I wasn't going to write again about the execrable "Israel Lobby" "study" of Walt and Mearsheimer, and The New Republic is not exactly my favorite journal, but historian Benny Morris has done a superb job of refuting Walt and Mearsheimer at TNR
that you have to see.
Perhaps the most important contribution Morris has made has been to debunk the absurd myth perpetrated by Anti-Zionists, that Israel is a mighty super-power whose military victories were won by sheer weight of numbers. It is fitting that it is Morris who is doing the debunking, since after all he is best known for killing sacred cows of early Zionist mythology. He writes (in a small part of this essay):
Like many pro-Arab propagandists at work today, Mearsheimer and Walt often cite my own books, sometimes quoting directly from them, in apparent corroboration of their arguments. Yet their work is a travesty of the history that I have studied and written for the past two decades. Their work is riddled with shoddiness and defiled by mendacity. Were "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" an actual person, I would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body.
I will begin with the question of the balance of forces between Israel and the Arab world--a political-military issue with moral overtones, because it begs the question of who in this conflict was, and remains, the underdog deserving of Western sympathy. Mearsheimer and Walt write that "Israel is often portrayed as weak and besieged, a Jewish David surrounded by a hostile Arab Goliath ... but the opposite image is closer to the truth." For some reason, weakness is commonly seen as entailing moral superiority, an illogical proposition.
I would recommend that they take a look at any atlas and yearbook for the key years of the conflict--1948, 1956, 1967, 1973. Even a child would notice that the Arab world, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, does actually "surround" Israel and is infinitely larger than the eight-thousand-square-mile Jewish state (which is the size of New Hampshire). He would notice also that the population of the confrontation states--Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, who were often joined in their wars with Israel by expeditionary forces from Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Yemen--has always been at least twenty times greater than Israel's; and in 1948 it was about fifty times greater. The material resources of the Arab world similarly have been (as they still are) infinitely larger than Israel's.
It is true that Israel's "organizational ability" has enabled it to concentrate and focus its resources where they count in wartime, on the successive battlefields, with far greater efficiency than the Arabs; and it is true that Israel's troops, and especially its officer corps, have always been of a far higher caliber than the Arabs' counterparts; and it is true that the motivation of Israel's troops--often with their backs to the wall--has generally been superior to that of their Arab foes. But this is still a far cry from implying, as Mearsheimer and Walt do, regarding the war in 1947-1949, that Israel won its wars because "the Zionists had larger, better-equipped" forces than the Arabs.
During the October (or Yom Kippur) War in 1973, the Egyptians mustered about one million men under arms, and their Syrian allies some 400,000, when they launched their surprise attacks across the Suez Canal and on the Golan Heights. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fielded 350,000 to 400,000 troops at most. The Israelis won that war because of superior "grit" and better quality of troops and organization, even though the wings of their better air force and tank corps were badly clipped by the Arabs' massive deployment of state-of-the-art missile shields.
As regards the war of 1948, the picture is more complex--but it is certainly not the picture painted by Mearsheimer and Walt of flat Israeli superiority. (I don't know about political science, but history--I mean good history--needs to account for complexity and nuance.) It is true that in the first part of the war, the "civil war" between the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine (from late November 1947 until May 14, 1948, when the state of Israel came into being), the Jews enjoyed a gradually mobilized military superiority, owed primarily to better organization and only marginally to an advantage in some types of weaponry (mortars and possibly machine guns). But the Palestinians probably had an edge in light arms, the main armaments during the civil war. And they enjoyed the support of the 4,000-man Arab Liberation Army, consisting mainly of Syrian and Iraqi volunteers, which had field artillery, which the Yishuv--the Jewish community in Palestine--did not possess. Except in the last few weeks of the civil war, the Arabs probably had an overall edge in men-under-arms--say 15,000-30,000 to the Yishuv's 15,000-25,000; but they proved unable to bring the advantage to bear in the successive battlefields. The militiamen of Nablus and Hebron, where no fighting occurred, saw no reason to come to the aid of their embattled brothers in Jaffa and Haifa.
During the second and conventional phase of the war (mid-May 1948 to January 1949), which was fought between the invading armies of the Arab states--Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan (supplemented by Sudanese, Saudi, Yemeni, and Moroccan contingents)--and the newborn state of Israel, the Arab side began with an overwhelming, or what should have been an overwhelming, advantage in equipment and firepower. In the first fortnight of the invasion, the Arabs had more than seventy combat aircraft, Spitfires and Furies, and the Yishuv had none. (The Israelis assembled and sent into action their first four combat aircraft, Czech-built Messerschmidt 109s, on May 29, and lost two of them.) During the following months, the Arabs continued to enjoy an overwhelming advantage in combat aircraft. Until the end of June, certainly, the Arab invaders possessed a massive superiority in all other types of heavy weaponry: they deployed about two hundred standard armored fighting vehicles (Humbers, Daimlers, and Marmon Harringtons), many of them mounting two- and six-pounder cannon; dozens of tanks (Cruiser, Locust, Mark 6, and Renault); and dozens of artillery pieces. The Israelis had two tanks, one of them without a gun; and one, then two, batteries of light pre-World War I-vintage 65mm Mountain artillery; and makeshift armored cars, civilian trucks patched up with steel plates in Tel Aviv workshops.
During the following months, until the war's practical end in January 1949 (the war formally ended in a series of armistice agreements signed between February and July), the Arab edge in heavy weaponry gradually decreased, partly as a result of attrition and the failure to acquire spare parts and ammunition, and partly because of Israel's successful arms purchases in Czechoslovakia and the West. But at the end of hostilities the Arabs still had more fighter aircraft and tanks, and perhaps even artillery, than the Israelis--though they lacked the expertise to use them and, over time, progressively lacked the necessary spare parts and munitions to deploy them effectively. The Israelis managed to circumvent the international arms embargo that had been imposed on the Middle East; the Arabs tried to do so, but largely failed.
As for manpower, the picture of relative force remains somewhat murky. The reason for the incompleteness of our knowledge is simple. Israel's archives are open, and the figures for the Israeli side are clear and available; but the archives of all the Arab states, which are dictatorships, remain closed. Thus the figures about Arab military manpower at given stages of the war remain partial and tentative, based perforce mainly on IDF intelligence estimates. But according to the latest research, particularly the work of Amitzur Ilan and Yehoshua Ben-Aryeh and Asaf Agin, the invading Arab troops (in the third week of May 1948) numbered 22,000 to 28,000, bolstered by several thousand irregulars, while the Haganah, the mainstream Zionist militia, which became the IDF on June 1, 1948, fielded some 27,000 to 30,000 troops, with another 6,000 elderly Home Guardsmen, and some 2,000 to 3,000 IZL members. (The IZL was the Irgun Zva'i Leumi, or National Military Organization, a terrorist-militia group of the Zionist right.) But the invading Arab forces were all combat troops, teeth formations, who were backed, in terms of logistics, training, and so on, by at least a similar number of rear-echelon base camp troops; whereas the Haganah figure includes both combat troops (all told, about 16,000 to 17,000) and rear echelon units.
In mid-October, the balance stood at 79,000-95,000 to 47,000-53,000 in favor of the Israelis, who vastly expanded their recruitment. But again, the figure for the Arabs represents the numbers engaged in Palestine, not the full roll call of the relevant Arab armies, with their rear echelons. (All these figures relate to ground forces; the air and naval forces of the two sides, which were negligible in terms of manpower and importance, are omitted.) It is perhaps worth adding that in 1948 Israel suffered just over 6,000 dead, one-third of them civilians, out of a total population of 650,000 to 700,000--or one killed and two seriously wounded out of every hundred in the population--in the course of a year-long war that was launched, in two stages, by the Palestinian Arabs (in November-December 1947) and by the Arab states (in May 1948) after they had rejected the United Nations Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947. (Had America suffered a similar proportion of casualties in the Vietnam War, there would have been more than two million dead and four million wounded.) Arab losses in 1948 are uncertain. It is usually estimated that about 8,000 Palestinians died, and that the Arab armies' fatalities were about half that number.
So yes, Israel won each of its wars against the Arab states. But no, this was not because it had greater manpower or more equipment; it usually had less of each. The wars were decided by the failure of the significantly stronger and more populous Arab world to mobilize its resources or concentrate its forces where they counted, or to provide them with adequate leadership.
Topical anti-Zionist jibes like that of Walt and Mearsheimer will come and go, but Morris has done a great service in debunking one of the arch-myths of modern anti-Zionist propaganda.
Be sure however, to read the entire essay. So much for Uri Avnery's astounding and absurd assertion that the Walt and Mearsheimer study was right "in very detail."
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Replies: 3 Comments
Another criticism of the paper The Lobby
Policy analysis -- paranoid style
March 29, 2006
IN HIS CLASSIC 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," the late Richard Hofstadter noted: "One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality that it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed." As examples, he cited a 96-page pamphlet by Joseph McCarthy that contained "no less than 313 footnote references" and a book by John Birch Society founder Robert Welch that employed "one hundred pages of bibliography and notes" to show that President Eisenhower was a communist.
For a more recent instance of the paranoid style, a modern-day Hofstadter could consult "The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy," a "working paper" by John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. With 83 pages of text and 211 footnotes, the Mearsheimer-Walt essay (part of which appeared in the London Review of Books) is as scholarly as those of Welch and McCarthy ó and just as nutty.
Mearsheimer and Walt are out to prove that the "Israel Lobby" has seized control of U.S. foreign policy and thereby "jeopardized not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world."
But their very first footnote demonstrates a terminal lack of seriousness: "Indeed, the mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about." By that standard, Social Security, the 2nd Amendment and Roe vs. Wade must not be "in the American national interest" either, because they are all defended by even more powerful lobbies.
The whole paper is full of such faulty reasoning ó not to mention inaccurate "facts" and numerous quotations taken out of context. (The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has posted a long list of mistakes at its website camera.org.)
In Mearsheimer-Walt's telling, the Israel lobby seems to include just about every American politician, think tank and newspaper. Many of those cited actually have conflicting views ó "the Lobby" is said to include architects of the Oslo peace process such as Dennis Ross and critics of Oslo such as Richard Perle. One suspects that it's enough for Mearsheimer-Walt that most of those they name are Jewish, though in fairness, they are careful to note that the fifth column also includes "Christian evangelicals" and "neoconservative gentiles."
Mearsheimer-Walt can't see any legitimate reason why all these people (along with most Americans) might support Israel ó support they claim is "in good part" responsible for our "terrorist problem." In reality, Osama bin Laden was far more inflamed by our support for the Saudi royal family than for Israel. But Mearsheimer-Walt never mention the existence of the Saudi lobby, whose success in influencing American policy is far more mysterious considering that Saudis, unlike Israelis, are leading participants in anti-American terrorism.
It's true that the U.S. has paid a price for supporting Israel, but it has paid an even bigger price for supporting other embattled allies. The U.S. has sent subsidies but never soldiers to protect Israel ó unless you believe, with Mearsheimer-Walt, Pat Buchanan and David Duke, that the invasion of Iraq was a Zionist plot. We have sent troops to save, among others, Britain, France, South Korea, South Vietnam, Kuwait and Kosovo. Today we risk war in defense of nations from Latvia to Taiwan, even though there is no good reason why their fate should matter to us any more than that of Israel. Perhaps Mearsheimer and Walt will write another paper exposing the tentacles of the Latvian lobby. Or are they only exercised about the power of the Hebrews?
After finishing their magnum opus, I was left with just one question: Why would the omnipotent Israel lobby (which, they claim, works so successfully "to stifle criticism of Israel") allow such a scurrilous piece of pseudo-scholarship to be published? Then I noticed that Walt occupies a professorship endowed by Robert and Renee Belfer, Jewish philanthropists who are also supporters of Israel. The only explanation, I surmise, is that Walt must himself be an agent of those crafty Israelites, employed to make the anti-Israel case so unconvincingly that he discredits it. "The Lobby" works in mysterious ways.
peter42y2, Sunday, May 14th
I wanted to make a (half)witty remark about BM, but I see you have an important guest here.
Enjoy, it does not happen each day.
SnoopyTheGoon, Friday, May 5th
**** israel! You filthy **** pieces of **** all need to die! I hope Iran nukes the **** outn of you and you all die a slow, horrible death!
[Posted by an anti-Zionist illustrating the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which is apparently not too great. Left here to prove our point. Is anti-Zionism synonymous with foul mouthed boorishness and stupidity? No, not all stupid foul-mouthed people are anti-Zionists. -- Moderator].
Adolph Hitler, Friday, May 5th
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