The Israeli-Syrian military escalation is driven by mutual fear, recalling the Cold War arms race. The Cold War ended peacefully while similar fear-induced conflicts from WWI to the Six-Day War ended in military engagement. The difference is crucial for understanding foreign relations: fear versus crushing fear. The first response to fear is strengthening oneself. Then, if the enemy is not deterred, he should be preempted; thus the Six-Day War. A prolonged state of fear, especially combined with one’s own increasing strength, provokes wars; Russia and Germany plunged into WWI.

It was entirely different with the Cold War. Tens of thousands of nuclear warheads made a hot war prohibitively destructive; the fear of the enemy was crushing. Theoretically, crushing fear can lead to desperate attack. That rarely happens in practice, for whatever is crushed, cannot rebound.

Israel fears a Syrian military buildup on the Golan Heights. Syria fears Israel’s military exercises near the Golan Heights and political instability in Israel. Israel fears hundreds of Syrian mid-range missiles and tens of thousands of short-range rockets capable of showering Israel in spite of her missile defenses. Syria fears an Israeli attack against its missile sites and other military installations. That cycle of mutual fear cannot be discharged by diplomatic efforts. It should be escalated beyond the other party’s tolerance. Israel should threaten the immediate nuclear annihilation of Syria in response to any rocket shower on Israel.

Assad believes he can get the Golan Heights back without winning the war, just like Egypt got the Sinai even though it lost the war in 1973. The threat of regional destabilization will put US pressure on Israel to cede the Golan Heights to Syria. Assad, therefore, can start a war to lose it. Olmert needs a major victorious war for his career. Iran wants a war in the Middle East to distract attention from its nuclear program. IDF needs a war with a conventional enemy to recover its reputation after too many losses in fighting guerrillas. The stage is set for a senseless war that everyone needs.

The concept of crushing fear fully applies to the Palestinians. The British quashed the Palestinian insurrection in the 1930s by overwhelming retaliation, which included the razing of towns, mass killings, and other orthodox military measures. Instead of provoking Arab insurgents with tales of Palestinian statehood, Israel should crush the hopes of the Palestinians: kill every high bureaucrat and member of the Palestinian parliament, ban political associations, shoot suspected guerrillas, and transfer the population. Palestine with a hope is better for Israel than a hopeless Palestinian state.