Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why disproportionate response pays

Why disproportionate response pays

A bit of video showing Israeli soldiers running from rock-throwing Arabs caused a stir last week. Some Israeli officials suggested that the problem was that rules of engagement were too strict. Others added that ‘activists’ with cameras were prepared to create legal and public-relations problems for Israel in the event that Palestinians were hurt (of course rock-throwing Palestinians were trying to kill the Israelis).

The problem isn’t a legal one and the concern with Israel’s image as a modern, humanitarian state is misplaced. Rather, I would say that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the human animal on the Israeli (and generally, Western) side, a misunderstanding that our enemies exploit to the fullest.

Humans are not motivated very much by logical arguments, and less so by logical arguments about moral issues. The Christian concept of turning the other cheek never got much traction, even among Christians, because it goes strongly against the atavistic gut feelings that actually do motivate us, and which we love to rationalize after the fact.

Imagine a man, even a UN diplomat, in a nice suit with nice hair. Then imagine inside of him a naked prehistoric ancestor. The ancestor doesn’t have concepts like moral reasoning — he is motivated by feelings like hunger and acquisitiveness, fear and hostility toward outsiders, perhaps respect for and fear of stronger members of his own tribe, etc.

Now understand that even the diplomat in the suit is driven by the same forces. The only difference is that he has layers of ‘culture’ and the ability to express himself in abstract language, to argue rationally in order to justify his preexisting feelings. This is a description of almost every modern human.

There is no way a Jewish state (or for that matter, the Jewish people) will ever generate feelings of love or even liking in the world, and not just among Arabs. Even Norwegians will not think to themselves, “it’s admirable that those Jews care about others.” They will respond to the non-rational ethnic hatred that boils inside of them, and rationalize it by talking about ‘stolen Palestinian land’, settlements, ‘international law’, etc.

I’m not going to discuss the roots of these sentiments now, but they are deep and entirely irrational. They can’t be changed by rational argument.

The Arabs understand this, which is why their propaganda includes viscerally racist anti-Jewish components and plenty of burned babies (even if the babies were burned by Syrian bombs). To ice the cake, they mouth words about justice and law, but that only serves to provide a handle for boycotts and UN resolutions. The real force is in the ugly stuff. It’s job is to feed the flames.

Israelis have gut-level motivations too, mostly the motivation to survive. But they seem to think that the best way to change the behavior of the world toward them is to explain, by appealing to actual facts and with logical arguments, that (for example) the IDF is the “most moral army in the world,” that Israel desires peace, and  the way to obtain it is to sit down with our enemies and talk through our differences.

This does not work with Norwegian diplomats, who will always come up with more reasons that Israel is an oppressive colonial power, because the logical arguments are just epiphenomena. The real motivation comes from a lower level, which rational Israeli arguments don’t touch.

And this is even less effective on Palestinian rock-throwers, who see Israeli attempts to not hurt them as simple weakness. If they could hurt us they would, they think, so if they don’t it’s because they can’t. These attacks are meant as much to humiliate IDF soldiers as to hurt them. When they succeed, they are emboldened to throw more rocks, to take even more risks (which have the side effect of demonstrating their manhood).

This is well-understood by Avigdor Lieberman, who said “There is no way that Palestinian policemen can punch and slap soldiers and live to tell about it.”

Lieberman’s statement was undoubtedly greeted with horror by less-astute but supposedly more ‘cultured’ people who find live fire a highly disproportionate response to a punch or slap (or thrown rock).

The fact is that the prehistoric ancestor within us doesn’t respond to proportionality. The way to get him on your side is not to explain how cultured you are, but to show him that if he messes with you he and his relatives will quickly be dead.

So Israel’s carefully measured surgical response to Hamas murder rockets, ending in a negotiated settlement, strengthened Hamas politically and psychologically, even while it destroyed its infrastructure. Infrastructure can be rebuilt and ammunition replenished, so the IDF’s actions achieved only a temporary advantage. Hamas’ victory celebration was not inappropriate, if we are talking about the psychological dimension.

In order to change the political landscape, it’s necessary to change the psychological one. The way to do this is not by careful surgical strikes, defensive strategies, and unbalanced concern for the welfare of those who are trying to kill IDF soldiers. It is by massive, disproportionate response to attacks.

While some are afraid that this would create legal and diplomatic problems, these problems appear anyway based on false and exaggerated ‘evidence’ — see the Goldstone report, for example.

Israel should hit its enemies hard. Deep down, even the Norwegian diplomats will understand.