Sparing Agag: Hard Truths About Israel’s Inhibited War Vs. Terror

“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not…”

With these words the biblical prophet Samuel adjures Israelite King Saul in the divine name to punish the nomadic tribe of Amalek for their perfidy.

“But Saul and the people spared Agag…and would not utterly destroy them…”

Saul’s regal prerogative was to spare the Amalekite monarch Agag, a gesture of clemency upon his defeated foe. Yet Saul’s act of mercy in the 11th century B.C.E. had grave repercussions: Haman, a descendant of Agag, plotted to annihilate Jewry in the 5th century B.C.E. It fell to Mordechai, a descendant of Kish – Saul’s father – to counter the edict of genocide. This poignant connection means that Saul spared more than just Agag, who was killed by Samuel, and that his failure to eradicate Amalek in his day almost resulted in the eradication of his own people…600 years later.

Can this episode shed light on the current conflict in the Middle East?

The prophetic message in this peculiar instance is uncompromising, and intrinsically troubling to contemporary sensibilities. All civilized persons eschew violence and overkill, and healthy consciences should instinctively recoil from such an extreme injunction. But from this seminal episode can be gleaned a timeless reality that resonates particularly at present.

Why was Amalek singled out for elimination? Amalek was a roving tribe of Edomite stock engaging in guerrilla warfare, which attacked the rearguard of the Israelites during their desert sojourn following the exodus from Egypt. They cut down stragglers, the feeble and aged. They were ruthless vagabonds, preying on the weak, seizing an opportune chance to murder and plunder. Today, they would be called terrorists (‘militants’ by amoral media outlets). They had no respect for life or rules of engagement, and did not hesitate to spill innocent blood.

The injunction against Amalek would not withstand the scrutiny of modern standards of warfare, contemporary rules of engagement, or the Geneva Conventions. Exterminating the enemy is disproportionate (to say nothing of being poor optics and politically incorrect). Yet when dealing with an implacable, fanatical enemy – say, terrorists – the alternatives are neatly narrowed down to four: offer surrender, accept surrender, strike or be struck.

As difficult a truth as it may be, in wartime there is a profound difference between responding accordingly, and acting decisively. Significant is the distinction between proportionality, and finality.

Harsh as it may seem, war is no time for mildness. One must be in it to win it.

No society or civilization which values the gift of life can tolerate having a Hamas and Hezbollah encamped and entrenched on its doorsteps, willing and able to strike at whim, in the manner, time, and place of its choosing. The responsibility to protect requires a serious and sustained effort against those who target innocents. It demands tremendous resolve and bold leadership, yet empowers and enables those targeted to mount a concerted campaign against their adversaries. Israel allowing Hamas and Hezbollah to thrive on its frontiers is Saul sparing Agag all over again…with predictable consequences.

To win the war on terror, terrorist groups must be methodically uprooted and denuded – root and branch – their perpetrators purged, their ranks razed to the ground. Each terror mastermind, lieutenant, unit commander, bomb engineer, weapons smuggler, recruiter, handler, and foot soldier must be held accountable to swift and summary justice by defensive forces committed to protect a civilian citizenry. Every member of every echelon must be neutralized, so that no promotion or replacement is possible. All artificial ticking clocks must be definitively discarded; no UN resolution should be allowed to circumscribe operations underway until the mission is accomplished and the job is done, once and for all.

In this 21st century, there is a great need for such a Decisive Doctrine, a policy of dealing with determination against terrorist groups and individuals. Wars against these elements must be fought with finality. This is a fundamental differentiation between a tit-for-tat ‘price-tag’ policy; the Decisive Doctrine stipulates that terrorists will be altogether denied access to the civilian merchandise and banned from the store. It replaces short-term reactive conduct with long-term proactive measures.

Modern history offers another telling example of decisiveness in wartime: In WWII, the Japanese were suicidal foes of the Allies bent on their obliteration. It took the tragic atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to shock them from their stupor…but that brought the war to a swift conclusion and the Japanese have maintained a profoundly docile character ever since. Use of non-conventional weapons is absolutely abhorrent, but the lesson is evident. And indeed, in the long run their use in WWII may well have saved countless lives had that unrelenting bloodbath continued.

Warrior beware: When you fight decisively, you fight once. When you fight indecisively…you fight indefinitely.

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