Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 20, 2009


Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy - This image of Israeli strategic genius has been nurtured by Israelis over the years and seems to be an article of faith among neoconservatives and other hard line supporters of Israel in the United States. It also fits nicely with the wrongheaded but still popular image of Israel as the perennial David facing a looming Arab Goliath; in this view, only brilliant strategic thinkers could have consistently overcome the supposedly formidable Arab forces arrayed against them.

The idea that Israelis possess some unique strategic acumen undoubtedly reflects a number of past military exploits, including the decisive victories in the 1948 War of Independence, the rapid conquest of the Sinai in 1956, the daredevil capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1960, the stunning Israeli triumph at the beginning of the 1967 Six Day War, and the intrepid hostage rescue at Entebbe in 1976.

These tactical achievements are part of a larger picture, however, and that picture is not a pretty one. Israel has also lost several wars in the past -- none of them decisively, of course -- and its ability to use force to achieve larger strategic objectives has declined significantly over time. This is why Israelis frequently speak of the need to restore their "deterrent"; they are aware that occasional tactical successes have not led to long-term improvements in their overall security situation. The assault on Gaza is merely the latest illustration of this worrisome tendency. . .

In virtually all of these episodes -- and especially those after 1982 -- Israel's superior military power was used in ways that did not improve its long-term strategic position. Given this dismal record, therefore, there is no reason to think that Israel possesses uniquely gifted strategists or a national security establishment that consistently makes smart and far-sighted choices. Indeed, what is perhaps most remarkable about Israel is how often the architects of these disasters -- Barak, Olmert, Sharon, and maybe Netanyahu -- are not banished from leadership roles but instead are given another opportunity to repeat their mistakes. . .

Those who refuse to criticize Israel even when it acts foolishly surely think they are helping the Jewish state. They are wrong. In fact, they are false friends, because their silence, or worse, their cheerleading, merely encourages Israel to continue potentially disastrous courses of action. Israel could use some honest advice these days, and it would make eminently good sense if its closest ally were able to provide it. Ideally, this advice would come from the president, the secretary of state, and prominent members of Congress -- speaking as openly as some politicians in other democracies do. But that's unlikely to happen, because Israel's supporters make it almost impossible for Washington to do anything but reflexively back Israel's actions, whether they make sense or not. And they often do not these days.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Israel's current long term strategy is suicide. The Likud, and its ilk, are moving that process along with all undue haste.

Like chronic low level arsenic poisoning, there is at first a rosy glow and increased energy. But with the passage of time, the toxin takes its toll.

One can speculate on what the outcome of WWII would have been had Germany not destroyed so important a portion of its population. There is little likelihood that the future of Israel will be any better than that of the Third Reich if it continues its present course.

January 21, 2009 9:14 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home