic, want the same things. The United States will try to find a satisfying middle ground with anyone willing to talk long enough. Iran now, North Korea later…no matter, for talking is always better than fighting.
Hamas, until now, has benefited from our lack of underlying moral symmetry with Israel. We have encouraged Israel to act as if a middle ground can be compromised with a fatal disease. Until these three small events, this was prudent, but it may be prudent no longer.
The IDF is sent into battle with a reminder that it is sword of Israel. It is an agent less of the State than of the people. At some point, the harsh reality of its history is finally accepted. “Death to the Jews” fills the air in many capitals, East and West. Until this moment, this was taken as the background noise. But “Death to the Jews” is now its own reality. Israel is perilously close to the IDF code: Israel cannot afford to lose one war and cannot fight on its own soil.
The words of outgoing President Shimon Peres that the fighting will stop at the moment the rocketing stops are prescient. Hamas has miscalculated what would bring Israel to negotiations or move it away from compromise. Yahweh can be a very vengeful God, and the modern state of Israel may prove a bit less modern than others imagine it to be.
Faced with clear risk to Jews for simply being Jews and aware that even more radicalized jihadist groups wait in the wings, Israel may choose to show that it too can be as merciless as was our Army Air Corp over Germany or the Enola Gay over Hiroshima.
We taught the world a lesson about what a mighty nation will do when its way of life is thought threatened. Israel has had ample reason to avoid this moment. Now, faced with that moment, it is likely to show that the two words that underpin the State and thus the people, “never again,” have meaning.