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By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 15, 2008


For years, Israel was considered to be the superior force in the Middle East. That fact alone kept Israel safe from many of her enemies, most of the time. It was the deterrence factor, and historically, the deterrence factor has played an important role in keeping countries - and the world, safe.

Mutual deterrence was the pinnacle of the Cold War, it was the reason why there was a stalemate between the US and USSR. Deterrence is what kept Israel safe in the midst of the Middle East. Until now.

It is not that Israel has changed, it is the world that has changed. Major players in the world are no longer nations - strong, powerful, autocratic or democratic nations, some players are now organizations -terrorist organizations.

For years Israel and her friends have touted the concept of the qualitative edge as a significant tool in the arsenal of military deterrence. The United States was a strong proponent of the concept and, within the Arab world, encouraged the image of Israel's superior military status which in turn kept Israel's enemies at bay.

Israel always had better fighters, better training, better tanks, better planes and better intelligence. Israel was wealthier, more motivated, more successful, more worldly, Israel was more Western. Israel was more free and Israel was more democratic. Still is. But all that no longer matters. The overwhelming intimidation, the powerful facts on the ground and the fear factor that kept Israel safe for years no longer works against this new breed of idealistic, terrorist, enemy.

Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda as well as the lone country Iran are neither stunned nor smitten by the Israel's great military prowess. Israel neither petrifies nor paralyzes them. They are fearless. And the rules of the game they play are solely theirs.

With most countries, the qualitative edge still works. It was deterrence that brought about peace between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan, it is that qualitative edge that keeps the peace alive. Other, more established Arab and Muslim countries, have realized that Israel is here to stay and have begun dealing with the Jewish state even if only behind closed diplomatic doors. Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Qatar have begun interacting with Israel. Even Syria is now in the throes of third party negotiations with Israel precisely because of this very intimidating qualitative edge.

These are countries that are still informed by the same basic concept that informed them twenty years ago. It is called self-preservation and it still works. It is the same motivation that kept the world safe during the years of Cold War.

Islamic extremists like al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas and the powers leading Iran are wired differently. Self preservation holds no interest for them. They cannot be intimidated and they do not have conventional thresholds of fear. They exist in perpetuation of a principle, they care only about total compliance to a religious idea and they cannot be deterred. Anyone who rejects the foundation of their extremism, even another Muslim, becomes a blatant target of the movement's ire. According to their new dogma, it is religiously permitted to attack non-believers.

The warriors in the armies of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran are not afraid of dying. Their leaders think nothing of sacrificing the masses to achieve the organization's greater goal. The goal is to attack - at all costs, regardless of impact or effect.

According to the rules of play of extremist, terrorist, religious, organizations, every attack, even a minor attack, is major victory. The obsession is the attack, not the result of the attack. Precisely because of Israel's great military superiority any small irritation by Hezbollah or Hamas is interpreted by group supporters as a death blow to Israel. Any counter attack by Israel or strike against the terrorists is considered a victory for the terrorists. Theirs is an all-or-nothing game. If they are not wiped out totally, they are victorious. If even a single Hamas or Hezbollah believer remains standing, it is considered to be a win against Israel. Israel was unable to defeat them. The same rule extends to al Qaeda and to Iran and their wars with Israel and with the world.

The challenge is ours, the Western world. We must develop a new model to confront this new form of enemy. We must prepare ourselves to confront this new threat to our war plans and strategy, to our way of life and to our existence. The Western world must find a new deterrent, appropriate in the fight against extremism. We need to develop a new qualitative edge.

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4 June 2017 12:14 PM in Columns

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