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Ralph Seliger put his finger on an important part of the Israeli dilemma:

Both Israel and its critics need to see Israel for what it is Ė a small country, forced into an unnatural situation of being the regionís most potent military power. The Jewish people have tried it the other way, with the defacto passivism of living as a defenseless minority.

Israeli military performance in the past generated high expectations. When those are not met, some argue, it is not "fair" to chastise Israel and voice disappointment, because Israel is a small country after all. Unfortunately, the world is not a fair place at all. Fair has nothing to do with it. If the Israeli Army does not work right, one time, or if our leaders make the wrong choices, just once, Israel may cease to exist.



Ralph explains:

The Israeli habit of perhaps over-relying upon force is a reaction to those long centuries of oppression and humiliation.

It is alas too easy to slip into cliched thinking that refers to the "Masada complex" or "Jewish paranoia." In this case, it is certainly not relevant. If we begin our history in 1982, then perhaps the Lebanon mess began because of Israeli over-reliance on force. If we begin in 2000, then we would reach the opposite conclusion: the Lebanon mess did not begin because of Israeli over-reliance on force. It began because Israel relied on the UN and international law, withdrew from Lebanon unilaterally in 2000, reduced its defense budget during a period of increasing military challenges, and hoped for the best. IDF did not fail to meet its mission because of Israeli over-reliance on force, but rather, in part, because of a combination of wrong priorities, penny-pinching Bibinomics, and a roseate view of the Middle East and of Israel. Nobody can beat us, because we are strong, so we can afford to let down our guard. Lack of preparedness for known threats and military budget cuts are not characteristics of a country that relies on force too much.

Didn't we sit through this movie in 1973? Not exactly. In 1973 there was a potential peace partner in Anwar Sadat. Israeli leadership did not see the signs and did not take his peace overtures seriously. Hassan Nasrallah is not a peace partner, and his master in Tehran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, is an existential threat. Sooner or later there would have been a confrontation. Israel did not prepare itself properly for that confrontation, and apparently the Israeli government and IDF did not make the right decisions in the war.

Seliger notes:

Anti-Israel critics like to minimize Israelís urgent security needs by referring to it, rather abstractly and without real analysis, as the fourth greatest military power in the world. Iím guessing that the three countries thought of as more powerful are the United States, China and Russia. Does this mean that Britain, France and Germany (to name but the most obvious) are less powerful than Israel? Each have eight to ten times the population, comparable technological knowhow, greater economic capacity, as large or larger standing armed forces and with great military traditions that go back centuries.

Our enemies will be critical no matter what. If we are strong, they will say we are too strong. If we are weak, they will say we are weak and therefore not important. Both messages were evident in Mearsheimer and Walt's Zionist Lobby diatribe. Nonetheless it is true that Israel's military capabilities far exceed those of states with comparable objective potential in terms of population, geographical size or industrial capabilities. If we heed common sense, as well as the analysis of Paul Kennedy, who wrote "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," this is not a situation that can normally be continued indefinitely.

Seliger's prescription is a wise one:

...Israel has limited military capacities. It must attempt innovative means Ė including diplomacy and international assistance Ė to augment its odds for security.

This is quite true. However, diplomacy and international assistance have very limited utility if the country in question has nothing to offer. In the classic 1959 cinema farce, "The Mouse that Roared," a tiny country with no resources loses a war against the United States and parlays its loss into a great victory. The real world doesn't work like that. If we lose a war against Iran, we cannot count on the benevolence of Mahmud Ahmadinejad to rebuild our country. If we don't defend ourselves, Israel will be the mouse that squeaked. It will be viewed by the world as an annoying and unnecessary rodent.

As Seliger also notes:

The enhanced UN international force is beginning to look stillborn Ė with France effectively wimping out and both Lebanon and the UN still uncommitted to a real effort to curtail Hezbollah as an armed threat.

What a surprise! Applicable texts may include: "Nobody knows you when you're down and out," but also, from Jewish tradition, "If I am not for myself, then who is?" (Im eyn ani li, mi li?). The diplomatic maneuverings and requests for international assistance will only work when they are backed by a perception of military might. It is really naive to base policy or hopes for survival on a belief in the righteousness and good will of countries like France or even the United States. According to Shabtai Shavit, former Israel intelligence chief, France may have reneged on its commitment to the international force in Lebanon because Iran threatened to cut ties with the Renault automobile company, which has extensive interests in his country. The man who loses his fortune cannot count on the love of ladies of the night any longer.

Seliger gives us a hint of what sort of policy we might follow if we do not have an army, recalling the aftermath of the failed Jewish revolt against Roman power:

It was the path of Yohanon Ben-Zakai, convincing the Romans to allow him to set up his yeshiva, that saved the Jewish people at that time.

That is not policy, but expediency born of desperation. Vae victis - woe to the vanquished.

Unlike our neighbors, Israel can offer neither oil, nor a large market, nor the support of many voting hands in the UN. No reasonable Israeli policy can hope to succeed if we do not have a credible military No country, including the US, is going to send soldiers to protect Israel, and no country is going to take account of Israeli needs if we do not have the force required to back our positions.

Without a strong army, it is doubtful that Israel would exist for a year. This point should never have been at issue, and should not divide right and left in Israel. Therefore debate about the current crisis should not be based on left-right divisions. Many of the mistakes that were made, which led to a weakened posture, were made by both Likud and Labor governments. They were made when Ehud Barak was Prime Minister, and exacerbated when Bibi Netanyahu was Finance Minister. Changing the political complexion of the government will not solve the problem. Those who are trying to make political capital out of the current crisis should think again.

However, military strength is not an end, but a means. When it becomes an end, a society degenerates into the militarism of pre WW I or WW II Germany. The army is used to conquer more territory, and then it has to be strengthened to guard the territory, and then it has to conquer more territory in a never-ending cycle that cannot be sustained by the limited economic means, and which arouses the increasing opposition and alarm of neighboring states. The question at issue between the Zionist right and the Zionist left was never whether or not the IDF must be strong. The question was always what policy to follow, and what national goals we wish to achieve. Ultimately it is the most important question, but that division should be irrelevant to current debate about the performance of the government and the IDF in Lebanon.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2006. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000216.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 1 Comment

Ami, you should send an article like these to the Israeli hebrew papers.

Micha, Friday, August 25th


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