- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

Israel’s struggle against Arab-Islamic war and terror must be conducted with a true understanding of “time.” For Israel’s enemies, time means something very different from what it means to those who must defend the Jewish state. For the Israelis, real time has more to do with an awareness of “felt time” than with the invented measurements of clocks.

Time means very different things to the various players in world politics. Aptly, the idea of felt time has its origins in ancient Israel. Rejecting the idea of time as linear progression, the early Hebrews approached chronology as a qualitative experience. There, time was understood as inseparable from a deeply personal content.

The Jewish prophetic vision was that of a community existing in time, under a transcendent God. Political space in this vision was important, but not because of territoriality. The significance of space derived from the momentous events that took place within sacred borders.

For present-day Israel, now directed by its current prime minister to “realignment” or “convergence,” the space-time relationship has two complex dimensions. First, still-planned territorial surrenders by Israel would reduce the amount of time Israel has to resist both terrorism and aggression. Second, such surrenders, considered cumulatively, have already provided time for Israel’s enemies to await their perfect war-making opportunity. It follows, in an apparent paradox, that time now serves Israel’s enemies both by its diminution and by its extension.

For Israel, the strategic importance of time is expressed not only by its relationship to space, but also as a storehouse of memory. By recalling the historic vulnerabilities of Jewish life in the world, Israel’s current leaders could step back from a seemingly endless sequence of surrenders. “Yesterday,” says Samuel Beckett in his analysis of Proust, “is not a milestone that has been passed, but a daystone on the beaten track of the years, and irremediably a part of us, heavy and dangerous.” Aware that tomorrow will be determined largely by “yesterday,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now has a unique opportunity to recognize that time itself is power.

The subjective metaphysics of time should impact the way in which Israel confronts its many Arab-Islamic enemies. This means struggling to understand the manner in which these enemies live within time. If, for example, it can be determined that certain terrorist groups accept a very short time horizon in their search for a fiery end to Israel, the Israeli response to Arab-Islamic aggressions and expectations will have to be correspondingly swift. If, on the other hand, it would seem that this time horizon is substantially longer, Israel’s response could be more patient.

Of special interest is the time horizon of the Islamic suicide bomber. This grotesque form of murderer is uniquely afraid of death, so afraid — in fact — that he is willing to “kill himself” as a means of conquering mortality. This strange conquest of death, in turn, is really a way to “unstop time,” to replace our human obligations to lifelong suffering with an eternity of bliss. Truth, here, lies in paradox, and Israel can now benefit importantly from understanding a seemingly contradictory mindset that identifies “suicide” with everlasting life. Such an understanding should focus upon a core Islamic terrorist idea that time does not have a “stop,” and that “heroic martyrdom” is the surest way to soar above mortal limits.

The most obvious way to combat the Arab-Islamic suicide bomber’s deadly notion of time is to disabuse him/her of this notion. This would entail a realization that the suicide bomber now sees himself as a sacrificer, escaping from time without meaning to a meaningful place of sacred time. Abandoning the profane time of ordinary mortals, the Arab-Islamic suicide bomber transports himself/herself into the exclusive world of immortals. The temptation to “sacrifice” despised Jewish infidels at the bloody altar of jihad is therefore always very great.

What must Israel now do with this new understanding of its enemies? Massive war against the terror infrastructure can never be the total solution. Rather, Israel’s immediate task must be to convince the prospective suicide bombers that their intended “sacrifice” will never elevate them above mortal limits of time. The would-be murderers will soon need to be convinced that they are not now living in profane time, and that every sacrificial killing of Jews is a profanation of Islam. How to accomplish this vital objective must quickly become central to Israel’s life or death struggle against war and terrorism in time.

Louis Rene Beres, who writes on war, terrorism and international law, is chairman of Project Daniel.

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