Wednesday, September 05, 2007

According to leaks in the press, Olmert is planning to give up all of Judea and Samaria in return for empty promises from a toothless puppet. Yet there is hardly any public discussion of the topic. I’ll skip all the usual talk about the leftist press having an incentive not to rock the boat (although such talk is absolutely correct: those with good memories will recall the long lull after the disengagement was first sent up as a trial balloon). There is something deeper at work here. Public discourse on all matters related to borders, security and negotiations has been so corrupted that normal people have just begun to tune it out.

The plain fact is this: Israel faces the threat of missile attack from at least three fronts. Such an attack would be potentially devastating, orders of magnitude worse than anything we’ve experienced until now. There are only three possible ways to deal with such a threat and all have limited chances of succeeding.

The first option is pre-emption. For this to work a large number of difficult targets would need to be struck almost simultaneously and even then retaliation will be swift and hard and – regardless of who carries out the attack – would be directed against Israel.

The second option is deterrence. Deterrence is a game-theoretic idea. For it to work, two conditions are necessary. First, the enemy must perceive a real counter-threat – they must believe that the price they stand to pay for attacking us will be greater than the benefit they obtain (according to their own warped calculus). In the case of states such as Iran or Syria, the threat of nuking their capital cities might be sufficient. In the case of terrorists with unclear or no attachment to any particular territory, the threat of nuking Muslim holy sites might work. Or not. The second condition is that the threat must be credible. An opponent that is not convinced that we have both the ability and the will to carry out the threat will not be deterred.

The third option is to promote regime change. One can use covert means to encourage dissidents, but our abilities in this direction are obviously very limited.

So we’re living under the mushroom cloud with no decent options and our politicians are having pretend negotiations with pretend leaders about a pretend peace process. The one thing even they cannot pretend to be doing is addressing the actual threats that we face. At the very least, one would hope that the blather about “local” problems – unilateral withdrawals, negotiations with Abu Mazen and such – would be situated in the context of the broader regional threats.

There is precisely one rational argument in favor of some unilateral redeployment of military forces and civilians – namely, that doing so would reduce the defense burden and thus allow the military to focus on greater threats. The claim is that it is easier to defend ourselves against aggression from certain areas from outside those areas than it is from inside them. Counter-arguments that reject such claims out of hand on a priori grounds are bound to fail because the claim is not a priori wrong. It is simply not the case that maximal borders are necessarily optimal borders. And, given the choice, the preference for maximal borders over optimal borders is rooted in theology, not politics. Having said that, the fact is that, although the claim that there are areas that are better policed from the outside is not wrong a priori, it is, nevertheless, wrong in this case. Any area we withdraw from will simply open yet another front from which we will be bombarded. Moreover, since such withdrawal will be understood as a sign of weakness, our deterrence capability will be diminished (and then further diminished when we fail to respond to attacks from the vacated area). Add to this the blow to national morale that will arise from whole populations being dispossessed for no reason and, well, you get the idea.

Negotiations are another matter. There are obvious advantages to holding negotiations, provided, of course, that they are held in bad faith. First of all, a clever negotiator could at least create internecine strife among our enemies. Second, even those Americans who are actually on our side seem to be fixated on the idea that we ought to be pacifying (read: appeasing) the Palestinians so that they, the Americans, can get on with the important business of taking care of Iran and Iraq. That idea is idiotic for more reasons than I care to enumerate, but if insincere negotiations are the price we need to pay to get American help with the more substantive threats, well, we can play along with a straight face. But such posturing comes with a steep price. First – and here I return to the point from which I started – public discourse is corrupted. We talk of peace when we should be talking of victory. This corrupted discourse debilitates our morale; it robs us of properly articulated political goals and makes us feel that politics is a farce.

And worst of all, the scoundrels who climb to the top of our political pyramid are those people whose lack of any intellectual or moral compass allows them to confuse farce with reality. They begin to “see things from there that we don’t see from here”. They enter negotiations with bad faith towards our enemies and end them with bad faith towards us.

In my next post I hope to discuss the psychological roots of this phenomenon and the subtle ways in which decent people encourage it. After that I hope to discuss the systemic changes needed to permit a return to rational politics.


Anonymous bar_kochba132 said...

Good post as usual. You raise important points. The question of why the population is so docile and passive in the face of the Har HaBayit being torn up, rockets falling on Sedort daily, Olmert's giving away the store to the Pals and the corruption and incompetance of the regime in power is very interesting. I recall in the 1980's and early 1990's, there were demonstrations all over the country in the event of a bad terrorist attack. After Oslo was signed in 1993, there were ongoing large demonstrations against the gov'ts negotiations with Arafat and the accompanying terrorist attacks. The turning point seemed to come with Rabin's murder. Since then, demonstrations became rarer and were made more "parve", no angry speeches, just nice "Mashiach, Mashiach" hasidic music (Dr. Shalom Flisser was banned from performing his excellent protest songs). Then came the outbreak of the massive suicide bomber campaign in 2001. What was the public response? NOTHING. Nada, kloom. No demonstrations. How was the accomplished. Sharon was anointed by the oligarchs to take power in 2001 and he put "right-wing parties" like the Ihud HaLeumi or MAFDAL in the coalition. He then announced "restraing is strength" and "terrorism can not be prevented" AND PEOPLE BOUGHT IT. True, he was forced to act after the Pesach Nite Massacre in Netanya in 2002, but there was no real public outcry against the gov'ts lack of action. Why? People saw that "tough" politicians like Sharon were capitulating to Arab terror, with the support of "right-wing" parties. Finally, Sharon destroyed Gush Katif with the support of most of the the "right-wing" Likud and with the quiet support of the leadership of the "pro-YESHA" camp (I was told personally by one of the legendary leaders of the pro-YESHA camp that he opposed all non-violent passive civil disobedience because "people won't like it"). These people actively blocked any real protests or "seruv pekudah" (refusal to carry out illegal orders to destroy Jewish communities). Thus, the "right-wing" camp in Israel was basically politically disenfranchised. I believe this is the cause of the current apathy. People think it makes no difference who is in power, it makes no difference who you vote for, Israeli foreign and defense policy are basically dictated from Washington with the support of the post-Zionist ruling cliques here in Israel (the media, the State Proescutor's Office who can destroy any politician they choose by prosecuting them for imaginary crimes, the Army establishment, the SHABAK, the Supreme Court, etc). I am always told.."there is no history of public activism in Israel", yet without this, things look pretty bleak.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Shlomo Argamon said...

You hit the nail on the head by noting the fact that we continue to "talk of peace when we should be talking of victory". This has been the case for far too long, indeed, in a sense, it has been the case from the beginning. We just want to be left alone. So we want peace. We don't care per se about winning over them. But the fact that we used to know but have forgotten is that to attain peace against an aggressive enemy requires victory.

Note: The best way to win a game of chicken is to throw your steering wheel and brake pedal out the window.

4:34 AM  

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