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Op-Ed: Unleashing the Dogs of War

Only a dramatic change of policy can turn back the inevitable tide of events relentlessly washing away the awe-inspiring achievements of the Zionist revolution and eroding the very foundations upon which the nation-state of the Jews was founded. The Arab attack must now be met with a response of ferocity and force that will leave a traumatic scar on the collective national consciousness of the Ara
Published: Monday, January 06, 2003 11:51 PM


With each passing day, the macabre reality of death and destruction wrought upon the nation by the Palestinians is making one thing increasingly clear: something is dreadfully amiss with the way Israel is handling its affairs.

Afflicted by an inexplicable impotence, the country is sliding inexorably into an abyss of self-annihilation. Israel's continued restraint in dealing with the onslaught upon its citizens is rapidly become morally untenable. It is sending a clear message to both its Arab adversaries and the world at large: "Judacide" is tolerable - and hence morally acceptable - for if it were not, a far more assertive response would be forthcoming.

No people can adhere to such a policy of self-disparagement without forfeiting its claim to sovereignty as an independent nation. No country can command the respect of others if it consistently fails - or worse, refuses - to employ all means at its disposal to protect the lives and property of its citizens against concerted attack from foreign entities. In such circumstances, restraint will not be construed as strength, but as weakness, inviting more aggression from foes and growing alienation from friends.

Only a dramatic change of policy can turn back the inevitable tide of events relentlessly washing away the awe-inspiring achievements of the Zionist revolution and eroding the very foundations upon which the nation-state of the Jews was founded. The Arab attack must now be met with a response of ferocity and force that will leave a traumatic scar on the collective national consciousness of the Arabs. Israel must now unleash upon its assailants a fury akin to that which the democratic powers unleashed in World War II on those who dared threaten their survival.

Nothing less will quell the violence. Only when a terrible, disproportionate price is inflicted for attacks on Jews will such attacks cease.

However, for such a martial initiative to succeed, it must be combined with an equally resolute assault on public opinion, both at home and abroad. This is, in many ways, a far more challenging task than the military one, for Israel will have to contend with years of neglect in this field. It will have to roll back perceptions that have been inculcated in the public consciousness over the last three decades. This requires a totally different approach to Israel's public relations efforts (hasbara) from that which has been adopted up to now.

Instead of the self-effacing apologetic endeavor of trying to explain away current events, what is required is a new assertive attitude aimed at changing the public perception of the overall context in which these events take place. Instead of allowing Israel to be portrayed as a cruel plunderer and a callous oppressor, motivated only by territorial avarice and religious egotism, it must be depicted for what it really is: a valiant and beleaguered democracy, locked in a deadly struggle for its very survival, and assailed from all quarters by vicious aggressors who subscribe to values that are not only divergent from, but diametrically opposed to, those of the pluralistic, libertarian nations of the world.

This is an undertaking of daunting proportions, which should not be underestimated. But neither should the difficulty be overestimated. In fact, the very erosion of Israel's image in world media is proof that international perceptions of the protagonists in the Arab-Israeli conflict are not immutable. Moreover, those who claim that it is an insurmountable task are, in fact, saying that the truth cannot be disseminated and that falsehood must inevitably triumph over veracity. For Israel is still both a bastion and a beacon of immeasurable importance to the West - even after the fall of the Soviet empire.

Indeed, in the brewing clash between radical Islam and the democratic nations, Israel's geo-strategic significance for the West is likely to be even greater than it was in the days of the Cold War. Thus, it is demonstrably counter-productive and self-defeating folly for the democratic world to side with those likely to identify themselves with its potential foes and against those who are likely to be among its strongest allies.

The Jewish people have taken their peace-making efforts to irrational extremes. To prove to the world that that they yearn for peace, they have meekly offered the other cheek, abjectly bent over backward in an attempt to accommodate Arab demands, and demeaningly beseeched their adversaries to accept, as a craven peace offering, large tracts of their ancient homeland in which the history, tradition and heritage of the nation were forged. All to no avail. This policy of excessive appeasement has done nothing to placate the animosity of foes, nor to rally the support of friends. Indeed, it seems that quite the reverse is true.

The time has come for Israel to assert its fundamental right to self-defense and for the Jews to remind the world that they can be fearsome warriors when pushed to the wall. It is time to convey to the public at home and abroad that Jewish patience is at an end, that Jewish lives are not cheap and the letting of Jewish blood will no longer be acceptable. It is time for this embattled nation to arise, to cry "havoc" and let slip the dogs of war. Only then will it be clear that the present policy of restraint was indeed a noble gesture of benign strength and not of ignoble faintheartedness.
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Martin Sherman is a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and served for seven years in Israel's defense establishment.