An Egyptian elementary school teacher and Islamic Brotherhood supporter, Ala al-Din, leaving Friday prayers in Cairo last week, told a reporter for Ynet, Eldad Beck, something I regard as quite chilling:
[A]ll Egyptian Muslims are willing to embark on Jihad for the sake of Palestine. Why is the US losing in Afghanistan? Because the other side is willing and wants to die. We have a different mentality than that of the Americans and Jews.
In other words, the lesson that a man-on-the-street supporter of the Islamic Brotherhood is taking from Afghanistan is this: victory lies in self-sacrificial death—what I would call personally assured destruction (PAD). This is the counter doctrine to MAD (mutually assured destruction). The latter is based in secular notions of rational self-interest—that one will not behave in a manner that is materially suicidal. The former is based in anti-materialist rationality—destroying oneself and one’s enemies in the faith that God (Allah) will sort out the rewards and punishments of an exchange.
Imagine what it would be like were Egypt to get a nuclear weapon with PAD prevalent as an idea throughout society. Could we tolerate Egypt getting a nuclear bomb under such circumstances? I think not. We would cut this prospect off at the pass by almost any means necessary.
This, I think, is what Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has to think about every day, not concerning Egypt, but concerning Iran: can antisemites with an earnest belief in an afterlife really be trusted to behave rationally with nuclear weapons?
Anticipating the behavior of religious as opposed to secular rational actors (as those of the former Soviet Union were) is extraordinarily difficult. It’s hard to know what to do. How do you play chess with someone who isn’t entirely interested in materially protecting their own pieces, but quite interested in eliminating yours? It changes the dynamics of the game.
Thanks to Iran being on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, 2012 is likely to be one of the most nervy years in history—something akin to 1962 (the year of the Cuban missile crisis).
2012: the year of the Iranian missile crisis.
If you were Bibi Netanyahu, what would you do? Exercise cautious restraint like JFK did during the Cuban missile crisis? Or think of yourself as Churchill facing Hitler?