Caught in the Loop

A year after the start of the Iraq war, the Americans, too, have entered into this demonic logical loop, with which we are so familiar, in which the "reaction" not only doesn't punish but retroactively justifies the terrorist act that generated it, and constitutes the pretext for a new wave of even more terrible terrorism.

The need for a "reaction" after every act of terrorism has become a conditioned reflex in Israel, like clasping a bruised elbow. There's no real benefit to be derived: It's too late to block the blow, it doesn't heal the pain, and it won't "deter" future bruises; but it's an automatic reaction. It doesn't depend on our will, and in some cases it's actually contrary to our interests. On numerous occasions it's been proven, for example, that this reflex only played into the hands of the terrorists, undermined political moves that were vitally important to us, and above all, engendered a wave of new terrorist attacks. Indeed, every so often security sources in Israel "express apprehension" that a large-scale terrorist strike "will compel us" - compel! - to mount a massive reaction which will be harmful to us. Nevertheless, the "reaction" will inevitably be set in motion: "react" we must, like a puppet whose strings are being pulled by an enemy.

True, one has to be a saint, or made of stone, to refrain from reacting to the kind of malicious and brutal terrorism we have experienced. And Israel, which was established as a refuge for a persecuted, beaten nation, has never displayed a Jesuit spirit in this regard. From the dawn of its history it has cultivated the ethos of the reaction, and in some cases, the hyper-reaction. It has developed the concept of the potent reprisal and a longing for the "one bash and it's over" approach, which is pedagogical in its essence, and holds that the counter-blow should not only deter and punish but also reformat and reshape the enemy: tame him, set him on the straight and narrow path, sear a different consciousness into him.

Even if this approach were capable of achieving any sort of deterrent effect against enemy states, it has no impact at all on terrorist organizations; and certainly not on ones that operate at the nihilistic or apocalyptic level. How can you threaten someone who from the outset is wallowing in a culture of death and suicide? The "harsh reaction" is not only ineffective, it is factored in by the terrorists in advance. In fact, it constitutes the continuation of the terrorist act: it sucks the victim into a tango from hell, performed on a dance floor on which those who have no regard for the value of life and don't sanctify it have an absolute advantage. So it is, a year after the start of the Iraq war, that the Americans, too, have entered into this demonic logical loop, with which we are so familiar, in which the "reaction" not only doesn't punish but retroactively justifies the terrorist act that generated it, and constitutes the pretext for a new wave of even more terrible terrorism.

Despite this, and despite the fact that we are more caught up in a spiral of blood and terror (some the direct result of our "reactions") than any other country, Israel continues to view itself as a kind of meta-expert, if not an expeditionary force, in the war on terrorism. The fact that this shoemaker is barefoot doesn't contradict his pretension to get the whole world into shoes. Thus, not only are we in thrall to our very own impulsive and terror-instigating "reactions," we also expect a similar "appropriate reaction" - if possible, furious, insane, blind - from other terror-stricken countries. The outcome of the elections in Spain, for example, filled us with contempt, like Europe's generally non-heroic posture vis-a-vis terrorism; whereas the showcase bellicosity of America after Sept. 11, filled us with content, accompanied by pioneer pride: the bombing of Afghanistan looked like a budget-heavy continuation of our old reprisal raids, and the "shock and awe" show in Iraq seemed like a Hollywood version of our "one bash" doctrine.

Only one small detail ruins the picture: It doesn't actually work. Some say (such as the former head UN inspector in Iraq, Hans Blix, and many terrorism experts) that there, like here, the reprisal reactions are not only not moderating terrorism but are exacerbating and intensifying it; and in any case, are undermining security even more. Just as our "reactions" produced a whole Palestinian civilization of death-seeking shaheeds who are driven by even more hatred, it's possible that America's spectacular "reactions" only provided incentive and motivation for world terror. It turns out that there, like here, it wasn't a case of "one bash and it's finished," but "one bash and it's starting."

This doesn't mean we should sit idly by or hope that terrorism will abate by itself if it's offered the other cheek: on the contrary. However, of numberless ways of coping - clever initiatives, secret confrontation, war of brains, sophisticated methods of defense, political moves - what's been proved repeatedly is the boomerang effect of one method: the military shoot-from-the-hip response; the massive knee-jerk revenge impulse, accompanied by showcase effects, perhaps anachronistic, of tanks and planes. On top of which, in these parts it's overlaid by considerations of the army's "honor," which seduce us into adopting the gang mentality of the terrorist organizations themselves, a world of cyclic vendettas, which paradoxically undermines the security of the country's citizens.

From this point of view, it's possible that Israel, despite all its efforts and achievements, doesn't necessarily represent the battlefield of the future in the war on terrorism. At least based on the final result, it's not clear whether the country of Sharon, Zaka and the Shin Bet is blazing the trail or bringing up the rear.