Is Israeli Policy Crazy?

by Ivan Eland —

The “Israeli model” has long been held up by hawks in the United States as the gold standard for dealing with adversarial nation-states, guerrillas, and terrorists. The storyline goes that Israel is a small country surrounded by aggressive enemies that use unfair measures (including terrorism) to try to wipe it off the face of the map. Therefore, the thinking in Israel is that to survive, the Israelis must use disproportionate tactics to show how tough they are to instill fear in their vicious enemies. This paradigm, practiced by Israel since its inception in 1948, has been tactically sound and strategically disastrous.

It is a myth that throughout its history Israel has been outgunned by the Arabs. During and since the war over its creation in 1948, the Israelis have always had superior military power, resources, and training compared to the Arab states. As a result, oftentimes, Israel has been able to successfully deliver overwhelming and disproportionate blows to its enemies. Despite this tactical strength, Israel’s enemies just seem to keep coming back and getting angrier. In other words, overwhelming tactical military victories don’t deal with the social and political causes of the intense hate that Israel engenders. Because these root causes remain, Israel will continue to need to take draconian measures to ensure its security—for example, conducting the current heavy military attacks on Gaza.

Israel doesn’t seem to understand that superior power doesn’t buy security as long as the adversary’s grievance lingers. The enemy just gets more desperate and resorts to terrorism—either the suicide bombing of civilians or the firing of inaccurate rockets into Israeli towns from outside. Enlightened opinion in Israel should see the strategic idiocy in decades of living as a powerful armed camp and using a dominant military to either tactically defeat your enemies or quarantine them into giant pens—the West Bank and Gaza—and suppress them. If Israel would settle this 60-year state of war with its neighbors by giving up control over land that was taken by force from the Arabs in 1967, the Arabs and Israelis could grow rich together by conducting cross-border trade and investment and luring lucrative foreign investment from outside the region.

Of course, it is easy for observers outside the region to see how such a settlement of the Palestine problem could be reached on paper; it is much harder to overcome the decades of hatred to actually implement it. And Israel has no incentive to give up control over the land because it has overwhelming tactical military superiority and the support of a superpower. Yet Israel needs to put aside hatred of Arabs and solve the underlying grievance, or violence will continue even if Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza to take out Hamas.

Military attacks by Israel may cripple its enemies in a tactical military sense, but they only strengthen the Arab hatred and will for revenge. Ironically, Israel’s current onslaught on Gaza, coming before the Israeli elections, aims to demonstrate to the Arabs that Israel is still tough subsequent to its last military debacle against the group Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. In that campaign, the Israelis used Hezbollah’s rocket attack on northern Israel and the kidnapping and killing of a few Israeli soldiers as an excuse to pummel the entire country of Lebanon with air attacks and conduct a limited ground invasion. Hezbollah’s military capabilities were significantly reduced, but its stature and political strength were increased by doing better than expected against the vaunted Israeli military. In the Arab world, you don’t have to win, but just do better than expected.

This wasn’t the first time that Israeli military action had had a counterproductive effect. In 1982, the Israelis invaded Lebanon to wipe out PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) infrastructure in that country. The Israelis sent the PLO packing, but the continuing Arab grievance then took a more sinister form in the creation of the Islamist group Hezbollah. Hezbollah burnished its resistance credentials by eventually kicking Israel out of Lebanon in 2000.

After the disastrous wars on Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, in which Israel won militarily but ultimately lost politically, one would think Israel would have avoided yet another disastrous disproportionate military response in response to Hamas’s rocket attacks on southern Israel. But no such luck. If the definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result, Israel’s policy has to be deemed “crazy.”

Even the best outcome for Israel is grim. If the Israeli military invades Gaza on the ground to wipe out Hamas and its military infrastructure and Egypt does not allow Hamas fighters to escape to its territory, the Arab grievance will likely merely morph into a more angry and virulent form after the almost certain eventual Israeli withdrawal. Alternatively, if Hamas is not completely wiped out—either because some fighters successfully melt back into Gaza’s population or because Israel merely threatens a ground invasion but doesn’t follow through—Hamas’s stature will grow in Gaza and the Arab world for successfully withstanding the Israeli goliath—as Hezbollah’s did after the Israeli onslaught against and withdrawal from Lebanon in 2006.

ivan-eland.jpgInstead of making peace with the Palestinians and Syrians by eliminating the underlying grievance and giving back their land, or at least answering minor provocations with limited tit-for-tat responses, Israel will likely continue flailing disproportionately against its enemies. This Israeli government policy will make the long-term security situation worse for the Israeli people—with the United States subsidizing and giving the green light to such irresponsible behavior. Same stuff, different year.

by Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University.This article first appeared in The Independent Institute and is republished with permission.

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  1. Aqua Fyre says


    I fully agree with you. At the end of the day, Elands sugary sweet nice PC talk of Israel giving up the land it fought for in 1948 & 1967, is a feint for the greater domination by groups allied with Islamic Fundamentalists ideology.

    The thing I find so extraordinary, is how so many trendy academic apologists (usually of a Leftist persuasion) so happily jump into bed with the very same Islamic Fundamentalists who would think nothing of cutting the throats of most Marxists, Gays, Lesbians or Atheists, on the grounds that they are even worse than the Jews or Christians.

    That said….in my mind…”Tit for Tat” is something that Israel should use.

    In particular, I think its high time the Israeli government gave all its citizens the tools and instruments necessary to build their own home made rockets.

    Let them have fun, firing off as many of their own ‘home made’ rockets as they want into Gaza.

    And when people in Gaza get killed…so what…let the ordinary people in Gaza drink from their own poison chalice.

    Furthermore, if such a ‘Tit for Tat’ approach were to be combined with a system of rapid firing guns to knock down any Hamas rocket came into Israeli airspace…

    Well let’s just say, that hopefully, the Hamas leaders would quickly come to realize just how costly and futile their rocket firing had become…

    Aqua Fyre

  2. Joe Weinstein says

    Ivan Eland speaks of a ‘policy-crazy’ Israel … In reality, it’s Americans who get policy-crazy about ‘fixing’ a foreign conflict which exists largely due to elective choices by fundamentalist Moslem thugs and Iranian and Syrian imperialists.

    Those choices aim at doing away with Israel, keeping Palestinians in misery or turmoil, and using both Israel and Palestinians as scapegoats for the thugs and imperialists themselves staying in power.

    Eland is prolix, so let’s focus just on his basic bottom line (last paragraph, first sentence).

    “Instead of making peace with the Palestinians and Syrians by eliminating the underlying grievance and giving back their land or at least answering minor provocations with limited tit-for-tat responses, Israel will likely continue flailing disproportionately against its enemies.”

    Let’s look carefully at what Eland’s nice-sounding terms actually mean. ‘Tit-for-tat responses’ would have Israel firing a rocket at Gaza civilians every time Hamas fires at rocket at Israel civilians.

    ‘Eliminate the underlying grievance’ For Hamas and Syria the underlying grievance does NOT mean the absence of a separate Palestinian state. (Historically such a state has never existed. Moreover, favorable terms for its peaceful existence were rejected not only in 1947 but also repeatedly, by both Hamas and Fatah, during the past decade.)

    For Moslem fundamentalists such as Hamas, the underlying grievance is the existence of Israel – or of any state in the Near East that is not based on Moslem dominance, with Jews and Christians and others as merely tolerated ‘dhimmi’, second class citizens. For Syria there is no recognition, or at best grudging recognition, of ANY state – Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon – within the borders of historical Greater Syria under the emirate of Damascus.

    ‘Giving back their land’ To whom? To the same peoples and regimes that couldn’t accept peace when they HAD that land. In particular, to Palestinians whose major actions and educational efforts, allegedly for building their state, have comprised anti-civilian suicide and rocket attacks, and school indoctrination programs promoting Jew-hatred. To Syria, which used the Golan scarcely for civilian activity but mainly as a Gaza-type staging area for cannon and missiles into Israel.

    ‘This Israeli government policy’ which allegedly ‘will make the long-term security situation worse for the Israeli people’ It’s the same policy that every responsible government follows (and must follow, no matter how bad things might keep getting, because the alternative is EVEN WORSE): namely, to act decisively to protect its citizens from foreign aggression and criminal behavior. In this case, Israel must protect its citizens from a neighboring thugocracy.

    Eland’s suggestion is that – unlike other countries, or even your local police – Israel is supposed to be content with ‘tit for tat’ tactics in dealing with repeated attacks and crimes.

    Eland is of course not alone. Worldwide, the Gaza thugocracy gets lots of rhetorical and political pampering and protection from full Israeli retaliation. The popularized if often tacit dogma is that (1) these thugs are the genuine and therefore inherently meritorious representatives of an inherently virtuous and meritorious victimized group, the Poor Palestinians, and (2) anyhow Israel or any ‘Zionist state’ inherently has no right to exist, other than under such terms as are approved by Arab regimes and other ‘leaders’.

    Eland is right on one thing. It’s all more of the same old stuff. Mantras (1) and (2) have been the pseudo-progressive dogma of the past 40 years. The dogma was based on the switch made in 1967 by Moscow and Beijing, in response to Israel’s unforgiveable sin of besting Soviet arms and allies in fight for its survival. Ironically, from 1917 to 1967, the same dogma was promoted instead mainly by Aramco and the sheikh-friendly Seven Sisters of oil, and their minions in the UK Foreign Office and US State Dept.

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