“Savage peoples are ruled by passion, civilized peoples by the mind.”
So wrote the famed Prussian general and military theorist Karl von Clausewitz referring to the motivation of nations that wage war against each other. But when savages employ the resources of the intellect to perpetrate their savagery, the civilized world suffers, and struggles for a suitable response.
That is the initial reaction to the latest profanation of humanity committed in the name of Islam, the kidnapping of three young Israeli children hitch-hiking home from school and now being held incommunicado, their fates still unknown. The ongoing debate whether these barbarians distort Islam or reflect Islam has probably passed the point of relevance, if indeed it remains unanswered. Suffice it to say that, although the politics and motives differ, there is really little distinction in kind between the kidnappings in Israel by Hamas terrorists or of hundreds of Nigerian girls by the Boko Haram terrorists; the unfortunate common denominator is that in all cases the kidnappers are Muslims and the victims are innocent children.
The sadder phenomenon to ponder, besides the horrific personal suffering of the captives and their families, is that we have made kidnapping, and to a certain extent, terror, a rational act. Evil can be rational, and still remain evil. The simple fact is that terror pays. These crimes provide a maximum
benefit to the perpetrators at a minimum cost. They inflict terrible pain on their captives and on society generally (the pervasive and accurate sense that these boys could have been anyone’s children, the refusal by the captors to make known their demands or even the condition of the victims, etc.) and fear no real repercussions. They will be martyred if killed and then enjoy the heavenly pleasures their delusions have fabricated, or they will be captured and eventually freed while in the meantime, they and their families are handsomely rewarded by the mainstream Arab leadership for their efforts. From a cost-benefit perspective, their actions are quite rational because the price they have to pay is minimal.
Again, Clausewitz: “If one side uses force without compunction, undeterred by the bloodshed it involves, while the other side refrains, the first will gain the upper hand.” While his point is that such a scenario would tend to lead each side to extremes but for other considerations, the point stands alone as well. The side without compunctions, that targets civilians, that seeks to disrupt normal life, that has no goal other than to weaken and demoralize the civilized society, will always have the upper hand – unless the moral majority makes such outrages extremely painful, unpleasant, and counterproductive for the perpetrators. (It is worth noting that the brutality the radical Arab-Muslims exhibit to those who cross them in their own societies is far more bestial than what they have done to Jews, to date, a most dreary thought.)
Part of the “problem” is Israel’s self-definition as a moral society that constrains it from responding fully or in kind to these criminal, terrorist provocations. That self-definition is not only a source of pride but is also perceived as a national asset, even if the definition of “moral” is not rooted in any Torah concept but in an amorphous internationally-accepted framework for morality that is largely ignored by all other countries when it suits them and is in essence a chimera. It provides purpose and context to the suffering. Additionally, Israeli doctrine clings to the illusion that a diplomatic solution is possible, or at least that the illusion of a “peace process” has its political advantages. This, a truly forceful reaction that will complicate the “peace” negotiations or cause Israel to forfeit that other fool’s paradise – world sympathy – is simply not worthwhile.
Consequently, Israel resists the imposition of measures that would reduce the ardor for terror among its Arab population – e.g., permanently eliminating the pleasures and freedoms that Arab prisoners currently have (televisions, telephones, university education, frequent family visits, etc.), destroying the homes of the families of terrorists as was once done (how about entire villages?), categorically prohibiting exchanges of terrorists to gain the freedom of innocent captives, banning access of Arabs to the Temple Mount, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron, and other restrictions that will get the attention of the Arab community who will either leave for more hospitable climes or apply counter-pressure on their co-religionists to halt their savagery. The silence of the Arab-Muslim world in the face of the depravity of their co-religionists is still the norm, itself an embarrassment and an outrage notwithstanding that such scattered protests in the past have often resulted in the unwanted detachment of the heads of the protestors from their necks. But there are a variety of measures that Israel can take and implement on a permanent rather than a temporary basis that would make incarceration a less attractive proposition and career choice even for a thug.
Furthermore, and without trying to sound crass or even critical, Israel benefits from these fiendish acts because it places inordinate value on propaganda, here meaning the attempt to generate sympathy for its narrative and plight. While the government and the people are rightly moved by the personal quandary of the victims and their families, and I trust doing everything to alleviate it, the political class has situated the kidnapping in the context of attempting to dissolve the new unity government of Fatah and Hamas. That reunification – as cynical as it was, and as ephemeral as it is likely to be – engendered a typically duplicitous and feckless response from the Obama administration but nonetheless can serve the Israeli purpose of defining the enemy without illusions. Instead, Israel seems intent on ending that partnership, which thankfully has put all diplomatic negotiations on hold, simply in order to resuscitate a diplomatic process that – in the best scenario – can only lead to Israeli concessions, withdrawals, vulnerability, more terror and public disenchantment. Far better to keep the unity government, define it as a hostile enemy, treat it accordingly (in terms of freedom of movement, provision of water and energy, and other measures) and focus on strengthening the Israeli polity.
That won’t happen, perhaps because it makes sense, and perhaps because Israel has no strategic concept of long-term victory. Its victories are measured in what we would call the simple joys of life – serving G-d, shopping, hiking, raising families and pursuing a variety of pleasures, notwithstanding the sporadic and repugnant interruptions of normal life that these outbursts of sadism provide.
Israel has reached an understanding of sorts with its nation-state neighbors, and could live quite well with the status quo. Its main threat – not an existential one by any analysis – comes from non-state actors (Hezbollah, Hamas, the PA) and the exception of Iran, which is not a neighboring state and is on the ascent due to the ineffectual response of the West, especially the US administration. And so, paradoxically, Israel has an interest in keeping the PA alive (but weak and ineffectual) and maintaining a diplomatic process in order to satisfy the domestic needs of its neighbors who still do not want a “Palestinian” state nor care at all about the lives of the so-called Palestinians, except insofar as they don’t want them living in their own countries. Thus, Israel could re-take Gaza within a day or two – but the Israeli government does not want it, not the people and not the responsibility for the people.
Of course, a nation under attack does not always get to choose its targets, and of course the land is still defined as the sacred land of Israel, but it will take a sustained assault from Gaza to induce the Israelis to return and recapture it. Israel has chosen – like with the occasional terror – to, in effect, tolerate a number of rockets per diem because the military option is less attractive and the damage caused in strategic terms (the personal is another matter) is negligible. That is a plausible approach, until such time as the terror becomes intolerable, but it solves nothing in the long term.
In the short term, we can only pray for Heavenly compassion, strength and courage to the victims, their families and the security forces, a swift end to their captivity, and the appropriate punishment meted out to their captors and supporters. While campaigns such as #bringbackourboys are well-meaning efforts to keep their predicament in the public domain, they are generally not successful in convincing the enemy (witness the utter disappearance from the news of the #bringbackourgirls for the Nigerians), simply because an appeal to the heart of heartless savages who consider their cruelty a religious devotion is futile. What should gratify but not surprise us is the outpouring of concern from across the Jewish world, a beautiful reminder that we are one family, the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and. Yaakov.
Far better to pray, remain strong and faithful, realize the enemy is not disappearing, encourage sanctions on the enemy population so they can feel real pain and hardship, react with righteous fury if the boys are harmed, annex Judea and Samaria, build more homes throughout the land of Israel, be vigilant that the government does not seek to revive its diplomacy with the brutes in suits who occupy parts of the Jewish homeland and threaten the remainder, and support the government in the use of all measures necessary to free these captives.
Perhaps then we will merit salvation, redemption, and good tidings. Am Yisrael Chai!