Whether the hudna continues or not, whether the quiet on the Lebanese border is maintained or violated, the current strategic situation of Israel is reminiscent of the unforgettable scene in Quentin Tarantino's movie "Reservoir Dogs," where a bunch of tough guys find themselves in a kind of "deterrent loop." They all stand there in a circle with their guns drawn, each one aiming at the next guy. One slight move, or even a blink that signals an intent to shoot, is enough to get someone to pull the trigger and set off a domino effect that leaves the whole gang in a heap.
How did Israel's famed "power of deterrence" get into this bind of being simultaneously neutralized and about to blow - both in our dealings with the Palestinians and Hezbollah? The ones who should be answering that are the geniuses who invented the concept of "consciousness-searing." One of them - Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon - was seen bending over backward this week in an attempt to resell us the shopworn existential theory that there "is no connection" between the operation in which the IDF killed militants in Nablus and the revenge attacks that came right afterward. According to Ya'alon, the perpetrators of these attacks were just members of an "insubordinate group," just some Arabs who felt like blowing themselves up one fine day, in tune with the chaos of the universe.
This scholarly theory was quickly demolished by a philosopher of the masses from the opposing school - a Palestinian who told television reporters with down-to-earth bluntness: "If you hadn't killed those guys in Nablus, we wouldn't have done what we did in Ariel and Rosh Ha'ayin. You give me a whack, I'll give you two! You sit still, I'll sit still!"
To that, too, our chief of staff had a fitting reply: "Today's incidents only prove the need to continue our operations, so that we can ward off attacks like we saw today." The fact that "the attacks we saw today" were not "warded off" by Israel's continued operations, and may have actually been triggered by them, did not change the conception anymore than anything else in the last three years.
But what justifies the previous outbursts of Palestinian savagery since the start of the hudna, which we did not provoke? The Palestinians claim there was provocation: the ongoing building in the settlements and Israel's wise-guy approach to abiding by its commitments. To which Israel responds that the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to stop terror. To which the Palestinian Authority answers that Israel has sapped its strength. To which Israel replies that ...
In short: the looped logic that accompanies the conflict goes on - with or without the hudna. Except that now Hamas and Islamic Jihad have joined the "deterrent loop." Israel is trying not to blink as they threaten to renew terror attacks, and they are trying not to blink as we threaten to renew assassinations - although both sides are equally stressed out. We could see this loop-the-loop as the exhaustion of two boxers, something that could end up in a compromise or the declaration of a tie, if things didn't look so futile on all fronts.
After a colossal waste of blood and time in Lebanon, we did reach a similar "loop" in our dealings with Hezbollah. Israel's power of deterrence, achieved by posing a threat to Lebanese infrastructure, is neutralized today by the threat of Hezbollah missiles being lobbed at cities in the north of Israel. Everything hinges on restraint.
But that is the nature of a conflict that goes on too long, relying solely on brute force and never using one's brain and intellectual resources: mutual deterrence is worn down, and the sides begin to resemble one another. Thus the State of Israel, which perceived itself as a regional power - and in the past, even an ethical one - now finds itself in a strange symmetry that was once envisioned as a military, ethical and strategic nightmare. It has become a party of almost equal standing in a gang war.
In the course of our struggle with Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, we seem to have absorbed their codes of behavior: assassinations; outright murder threats; kidnapping; blackmail; "unwritten contracts," that, in effect, recognize the legitimacy of mutual terror. Unwittingly, the country which was meant to be a "light unto the nations" has taken on the mentality of these organizations. We threaten and feel threatened just as they do; we, too, understand only force; in our reflexes we have become just as violent and in our political thinking just as crude; we have no positive, optimistic, constructive strategy; we are almost as obsessed as they are with the trappings of power, honor and revenge.
Israel is not the only one to blame for this miserable state of affairs, which is also the product of having lousy neighbors. But when people are breast-beating themselves over the flawed conception that led us into war 30 years ago, they should give some thought, at least, to the harm being done by later conceptions. For example, the current approach to the conflict with the Palestinians, which is more suitable for a chaotic underground than a civilized, self-confident nation, even in the face of brutal terror.
It is enough to look at how we are wasting this current "cease-fire" - like those before it - with passivity, without an ounce of compassion or political vision, with that ever-present sly wink in America's direction, with an almost passionate re-embrace of brute force, to understand that we have become more like our enemies than we would like to think.
And by the way, for those who don't remember the end of the movie, they blow each other to bits. What else did you expect?
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