Anew buzzword is arising from the network of Israeli think tanks and security-oriented academic departments bent on instigating a U.S. attack on Iran: “national suicide.” The term describes a supposed Arab Muslim tradition of politically motivated suicide at the national, not just individual, level. Arab Muslim regimes have purportedly launched ruinous wars they could not have reasonably hoped to win, condemning their nations to destruction.
The notion of an “irrational” and thus untrustworthy Iranian regime has already been widely discussed in the U.S. It is regularly invoked by Sen. John McCain on the stump. The term “national suicide” advances the notion and gives it a patina of academic respectability.
Israeli jurist and former Knesset member Amnon Rubinstein recently editorialized on “national suicide” in the Jerusalem Post. Citing Israeli army Lt. Col. Ari Bar Yossef, Rubinstein offered Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat and the Taliban in Afghanistan as exemplars of this new construct. Hussein could have avoided overthrow by giving U.N. arms inspectors free rein to search his country. Arafat, after the failure of the Camp David peace talks, could have continued negotiating but resorted to violence. Finally, the Taliban could have given up Osama bin Laden to the U.S. but instead invited self-destruction. All this because, per Rubinstein, these leaders prefer dying to “negotiating with infidels.”
“National suicide” will soon be an incantation by neoconservative and other pro-Israeli pundits and politicians on the “bomb Iran” bandwagon. Its strategic implications are clear: We can’t trust irrational regimes because they are not deterred by threat of annihilation. Therefore, extraordinary actions — such as preemptive attack — may be not only justified but necessary. It further shifts moral responsibility to the victim. In the “national suicide” formulation, it is the martyr that chooses death, while the actual killers are merely the instrument by which the suicide — or, as the case may be, the destruction of a country — is carried out.
Yet the idea of an Arab Muslim tendency toward self-destruction is wrongheaded and dangerous.