The biggest problem Israel has faced in its 63-year history has been its inability to translate military victories into political gains.
The Arabs have lost every war they’ve fought with Israel (yes, even the 2006 Second Lebanon War was a military defeat for them despite Israel’s multiple embarrassing failures), but at the same time they have made great gains in the diplomatic and PR arenas:
- In 1988 Jordan withdrew its claims on Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem in favor of the PLO.
- The principle enunciated in UNSC resolution 242, calling for “secure and recognized boundaries” has been replaced in most venues outside of Israel by the opinion that Israel must more or less withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines. For example, the last two US administrations and the Mideast ‘quartet’ have included references to the “Arab Peace Initiative” in the Roadmap and other proposals.
- Israel’s annexation of eastern Jerusalem in 1980 is still not recognized by any other nation and was declared “null and void” by the UN Security Council. The US State Department still maintains the incredible position that no part of Jerusalem, eastern or western, is part of Israel, and Israel’s capital is Tel Aviv!
- Several countries have recognized ‘Palestine’ according to 1949 boundaries, and many more are expected to do so.
- The incoming Obama Administration forced Israel to terminate Operation Cast Lead before its objectives had been achieved, and — after the Mavi Marmara affair — ended Israel’s attempt to bring down the Hamas regime by economic pressure.
- The coordinated campaign of the UN and EU-funded NGOs to vilify Israel has succeeded. The Goldstone Report’s false war crimes accusations are generally accepted throughout the world, despite Goldstone’s own recantation of them. The belief that Israel is a ‘racist’ and ‘apartheid’ nation, originally limited to the extreme Left, has gained wide currency.
- It’s now a virtual certainty that relations with the new Egyptian government will be far worse than the Mubarak regime, and that Hamas will have much more freedom to operate in the future as a result. All parties contending in upcoming elections have at a minimum called for a ‘re-evaluation’ of the peace treaty signed by Anwar Sadat.
These events have seriously weakened Israel’s position. It’s even worse in the context of major changes in the strategic balance of the Middle East, like the almost complete Hizballah takeover of Lebanon and the shift in Turkey’s allegiance from the Western bloc to the Iranian orbit.
The response of the “pro-Israel Left” (or what remains of it) is that all of this indicates that the best path for Israel is to go with the flow and withdraw to 1949 lines, with some form of security guarantee. In order to see why this is exactly the wrong response, we need to ask: why has Israel lost ground so precipitously?
Some obvious reasons are the increased influence of the Arab nations and Iran since the 1970’s because of the Western sensitivity to the world price of oil, the Old Left’s turn against Israel after the Soviet Union squared off against the US by adopting the Arab nations as proxies, and the New Left’s reaction to American support for Israel. There is the Arab success in presenting their cause as a third-world anti-colonialist one. There is the popularity of the ‘human rights’ argument (although it is based on false information from the corrupt NGOs). And last but assuredly not least has been the mutation of antisemitism into anti-Zionism, where it is free to propagate itself in the most vicious ways.
All of the above forces have one thing in common: they are not so much pro-Palestinian as they are anti-Zionist. The Palestinian Arabs no longer pay even lip service to the idea that they want a peaceful state alongside Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hizballah explicitly call for the end of the Zionist entity, the movements of the Left present Israel as founded in sin and irredeemably corrupt, and the NGOs invent crimes where there are none.
The thrust of all of the above is to assert that a Jewish state should not exist.
An attempt to appease the forces of anti-Zionism by withdrawals and other concessions only leads to more terrorism and further demands, something that has been verified by recent history. And this makes sense if the goal is the elimination of Israel, rather than ‘peace’ or human rights.
Israel’s policy in this hostile environment must be to prevent erosion of its red lines: defensible borders, a united Jerusalem, recognition as a Jewish state, rejection of ‘right of return’ and nakba guilt, demographic integrity, freedom from terrorist attack, access to all holy places — Jews de facto do not have this now — all of these have to be explicitly claimed by Israel and defended by force if necessary.
Israeli leaders have often taken the easy way out and ignored encroachments on Israel’s sovereignty and other principles in order to avoid conflict with the “international community.” But said community is composed of two groups: a) those who will not be satisfied by anything Israel does except disappear, and b) those who don’t much care about Israel but don’t want to get on the wrong side of group a). Group a) understands this well.
It’s wrong to anthropomorphize the behavior of states — for example, although a president might feel friendship (or its opposite) toward a prime minister and this might influence his behavior on occasion, nations qua nations have interests, not feelings. It’s also wrong to say that because people respect strength and despise weakness the same applies to nations. But there is an analogue to respect that does apply to international relations — the concept of deterrence.
The idea that aggression will be met by force, that red lines can’t be crossed with impunity, that encroachment on a hard-won principle will be resisted — these are principles of deterrence. Deterrence is increased when threats and promises are carried out, and it ebbs when they are not.
Sometimes wars are ended in ways that nullify the military advantage gained at great cost. For example, in 1982, after the First Lebanon War, the US forced Israel to allow the PLO, including Yasser Arafat, to escape from Beirut. It is said that an Israeli sniper had Arafat in his sights but was not given permission to pull the trigger. How many lives would have been saved if he had! The legacy of this mistake was murderous Second Intifada, with more than a thousand Israelis dead.
The Second Lebanon War was ended by a Security Council resolution that the UN lacked either the will or the ability to enforce. Weapons began flowing across the border from Syria almost immediately, and Hizballah began an ambitious project to create even more and better fortifications and rocket launching facilities than before. The legacy of UNSC resolution 1701 will be another war with Hizballah.
Sometimes the imperatives of the information war appear to contradict the need to maintain deterrence. The Mavi Marmara affair was a perfect example of this. In order to appear humane, the commandos who boarded the ship were armed with paintball guns instead of assault weapons. Ironically, the anti-Israel forces were relatively successful in disseminating the message that the commandos attacked the ship with deadly force! So little was gained by endangering the commandos. The legacy of the Mavi Marmara affair will be more flotillas.
There have also been times when domestic pressure has caused the leadership to make inappropriate concessions, such as the exchange with Hizballah of 435 security prisoners for kidnapped drug dealer Elchanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of several Israeli soldiers. This precedent then led to an exchange after the Second Lebanon war in which several prisoners, including one of the most vicious terrorists in Israel’s history, Samir Kuntar, were released in return for the bones of two Israelis. The legacy of these affairs is Gilad Shalit’s continued captivity.
Deterrence is earned by fighting and by making hard decisions. It is eroded by compromise and appeasement, and leads to more war and more erosion. The only way to have peace when your enemies want to destroy you is to maintain deterrence.