What are the dire threats Israel now faces? Will it be able to equip itself to face them? To explore these questions with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests are:
Rael Jean Isaac, the editor of Outpost, the newsletter of Americans for a Safe Israel. She is the author of two books about Israeli politics: Israel Divided: Ideological Politics in the Jewish State and Parties and Politics of Israel.
Caroline Glick, the deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and a senior columnist at the Jerusalem Post and at Makor Rishon Hebrew newspaper. She also serves as the senior fellow for Middle East Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC.
David Keyes, assisted a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, specialized on terrorism at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and has written for the Jerusalem Post. He co-authored papers with the former UN ambassador and a former head of Israeli Military Intelligence Assessment. His most recent study about al-Qaeda in Gaza was published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Kenneth Levin, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a Princeton-trained historian, and a commentator on Israeli politics. He is the author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.
P. David Hornik, a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv.
FP: Rael Isaac, David Hornik, Caroline Glick, David Keyes and Kenneth Levin, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
David Hornik, let’s begin with you.
Kindly provide a foundation for our discussion: what are the greatest threats Israel is facing right now?
Hornik: First and foremost, of course, the Iranian nuclear threat. Tragically linked to it is that, at this time of all times, Israel has an incompetent government including a defense minister universally regarded as unqualified for the job and a prime minister with no vision or direction and no background in security. More optimistically: there are efforts both outside and inside his party to remove Defense Minister Peretz; Prime Minister Olmert is under investigation on corruption charges; and the whole government may not last too long.
Israel also faces an ongoing, massive military build-up by Hamas and associated terror organizations in Gaza and by Hezbollah in Lebanon. Now that Hezbollah is in effect shielded by enhanced UNIFIL and Lebanese forces, it is hard for Israel to do much about the Hezbollah build-up short of launching another war. This threat would, of course, gravely intensify should the Saniora government fall to the axis spearheaded by Hezbollah; it would mean having a mini-Iran on Israel's northern border.
Israel does, however, have the capacity to stop the Gaza build-up by sealing off the Gaza-Sinai border and cleaning up Gaza itself. But its government proclaimed a "ceasefire" last November whose sole consequences have been (1) to allow Israeli citizens to be shelled at no cost to the aggressors and (2) to allow this build-up to proceed.
Apart from Iran, Israel also faces threats particularly from the Arab states Syria and Egypt--both because of the direct and indirect aid they supply to the terror organizations surrounding Israel, and because of their own hostility and military build-ups. Egypt has been relentlessly building up its armed forces and absorbing state-of-the-art American weaponry since the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Syria is militarily weaker but its ballistic-missile threat to Israel (along with Egypt's) is very serious.
In addition to these more or less external threats, the Israeli Arab community is growing increasingly hostile to Israel and many of its members--small numbers in terms of percentage, but extremely dangerous in terms of their immediate proximity--have been involved in abetting or perpetrating terror attacks. As for the West Bank, it is teeming with terror activity at all times but at present the Israeli security forces are doing a great job of keeping a lid on it. How long that success can continue is uncertain.
In the face of all these dangers, the question is whether Israel can overcome its own dangerous tendencies to delusion, wishful thinking, and appeasement that have been encouraged by its mostly incompetent leaders since 1992. In March 2006 Israelis, after all, elected the incompetent government they now so lament being saddled with. The fortitude of the Israeli army and citizenry during last summer's Lebanon war showed the other side of the Israeli psyche, which remains strong, tough, and determined. Israel will not cope well with the military and terrorist dangers it faces until and unless this government is removed and replaced by people who understand the Middle East, security, and world politics and are capable of coherent and effective action.
FP: Dr. Levin, Mr. Hornik mentions your expertise: Israelis’ dangerous tendencies to delusion. What is the current state of that phenomenon in the context of the threats Mr. Hornik points to?
Levin: David Hornik did an excellent job of reviewing the external threats currently facing Israel.
For each of these threats, with the possible exception of the existential challenge posed by the Iranian regime, there are related Israeli self-delusions. On the Palestinian front, Israeli leaders continue to embrace PA president Mahmoud Abbas as a "peace partner" and are eager to make concessions to him even as Abbas has yet to declare acceptance of the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, still insists on the Palestinian "right of return," which is a formula for Israel’s dissolution, still uses the media, mosques and schools under his control to delegitimize Israel, denigrate Jews, and demand Israel’s ultimate destruction, and has yet to end terrorist operations against Israel by forces affiliated with his Fatah party. In the interests of pursuing their visions of "peace," Israeli government leaders are virtually silent about the hostile indoctrination and acts of terror emanating from Abu Mazen and his associates.
Although Israel has a peace agreement with Egypt, that country has continued to reject implementation of virtually all the "normalization" provisions that were part of the Camp David peace accords, and Egyptian government-controlled media are even more incessant and more rabid in their anti-Israel and indeed anti-Semitic drumbeat than they were before the "peace" agreement. The Mubarak regime still finds it useful to deflect domestic discontent by focusing public attention on supposed external threats and by demonizing Israel and, in fact, the United States as well. An inevitable consequence has been intense public hostility in Egypt toward both nations. In addition, as David Hornik notes, Egypt has a much improved military capable of turning hostile words into hostile deeds. Yet Israeli officials are silent on all of this and insist on characterizing Egypt as a "moderating force" vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict.
A recent variant of Israeli self-delusion has emerged in the context of comprehension of the Middle East as now divided between "radical" forces - Iran, Syria, and their clients such as Hezbollah and Hamas - and "moderate" forces, including Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Israeli leaders have recently spoken of a newly moderate Saudi Arabia ending its previous hostility to the Jewish state, and some even argue for embrace of the 2002 Saudi peace plan as a basis for "peace" negotiations in view of the imagined change in Saudi views. Ignored is the fact that, while Saudi Arabia no doubt does see Iran as a greater threat than Israel, this has not changed Saudi promotion of an extreme Wahhabi brand of Islam - with its vehement anti-Jewish and anti-Christian message - in mosques and schools throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
It has not changed Saudi support for terrorist groups targeting Israel. It has not changed Saudi dedication to the goal of Israel’s dissolution. In fact, since the Khomeini revolution in Iran in 1979 and the subsequent Iranian Hajj attacks in Mecca, the Saudi response to the Iranian challenge has not been moderation of its policies and its attitudes towards Israel and the West but rather a more aggressive promotion of Wahhabi extremism worldwide to compete with the Shi’a extremism being exported by the Iranian mullahs. Yet Israeli leaders look at Saudi words and deeds and somehow detect a moderate and friendly message in them, and construe a limited and transient convergence of interests as reason to make permanent concessions to a party that remains, beyond the interests of the moment, aggressively and murderously hostile.
We see some Israeli leaders no less dangerously delusional with regard to Syria, eagerly offering to surrender the Golan Heights to Syria in return for "peace." This as Syria has demonstrated no moderating of its alliance with Iran, its support for Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terror organizations, its aggressive designs against Lebanon, or its dedication to Israel’s destruction. This as there are myriad reasons why Syrian president Assad is neither willing nor able to give Israel genuine peace. This as the Golan Heights controls Israel’s major source of fresh water. In addition, the Heights are perhaps the most strategic piece of real estate in the Middle East and, despite overly sanguine claims by some Israeli military officers and others, Israel has no way of compensating for the strategic damage that its surrender would entail. (Nor can Israel create an equivalent of the 100 mile wide demilitarized zone that has existed between Israel and Egypt since the Camp David agreements.) This also as Israel has an excellent claim to permanent sovereignty over the Golan Heights on the basis of international law and precedent.
All of these self-delusions by Israeli leaders reflect wishful thinking; all reflect a desire to control a situation - movement towards genuine peace - over which Israel has no control. Peace will come on the Arabs’ timetable, not Israel’s; and for the foreseeable future hostility to Israel, and indeed to all Middle East minorities, will continue to have too much usefulness to Arab regimes to be given up.
Israelis are capable of living with this painful reality and defending themselves against any aggression by its neighbors, as long as they retain the will to do so. David Hornik rightly notes that last summer’s war demonstrated the fortitude of Israel’s people. Unfortunately, too many of its political leaders, as well as the nation’s cultural, academic and journalist elites, are, in the words of Prime Minister Olmert, "tired of fighting... tired of being courageous... tired of winning... tired of defeating our enemies..." This dangerous mind-set, the desperate wish for an end to the hostility of surrounding states, and the concomitant embrace of delusions of peace, are as great a threat to Israel as the strategic challenges posed by its enemies.
FP: Thank you Dr. Levin.
Rael Jean Isaac?
Isaac: I must second what both David Hornik and Kenneth Levin have said. The external dangers are massively compounded by the pursuit of successive Israeli governments of the will o' the wisp of peace with Arab neighbors. In the case of the emergent threat from Israeli Arabs, one could argue the dangers have largely been created by Israel's self-destructive course of appeasement. This was easily predictable--indeed the newsletter which I edit, Outpost, foresaw this impact of the Oslo Accords back in 1995 observing that "the territorial dwarfing of Israel will lead to an immensely powerful release of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment among Israel's Arab citizens."
On one matter I am less sanguine than Mr. Hornik. While I would agree that replacing the shiftless regime headed by Ehud Olmert is essential, it is difficult to have hope that it will be replaced by what Mr. Hornik describes as people "capable of coherent and effective action." Israel's leaders play musical chairs and Olmert will almost certainly be replaced by Benjamin Netanyahu, who admittedly understands the Middle East and world politics far better than Mr. Olmert, but nonetheless, as Prime Minister, held out the same delusional promise of "peace" and furthered the Oslo process (through more concessions at the Wye Conference).
In Israel it was long thought that the pursuit of peace was a stroke of tactical brilliance, a no-cost way to pile up brownie points. Israel proved to the world that it was the "good guy," willing to make major sacrifices while the Arabs refused all compromise. But in fact, the pursuit of peace has been catastrophic for Israel. That's because when elected Israeli leaders hold up the promise that peace can be achieved, they are impelled to act in ways that supposedly will advance it. In 1992 Labor, under Yitzhak Rabin, striving to overthrow the Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir, campaigned on the promise that if elected, it would achieve peace within the year. When Labor won, its leaders felt they had to produce something quickly. The result was the catastrophe of Oslo.
From then on leaders of both parties would continue to offer the same promise of peace. Netanyahu did so in 1996. Barak followed up his campaign promise to bring peace by offering Arafat the territorial store, even including a limited Arab right of return. For his pains he got a renewed Arab intifada. Sharon promised to bring peace. He delivered "disengagement," a despicable euphemism for the destruction of Jewish settlements. Those once-thriving Jewish settlements in Gaza have become the launching pads for rockets raining down on Israeli communities in the south. The small town of Sderot is most often in the news, but Ashkelon, with major military and economic assets, is also under fire. Simply from a tactical point of view, the retreat from Gaza was an act of incredible stupidity -- and this from Ariel Sharon, Israel's most revered general.
Despite the failure, over and over again, of retreat and concessions, Israeli leaders seem to suffer from a form of obsessive compulsive behavior, coming up with more and more of the same. As Kenneth Levin points out, even now the government is eager to make more concessions to Abbas and some leaders are openly talking of giving Syria the Golan. What accounts for this inability to conceive of any policy alternatives to ever more retreats on the ground, no matter how often they prove to be counterproductive? They are a symptom of Israel's loss of its sense of national purpose, its traditional faith in Zionism as a way in which the Jewish people would build and be rebuilt ("livnot ulehibanot"), that Jews had a historic and religious right to the Land of Israel and would be redeemed through rebuilding and restoring their ancient homeland. The much maligned Gaza "settlers" retained this faith as do the "settlers" of Judea, Samaria and the Golan, whose homes and communities are now threatened. They serve as a reproach to Israelis who have lost their belief in a Jewish and Zionist mission ("post-Zionists"), who turn against the best elements in their society, above all the religious Zionists who form the backbone of the settlement movement.
Immediately after his defeat by Netanyahu in 1996, Peres had a telling exchange with an interviewer for the Israeli daily Haaretz. The interviewer asked "What happened in these elections" Peres says "We lost." The interviewer asks "Who is we?" Peres replies "We, that is the Israelis." The interviewer follows up "And who won? "Peres: All those who do not have an Israeli mentality. Interviewer: "And who are they? Peres: "Call it the Jews."
A significant proportion of "Israelis" hold "the Jews" responsible for Arab hatred, holding fast to the delusion that it is only "settlements" that stand in the way of peace. And so the secular majority is left with "post-Zionism," (i.e. no national purpose at all), corruption, and an out-of-control court system. The Supreme Court is relied on to fashion their national morality, particularly absurd since what that Court affirms as the highest human values are the fads of a post-Western intelligentsia.
It is difficult to see how external threats can be mitigated in the absence of profound internal changes in Israel. The more Israel appeases its enemies through concessions and the promises of more concessions, the more Israel's deterrence erodes. Hezbollah's Nasrallah now refers to Israel as weaker than a spider's web. But where is the change to come from? The problem is not just the political leaders. As Kenneth Levin says, cultural, academic and journalistic elites all feed the peace at any price mood of the public. The media is almost monolithic -- Caroline Glick stands as an outstanding and brilliant exception.
Glick: One of the reasons that Israel finds itself in its present predicament is because its leadership -- both political and cultural -- has failed to understand one central fact and act on it in a constructive fashion. This fact is that Israel is a central front - if not the central front in the global jihad.
The fact that this is the case is made clear from a number of indicators. First, as Ken Levin rightly points out, demonization of Israel; negation of the right of the Jewish people to exist, let alone exert sovereignty over our homeland; and sponsorship through financing, training, arming and marketing of the Palestinian jihad against Israel, crosses all intra-Islamic lines. Saudi Arabia and Iran which daily compete for leadership of the Islamic world; Iran and Egypt which have not have full diplomatic relations since 1979, can all cooperate harmoniously in supporting the Palestinian war against the Jewish state.
Second, the Islamic world, whether organized in the Arab League or in the Organization of the Islamic Conference or in Islamic groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, uses its refusal to accept Israel's right to exist as a rallying cry to enlist Muslims to the ranks of the global jihad whether through groups such as al Qaida or Hizbullah or Islamist cells in places like Britain and Norway.
Israel is perceived in a political sense as an American enclave in the Islamic world which must be destroyed as a first step towards the destruction of Western Civilization.
From a religious perspective, the existence of a Jewish state in what would otherwise be a wholly Islamic-ruled continent that extends from the Mediterranean Sea to Pakistan, is an insult and indeed a repudiation of the jihadist view of Islam as the religion that must dominate the world.
As noted by Ken and Rael and David already, the Israeli political and cultural elites are unwilling for a host of psychological and parochial reasons to acknowledge the war against Israel's central role in the global jihad and as a result the importance of an Israeli victory against our enemies for Western civilization as a whole.
This refusal of Israel to acknowledge the nature of the war being waged against us and the centrality of Israeli national security to the security of the West in general is raft with consequences not only for Israel but for the West in general and for America in particular.
Specifically, by presenting the war against Israel as a unique war not related to the larger jihad, the Israeli leadership obfuscates a global reality that desperately needs clarification if Israel is to survive and if the West is to persevere against the jihadist onslaught.
Israel's refusal to acknowledge the importance of its role in global security has caused successive governments to form policies like the retreats from Gaza, south Lebanon and northern Samaria that led to the creation of safe havens for both local and global jihadists from which they not only attack Israel but train to conduct attacks throughout the region and world.
By refusing to acknowledge its importance in the international fight against the global jihad, Israel's leaders have underplayed Israel's importance for US national security. Generally speaking Israeli leaders act as though the US is doing us a favor by supporting Israel militarily and diplomatically. But the fact of the matter is that Israeli defeats and general weakening are dangerous for America's national security interests both at home and around the world because Israel and the US are perceived by our common foes as two sides of the same coin.
By so obfuscating Israel's central importance to the US, Israeli leaders have played into the hands of powerful actors in the US who are intent on denying the very existence of the global jihad -- to the detriment of US national security. These actors, whose views manifested themselves most forcefully in the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq -- seize on Israel's unwillingness to explain its importance to the US and use it to advance the false and dangerous view that the global jihad --to the extent that it exists at all -- is the Jews' fault and if Israel is simply squeezed hard enough, the Islamic world will abandon their faith and end their war against the free world.
In light of all of this it is important for Americans to understand that they cannot afford a weak Israel, one that is "tired of fighting" but rather need to support voices in Israel that are capable of making the case for a robust offensive against the forces of global jihad that seek the destruction of the Jewish state as a step towards the defeat of the US and the subjugation of Christianity.
Keyes: Many good points have been raised so far. Caroline Glick, as usual, has hit the nail on the head by reminding us that Israel is a central front—if not the central front—in the war against Islamic fascism and global jihad.
There is no doubt that Iran is the greatest national security threat to the state of Israel. Two nuclear bombs would destroy Israel. Given the overwhelming amount of evidence, anyone who doubts that Iran is actively seeking technology to build nuclear weapons is simply delusional. Those who believe the Iranian regime is willing to forgo what it sees as the divinely inspired mission of eliminating Israel are, at best, dangerously naïve. Those who think Iranian leaders are more worried about survival than reaching paradise and attaining Islam’s ultimate victory, are not listening with open ears. All too many Westerners fall prey to the soft bigotry that presumes men like Ahmadinejad are incapable of saying what they mean and meaning what they say.
In 1980, Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. I say, let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant.” Ayatollah Rafsanjani said that “the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality." Rafsanjani also noted that 5 million Jews would die in an Iranian nuclear strike, while a mere 15 million Iranians would perish in an Israeli retaliation—as small “sacrifice” considering the over one billion Muslims worldwide. In February of last year, a fatwa was issued in Qom allowing the use of nuclear weapons in war.
The writing is on the wall.
Israeli experts say that Iran could go nuclear as early as 2009. This is precisely the same year in which Ahmadinejad is reported to have said the hidden Imam will reappear. It is also possible that Israeli estimates are off by a year—or more. Perhaps Iran will have a nuclear bomb next year, or at least the unimpeded capacity build one. No one really knows. Meanwhile, European diplomacy has failed miserably. Discussions have yielded almost nothing and Iran has never been closer to acquiring nuclear weapons.
To allow the apocalyptical, jihadist, terrorist Iranian regime the most deadly weapons known to man, is tantamount to inviting an attack which would kill millions. There is no other choice but to deny Iran nuclear weapons. It seems that only America and Israel have the potential capacity and will to prevent Iran from attaining nukes. One of these two great nations must neutralize Iran’s nuclear facilities before it is too late. This, of course, must be done in conjunction with massive funding of Iranian dissident groups and energetic support for Iranian democrats who would like nothing more than to see their oppressive regime toppled. Regime change in Iran would be far superior to a military strike. But, the free world simply cannot take the chance that nukes are acquired before the regime is overthrown. Fomenting regime change by supporting democratic dissidents is a noble and important endeavor, but one with a very uncertain outcome in the near term. Nevertheless, let us hope that the democracy clock can outpace the nuclear one.
Another dangerous regional adversary is the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Their goals are crystal clear as Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah stated in 2002 “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” Nasrallah also noted that Iranian and Syrian support for Hezbollah is well known by all. “Iran assists the organization with money, weapons, and training, motivated by a religious fraternity and ethnic solidarity. And the help is funnelled through Syria, and everybody knows it." Former Hezbollah Secretary General Sheikh al-Tufeili candidly asserted “Yes, Hezbollah is a tool, and it is an integral part of the Iranian intelligence apparatus…Iran is the main nerve in the activity today in Lebanon. All Hezbollah activity [is financed] by Iranian funds.” Most unfortunately, Hezbollah was not sufficiently defeated by Israel in the last Lebanon war and is now rearming and regrouping under cover from UN troops. This is powder keg which will surely erupt again.
Technically, Israel has peace with Egypt, and many point to this treaty as a great accomplishment which enabled an end to war. It should be noted, however, that Israel has not been to war with Syria in equally as long, despite the lack of such a treaty. Is it really a piece a paper that prevented war, or more likely is it the inability to wage war successfully at this time? It is reasonable to ask what the treaty with Egypt is worth—and more to the point how long it can last—when men like Mohammed el-Katatny of Mubarak’s National Democracy Party openly declare “Nothing will work with Israel except for a nuclear bomb that wipes it out of existence.” While staying in a heavily Islamist slum in Cairo recently, I saw just how deep the seeds of hatred of Jews and Israel runs. Mein Kampf, for example, was prominently displayed at every single bookshop I visited in Egypt. Store employees told me in Arabic that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion sells fantastically well. I believe Saudi Arabia may be even worse in this regard than Egypt.
Israel has no shortage of implacable enemies and no surplus of loyal allies. As is so often the case, great democracies are found fighting alone against the forces of tyranny and terror. The only long term solution to the repressive and menacing nature of Middle Eastern regimes is sustained democratization. This requires the total political, economic, ideological, (and sometimes military) defeat of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and authoritarian regimes like Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Democracy is not only a human right, but it is the sole guarantor of lasting peace.
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