This Is A Religious War, Ctd.


Why is this war different from all other wars for Israel? The answer lies in Bernard-Henri Levy's essay in Sunday's NYT magazine. For the first time, we're not really discussing a conflict over land or territory or even the treatment of individuals. We're not talking about Arab nationalism. We're not talking about the Palestinians. We're not even talking about the political existence of the Jewish state. We're talking about the divine mandate that the Islamists believe they are following, an eschatological struggle toward the End-Times, where the Jews must be destroyed as a people and as a sovereign state in order for the Apocalypse to occur. In this, Pat Robertson and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are in complete agreement. The trouble is: Robertson can be dismissed as a corrupt kook; Ahmadinejad has some serious weaponry and a state under his control.

I wouldn't dismiss Bernard Lewis' noting of the ominous repetition of the date of August 22 by Ahmadinejad - and the Iranian president's breathless predictions of a liberation coming soon. Although we have no hard evidence that Nasrallah has been acting according to Ahmadinejad's wishes, their worldview is interchangeable. I would not be surprised if the Lebanon skirmish is a prelude to something much more ambitious. Syria's foreign minister - a more cynical actor - has already opined that a war with Israel would be "most welcome" from his point of view. The notion that a group like Hezbollah can be "persuaded" by the Siniora govermnemt to give up their goal of exterminating every Jew in the Middle East - when it is the primary reason for their existence - is ludicrous. We should hold fast to the U.S.-French cease-fire deal and let Israel do its best to degrade its mortal enemy in the meantime. If conventional missiles can be launched today, have no doubt that, with Ahmadinejad's support, non-conventional weapons will be used some time in the future. Why should Israel make itself vulnerable to WMD extinction from a few miles outside its borders?

This is what happens when religion takes over politics. Rational negotiation becomes impossible; victory becomes a theological mandate; no end becomes feasible except conflict; and in this case, some of the actors actually want that conflict to be apocalyptic. We have to understand the fundamentalist mindset we are grappling with. It is not rational in worldly terms. It is other-worldly - and rational only under those theological constructs. For those reasons, it is the biggest threat to Western freedom since the totalitarianisms of the last century; and easily the most mortal theat to Israel since its founding. It cannot be disarmed or reasoned with; it can only be defeated.

(Photo: Oded Balilty/AP.)