In a previous post I presented a very good article by Stephen Walt disputing the Mythical Strategic Genius of Israel and its politicians.
Although it may be a stretch for me to disagree with the analysis of someone in Walt's stature, I actually do disagree with him. I still think that Israel is a strategic genius today, and here is why I think so.
I do not disagree with Walt on his historic facts. I just disagree with him on Israel's leadership intentions. He, for the sake of that article, assumes that Israel's intentions is to search for peace. He judges their strategic success (or genius) by assessing how their actions bring them closer to their goals.
And while I agree that a valid gold standard for strategic success is that such success should bring you closer to your goals, it seems to me that their strategy actually bring them closer to their goals. Only, that their goals are different from what Walt assumes.
Over time, Israel seems to me more and more like one of those fish that must keep moving otherwise it dies. Israel must continue to be at war or it ceases to exist as we know it now. The reason for that is that its current founding principles of uniqueness, and destiny to have Jewish majority forever are unsustainable without being at war. Therefore, regional hostilities and a national sense of eminent danger are essential for Israel's survival.
Only eternal 'existential threats', mostly perceived rather than real, will manage to keep its people together.
How else can you convince citizens that they live in a democracy, when the founding principle of their existence is based into a metaphysical promise made by God to some tribes that lived in the Middle East many thousand years ago?
How about a founding principle that dictates the need for eternal Jewish Majority otherwise the country faces demise?
For most of the smart, Western-style Israeli citizens, it should normally be evident that a democracy that somehow requires Jewish majority forever is a non-sustainable situation.
What if the Jewish majority is no longer possible due to emigration, natural growth rates, etc?
Are they going to kick out non-Jewish 'Israelis'? Or would they just deprive them of the right to vote and officially establish a second class citizenship status for non-Jews?
Would it be an option for Israel to shed some pieces of land that has more Arabs than Jews and transfer Jews to a smaller piece of land in order to restore the Jewish Majority?
None of these options would seem acceptable to the majority of Israelis under normal circumstance. And I stress the word normal in this situation. Hence the need to ensure 'abnormal' circumstance prevail all the time.
And when life is not 'normal', when people are at war continually, and when they are made to feel that they are surrounded by existential threats all the time, the glaring inconsistency between maintaining democracy on one hand, and maintaining Jewish majority on the other will become more of a 'philosophical issue' that is simply put on the back burner, or even in the freezer.
Most of us know that the fear for one's survival seems to trump all other values and fears. That is why demonizing the enemies -- who would 'pillage, rape, and torture you if they win' -- has always been a better propaganda technique than solely glorifying your cause.
You, as a leader, can bring up people to believe that every one is out to get them. Surely they would be emotionally scarred, and their life will be horrible and miserable, but you will succeed in controlling them and getting them to do whatever you want to defend their 'survival', no matter whether their fears are founded or not.
That is where strategic genius lies. Israeli leaders have one strategy that always achieved its goals: stay at war, avoid making peace and make sure you are always surrounded by enemies and existential threats. This strategy have worked so far for one government after another.
The failures that Stephen Walt mentions in his article(e.g., lack of peace, and persistence of hostility around Israel) are not strategic failures. These are part of the strategic goal. And if you look at things from that angle, Israel strategic genius is not a myth, it is a concrete reality.
And this strategy is still working for them but unfortunately, for Israel at least, I do not think it will continue to work for more than few more decades. And without sound and sustainable founding principles, any country, Israel included, will not last as a political entity, although their people could survive as people.
Israel is a de facto state now, and its presence cannot be denied on historic or religious basis any more than one can deny the presence of the USA or Australia as nations. The major difference though, is that USA and Australia will continue as nations no matter who is in power, and no matter which ethnic or religious group constitutes a majority, and Israel would not. Can you imagine where would the USA be today if its founding principle was that white majority has to be maintained for the USA to exist?
The strategic genius of Israel is a reality today, but their strategy will not be viable for a long time to come. And if Israel, as a nation, does not face the reality that their founding principle is flawed and non-sustainable as it is, then they are doomed to face a future where their worst nightmare will become their reality.