Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Strategic Genius of Israel may not be that genius

Israel seems always to win. Does that make Israel a strategic genius?

With practically unlimited military superiority, and with boundless support from the World's only superpower, one imagines that Israel would always be on target when it comes to achieving its strategic goals.

Most pro-Israel politicians in the US keep would actually argue that only Israel knows what is best for Israel (although that same politicians often behave as if Israel also know what is best of the US as well). These politicians that adopt the idea of Israel's strategic genius are adamant that the US should grant unlimited support and never second-guess, dispute or criticize anything Israel does.

To some analysts and foreign policy experts Israel's strategics genius seems to be more of a myth than a worthy reality. One of those experts is Stephen M. Walt who is a professor of International Relations at Harvard University. He is also a regular contributor to Foreign Policy (FP) Magazine and has a very active blog on FP website. He is, above all, best known to the public for his famous - or infamous - book about The Israeli Lobby and US foreign Policy co-authored with John J. Mearsheimer.

In a recent blog titled The Myth of Israel's Strategic Genius, Walt argues that Israel's history was full of strategic blunders that lead to the persistence of all the threats around them, and that had interfered with progression to a more peaceful existence of Israel in the Middle East. He briefly, but very succinctly, discusses his opinion about all the wars that Israel fought, and sheds very interesting light on all of them.

Following, I will include some Excerpts to entice the reader, but make sure you read the full article (link below). It is truly it is a very worth-while, brief and succinct reading. I will be posting why I disagree with some of his conclusions later.

The myth of Israel's strategic genius
By Stephen Walt (1/19/2009)
Many supporters of Israel will not criticize its behavior, even when it is engaged in brutal and misguided operations like the recent onslaught on Gaza. In addition to their understandable reluctance to say anything that might aid Israel's enemies, this tendency is based in part on the belief that Israel's political and military leaders are exceptionally smart and thoughtful strategists....

This image of Israeli strategic genius has been nurtured by Israelis over the years and seems to be an article of faith among neoconservatives and other hardline supporters of Israel in the United States. It also fits nicely with the wrongheaded but still popular image of Israel as the perennial David facing a looming Arab Goliath; ....
He then goes on to list the most famous 'strategic achievements and success of Israel often cited, buts expresses his disagreement with the significance of those achievements.
These tactical achievements are part of a larger picture, however, and that picture is not a pretty one. Israel has also lost several wars in the past -- none of them decisively, of course -- and its ability to use force to achieve larger strategic objectives has declined significantly over time.
.... The assault on Gaza is merely the latest illustration of this worrisome tendency.
He followed with listing of the different wars from 1948, 1956, 1967 etc, and all the way to the first Lebanon War in 1982. He highlights the role Israel's mischief as he discusses the 1993 Oslo Accords, and he puts the blame, or most of it anyway, squarely on Israeli leader's shoulders:
The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 offered an unprecedented chance to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all, but Israel's leaders failed to seize the moment. Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Benjamin Netanyahu all refused to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state -- even Rabin never spoke publicly about allowing the Palestinians to have a state of their own....
He is also critical of the the so- called generous offer by Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak to the Palestinians in 2000 when Bill Clinton was trying to quickly fix the Middle East in Camp David before he left office. He quotes Barak's own foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami saying "if I were a Palestinian, I would have rejected Camp David as well."

And while he is critical of both American and Palestinians leaderships for their own big mistakes, his focus in this article is on Israel's mythical strategic planning capabilities.

His analysis moves forward to Israel's role in the Iraq war, and their desire for an 'Iran war'.
Indeed, prominent Israelis like Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, and then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres helped sell the war in the United States, while Prime Minister Sharon and his chief aides put pressure on Washington to make sure that Bush didn’t lose his nerve and leave Saddam standing. The result? A costly quagmire for the United States and a dramatic improvement in Iran's strategic position. Needless to say, these developments were hardly in Israel's strategic interest.
Stephen Walt does not shy from nearly accusing the Israeli Leadership of malice for the 'unilateral withdrawal" from Gaza in 2005. He concludes that both withdrawal from Gaza as well as the 2006 Lebanon war were significant blunders that will harm Israel in the long term. He sees similar "strategic myopia" in Israel's latest bloody adventure in Gaza that left over 1400 Palestinians dead.
... Israel's international image has taken a drubbing, Hamas is probably more popular, and moderate leaders like Mahmoud Abbas have been badly discredited. A two-state solution -- which is essential if Israel wishes to remain Jewish and democratic and to avoid becoming an apartheid state -- is farther away than ever.
And while he admits that Israeli forces performed better in Gaza than it did in Lebanon ion 2008, he bluntly attributes that to the fact that "Hamas is a less formidable foe than Hezbollah".

And while picking for a weaker opponent may make one look more mighty, in his opinion "... this does not matter: the war against Hamas is still a strategic failure. And to have inflicted such carnage on the Palestinians for no lasting strategic gain is especially reprehensible. "

He concludes from all these examples that "... there is no reason to think that Israel possesses uniquely gifted strategists or a national security establishment that consistently makes smart and far-sighted choices. Indeed, what is perhaps most remarkable about Israel is how often the architects of these disasters -- Barak, Olmert, Sharon, and maybe Netanyahu -- are not banished from leadership roles but instead are given another opportunity to repeat their mistakes.".

His most powerful paragraph comes near the end:
The moral of this story is that there is no reason to think that Israel always has well-conceived strategies for dealing with the problems that it faces. In fact, Israel's strategic judgment seems to have declined steadily since the 1970s...
The reason for that in the opinion of that expert is what the rest of us with any common sense and some knowledge about the Middle East always knew:
... perhaps because unconditional U.S. support has helped insulate Israel from some of the costs of its actions and made it easier for Israel to indulge strategic illusions and ideological pipe-dreams.
He suggests that Israel's friends in the US government should be more honest and open about what they think is wrong in Israel's planning and goals, but he is not optimistic.
... that's unlikely to happen, because Israel's supporters make it almost impossible for Washington to do anything but reflexively back Israel's actions, whether they make sense or not. And they often do not these days.
This is a great article that reviews all Israels adventures and major blunders in a 10 minute reading.

Also, check this very good article detailing the failure of Israel in the latest Gaza campaign from the view of an Israeli journalist.
Excerpts from Gideon Levi article:

Israel's actions have dealt a serious blow to public support for the state. While this does not always translate itself into an immediate diplomatic situation, the shockwaves will arrive one day. The whole world saw the images. They shocked every human being who saw them, even if they left most Israelis cold.

The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, while not giving a hoot about international law. The investigations are on their way.

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