On Bassem Yousef’ theorem… Is Israel really ISIS?

October 19, 2023



Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef engaging in a heated exchange with British TV talk show host Piers Morgan during an interview has gone viral on social media. The discussion revolved around Morgan’s comments about the situation in Israel and Gaza, with Youssef accusing Morgan of indirectly comparing Israel to the terrorist group ISIS.

Morgan had suggested that eliminating Hamas, as promised by Israeli authorities, would entail substantial damage, potentially resulting in the loss of innocent lives among Gaza’s civilian population. Youssef countered by drawing a parallel between Israel’s actions and the tactics used by terrorist organizations to pressure communities into turning against their governments.

In response to Youssef’s assertion that Morgan had compared Israel to ISIS, Morgan denied making such a comparison. Youssef predicted that the newspapers would run headlines claiming, “Piers Morgan: Israel is ISIS.”

In fact, it is the slogan “Israel is ISIS” that was trending on “X”.

Israeli military strategy: From deterrence to defence… and back to deterrence

The de facto defensive border fence, completed in 2019, was a major shift in Israeli military strategy: it’s the tangible incarnation of the IDF’s change of war doctrine from deterrence to defence.

This “shield”, combined with the “Iron wall” system, rapidly developed into a psychological barrier that led both Israeli citizens and governments to live in an illusion of security that crumbled easier than both sides of the wall has ever imagined.

Now as defensive strategy proved a failure, Tel Aviv couldn’t but to go back to its “privileged” paradigm, and that is deterrence based on offensive capabilities: both for strategic ends, and to restore public opinion’s trust in their security and defence institutions as per the definition of security by Frederic Gros that highlights the importance of “psychological stability”.

The terror attacks of 9/11 that struck the United States in 2001 and the 2023 October the 7th Hamas terror attacks on Israel share several similarities. First of which involves the transfer of conflict to “enemy’s territory, with the United States in the first operation and Israel in the second. These operations resulted in a significant number of civilian casualties and so were accompanied by a social shock within both communities. The most significant common element lies in the massive impact on the perceived image of the two targeted states: the events of September revealed that the most powerful and nearly unchallenged force since the collapse of the Soviet Union on the international scene could be targeted on its own soil. Meanwhile, the recent attacks on Israel have shaken the legendary image of the Israeli army and intelligence.

September 11th served as a catalyst for the new conservatives, under President Bush’s administration, to promote the concept of “pre-emptive war on terror”, which was a policy-oriented concept. Later, the doctrine of pre-emptive war was employed to strike at the so-called “Axis of Evil” countries, a political stigmatisation used by US officials to designate revisionist states that opposed the international system forged by American hegemony at the time. This concept was used by President George W. Bush in his address to the nation in January 2002, knowing that it’s not the first of its kind: a whole literature shared between academics and decision makers aimed to show developments on the international scene as a clash between good – incarnated by the US and/or its allies – and evil – any state or non-state actors that doesn’t adhere to the perspective of Washington. This is what I call the “Americanisation” of world politics.

This strategy aimed to preserve Washington’ hegemony that started to be shaken by newly emerging global powers. The first mention of the BRIC group (before adding the letter “S” in 2010 with the inclusion of South Africa) appeared in a study by the American Goldman Sachs’ economist Jim O’Neill. However, the “hammer policy” had a negative impact on the role of the United States and its international image, as it led to the development of new policy-oriented concepts in international relations, such as the concept of “soft power” by Joseph Nye aiming to restore the deteriorating image of the USA.

While instrumenting western “solidarity” and internal marginalisation of the “politique politicienne” (or political “capitalisation”) due to the massive trauma caused by the horrific terrorist attacks committed by Hamas on October the 7th, IDF is systematically and intentionally committing war crimes as part of this shift back to deterrence. As for the political endorsement, Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right government that moved massive troops from the borders with Gaza to the west bank prior to the 7th of October to support colonising efforts, can “morally” bare the populicide that is going on in Gaza. The first signs of exploiting Israeli collective fear and western solidarity can be observed through Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling claiming a wide number of civilian casualties in Gaza already above 3000 victims in less than two weeks; a tactic employed by conventional armies when confronting non-conventional military groups (terrorist organizations, resistance movements, etc.) in densely populated areas to minimize potential losses.

But while a regional full-scale war is what Israel needs the last, Tel Aviv will most probably, after achieving “tangible” goals in its war against Hamas, resort to a strategy of pre-emptive targeted strikes and assassinations, with Hezbollah being among the primary targets due to its capabilities and its role in supporting other Iranian proxies.

Ideological blindness and the irony of double standards

On October 19, 2023, issue number 4534 of the French far-right weekly magazine “Valeurs actuelles” was published with the headline “France, Belgium, Israel… The Clash of Civilizations.” Hubert Vedrine, even though a socialist French foreign minister under Francois Mitterrand, in an interview on France 24, stated that S. Huntington’s theory of “clash of civilizations” proved to be more accurate than F. Fukuyama’s theory of the “end of history” with the triumph of the liberal ideology. Other medias and analysts have adhered to the perspective of “democracies being targeted by terrorism” and so jumping on Tel Aviv’ side. This neo-conservative stance opposes in fine two blocs: a “civilized” western world, and another “uncivilized” one.

While I share the necessity of condemning and eradicating terrorist organizations and lone wolf actors as the ones referred to by “Valeurs actuelles” in its headline (Arras and Brussels lone wolf terrorists, and Hamas’ massacre of the 7th of October), I allow myself to ask the following: Is the apartheid system unconditionally fuelled by Netanyahu’s government in the west bank a democratic and civilised way of governing? What about war crimes committed by Israeli air force and artillery against civilians in Gaza? What about the Washington-Tel Aviv couple’s tango on the margin of international law and institutions? What about the judicial reforms claimed by Netanyahu’s government and widely condemned at the international level?

On another hand, just like other concepts in international politics, “terrorism” definition couldn’t reach a global objective consensus. The cliché “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” remains the caricature of an anarchical reality.  The incapacity of international mechanisms to find a peremptory definition of “terrorism” is mainly due to the subjectivity of the definer as the issue is typically politicised where there is “no permanent enemy nor permanent friend, just permanent interests”, raising the question of double standards in terms of morality. Hereby, the question of defining “terrorism”, has always attracted academics to try to fill the gap left from the natural handicap/s of international institutions. Moreover, one of the main debates around this concept, is whether or not to include states in it. Those who want to include “state terrorism”, referring to acts of terrorism implemented by state actors, were always pro-Palestinian cause, whereas its opponents where pro-Israelis.

I abide to J. Habermas definition of terrorism as a “pathology of communication”. Moreover, as Gilles Ferragu explains, in terrorism there is always the victims and the targeted audience. This said, terrorism appears to be a mean aiming at “terrorizing” a targeted audience in order to change its stance on a specific cause that the terror organization or the lone wolf support; and I add that these means can be conducted as a collective punishment too. Furthermore, International Humanitarian Law mentions specifically the prohibition of “measures of terrorism” or “acts of terrorism”. In definition, these are acts or threats of violence which main purpose is to spread terror between civilian populations.

In sum, this perspective includes state actors as well as non-state actors. This said, IDF’ “tactics” in Gaza are, clearly, war crimes but also terrorist acts. As per F. Nietzsche quotes “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”, Israeli security apparatus, just as the US’ apparatus under neo-conservatives, is becoming what it aimed at destroying: a terrorist organization.

But while some in the West turn a blind eye to Israel’s war crimes, some who claim to support the Palestinian cause also turn a blind eye to Hamas’ slaughter. Out of more than 1,200 deaths, only 258 were Israeli soldiers.

From “realist humanity” to Humanity’ realm

This “subjective humanism” reminded me of former French president François Mitterrand’s famous quote: “You do not have a monopoly over the hearts.” The world needs to “rationalise” a sincere approach of humanity that is only possible through international law.

While international law guarantees the right to resort to resistance against occupation, this guarantee is not a blank cheque. The extermination of a civilian population solely on the basis of nationality and/or religion is a genocide. There is no cause that justifies the atrocities committed by Hamas in the name of Palestine and Muslims. On the contrary, these terrorist acts undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause and its people.

Moreover, International law guarantees the right to self-defence against aggression (jus ad bellum), but this guarantee is not a blank cheque either. The use of methods of warfare such as white phosphorus (according to a Human Rights Watch report), the scorched-earth strategy, or even the total blockade of Gaza is in contradiction with international humanitarian law (which Tel Aviv is not used to respecting).

International law is clear… Ideological blindness and propaganda undermine it. Neither the legitimacy of any cause nor military necessity justifies crimes against humanity.

How many more crimes should humanity bare in the name of terrorism and counter-terrorism?