A week before Hizbullah, under the orders of their leader Hasan Nasrallah, attacked an Israeli border patrol, killed seven, kidnapped two, and set off the current warfront, Aluf Benn, the Diplomatic editor of Ha-Aretz wrote a column praising Nasrullah as a paragon of reason. (Hat tip Naomi Reagen and IMRA)
A close read of the work reveals liberal cognitive egocentrism in full flower, even as the writer attempts to explain the irrational behavior of some of the players.
We need a Nasrallah
By Aluf Benn Haaretz 6 July 2006
What is more frightening: a Syrian Scud missile with a chemical warhead that can hit Tel Aviv and kill thousands of people with poison gas, or a Palestinian Qassam missile full of primitive explosives, which hits Sderot and sometimes Ashkelon, and causes a small amount of damage? The destructive power of the Syrian missile is far greater, and yet few, if any, Israelis think about its existence. The Qassam, however, is seen as a serious security threat, which is of concern to the prime minister, the security services, the media and the Israeli public.
There is a simple explanation for the inverse ratio between the performance capability of the enemy’s missiles and the level of anxiety about them: The security threat does not stem from the technology of weapons systems, but from the finger on the trigger. Israel’s leaders portray Syrian President Bashar Assad as the principal inciter of terror in the region and as the person responsible for the kidnapping of soldier Gilad Shalit. But they were not afraid Assad would launch Scuds, even after Israeli warplanes buzzed his palace. He may be a terrorist, but he is not crazy. If he presses the launch button, he will risk a harsh reaction from Israel that will endanger his rule and his country. That is why Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz can irritate him without fear.
As opposed to Assad, the Qassam operators in Gaza cannot be deterred by an F-16 fighter plane, and their hand does not tremble when they launch another missile over the fence. Their strength stems from the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and from the absence of a central security force in
Israel has suffered from this problem since its earliest days: Terror develops in a place where the Arab government is weak. That was the case in Jordan in the 1950s and 1960s, in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s, and now in the PA. Centralized governments with a strong army, like Syria, Egypt and Jordan today, are able to ensure quiet on the border, and their behavior is predictable. Wherever there is chaos, there are problems of “ongoing security.”
This discussion, of coure, overlooks the behavior of other strong states like Iraq (under Saddam) and Iran. Granted Benn can claim that they are not border states, but already the kind of “strong” historical analysis here reminds me of the kind of analysis we got from Larry Derfner. A slightly more modest formulation might have gone like this: Centralized governments with a strong army, like Syria, Egypt and Jordan today, are able to ensure quiet on the border when they want to, and their behavior seems to be predictable.
It is enough to see what is happening in Lebanon. The moment Hezbollah took control over the south of the country and armed itself with thousands of Katyushas and other rockets, a stable balance of deterrence was created on both sides of the border. The withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from Lebanon in 2000 was made possible not only because of the daring of then prime minister Ehud Barak, but also thanks to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who conducts a policy of “one law and one weapon” on the other side.
Now, in one fell swoop, we’ve descended into partisan fantasy, an unreconstructed Oslo proponent unleashes his “take” on reality. The “daring” of Barak, which Benn thanks for the stable situation on the Lebanese border reflects one of the straws in the wind to which the Israeli pro-Oslo camp has clung with great tenacity. For them, the withdrawal was a success because that border quieted down. For those who look at the larger situation, rather than isolate one area and treat it as separate, the withdrawal from Lebanon was a catastrophe, signaling great weakness on Israel’s part and inspiring the second “Intifada” among Palestinians convinced that if you make the Israelis bleed, they’ll withdraw.
As for the “stable balance of deterrence” to which Benn refers, it is his projection onto a relatively stable situation for a relatively brief period. For Benn six years may be a long time, for Hizbullah and other Jihadi opponents of Israel, it’s just a pause. The idea that the Lebanese border was a separate unit operating under its own rules, rather than part of a larger coalition of forces, produced the logic Benn now pursues.
Nasrallah hates Israel and Zionism no less than do the Hamas leaders, Shalit’s kidnappers and the Qassam squads. But as opposed to them – he has authority and responsibility, and therefore his behavior is rational and reasonably predictable. Under the present conditions, that’s the best possible situation. Hezbollah is doing a better job of maintaining quiet in the Galilee than did the pro-Israeli South Lebanese Army.
Now we step into the Oslo Syndrome looking glass. The notion that authority and responsibility bring rational and “reasonably” predictable behavior, is a standard tool in the cognitive egocentrist’s kit. Indeed it was rapidly trotted out by all the usual suspects when Hamas came to power. And not surprisingly, we find Benn informing the readers of the Guardian (no less) of the good news about a disciplined and rational Hamas:
The exiled Hamas leader, Khalid Mesh’al, appears to understand this. In his article on these pages last week, he clung to his destruction rhetoric while offering a long-term truce. Would he and his colleagues shelve their unacceptable ideology in return for political legitimacy? The past year has shown that Hamas is highly disciplined and adept at realpolitik. If pursued earnestly, this policy could be the kernel of the next stage of Middle East diplomacy.
It’s noteworthy that Benn often hedges his remarks with allusions to how this is the “best we can hope for.” Under the present conditions, that’s the best possible situation, he comments on Hizbullah patrolling the border. In the above quote from the Guardian, the “this” that Mesh’al “appears to understand” is that the Israelis are not really thinking in the long run, but want to know they won’t be blown up when they get on a bus. So… the truce that Hamas offers is good news to Israelis who will ignore the long-term consequences of the hudna in which the Palestinians leave them alone until conditions for a strike are more propitious. Benn, in other words, makes a virtue of short-range thinking. As the La Fontaine fable about the fox and the goat who saw no further than his nose concludes:
“Had Heaven put sense your head within,
To match the beard on your chin,
You would have thought a bit,
Before descending such a pit.
I’m out of it; good bye:
With prudent effort try
Yourself to extricate.
For me, affairs of state
Permit me not to wait.”
Whatever way you wend,
Consider well the end.
For Benn, though, the short term, with its illusions of stability and its systematic rejection of all evidence to the contrary, seems not only more interesting, but a basis on which to dismiss all the more pessimistic analyses.
In the territories there is no such Nasrallah today. PA Chair Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is opposed to terror and wants diplomatic negotiations, but he operates as a tortured intellectual and a commentator, rather than as an authoritative leader. The Hamas government, which at first showed promising signs of organization and discipline, has behaved like him and shrugged its shoulders during the kidnapping crisis. The weapons in Gaza are split among organizations, gangs and clans, which Israel has difficulty deterring.
Here’s a fine piece of sleight of hand. The “promising signs of organization and discipline” are Benn’s own delusion, which he brings in not to criticize his own misguided hopes, but as a subordinate clause of no real relevance. Then the — by Benn’s own analysis — anomalous behavior of the Hamas government is mixed in with Abbas’ impotence as a sign of not an irresponsible government but a weak one: “they, like him (Abbas!?!) shrug their shoulders…” Haniyah shrugged his shoulders over the kidnapping? Apparently any analysis will do as long as it comes to the conclusion Benn wants to believe in.
The events of the past weeks in Gaza have once again demonstrated that the essential condition for a quiet border is a responsible finger on the trigger on the other side. The conclusion we must come to is that until the appearance of a factor that will take control of security and weapons on the West Bank – Israel will not be able to withdraw from there. Negotiations with Abbas are not sufficient, nor is an agreement with him. It is more important that his statement about “one law and one weapon” be implemented on the ground. Even if it is implemented by a Palestinian Nasrallah.
This remarkably naive conclusion is an almost exact duplicate of the Israeli (and American) thinking that brought us Oslo: Arafat will come in, we’ll arm him, he’ll give us “one law and one weapon,” and we’ll have someone we can work with. Benn, addicted to his paradigm, casts around wildly for the next candidate to promise him the hope of rational behavior on the other side that he so deeply craves. And it’s not enough for him to do this in the privacy of his own fevered brain, but in Ha-Aretz, where he can reassure all the others with similar resistance to reality, that they need not attend a meeting of PCPers anonymous.
Alas, the drives that give Nasrallah’s deeds their “rationality” come from a dimension of Arab thought from which apparently Benn keeps himself well-insulated: the Israelis only understand force. As a Omar, a Jordanian blogger who prides himself on not being a foolish man notes.
I for one felt proud today, Hassan Nasrullah made me feel proud today, this is the only way, it’s not because we love to kill or we love wars, it’s because we’re facing a terrorist army backed with terrorist international gangs, and in order to negotiate with them, you have to shoot them in the head first.
Now that’s already at one remove from Nasrullah who does love to kill and does love wars. Omar is just projecting the mentality of the people he “admires” (only force has meaning) onto the Israelis to justify Hizbullah. The sixth of the signs of a foolish man which, according to the Arabic proverb Omar cites at the top of his blog, is “mistaking foes for friends.” There’s a good definition of the dupe of a demopath.
Both Omar and Benn, each in their own way, illustrate the Moebius Strip of cognitive egocentrism. Benn projects rationality on an actor who is, despite his political position and his occasionally moderate reflections, a dedicated Jihadi and leader of an organization that thrives on hate-mongering for children, while Omar projects the very irredentism of Hizbullah onto the Israelis. Talk about a formula for dysfunction.