THE ISRAEL REPORTJuly/August 2000
The Strategic Thinker: Where is he/she in Israel?Louis Rene Beres - Professor of International Law
Department of Political Science - Purdue University
Date: July 1, 2000
When the sculptor August Rodin began the most ambitious project of his career in 1880, a pair of doors deriving its theme from Dante's allegorical journey through hell, he determined to create a personal vision of the afterworld far more complex than that of the Inferno. With this vision, hell was to represent a condition rather than a place. Following this conceptual goal, the plaster composition developed to display an agonizing humanity writhing against a changing background. The solitary tranquil form in the work is The Thinker, who, from his high position in the lintel, broods on the swarm below as he reviews and reimagines the fate of our species.
Israel, today, needs such a Thinker, one who would focus specifically on security requirements of the Jewish State. But, ironically, he or she is nowhere to be found. Instead, Israel's universities, think tanks and centers for strategic studies continue to spawn only "experts," professionals on strategy and politics who only rarely fashion authentically promising ideas. As for the once-vaunted Israel National Security Council, it is effectively moribund. Not surprisingly, the country's ongoing plan for "Peace" is a process built upon sand.
What is needed, immediately, are Israeli scholars who are Thinkers, scholars who are comfortable with abstractions and who understand that pragmatic policies are always contingent upon good theories. These scholars cannot be "trained" for their task; nor can they be presumed capable because of operational experience. They must, instead, be educated. This means that they must know much more than what is demanded by their "fields of expertise." They must read literature, they must read and understand poetry, they must value art, they must draw upon vast sources of general knowledge in order to make particular contributions. What is more, they need to cultivate thinking as a private activity, as a solitary obligation, detached - as much as possible - from the noise and babble of the Center, the Department, the Forum, the IDF, the Government, etc. All serious thought takes place as a soundless "dialogue" within ourselves; the rest is little more than a fulfillment of job obligation.
The Thinker who would rescue Israel from its now incessant flirtations with a non-allegorical journey through hell must also display courage. There are many kinds of courage, of course, and Israelis have exhibited far more than their fair share of one kind of courage on the battlefields. But there is also a courage to create, an intellectual willingness to probe in directions despite various risks and to advance eccentric hypotheses whatever the probable pitfalls to career and ambition. In the absence of such courage, Israel's strategic studies will remain mired in mechanical inventories of relative power, long and exhaustive lists of enemy assets, and indefensibly foolish examinations of "peace processes," "security regimes" and "confidence building measures." Nothing productive can ever come of such studies, absolutely nothing.
What else? Please, my Israeli friends and scholars, forswear the American Model. Forget the elaborate conferences; forget the search for large grants and donations (the best work requires only a few smart people with typewriters or a word-processor); forget the slick public-relations brochures, with photos of national and international figures sipping white wine, nibbling canapes, and chatting amiably. Nothing of intrinsic value emerges from American think tanks, which are designed primarily for the advancement of career and the shameless absorption of money.
Israel is in real trouble, existential trouble, trouble more serious than any it has encountered since 1948. The collapse of the Soviet Union has not been a blessing for Israel. The United States will not be willing or able to rescue Israel from plausible threats of annihilation. The President of the United States will not delay lunch to save the Jewish State. The New Middle East does not exist. The New World Order is the Old World Order, only worse, a fiercely anti-Jewish, anti-Israel configuration of power and authority that now combines persistently genocidal intent with unprecedented technologies of mass-destruction.
And what about these technologies? How many Israeli scholars understand that war and genocide need not be mutually exclusive, and that the coming wars against Israel, midwifed by a Trojan Horse called Oslo, will be oriented toward another Final Solution? Such questions, of course, are distinctly unfashionable. But they are the only questions worth asking.
How, precisely, shall Israel protect itself from potentially genocidal missile attacks? Where preemptive Israeli attack is infeasible, tactically and politically, and where multilayered and advanced ballistic missile defense can never meet even the minimal expectations of soft-point protection, what shall Israel do? To be sure, it is nice to have nuclear- tipped cruise missiles on submarines, but even a more reliable second- strike capacity (necessary, without question) cannot offer safety against certain irrational adversaries.
Shall Israel continue with the "Peace Process," a codified form of surrender that was in fact spawned by the country's lack of serious thought? Shall it sign on sometime as a non-nuclear party to the Non Proliferation Treaty (a public musing of former Prime Minister Peres), eliminating its only remaining barrier to national extinction? Shall it place additional hopes in the general arms control regime, a network of treaties and declarations to which such law-abiding states as Iraq, Iran and North Korea have pledged their support? Or shall it do something else?
This is not the place to undertake substantive examinations. My purpose here is merely to underscore Israel's growing existential vulnerabilities and Israel's simultaneously ongoing detachment from productive strategic studies. For my friends and colleagues in Israel, it is time to recognize that all things important bear the sign of death and that death can befall states as well as persons. The time for superficial professional games is over. Agony is infinitely more important than syllogism. Rejecting the false optimism that is associated with Plato's ideal of the dying Socrates (whom Knowledge and Reason have "liberated" from the fear of death), Israel's strategic community must now aim at a general theory comprised of more nuanced and subtle conceptualizations. Otherwise Rodin's hell may soon be examined not only as an artistic creation.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with terrorism in general and nuclear terrorism in particular. His 1980 book, TERRORISM AND GLOBAL SECURITY: THE NUCLEAR THREAT, was a featured Main Selection of the MacMillan Library of Political and International Affairs. In April 2000, Professor Beres participated, at Oklahoma City, in TERRORISM AND BEYOND: THE 21st CENTURY (RAND Corporation and the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism).
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