Morality under fire

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In an interview with the Palestinian Authority's television station shortly after he was named prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas was asked how he thought he would be able to make a deal with Israel given what the interviewer referred to as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's anti-peace stand.


Abbas responded by explaining that Sharon does not operate in a vacuum. He argued that the Israeli people could be counted on to force Sharon to make a deal that will be acceptable to the Palestinians.


More than telling us anything interesting about Sharon or Israeli democracy, this statement revealed much about who Abbas is and the strategy he is implementing from his lofty new post as the Bush administration's favorite son of the Palestinian terrorist revolution. What Abbas said is quite simply a neat encapsulation of the entire doctrine of terrorist and guerrilla forces that war against democratic societies. It is a doctrine that he, like the PLO's chief strategic partner Saddam Hussein, has propounded for years.


Generally speaking, terrorist and guerrilla warfare doctrines are founded on the psychological manipulation of the enemy's society. Aware of his inability to destroy the enemy through conventional military force, the guerrilla or terrorist leader bases his strategy on two central and interconnected tenets.


First, he contends that continuous and seemingly random attacks on civilian populations and military personnel will grind down his enemy's society to the point where that society will lose its will to fight back. If a belief in the existence of a "cycle of violence" takes hold in the victimized society, then terrorist violence will be justified as simple and crude – yet not unwarranted – responses to the victim society's military "provocations" against the terrorists.


Our society's willingness to accept that last month's bus bombing in Jerusalem was a Hamas response to the attempted assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantisi is case in point. No matter that such an attack takes weeks of planning. No matter that Hamas attacks us every day. When Hamas claimed that the massacre of 17 Israelis and the maiming of another 50 was in response to the operation against Rantisi, our media duly reported the claim and many even supported it.


As is known to all Israelis, over the past three years we have rearranged our lives and constricted our living space and habits in an attempt to minimize risk of death by terror. We go out less and to fewer places. We ride on buses only as a last resort. This narrowing of our public space is a testament to the terrorists' success in making us doubt our government's ability to protect us. The sense of futility and hopelessness of fighting terror is a vital component of the terrorist's plan to break our will to destroy him.


At the same time, the monstrosity of random acts of murder against civilians being what it is, the natural, moral, and instinctive response of the victimized society is to call for the total destruction of the terror or guerrilla forces and the transformation, by military means, of the society that supports them. Thus, imposing a sense of vulnerability on a democratic society, while necessary, is insufficient to break its spirit. So the terror and guerrilla ideologue fights a parallel battle for victory.


The second premise of terror and guerrilla leaders is that when fighting a democratic society, it is necessary to make their enemy doubt the morality of his stand against them. The moral disorientation of the victimized society is absolutely necessary for a terrorist strategy to succeed.



Through a concerted campaign, the terrorist or guerrilla leader must frame his rhetoric in a manner that calls into question whether the targeted society is really being victimized at all.


If it can be argued that the murderers have a legitimate grievance against the targeted society, then it will likely follow that in spite of the barbarity of the campaign being waged against it, members of that society will begin to argue that it is futile, and indeed immoral, to fight back.



Once that argument is won, the terrorists have won their war. The democracy will capitulate.


Over the past week, the front pages of US newspapers have honed in on two stories: the Iraqi guerrilla war against US and British forces and the Palestinian terror war against Israel. While the angles from which the reporters approach the two stories are different, their essence is strikingly similar.


In contending with the continued and escalating hostilities in Iraq, the Bush administration finds itself, after two years of unapologetic rhetoric and a successful, wildly popular military campaign against Saddam Hussein, suddenly on the defensive. Its enemy, the not so marginal remnants of Saddam's regime and their Arab terrorist partners, is implementing a war strategy against the US and British forces taken directly from the Saddam-Abbas playbook.


Militarily, the coalition forces are under constant attack by mobs, snipers, suicide bombers, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades. These attacks, together with sabotage of Iraqi infrastructure, work to demoralize the coalition forces stationed in the country. Newspapers are filled with accounts of the frustration of soldiers who find their attempts to bring stability to Iraq stymied. As tensions rise in the terrible heat, soldiers communicate a sense of anger and helplessness that makes their countrymen wonder why their armies can't simply come home.



Statements by the Iraqis who criticize the coalition troops and demand their immediate withdrawal compound this sense of doubt.


Politically, the fact that Saddam remains at large also casts a pall of doubt as to the actual success of the campaign to oust him. Repeated failure to capture or kill him mars the US public's sense of pride and invincibility against weaker Third World dictatorships.


The fact that the US has so far been unsuccessful in locating any of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction has been highly destructive to the American and British publics' sense of justice and serves to undermine the moral justification of the war itself. This past week, media polls indicated that a majority of Americans believe that the Bush administration misled them – wittingly or unwittingly – about the threat emanating from Saddam's regime.


When taken separately, all the components of the Iraqi campaign against US-led forces in Iraq are a cause for distress and ambivalence regarding the importance and necessity of the continued fight. But when seen from the perspective of the terror and guerrilla doctrine, long adopted by Saddam, it all makes sense.


Saddam and his loyalists knew they were no match for the coalition forces, so they stole what they could, headed for the hills, and allowed the remnants of their brainwashed forces to launch what resistance they could muster. Even during the campaign, those Iraqi forces that did engage coalition forces made constant use of terror and guerrilla tactics to exact casualties.


Now that US and British forces are hunkered down in static locations, it is easier to kill them. As peacekeepers, they are forced to come into daily contact with Iraqi civilians. As American and British soldiers, they want very much for those civilians to appreciate what they are trying to do for them. They are easily demoralized when confronted by mobs.


For his part, Saddam understands that to continue to energize his own forces, he must remain at large. As long as there is the possibility he will return, those loyal to him will not put down their arms.


Finally, with hindsight, it makes perfect sense that in the year-long run-up to the US led invasion, Saddam would find a way to either destroy or hide his WMD arsenal. Preventing the US and Britain from being able to present that arsenal to th
eir publics is key to eroding their societies' belief in the morality of the war and thus demand the swift exit of US and British forces from the country.


Winning a war against a terrorist enemy is perhaps the most difficult victory for a democratic society to achieve. It requires a deep-seated and resilient belief in its values and, in Israel's case, its very existence.


Both Israel and the US have been built around our core values of human decency and our ideals of a just and moral society. Both countries' military prowess is a direct result of our understanding that these values are worth fighting for. For both Israel and America, power exerted in defense of these values is power morally exerted.


Both Israeli and American societies must now think carefully about how we are allowing the subversive poison of terrorist war doctrine to infect our sense of justice and indeed our sense of our own identity.


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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