How much ink has already been spilled on the need to deter our enemies from attacking us? Yet despite the deluge of words and all the force that has been applied, a new and even more “extreme” Arab terror organization will always crop up and try to kill us. Ostensibly there is no deterrence. And every operation or war we have conducted in recent years has ended with a feeling of having missed the opportunity: We could have crushed, annihilated, destroyed — but we stopped halfway. Had we only not stopped the Israel Defense Forces, we would have achieved victory.
One of the pillars of our national defense doctrine was articulated in Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s 1923 essay “The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs).” Eventually — without admitting it — David Ben-Gurion also adopted this outlook. Only when our enemies despair of the hope of annihilating us will peace be a possibility.
However, this equation was born in the minds of people educated in the European school of logical thinking. And just as the forecasters of peace on the Israeli left try to coerce reality, to force their logic on our enemies, so too do the policy-makers and intellectuals on the right. The hope that our tremendous military power will deter our enemies and that peace will come as a result must be revised.
Mutual deterrence was possible between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. Each Both side had thousands of nuclear warheads that were capable of destroying the entire world. It was the shared logic of both parties that made deterrence possible.
But anyone who thinks this will also be the Iranian logic, that they would not use nuclear weapons if they had them, is ignoring the possibility that a country like Iran could behave, at the level of the state, as a suicide bomber does at the level of the individual. If the aim is to be “bigger than life,” then it is possible, and perhaps even desirable, to sacrifice lives or the state in order to kill Jews or to destroy Israel.
That also holds with respect to conventional warfare. Israel’s greatest victory ever — the defeat of the Arab states in the Six-Day War — did not prevent Gamal Abdel Nasser and Hafez Assad from initiating the War of Attrition just days after the fighting ended in June 1967; the leaders of Egypt and of Syria began to rebuild their armies and to prepare them for the next war.
If a decisive defeat such as the Six-Day War did not deter them, what would? And if the tremendous loss of territory in that war did not teach these “normal” states a lesson, then what could deter the likes of Hamas or the self-styled Islamic State?
These days the left is saying, as always, that there must be a “political solution,” territorial concessions that will bring peace. They are ignoring the fact that the war between us and the Arabs is not a territorial dispute, and therefore it does not have a territorial solution. Religious wars are not resolved by drawing borders on a map.
These days the right is saying, as always, that there must be a “military solution,” to defeat, to destroy, to chop off the head of the snake. They are ignoring the fact that the war is not between nations or leaders who have the same logic, the same values, the same supreme goals.
So, in the absence of either deterrence or peace, what is the solution?
As human beings we aspire to control our destiny. To live in the knowledge that what we do or do not do will determine our fate with respect to war or peace. We do not easily accept the possibility that the war will continue in any case. That we will never be at peace with the Arabs.
As a physician, I know the most common illnesses have no cure. We know how to treat diabetes or high blood pressure, but we do not yet know how to cure them. The striving for a “solution” is an illusion. Peace, like “defeating the enemy” or deterring the enemy from any attempt to harm us, is the opiate of the masses. And as everyone knows, analgesics from the opioid family are essential for treating pain but they cannot heal.
Our political goal, therefore, should not be “the resolution of the conflict,” but rather finding the formulas that will enable us to live — and if possible, to live well. Illusions that in the end will come crashing down are not a good prescription for achieving these goals.