Life in southern Israel is unbearable. Since last January, on average,
6.3 mortars and rockets have been fired from Gaza on southern Israel
As Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i warned the heads of the communities
around Gaza last week, due to the improvements in the Palestinian arsenal
since Israel vacated Gaza two years ago, the Palestinians now field missiles
and rockets with extended ranges that place 130,000 Israelis under threat of
Wednesday, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi made clear that if Israel wishes to secure its citizens there is only one thing it can do. It can conquer Gaza.
In a speech at Tel Aviv University Ashkenazi explained, "It is impossible to
defeat a terrorist organization without eventually controlling the
territory. The good situation in Judea and Samaria is the result of our
control over the area and we will not be able to achieve victory in the
conflict [in Gaza] simply with indirect fires and attacks from the air."
Presumably Ashkenazi made this point Wednesday morning at the security
cabinet meeting. But apparently, he was no match for his competition.
Squared off against Ashkenazi was Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Livni warned
her colleagues that securing southern Israel will destroy the peace process.
If Israel secures the south, the Arabs and the Bush administration will get
really mad. And "moderate" Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will turn his
back on the peace process and reunite his US-trained Fatah forces with the
Iranian-trained Hamas forces. Livni's message was clear: The government must
choose between security and the peace process.
Livni won the argument. The peace process won out against the security of
The Olmert government's preference for process over substance is not unique.
Indeed, it is malady shared governments throughout the free world. The
philosophical foundations of this malady are similarly common ones.
The September 11 attacks on the US intensified a dispute that had been
brewing since the end of the Cold War about the definition of rationality.
The two warring factions in the debate, which has raged throughout the free
world, can be referred to as the rationalizers and the rationalists. Each
side has given its own definition of rationality and those competing
definitions have formed the basis of the camps' competing policy
prescriptions for contending with the threat of Islamic terrorists and their
state sponsors ever since.
The rationalizers include politicians like Olmert and Livni and US Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice, and security and policy apparatuses like the CIA,
the State Department, the Foreign Ministry and their counterparts in Europe.
The rationalizers define rationality as susceptibility to foreign pressure
and willingness to be appeased. According to this view, if your antagonist
is willing to negotiate with you, then he is rational. And since he is
rational, he is capable of being appeased. And since he is willing to be
appeased, he isn't really your enemy.
The US intelligence community's National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's
nuclear capabilities and intentions is a textbook example of the
rationalizers' view. The NIE, which asserts that Iran halted its nuclear
weapons program in 2003 as the result of the program's exposure and the
international scrutiny that followed, concludes that "Teheran's decisions
are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon
irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs."
And since Iran is rational, the NIE recommends that the US and its allies
make Iran an offer which entails, "some combination of threats of
intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities
for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence
in other ways."
The rationalizers' view of rationality is alluring for two main reasons.
First, its essential argument is that the West is solely responsible for
determining whether the world will enjoy peace or suffer the ravages of war.
If Western states cough up a proper package of concessions, then the
terrorists and their state sponsors will negotiate with them. If Western
nations refuse to make the necessary concessions then the terrorists and
their state sponsors will attack them and the nations of the West will have
only themselves, and their obstinacy to blame.
Beyond that, since the Arab and Islamic world's rationality is solely a
function of Western will, the ideology of jihad which informs terrorists and
their state sponsors is immaterial. As far as rationalizers are concerned,
there is no reason to close down jihadist websites or indoctrination
centers. Indeed, there is no reason to challenge the validity of jihadist doctrines and values as all.
This view too, resonates in the NIE. The report makes no mention of the fact
that Iran's regime was founded on the values of jihad. It ignores the fact
that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters believe that
by fomenting Armageddon they can hasten the coming of the Shiite messiah and
bring forth an era of Islamic global domination in a world in which the US
and Israel are but bitter memories. Had the NIE taken these ideological
views into account, its authors might have noted that it makes perfect sense
for the ayatollahs to be pursuing nuclear weapons.
But taking the Iranian regime's ideology, values and aspirations into
account would involve crossing the lines into the opposing rationalists'
camp. For rationalists, it is rational for a state's policies and actions to
reflect and advance its values, aspirations and beliefs. As a consequence,
it is essential to understand and confront those beliefs, values and
Just as the rationalizers' views are attractive because they place all the
power to determine issues of war and peace in the hands of Western nations,
so the views of the rationalists are unattractive because they assume that
the free world cannot alone determine the course of events. It cannot
influence a society's adherence to jihadist beliefs and aspirations. The
most it can do is take actions to prevent jihadist societies from acting on
When Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi explained that the conquest of Gaza is the only way
to secure southern Israel, he was representing the rationalist camp's view
of rationality. Since the Palestinians overwhelmingly support the jihadist
aim of destroying Israel, it is rational for them to attack Israel for as
long as they can. Since Israel cannot change the way the Palestinians
understand the world and the meaning of life, the only way it can protect
its citizens from murder is by taking away the Palestinians' ability to
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the rationalizers' disparagement of the
importance of ideology is the lengths they go to in order to ignore jihadist
ideology on the one hand and appease it on the other. Agents in
counter-terror units of the FBI for instance are discouraged from studying
the Koran. Their chiefs argue that only a tiny minority of Muslims in the US
and worldwide ascribe to a religious-supremacist interpretation of the Koran
which upholds and encourages terrorism, slaughter and war to the death
against non-Muslims and therefore what the Koran says is irrelevant.
Yet if it is true that only a tiny minority of Muslims think that Islam is a
supremacist political as well as religious creed, then the rationalizers
should treat the actual jihadists with contempt similar to that which they
exhibit towards white supremacists. After all, doing so shouldn't bother the
rest of their co-religionists who reject their views. But the opposite is
FBI agents undergo Islamic "sensitivity training" by people who are
themselves the subjects of their counter-terror investigations. US military
personnel at Guantanamo Bay are forced to wear gloves when they touch copies
of the Koran belonging to their jihadist prisoners.
More disturbingly, in their rush to placate this irrelevant tiny minority of
jihadists, Israeli, US and European officials willingly trounce their core
values of the rule of law and freedom of expression. In Israel, Israeli Jews
who build homes without permits are prosecuted to the full limit of the law
and ejected from their homes. Israeli Arabs who have built entire towns
illegally are ignored by authorities in the interest avoiding diplomatic
consequences or stirring up passions.
In the US, one can stand outside the White House and burn the American flag
without fear of criminal charge. But if a person draws a pig on a copy of
the Koran in a public library, he is liable to find himself under arrest for
committing a hate crime. And in Europe, you can participate in a
demonstration invoking Islam as you call for the destruction of Britain or
Holland or Demark without fear of legal action, but if you publish a
caricature of Muhammad in your newspaper, you may find yourself the subject
of a criminal probe and forced into hiding for promoting racism.
In Israel, it is difficult to convince people that the ideology of jihad is
unimportant. But the rationalizers have two other ways to convince the
general public and their political base that they are right to ignore the
enemy's actions and intentions and concentrate on efforts to appease. First
there is the fear factor. Given the overwhelming nature of the Arab and
Islamic world's hatred of Israel and the Jewish people, Israel's
rationalizers defend their preference for imaginary peace processes over
security by arguing that Israel cannot afford to fight a war. Far better
than facing that hatred on the battlefield is the option of preemptive
surrender. As the rationalizers argue, if Israel shrinks into the 1949
armistice lines, builds a big wall and hides behind it, then maybe the Arabs
will forget that we're still here and leave us alone.
Politically there is the fact that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party
was founded on the view that territory has no defensive value and that
preemptive surrender is a reasonable national strategy. To acknowledge that
territory is important or that surrendering territory to your enemy
strengthens your enemy and weakens you would involve admitting that Kadima's
founding principles are all wrong. So Olmert and Livni and their associates
maintain the fiction, do nothing to secure southern Israel and seek to
transfer Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to Fatah terrorists.
Since Sept. 11, the rationalizers have won most of their policy battles with
the rationalists and the results of their victories have been both ironic
and tragic. As a result of the rationalizers' control of policy, the only
ones who consistently engage in the rational pursuit of their interests,
values and aspirations are the jihadists and their state sponsors. For their
part, the leaders of the free world seem intent on living out George
Orwell's observation that "the quickest way of ending a war is to lose it."