When will President al-Assad apologize?

It’s déjà vu all over again. Yet again, an episode of “Evil Israel” is playing on the small screen near you, yet again, with its classic five-act dramatic structure:

Act I. An opening terrorist action produced to draw an Israeli reaction to command global distraction from a certain sponsor of terror. (Exposition.)
Act II. An IDF reaction. (Rising Action.)
Act III. Shots of said IDF reaction seen and heard around the world, commanding the intended global distraction. (Climax.)
Act IV. A global condemnation of Israel’s (re)actions. (Falling Action.)
Act V. A demand for Israeli retraction. (Denouement and resolution.)

In this most recent episode, now in its eleventh day, Act I saw the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, Act II had the IDF launching a fully charged manhunt for the kidnappers, Act III saw the IDF manhunt commanding global attention, Act IV had Palestinian casualties drawing global condemnation, and Act V now has the Palestinian President demanding an Israeli apology.

Might it be possible for Israel to defend her citizens without offending the world? Might Israel be able to react to terror without having to redact her actions? Effective and unapologetic counter-terrorism would require Israel to see clearly the purpose of terror and then properly to prepare for the battlefields on which it is waged. Only then would “Evil Israel,” the world’s longest running reality show, come to an end.

Let me explain.

Until 1973, Israel’s army clashed with the armies of her neighbors in conventional wars. Thereafter, conventional warfare between armies–with its honored distinction between combatants and civilians–was replaced with what came to be known as asymmetric warfare. This new kind of war pits state-sponsored stooges against Israel, and leaves the combatant-civilian distinction to rot in the dustbin of military history. Over these 40+ years of fighting such asymmetric wars, the IDF has gradually adapted its intelligence, its training, its weaponry, and even its codes of conduct. Along the way, the IDF has even managed to teach the other terrorized nations of the world–including its one remaining superpower–a thing or two.

But the shift from conventional to asymmetric warfare also came with a change in purpose and a related change in the nature of the battlefield. It is these changes with which the IDF has failed to contend, which failure, in turn, is responsible for the endless episodes of “Evil Israel”.

Conventional wars were fought in order to conquer territory. They were fought on physical battlefields—on land, in the air and at sea. Asymmetric warfare (fought after all by stateless actors) is waged not to conquer physical territory, but to conquer hearts and minds. Its physical battlefields are but the stages from which to shoot the scenes for the battlefield that counts—the one raging on a small screen near you. Whereas the conventional wars fought against Israel sought her mortal destruction, today’s wars seek her moral destruction, the elimination of her legitimacy in the eyes of the world.

Missing this public relations purpose of terror, Israel persists in using fire power on a battlefield where story power rules. Indeed it is her very fire power which supplies her enemies their winning story power. In a public relations war, offense wins. If they’re talking about you, you lose. If you’re talking about you, you lose. Terror succeeds when it produces an offensive story of ‘Evil Israel’ that so wins the hearts and minds of the world that whatever deaths it causes are forgotten, if not forgiven. So, too, counter-terror could succeed were it to be proceeded and supported by a proactive and offensive story that had so won over the hearts and minds of millions that any regrettable but necessary deaths that were to occur would require no post-facto apology. In today’s wars, sending fire power without first supplying a winning story is as unconscionable as it would have been to fight conventional wars without ensuring the ongoing supply of food and water.

To amass such story power, Israel must engage her mighty intelligence not only in directing her fire power but in continually arming her winning story. With intelligence supplying the details, IDF special forces could then shoot every gory aspect of the sponsors of terror until its full cast of characters were well known in households around the world, and its episodes gripped the horrified attention of life-affirming people everywhere. Such story power would not wait to be unleashed in reaction to an act of terror, but would be proactively and continuously deployed, until those who sponsor death would be so well known to the world, they would be forced to do much more than apologize. In 1967 Israel destroyed her neighbors’ air power in six short days, heralding the beginning of the end of conventional wars waged against her. How long would it take for Israel to fill today’s airwaves with her winning story and so bring an end to the terror wars?

Until she has that winning story power ready to roll steadily through the global media supply lines to small screens in living rooms and offices around the world, Israel can reply very simply to the current pressure to retract: “When will President al-Assad apologize?”

About the Author
Sarah Kass is a mother of two daughters, a Yale graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, and a serial social entrepreneur. At 27 she founded the first charter public high school in the United States, and was recognized as one of America’s 10 most promising leaders under 30. Now over 30 and a resident of Jerusalem--the original "city on a hill"--she remains determined never to "underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world."
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