Israel may pretend to be Athens but is really a modern-day Sparta, argues Patrick Tyler in his new book, Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country–and Why They Can’t Make Peace. His essential point is that Israel is run by a military elite that has “favored overwhelming military might over diplomatic finesse in confronting conflicts with their neighbors.” (h/t Tablet) Except for the War of Independence, goes the argument, all other wars might have been avoided, and the conflicts leading to them resolved diplomatically.
Reviewer Doug Brinkley makes Tyler’s point quite eloquently. He dismisses the existential danger to the Jewish state as “the vaporings of some about Israel: ‘surrounded as it is on virtual every border…. with annihilationist genocidal threats.'” Mr. Brinkey cites Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and “working relationships” with other allegedly hostile states and entities. Thus, there is no real threat of annihilation, today or in years past, as Mr. Brinkley claims in his review of Israel’s wars:
Almost every major military conflict the Jewish state has gotten into since 1948 has been either an optional war or politically avoidable:
1) The 1956 Suez War–was totally optional. Israel conspired with two imperial powers to attack the Nasser regime in Egypt in a bid to remake the Middle East.
2) The 1967 and 1973 wars could have been avoided by smart diplomacy and reaching limited arrangements with Israel’s Arab enemies. Before Sadat attacked in 1973, for example, he tried to get the Israelis to pull back from their eye-ball to eye-ball Bar-Lev Line confrontion with his military–He wanted to re-open the canal. The Isreali leaders of that day had no interest in giving up even an inch of Sinai. War came–eventually after the war (and 3,000 Israeli dead) the Israelis had to pull-back anyway allowing Sadat to get his re-opening of the canal (in mid-1975) without any type of peace agreement in place at the time.
3) The 1982 Lebanon War–was totally optional. It was planned about 8-10 months in advance !! The goal was to remake Lebanon’s civil war political landscape in the Christians favor, ‘get Arafat in his bunker’ (per Begin), and force the PLO and Syria out of Lebanon. (Sharon even had the nutty idea that the PLO would then go to Jordan, overthrow the king, and set-up the first Palestinian state there).–It did almost none of these things, but did help forge the Shia (and Hezbollah) as a potent (and anti-Israeli) force within Lebanon.
4) The 2006 Lebanon War–was totally optional. Decided on the spur of the moment in a 45 minute Cabinet Meeting against an enemy (Hezbollah) the Israeli’s didn’t fully understand. In the event over a 1,000 civilians were killed in Lebanon and about 120 Israeli soldiers & 40 or so civilians were killed.
5) The 2008 Gaza War—was totally optional –It was simply a punishment operation against an enemy (Hamas) and a civilian population that had almost no way to fight back. It started with a programmed aerial surprise attack that slaughtered hundreds (many of them not even combatants) in a single day and ended with the destruction of 4,000 buildings in the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Tyler informs us in his book that the problem of Israeli militarism is so all-pervasive and so severe that “…in the modern era of statehood, Israel seemed incapable of fielding a generation of leaders who could adapt to the times, who were dedicated to ending . . . [Israel’s] isolation, or to changing the paradigm of military preeminence.”
The premise of Mr. Tyler’s book is absurd. First, Israel has been isolated, to a greater or lesser degree, since its creation (no military alliances ever, arms embargoes, constant political condemnation, refusal to accept its existence, etc.). Second, the Arab world has been dedicated to Israel’s destruction since Israel’s creation, and remains so today. Third, unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to resolve approaching crises had always preceded Israel’s wars. Just as one example, Israeli involvement in the 1956 war, during which Israel had planned joint military operations with Britain and France, was largely due to acts of war on the part of Egypt, namely continuous fedayeen raids on Israel from the Sinai, and the 1951 closure of the Suez Canal and the 1956 closure of the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The diplomatic activity that preceded Israeli military operations, which is a matter of record, was futile due to Egyptian intransigence. To quote the then-Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser:
I am not solely fighting against Israel itself. My task is to deliver the Arab world from destruction through Israel’s intrigue, which has its roots abroad. Our hatred is very strong. There is no sense in talking about peace with Israel. There is not even the smallest place for negotiations.
Yes, today Israel does have peace agreements and working relationships with Arab states and entities, but these are a direct result of Israeli military prowess. I believe that they will be tossed aside if Israel is ever sufficiently weakened. Too, recent changes brought about by the so-called Arab Spring make the existence of these agreements more precarious than ever before. And so, pace Mr. Tyler, the existential threat to Israel remains, and the Israelis are right to be proud of their military prowess – which is not the same thing as militarism – that has kept their tiny sliver of land alive for over seventy years now.
In my view, Mr. Tyler’s new book is just another attempt to delegitimize Israel. Clever, yes. Smart, no.