The Tragic Self-Destruction of an Enraged Israel

by | Feb 2, 2024

Israel is boxed-in, as is becoming very evident to many Israelis. One Israeli correspondent (formerly a Cabinet Secretary) illustrates its nature:

“The meaning of the 7th October default is not only the loss of lives … but mainly the potential transformation of how Israel is perceived … as no longer to be feared by Middle Eastern actors.”

“The Israeli leadership must internalize that we can no longer be content with a “sense of victory” among the Israeli public … It is doubtful whether victory in Gaza is enough to restore the fear of Israel to the levels we had vis-a-vis our enemies. A victory that boils down to just the release of the captives and confidence-building measures to establish a Palestinian state would not be enough in shoring up Israel’s image in that regard.”

“If the quagmire of Gaza … brings the [Israeli] leadership to the realization that there is no ability to present a clear victory on this front, one that will lead to a strategic change in the region, they must consider switching fronts and reasserting Israeli deterrence through the removal of the strategic threat in Lebanon … victory against one of the richest and most powerful terrorist organizations in the world – Hezbollah – can restore deterrence in the region in general … Israel must remove the threat from the north and dismantle the power structure Hezbollah has built in Lebanon, regardless of the situation in the south.”

“But without victory in the south, a significant achievement in the north becomes that much more important.”

The above quotation goes directly to the heart of the issue. That is: “How can Zionism be saved?.” All the rest of the “blah-blah” coming from world leaders is largely bluff. Not only is Gaza NOT giving Israelis a sense of victory; on the contrary, it is widely proliferating a violent anger at a surprise, “shameful” defeat.

Some in the war cabinet (i.e., Eisenkot) suggest that Israel look truth in the eye: It should capitulate to Hamas; give a ceasefire a chance; release incarcerated Palestinians, and save the hostages held in Gaza:

“I think it is necessary to say boldly that it is impossible to bring the hostages back alive in the near future without a [ceasefire] deal, and anyone who is feeding lies to the public is feeding lies.”

But this is not the predominant sentiment amongst Israelis: The latest Peace Index survey reflects the pervasive gloom: 94% percent of Jews think Israel has used the right amount of firepower in Gaza (or “not enough” (43%)). Three-quarters of all Israelis think the number of Palestinians harmed since October is justified to achieve its aims; a full two-thirds of Jewish respondents say numbers of casualties are definitely justified (only 21% say “somewhat” justified).

The true price Israel will be paying, however, is not merely the release of Palestinian prisoners (though that, in itself, would create a popular uproar); but rather, it is fear that acquiescence to Hamas demands would spell the end to the Israel-security paradigm:

This paradigm consists of a quasi-religious “contract” that Jews shall enjoy security every, and anywhere, in the land of Israel – brought about by the elaborate matrix of radical insecurity of space and rights imposed on non-Jews (i.e. Palestinians), versus the full force of protection and sovereignty for Jews. This forms the universal paradigm underwriting Jewish security.

Until 7 October, that is. The events of that day demonstrated that Jewish Israelis are no longer secure inside Israel – and that the Zionist framework, in respect to security, must be re-thought – or perforce abandoned. This realisation has given rise to a psychological mass formation of insecurity. As Emeritus Professor of History at the Hebrew University, Moshe Zimmermann, notes:

“The Zionist solution is not a solution. We are arriving at a situation in which the Jewish people who live in Zion live in a condition of total insecurity … we need to take into account that Israel is causing a reduction in the security of Diaspora Jewry, instead of the opposite. So this Zionist solution is very deficient, and we need to examine what caused this deficiency.”

Today’s outsider talk of a two-state notion cannot be “a solution” to present tensions – and is bogus. And, writes leading Israeli commentator, Alon Pinkas, the White House and Netanyahu know it. It is bogus because the Israeli zeitgeist and current psyche of fears and the demand for revenge precludes it; because the settler-zealots will not be removed without rivers of blood; and because two-states for most Israelis threatens the thin edge to the end of Zionism since the non-Jewish group will insist on parity of rights: i.e. no more special rights for one population group (Jews), over another (non-Jews – i.e. Palestinians).

The talk of a Saudi Arabia normalisation deal is also bogus – Saudi Arabia is bound by the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 (a Palestinian State as the pre-condition to normalisation); and because the Palestinian Authority cannot easily be “reconstructed” as Israel’s “Vichy” security arm to torment fellow Palestinians.

So, why all the posturing with “solutions,” untethered to political realities?

Well, this debate suits both Biden and Netanyahu. Team Biden is in containment mode. The White House hopes – through containment – to “stroke” the flames of war-fever raised by the Gaza assault down to “low heat,” and thus to slide the situation imperceptibly towards the regional “quiet” that the Administration deems “appropriate” to an Election Year.

To this end, talking Saudi normalisation and two-states are “pacifiers” (even if bogus) for Biden to appear to be “managing” the conflict and avoiding its widening. And, for Netanyahu, he can parade how robust and courageous a “warrior” he is, by standing up to the U.S. and by saying “No” to any Palestinian state whatsoever.

Yet the reality is that Israel is boxed-in, with the box incrementally being ratchetted tight. The situation moves ever closer to tragedy, where “tragedy” does not arise by sheer mischance. It happens because it had to happen; because of the nature of the participants; because the actors involved make it happen. And they have no choice but to make it happen because, well … that is their nature.

That is the case here – former British Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, wrote about the violent religious conflict in Elizabethan England caused by the Calvinist Puritan suppression of Old Catholicism, in which the “Goddess of earlier pagan beliefs” – the latters’ natural human energies still flourishing – finally erupted into enraged ferocious form to destroy the Puritan hero.

Replace Puritan suppression by an enraged Jehovan god who abhors the ancient Islamic imagination and civilisation (for its presumed treachery and lethal hatred towards Israel) to give the context to Shakespeare’s “truth.”

Ted Hughes’ leitmotif is that of England’s history as a burden of Protestant guilt. Shakespeare, he writes, was haunted by a sense that not so very long ago England was a Catholic country which “hardened into Protestantism.” In his Rape of Lucrece poem, the Roman king’s soul is “defaced” by the rape of Lucrece that he has perpetrated. Ultimately, by this deed, the king loses all, and is banished. The pure Lucrece commits suicide.

Here is the point: Ted Hughes has written of the competing myths of Shakespeare’s era, Tarquin (the Roman king) represents “the Jehovah-worshipping Puritan,” whose creation myth tells him that it is the transcendent, omnipotent God who is in charge, not “the Other” divinity. In his zeal, the Roman king sets out to destroy her (representing the “other”). But these shifting protean Puritan forces ultimately prove self-destructive.

Biden (so to speak) embraced the Hebraic impulse to annihilate the violent “otherness” erupting out of Gaza, but presumably, he has an inkling that in so doing, he has crossed an “invisible moral line.” He is complicit to the crimes that subsequently visited Gaza. He must shoulder a portion of guilt. Yet he must persist. He has no choice. He must let Gaza (and possibly Lebanon, too) happen – because that is the Biden nature.

And Hamas and Hizbullah cannot retreat, because these collective repressed energies have been liberated. It is too late to halt the revolutionary impulse. An impulse that is widening to the West Bank; to Yemen, Iraq and beyond. Israel’s ports are now encircled, and are under missile siege.

Netanyahu, by contrast, fearful of the growing débacle in Gaza has pushed himself to the classic “hero” mode. On the one hand, it may be narrowly defined as that genre of myth which celebrates the rise of a male hero who sets out on a quest, facing terrifying obstacles on the way, and who proves his courage in combat, eventually returning to home amidst adulation.

On the other, in Homer’s recounting however, heroes with the highest status are those most vulnerable to shame. Any slight or reversal may threaten a leader’s whole identity, as well as his standing in the eyes of his peers. Those enjoying the highest status can be damaged most by loss. Hector resists his friends and family’s appeals not to go to war, and instead goes to his death. His loneliness and estrangement from his loved ones adds pathos to the heartbreak of the moments immediately before his death, when suddenly he realises the gods have tricked him and led him to his doom.

Is this to be Netanyahu’s fate too? Are “the gods” leading him to tragedy? They certainly have boxed him in. The Gaza defeat makes him vulnerable to ruin, and for Israel, no clear victory in Gaza that will lead to a strategic change in the region. Netanyahu is being urged to consider switching fronts to reassert Israeli deterrence through the removal of the strategic threat in Lebanon. In this situation, Israel cannot be content with anything less than victory, Netanyahu is being urged.

Nir Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem who is favourite to succeed Netanyahu as leader of Likud, said that Israel could afford to keep fighting, and still open up a new front with Lebanon, despite the billion shekel (£200 million) a day cost of the conflict.

Barakat said that as “big as the crisis is,”

“it is also a really big opportunity: Iran is a legitimate target for Israel. They will not get away with it. The head of the snake is Tehran … Israel is edging towards a full-blown war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, having evacuated the north of the country”:

“Whatever it takes … This is a religious war.”

So, Phase Two of this conflict is drawing to a close, and Phase Three is opening. The intensity of the wider war will spike, most likely triggered by a change of status in Hizbullah’s rôle: Will this be triggered by an Israeli intervention, or pre-empted by Hizbullah making the first move? Will Biden authorise the U.S. to be drawn-in to supporting Israel? Likely yes – because it is his nature to support Israel. But how far will he go?

The political palliatives (the ostensible political “solutions”) will give place to harder-nosed discussion about how to make a ceasefire stick. This phase will likely move from an immobilised UN, to the more informal structures of the BRICS, with Russia and China playing a bigger, direct part. Europe will be afflicted by schism (and the U.S. too, albeit to a lesser extent).

This next phase will likely persist without resolution, during the process by which all sides test their respective strengths against the other. And this will be the time when Israel’s social cohesion is severely stress-tested. Can it be sustained? Will the foundations of Zionism be reconfigured, and Zionism forced to abandon its Jabotinsky roots?

It will also be the time in which the Jewish superintendency over the U.S.’ and Europe’s western political matrix also will struggle to reconcile between the competing myths as their conflicting poles of energy destroy “social order,” and one or other of the principal actors to the conflict passes through some form of inevitable tragedy.

Revolution and cultural wars are not time-limited events; they overflow into the “before”-event (i.e. the coming conflict), as well as into the “after.”

However, if Ted Hughes’ proposition that Shakespeare’s “tragic” equation is one in which competing archetypal narratives – with their energies explosively unleashed – will result in violent tragedy is correct, then we should expect that the playing out (currently) of the Hebraic creation-myth versus Islamic civilisation’s cultural expanse, also will have momentous impact inside both America and Europe – well beyond the particulars of the conflict playing out in the Middle East.

It will become the pivot to the new era.

For, the core myths associated with Puritan Jehovian suppression on the one hand, and the release of the countervailing energies of resistance on the other, run through human existence as a double helix. They already are overflowing into the dormant, yet still present, religious sensibilities in the West. They will pierce through the West’s own distinct “revolution” and brewing “civil war.”