Zeev Maoz - The Building Blocks of Israel's National Security Policy

I typed this for 2 hours, reading from Maoz's book, Defending the Holy Land, which is recommended by Finkelstein. I have barely finished reading the introduction. I have two other books I'm reading at the same time, and I'd rather put that one off for a little while.

From what I've read until now, it seems Maoz is a Zionist who criticizes Israel's security policies as foolish. Nothing too new you might say and I agree. Yet, he is a specialist and a critic. So the rest of the book might just be enlightening. It seeks to demonstrate each major war engaged in by Israel was not necessary at all; certainly a grand departure from the usual propaganda about bad Arabs.

I thought this one passage was interesting, because it encapsulates the Zionist security principles pretty well. Criticism finally appears in the last paragraph, but leaves the reader unsatisfied, as it is obviously substantiated in the meat of the book. Malheureusement, I have a life to attend to, and can only think of typing the whole book in my worst nightmares.

So here's the second part of the introduction:

The foundations of Israel's national security conceptions were laid down by David Ben-Gurion in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. Many Israeli strategists view these doctrinal foundations to be valid at present as well (Ben Israel 2001, 269-71; Tal 2000, vi). Ben-Gurion's ideas not only are widely accepted among the members of the Israeli security community but are widely shared by the Israeli public (Arian 1995, 65-66, 173-86, 254-71). I present these principal ideas and discuss them very briefly here. [3] In subsequent chapters I reexamine many of these ideas in a more critical fashion.

Israel's security policy is based on a set of assumptions about Israel's regional and international environment. These assumptions define the basic threat perception that Israel is said to have experienced over the years.

1. The Arab world is fundamentally hostile toward Israel. It would attempt to destroy the Jewish state given the right chance. The Arabs -- Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, or even more remote peoples such as the Algerians, Libyans, or Iraqis-- have never accepted the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine. They might accept it as a (possibly temporary) fact, but they have never internalized the fact that Jews have the right to a national homeland in the Middle East. Therefore, the Arabs harbor a permanent and powerful motivation to annihilate the Jewish state. The only thing that prevents them from doing so is their awareness of the futility of this mission and/or their awareness that the price of such an attempt would be exorbitant. The implication is that Israel is destined to live for a long time under an existential threat. In the short term (the short term being the foreseeable future) its policies and actions can only affect the Arab cost-benefit calculus; they cannot affect Arab motivation. In the long run this motivation may change, but this is not certain, and the long run may be very long indeed.

2. Fundamental asymmetries exist between Israel and the Arab world. Israel is dependent on the outside world to survive economically and militarily. As an advanced society, it also requires ties with the outside -- mostly Western -- world for cultural, educational, and social purposes. Israel is also dependent on the world because, up to the early 1990s, most of the Jewish population resided outside of Israel. Its spiritual, social, and economic ties to the Jewish community are an essential component of the Israeli national identity. Israel is also dependent on the outside world for weapons. At the same time, Israel cannot rely on the outside world to ensure its survival and defense. Ultimately, Israeli men and women will have to risk their lives to defend their country. Nobody else will do it for them. Moreover, both the experience of the Holocaust and the short history of the prestate and state periods suggest that the international community is an unreliable source of political and military support. It is at times of dire need that the international community -- even Israel's closest friends and allies -- has consistently disappointed Israel. Israel can ultimately rely only on itself to ensure its survival, not on the pledges of others, no matter how well intentioned they may be. The concept of "a people that dwells alone" is a clear expression of this perception of international isolation.

4. Israel's geography is a major constraint on its ability to fight. The map of Israel (see maps 1.1 and 1.2) shows how small Israel is in relation to its neighbors and how narrow the country's "waist" has been in the area immediately north and east of Tel Aviv -- especially before the occupation of the territories during the Six Day War. This implies that an attack by one or more Arab states could split the country into several slices almost instantly. Moreover, Israel's population centers are within the range of light arms fire and certainly artillery fire of its enemy. A jet plane taking off from Syria, Jordan, and even Egypt can reach Israel's population centers in a matter of minutes. The Israeli civilian and military airfields are within the range of tactical Syrian missiles and a short flight from Egyptian bases in the Sinai and from Jordanian air bases. In the era of complex maneuvering jet fighters, Israel's planes do not have even enough room to circle around over Israeli airspace in order to practice or land in their bases. For Israel, losing territory means risking its very survival.

5. The Iron Wall offers the long-term hope for the Jewish state. The concept of an "Iron Wall," developed in Zeev Jabotinsky's famous articles of 1923, represents a vision that entails both short-term hardships and a long-term ray of hope. This concept was implicitly adopted by Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky's great political rival (Shlaim 2000, 19). The Iron Wall theme suggests that Israel has a number of things working for it in the long run: its staying power, the military blows it hands the Arabs every time they try to attack it, and the development of a model society that outperforms Arab societies. All these factors, along with Israel's viability and prosperity as a democratic and advanced society, will work to convince the Arabs of the futility and the illogic of their dreams. over time, the Arabs will come to accept the Jewish state and to make peace with it. initially, this would be a peace of realists, that is, a peace of acceptance but not reconciliation. As this peace bears fruit, the Arabs will realize that they stand to benefit far more from peaceful and open relations with the Jewish state than from conflict or boycott. When that happens, reconciliation would follow. It is impossible to develop a long-term national vision on the basis of this bleak reality. Why should Jews come to settle in Israel so that they or their children would be driven into the sea by a mass of Arabs bent on genocide and politicide, while the international community stands idly by ? Even the most optimistic scenario suggests that Israel would have to live by its sword for a very long time-- perhaps several generations. The Zionist leaders had to provide a ray of hope in that vision. The concept of the Iron Wall provides this long-term optimistic vision and the rationale for Israeli resilience and staying power despite the lack of a short-term relief.

As noted, these assumptions remained largely stable over time. Some of the more operational contours of these assumptions may have undergone changes in different periods. For example, the scope of the threat had originally been limited to the Arab world. States such as Iran and Turkey were excluded from the circle of enemies for a long time because they were not considered "Arab." Turkey's status has remained unchanged in this respect. Iran, however, has become one of the most potent enemies of Israel since the 1990s due to the fundamental hostility of the Islamic regime in Tehran, its long-range missiles, and its nuclear program. The economic threat--especially that element based on Arab oil resources-- became much more prominent in the list of resources that could be mobilized against Israel after the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Finally the key fear of Israeli leaders in the 1950s and 1960s was of an all-out attack by a mass of Arab armies. This danger may have diminished somewhat, but it is still a significant threat. However, the new concern that takes up much of the time of the Israeli security community is the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) --especially nuclear weapons-- by one or more of Israel's enemies. So there is an added technological threat that has become an important element in Israel's list of nightmares.

The basic tenets of Israel's security doctrine that emerge from these assumptions reflect a set of ideas concerning the general principles for dealing with these threats and structural constraints over the long haul. These tenets are not listed in any particular order, as there is no clear hierarchy among them.

1. The principle of qualitative edge. Israel must rely on a large margin of qualitative advantage to offset the quantitative advantages of the Arab states. The strength of the Jewish state lies in the quality of its manpower, in its technological and educational capability, and in the social cohesion and motivation of its population. This qualitative edge is expressed in both military and nonmilitary terms. In military terms it is translated to hardware and software. Israel must be able to develop and/or acquire the more modern and capable weapons systems than the Arabs. The quality of manpower ensures that Israeli pilots, sailors, tank crews, artillery gunners, and even infantry and special operations soldiers outperform their Arab counterparts by a wide margin. Even when the weapons systems are evenly matched in terms of their technical specifications, the difference in manpower quality ensures that the Israelis should always have better soldiers than the Arabs. The same applies to military generalship; to tactical command quality; and, of course, to the synergy among weapons systems, support systems (e.g., logistics, communication, intelligence), people, and mission. In terms of nonmilitary elements of power, Israeli society should be able to provide the armed forces with cohesive and high-quality human, economic, social and political reserves. This would enable the military along the borders to operate free of concerns as to what is going on at the home front. Therefore, national leaders should seek--to the extent possible-- to pursue policies that rely on a high degree of public support in matters of national security. This implies, among other things, opting to go to war only under circumstances of no choice. Purely aggressive wars may erode public support for national security policies and thus reduce the willingness of Israeli society to contribute to a long-term national security stand necessary to sustain the Iron Wall in the long run.

2. A nation at arms. Israeli society must be fully mobilizable in times of crisis and ready and willing to extract all of its resources for the struggle for survival. At the same time, Israel should be able to provide its people with welfare, freedoms, and basic rights akin to that of any advanced democratic society. Israeli society must be able to function as a "normal" society during times of relative peace in order to be a true haven for the Jews around the world. Since the transition from peace to war may be very quick, the society must be able to transform itself quickly into a fully mobilized entity. This dictates a large conscript military force as well as a substantial reserve component that is well trained and equipped and that can be mobilized quickly.

3. The principle of strategic defensive and operational offensive. Israel's political and strategic posture is status quo-oriented; yet its operational doctrine is offensive. At any given point in its history, Israel's decision makers accepted the territorial status quo. Therefore they always claimed that Israel had no territorial ambitions. Nevertheless, for the reasons discussed later, Israeli political leaders believed that Israel could not afford to fight defensive wars. The preference for an offensive strategy was never due to proactive political ambitions; it was an outgrowth of structural constraints. Some of these constraints are listed subsequently.

4. The principle of short wars aimed at quick decision. Israel cannot afford to fight long and drawn-out wars. It has to engage in short and decisive military campaigns. The focus on short wars is dictated by three fundamental constraints.

a. Social and economic constraints. A fully mobilized military force implies bringing Israeli economy and society to a screeching halt. The opponents may wear Israel out not by imposing one massive military strike but rather by overdrawing its human and material resources beyond the breaking point. Also, defensive strategies yield to the enemy the strategic advantage; Israel's enemies can decide when, where, and how to attack. This can tip Israeli society beyond its economic breakpoint due to the need to maintain full mobilization. Short and decisive wars allow Israel to maximize its capabilities, to achieve military decision, and then to release its reserve forces so that its society could continue to function. Israel has to slice up its strategic marathon against the Arab world into a series of one-hundred-meter dashes.

b. Geographic constraints. Israel's small territorial margins, its narrow waist, and the small distance between the border and Israel's population centers prohibit defensive postures. Defending a given territory effectively must allow the defender some room for maneuver within its own lines (Luttwak 2001, 147-57), which Israel does not have. Therefore Israel must rely on an offensive strategy and transfer the fighting to the enemy's territory. This may require a willingness to use a first-strike doctrine and to initiate preventive or preemptive wars. Even when the enemy launches the first strike, Israel must strive to seize the strategic initiative by moving to an offensive and into the enemy's territory as quickly as possible.

c. International constraints. The international community is likely to intervene quickly and decisively in order to bring an end to the fighting. If Israel wants to reach a military decision in the war for purposes of cumulative deterrence (see later discussion), it must do so before the international community imposes on the combatants a cease-fire or even a political agreement. Israel's tenuous international standing requires it to be in a position of military and territorial strength at the start of negotiations. Thus, Israel must be the one to determine the scope, speed, and nature of the war through its own actions.

5.The principle of major power support for war. Israel must ensure the explicit or tacit support of at least one major power before going to war. In the past, Israel's leaders had to deal with the duality in their perception of the international community. On the one hand, they recognized the basic dependence on the outside world for both material and diplomatic support. On the other hand, they were utterly suspicious of the willingness and ability of the international community to support Israel during severe existential crises. The resolution of this seeming contradiction was typically framed in the previous maxim. THe support of a major power would ensure that Israel would, at the very least, receive enough weapons and munitions to replenish those expended or destroyed during the war. Major power support is also instrumental for fending off diplomatic attacks and sanctions through the UN security Council, but this is seen as secondary to ensuring a constant source of weapons supply. The implication of this principle is that Israel should try to avoid or delay wars for which it cannot secure the support of a major power.

6. Autonomy of action before alliance. Israel should prefer independence of action over binding alliances that might limit its freedom of action. The pursuit of allies to bolster Israel's security has always been an important desire of Israel's leaders. In practice, however, Israel has never faced a practical dilemma where its leaders had to choose between an offset of a formal defense treaty with another state and a prospect of losing its autonomy to act when, where, and how it seemed fit. Nevertheless, the hypothetical possibility was often discussed in policy circles. The prevailing view has always been that Israel is better off keeping informal ties and defense cooperation with other nations rather than signing a binding alliance treaty. Israeli policymakers generally considered the liabilities of a defense pact-- the constraints it would impose on Israel's freedom of action and the questionable reliability of even the friendlies state-- to outweigh the benefits of such an alliance. A defense pact would contradict the other elements of Israel's security conception. Thus, Israel is seen to be better off without such an alliance than with it.

7. The principle of cumulative deterrence. Israel's long-term security doctrine rests on three principles: cumulative deterrence, limited military decision, and excessive us eof force in both limited conflict settings and general wars. Israel cannot impose on the Arabs a peace through a massive and total military victory (Kober 1995); it can only hope to persuade the Arabs to accept peace due to their war weariness. The Arab states must come to understand that they cannot destroy Israel and that the price of continued conflict is more than they can bear. This implies that Israel has to brace for a protracted conflict punctuated by a--possibly large-- number of short wars and limited encounters. The principle by which Israel can hope to convert over time the Arab motivation to continue the conflict into a readiness to make real peace with it is the concept of cumulative deterrence (Almog 2004, 1995; Bar Joseph 1998). Cumulative deterrence means successive and effective uses of force in both limited and massive military encounters. Such successful demonstrations of force are designed to convince the opponent of the futility of military force in the long term. Cumulative deterrence assumes frequent failures of both general and specific deterrence.

Whenever the more "conventional" forms of deterrence fails, Israel must launch a decisive military operation taht would bring about a relatively unambiguous military decision within a short time frame. In the cases of more limited challenges of low-intensity conflict (LIC) or limited military engagement, Israel should be able to dominate the process of escalation and maintain the strategic initiative, so as to bring the opponent to the point of exhaustion and defeat. The accumulation of what Almog (2004, 6) calls "assets in a victory bank" would serve to persuade the Arabs that they cannot win. As Lieberman (1995, 63) puts it: "Short-term deterrence failures may be a necessary condition for long-term deterrence success."

8. The Samson Option. This principle concerns ambiguous nuclear deterrence in situations of last resort. If conventional deterrence fails and Israel finds itself in a situation wherein it might be defeated in a major military confrontation, or if the Arabs engage in actions that threaten the very survival of Israel (e.g., use WMDs against population centers or basic infrastructures), Israel threatens to use its nuclear weapons. This threat is ambiguous, however, because Israel has never openly admitted to possession of nuclear weapons. The conception that Israel has sought to convey--through veiled threats and signals of various kinds-- is that its nuclear weapons serve as an ultimate insurance policy designed to deter the annihilation of the state by massive force. Hersh's (1991) term--the Samson Option--is an apt characterization of the role of nuclear deterrence in Israel's security policy.

9.Settlements as determinant of borders. Israeli settlements will determine Israel's final boundaries. This tenet does not appear in the standard list of the basic tenets of Israel's security conception. it has become, however, a connerstone of Israeli security conception both before the occupation of Arab territories in the Six Day War and even more so since 1967. Even before 1948, the leading Zionist leaders strongly believed that the outcome of any political settlement in Palestine would be determined by the demographic distribution of the ethnic groups residing in it. The drive to bring in Jewish immigrants and settle them in distant areas in an effort to form Jewish population centers in all parts of Palestine was due not only to the vision of Palestine as a Jewish homeland but also to the wish to affect the boundaries of the Jewish state. Settlements form a human and physical fait accompli. THey show the determination of a nation to hold on to a given territory and signal to both friends and foes that they will be defended by force. Thus, settlements were always seen as a pillar of national security.

Taken together, these nine tenets form a fairly coherent and stable national security conception. This conception was never published in an official document (and even when there was an attempt to frame it in terms of an official policy it was never approved by the cabinet or the presiding defense minister at the time; see chap. 11). Yet, there is enough official, semiofficial, and scholarly writing to suggest that this is the doctrine Israel has been using all along. The principal aims of this conception is to enable Israel to overcome the need to cope with fundamental threats to its survival on the one hand and to develop as a "normal"society that will attract Jews from all over the world on the other hand.

Both the assumptions on which this doctrine rests and the principles of which the doctrine is composed are part of a belief system shared by politicians, experts, and laypersons. However, they are neither valid as a description of objective reality nor accurate characterizations of Israel's actual behavior. In fact, I will show throughout this book that many the foundational assumptions of these conceptions have been fairly removed from reality. I will also show that in many cases Israel violated its own doctrinal principles. In other cases, the rigidity of these doctrinal canons has been detrimental to Israel's security and welfare; some of these principles may well have undermined Israel's ability to make peace with its neighbors. At this point, however, my intent is to present the elements of Israel's security-related belief system as shared by most Israelis. This belief system serves as the basis for the evaluation of Israel's policies in the coming chapters.