Israel and its inability to think strategically (still)

Posted on May 23, 2011

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Last summer, when perennial concern about Iran’s nuclear programme grew hysterical, Ron Tira, a noted Israeli strategic thinker, wrote that the importance of an attack on the country was not the operation itself but manipulating international reaction. ‘It is necessary to examine Israel’s response to different events, for example, the Turkish flotilla to the Gaza Strip, with the yardstick of shaping a political reality that is most effective for the day after an attack on Iran.’ That Binyamin Netanyahu (and his fans) failed to think in this way persuaded me to set up this blog almost a year ago. Nothing was more frustrating to a supporter of Israel like me than its stupid government wasting diplomatic capital on a minor infringement of a useless blockade when they had bigger fish to fry. ‘Such a lack of strategic thinking is deeply worrying at a time like this’, I wrote. Unsurprisingly, nothing has changed.

The reaction of Netanyahu to President Obama kick-starting the peace process again is bad on any number of levels strategically. He has not only angered the administration, which will probably win a second term, but also annoyed supporters in America. Jeffrey Goldberg, whose in-depth look at Israeli thinking on Iran last summer caused such alarm about an attack, has criticised the Prime Minister’s presumption. ‘Even if there weren’t an imbalance between [our] two countries…I would find myself feeling resentful about the way [he] speaks about our President.’ With regard to the peace process itself, it is vital Israel reaches a settlement with the Palestinians not only to prepare the ground diplomatically for an attack on Iran but also because the Jewish state will simply disappear if they don’t. Obama made this point in his AIPAC conference speech last night:

The number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  This will make it harder and harder – without a peace deal – to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.

To think strategically is to distinguish the woods from the trees. Binyamin Netanyahu, his government and its ‘neocon’ fans have consistently failed to do this in the two years they have directed Israeli foreign policy.

Come back, Olmert! All is forgiven!

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