|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 .
and 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: w hat 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 e
ven 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 wa
s 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 r
obust 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—ine 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.
Hornik: While Rael Jean Isaac is right that Olmert most likely will be replaced by Netanyahu, I still have more hope in Bibi than she does. It's true that in addressing the Israeli people he sometimes disappointingly adopts a "peace" rhetoric not too different from the appeasers. It's also true that he was pushed by Clinton into concessions at the Wye Conference. But similarly, Begin was pushed around by Carter at Camp David and Shamir was pushed by Bush I and Baker into attending the Madrid Conference (a hostile gang-up against Israel that set the stage for Oslo ). Begin, Shamir, and Netanyahu all represent clear-sighted and strong people but–notwithstanding the fantasies of Israel's enemies–it is not the tiny Middle Eastern outpost of democracy that wags the superpower, but vice versa. It will be hard to reverse Israel's crisis unless i
ts U.S. ally can at least overcome its delusional embrace of Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement (now officially junior partners of Hamas) as a supposed constructive force whose further empowerment in the West Bank would somehow promote Western interests. Rational Israelis and pro-Israelis need to address that front as least as much as they have to focus on Israel itself.
Rael Jean Isaac also implies that the religious settlers in the territories are a model for the rest of Israeli society and represent the path it should follow, something I think is a psychological impossibility. For better or worse, the religious settlers are living where they do largely because of having received an intensive Jewish education as children, whereas the secular majority has received a less intensive, selective Jewish education that in most cases does not instil much interest, let alone love, in places like Hebron, Beit El, or Schechem. One might lament this and hope that it will eventually change, but for now it is the reality, and Israel 's crisis and dangers are very immediate. Most secular Israelis look at Judea and Samaria and see teeming, hostile Arab cities that they would just like to be done with (and this is also not an entirely blameworthy or anti-Zionist feeling since it's linked to Zionist demographic and democratic values). The main hope of convincing the Israeli populace to avoid further suicidal land giveaways lies in secular, rational, realistic voices like those of Netanyahu, Yuval Steinitz, or Moshe Yaalon, mainstream but sophisticated individuals who can speak convincingly to the general public about Israel's strategic and tactical vulnerabilities.
Does a reservoir of strength and realism, or potential realism, still exist among Israel's secular majority? There are strong reasons to think so. People not terminally blinded by a leftist outlook (as is only a small part of the population) now understand that the Gaza withdrawal brought a rain of Qassam fire on the surrounding communities and that ditto will be true (for starters) for a further Judea-Samaria withdrawal. From giving Netanyahu's Likud a measly 12 mandates out of 120 in the March 2006 election, Israelis are now apparently ready to elect Netanyahu handily over capitulationist competitors. This is a startling turnaround that no doubt reflects a certain amount of confusion and superficiality, but also an ability for empiricism and learning. Most of all, as I already mentioned, the summer's war in Lebanon found a populace ready to endure whatever had to be endured, and an army ready to do and sacrifice whatever had to be done and sacrificed, to defeat the enemy–understanding and accepting the implacability of the enemy, the necessity of defeating him, and the inevitability of absorbing losses while doing so. In fact, soldiers from the secular-left kibbutz movement took a dramatically disproportionate share of the casualties. One cannot hope to convert most of the kibbutz movement to political rationality, but one should be impressed that patriotic dedication remains so high even in that camp.
Whatever the undeniably great and destructive power of the leftist cultural, academic, and media elites, it has not destroyed the ability of the Israeli people to elect rational–or at least relatively rational–leaders, nor the ability of such leaders to address them, as Netanyahu has been striving to do and apparently with some effect.
Levin: All of us seem to be in agreement that, for all the severe external threats faced by Israel, the greatest handicap to meeting those threats is the self-imposed failure of so many Israeli leaders to recognize and identify those challenges for what they are and honestly confront them.
What Caroline Glick and David Keyes point out about Israel being the front-line nation facing the global jihad that threatens the entire West is certainly correct. The failure of the Israeli government to properly conceive of and articulate Israel's position in this regard is itself symptomatic of the leadership's, and much of the Israel elites', desire to see the threats facing the nation in much less grievous terms, in the service of indulging fantasies of "peace" being readily attainable. That same mind-set has in recent decades failed to acknowledge Arab unwillingness to accept the legitimacy and rights of any minority – religious or ethnic – living among the Arabs. Israeli leaders have failed to do so because acknowledging that broad Arab intolerance would underscore the absurdity of the belief that the Arab world is presently prepared to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in its midst.
The current government, and the Israeli leftist elites – even at this late date, even after the catastrophic failures of the delusional Oslo path – would rather construe the Israeli right as misguided and an obstacle to peace than look open-eyed at Israel's actual predicament.
I too believe it is vital that the present Israeli government be replaced by leaders who do recognize the challenges confronting the nation, unabashedly embrace Israeli claims and the essential, inalienable rightness of the Zionist project and Jewish rights in the Jewish homeland, and are not predisposed to compromising, or to refrain from invoking, basic principles in the deluded hope that doing so will somehow help foster "peace."
With regard to the Likud leadership and Benjamin Netanyahu being able to provide such a government, there is no doubt that Netanyahu is at once fully cognizant of Israel's rights and the threats to those rights and is able to articulate both in a manner that few if any other Israelis can match. I agree with Rael Jean Isaac in her pointing out the problems with his previous stint as prime minister; his backing down on his own principles, including his principled demand for "reciprocity" from the other side before acquiescing to further Israeli concessions. Nor do I believe that those problems can be attributed simply to pressures from the Clinton administration. No doubt Netanyahu was subjected to intense ill-conceived and misguided pressures, but he could have done more to resist them, as previous Israeli prime ministers have done when pushed to accept policies that threatened vital national interests.
That said, I agree with David Hornik that Netanyahu and those around him in Likud are at present Israel's best hope; that the rightness of Netanyahu's comprehension of Israel's predicament and his ability to articulate that comprehension are vital assets. While not being blind to past performance, one can hope that he has learned from past errors and that such learning will be buttressed by assets he did not previously have but would likely be available to him now. Those assets include a much more supportive Knesset (unlike the essentially hostile Knesset that he was saddled with last time, when his election was on a ballot separate from the Knesset vote) and, at least for the next two years, an American administration that – despite problems on this front as well, such as the American embrace of Mahmoud Abbas and the pressure on Israel to join in that embrace – is much more sensitive to the mutual threats facing Israel and America, the realities of the Jewish state's geopolitical situation, and the importance of Israel's well-being to that of the United States.
The necessity of putting in place a Likud-led government goes beyond correcting the current disastrous situations in the office of the prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister. It includes redressing essential, dangerous problems in other ministries as well. Particularly crucial is education. Again, the Israeli public, and the soldiers of the IDF, demonstrated remarkable strength, determination, and dedication to the nation in the course of last summer's war. But to maintain and nurture that s
trength and dedication requires people's continuing to know why they are in Israel, the Jewish right to be here, the inalienable legitimacy of the Zionist claim. The Left, in the context of the madness of Oslo, sought to dilute and distort the civics and history curricula in Israeli schools, to distort students' learning in a manner that would make them less understanding of and dedicated to the Zionist enterprise and therefore – in the twisted logic of those who then led the education ministry – more open to concessions for "peace." Limor Livnat, in the last Likud government, did much to reintroduce Jewish history and the genuine history of the Zionist enterprise into the curricula, but more must be done. As Israeli Nobel laureate Robert Aumann recently observed, for all the external threats, there is no greater threat to Israel's future than Israelis not understanding the rightness of their living in this land, the rightness of the sovereign Jewish state in the ancestral Jewish homeland.
Isaac: While the panel has stated the underlying problems honestly and well, I detect a certain wishful thinking, a willingness to let hope triumph over experience, in the readiness to look to Netanyahu as someone who will act to overcome them. While admitting Netanyahu's failures as Prime Minister, David Hornik seems to believe this time will be different. Why? An applicant for employment is asked for references and his work record. What he has done before is deemed the best available criterion for estimating how he will perform in future, not a perfect guide perhaps, but the best available.
Even if we look at the most recent test Netanyahu faced, the destruction of Jewish communities in Gaza, his performance was, to put it charitably, deeply disappointing. He clung to his position in the Sharon cabinet until just before the pullout from Gaza , and then, when his action was too late to have any impact, resigned. In the model of John Kerry he could then say "I actually voted against the Gaza withdrawal after I voted for it." The excuse David Hornik offers for Netanyahu's behavior as Prime Minister — that he was pushed around by Clinton — is no excuse at all. (Nor does it excuse him to say that Begin was similarly pushed around by Carter at Camp David ; if anything, that unfortunate example — and the consequences of Shamir's going to Madrid — should have put Netanyahu on notice, making him wary that he not fall into the same trap.)
A leader worthy of the name must have the ability to withstand pressures. We speak as if Israeli leaders are somehow unique in being buffeted by pressures, but this is par for the course — even for leaders of superpowers. In May 1948 President Truman was under pressure from his own State Department (not to mention Arab states) not to recognize the State of Israel, but he did so. At this moment President Bush is under enormous pressure, from public opinion, from the Democratically controlled Congress, even from members of his own party, to back down in Iraq; he nonetheless presses forward to try to stabilize that country.
It is only by standing up to pressure that a leader has the chance to develop countervailing pressures. If the "surge" shows signs of success, Bush may energize countervailing pressures favorable to his policies. The depressing pattern of Israeli leaders collapsing in the face of each demand, even folding preemptively before there is a demand (e.g. Sharon 's decision to destroy Gaza's Jewish communities) prevents any possibility of changing U.S. policy. While Hornik says it will be hard to reverse Israel's crisis unless the U.S. overcomes its delusional embrace of Abbas and Fatah as a supposed constructive force, how can one possibly expect this to occur while Israeli leaders maintain that same delusional embrace?
Superpower policies are not fixed in stone, and there are seismic shifts which offer opportunities to reshape them. The aftermath of 9/11 presented such an opportunity, to which Israeli leaders have proved blind. As Caroline Glick says, while Israel is a central front, if not the central front, in the global jihad, in treating the war against Israel as if it were a unique war, Israeli leaders lose the opportunity to impress upon U.S. leaders that weakening Israel is dangerous to America . There are many in the United States , in Congress, the conservative media, the public (not just evangelical Christians), even in the administration who would be receptive to this message, if Israeli leaders would consistently and persistently articulate it. Those who consider the task too "hard," (self-described "tired" leaders like Ehud Olmert) should retire from public life.
Which brings us back to where the leadership Israel needs might be found. It can be argued that Netanyahu has the merit of being electable, but what is the point of returning to the same dry well? If Netanyahu, as Ken Levin believes, is Israel 's best hope, Israel has small hope. David Hornik says I imply that the religious settlers should serve as a model for Israeli society but that this is a "psychological impossibility." He finds the main hope "in secular, rational, realistic voices" like Netanyahu, Yuval Steinitz or Moshe Yaalon. I'm not sure that reason and realism are adequate grounding for the man who would lead Israel in this most difficult of times. Reason and realism can say give up, go where you can, while you can.
An Israeli leader, whatever his degree of religious practice, must be imbued with a bedrock faith in Israel 's legitimate rights to her ancient land, a bedrock conviction that not everything is negotiable, and those convictions must be so strong they inure him to pressures, both internal and external. He must also possess the reason and realism that will enable him to mobilize the forces receptive to the message Caroline Glick articulates, forces which clearly exist in the United States, but are also, if less obviously, present in other parts of the world.
Glick: One of the unique characteristics of the Israeli people, and of the Jewish people throughout our history, is that we have always sought perfection in how we live and in what we believe and what we seek for our world. In this, we are similar to the American people. And it is due to Jewish exceptionalism that we have achieved so many great things throughout our history and, conversely, have been so deeply hated by so many throughout our history. Here, again, we share a similar predicament with the Americans.
Yet there are two deep problems with our quest for exceptional accomplishments. First, as we know, man is incapable of perfection. We were created in God's image, but we are not and will never be divine, and so we will never achieve the perfection we seek. Secondly, by seeking perfection, we run the risk of blinding ourselves to the good.
Israeli politics are in many ways a reflection of this deep-seated tendency of Jews to demand the achievement of perfection. On the left and on the right, voters want for their leaders to lead them to the Promised Land. And they want for the Promised Lan
d to be soft and easy and utopian. Life is not like that. Even when Moses led the Children of Israel to the Promised Land, we spent the better part of forty years rebelling against him and accusing him of leading us astray. And that was Moses, the greatest leader the Jews, and perhaps the world has ever had. Then, as now, we forget that politics is at its core, the art of the possible, as carried out by the fallible.
Binyamin Netanyahu, like the rest of his contemporaries in Israeli politics is no Moses – nor has he ever claimed to be. He is a statesman and a politician. And he is the best leader we have had since Yitzhak Shamir.
When he was prime minister, he brought levels of terrorism down by a factor of ten. Yassir Arafat and the rest of his minions were terrified of him. Working with arguably the most hostile American administration that any Israeli prime minister ever had, he forced the likes of Madeline Albright to acknowledge that Arafat was doing nothing to prevent terrorism. He demanded to renegotiate the Israeli withdrawal from Hebron. The original agreement made no allowance whatsoever for Israel's security concerns in the city and placed no demands on the PLO to abide by their pledge to take action against terrorism.
As for the Wye Accord, everyone is quick to be angry with Netanyahu for signing it while conveniently forgetting that he never implemented it because Arafat never abided by his commitments to fight terrorism and end the anti-Jewish incitement in the Palestinian Authority.
Moreover, during his tenure as Prime Minister, Netanyahu was able to introduce for the first time rational free market principles to the Israeli economy that by 1996 had become a sclerotic, socialist nightmare which was strangling economic initiative and keeping an enormous segment of the population in perpetual poverty. He did this against the wishes of the economic and social elites who screamed bloody murder and accused him of destroying Israeli society. He did against indescribable odds. Netanyahu stood almost alone in Israeli society in his understanding that economic strength is essential for national security. He understood that if Israel is an economic basket case, it will never be able to stand up to outside pressure from anyone.
As finance minister in Ariel Sharon's second government, after other governments had made a mess of everything he had done in office and so brought Israel to the verge of economic destruction, Netanyahu single-handedly turned the economy around. In the midst of a war against Israeli society, Netanyahu moved the economy from negative growth to over five percent annual growth rates and so transformed the economy – in time of war – into one of the strongest economies in the world – the envy of Europe. It was this economic revolution that enabled the government to wage war in Lebanon last summer without raising taxes or raising the deficit.
In 2005, Netanyahu undertook the most significant economic reform of his career — the overhaul of the corrupt, centralized banking system. He resigned from office — in protest against the surrender of Gaza and northern Samaria to Palestinian jihadists — a day after the Knesset passed his banking reform into law. If he had not waited, the Sharon government would have abandoned the project.
I agree that it would have been desirable for Netanyahu to have resigned earlier and led the campaign against the withdrawals. But I can understand his desire to stay and see his reform passed. I also understand that because he was able to succeed in his position, today, the economy is the only sector of Israeli society that is not on the verge of collapse and as a result today there is hope that we will be able to rebuild our other sectors.
Netanyahu is an imperfect man and an imperfect leader. He disappointed many people. He is difficult to get along with. But to act as though he was a failure in office or that he has abandoned all the principles he stands for, is to lie in the face of reality.
For Israel to pull itself out of its present predicament, we do not need a perfect leader. We need a good leader. For Israel to pull itself out of its present predicament we do not need for everyone to be perfect. We need for a simple majority of Israelis to understand that we need to move in another direction. We need for leaders to be elected who are capable of making a change.
At all times, it is wrong to expect men to be gods. At all times, it is counterproductive to hold leaders to standards they cannot achieve as mere mortals. But in times of greatest peril, as Israel finds itself in today, it is irresponsible to demand results that cannot be achieved in the short run rather than understanding that to achieve greatness in the long run, it is important to found future greatness on the attainment of realistic and responsible goals on a daily basis.
By the same token, the fact that perfection cannot be achieved does not mean that we should stop seeking it. Our political visions ought to be rooted in aspirations for greatness and faith in our rightness. Such an anchoring of actions will all but guarantee a more consistent, studied progression of actions that will lead us not to perfection, but to security and safety in the medium and long term.
Luckily, Israel has leaders who can lead this country in the right direction. Unfortunately, for these men to lead us, we must first bring about the fall of the Olmert government and win a simple majority in the next general elections.
Keyes: Having agreed generally on the nature of the threats facing Israel, this panel has quickly evolved into a debate about who is most fit to lead the nation. On this matter, I have a few observations.
First, it is abundantly clear that the present government has failed and must be replaced. Orwell once said of Stanley Baldwin that "one could not even dignify him with the name of a stuffed shirt. He was simply a hole in the air." This seems to me a relatively accurate description of some of Israel's present day leaders. Similarly, Orwell could easily have been referring to Israel 's current leadership when he wrote of the ruling English class "What is to be expected of them is not treachery, or physical cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct for doing the wrong thing."
The war in Lebanon was only the most recent disaster. A few short months after the mighty IDF took on Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group has emerged with an even greater capacity than before the war, according to Brig. -Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of the Military Intelligence Research Division. This is simply unacceptable. Israeli deterrence has also been severely harmed by the outcome of the war. What must Assad and Ahmadinejad think if a terrorist group like Hezbollah with only a few thousand fighters could hold its own against the vaunted Israeli army? The IDF is tremendously powerful, but only if used appropriately. Even the IDF can become ineffective when hamstrung by politicians and not given a sensible mandate. Replacing the civilian leadership that bears ultimate responsibility for the outcome of the war in Lebanon is of the utmost importance.
Second, the issue which is most vital for Israeli leaders to grasp today is the Iranian nuclear threat. As this particular moment, whoever has the most clarity on Iran will get my vote. This includes the ability to stand up to intense international pressure which is trying to force Israel to appease its enemies and dally. Menachem Begin saw the Iraqi nuclear program for what it was—an existential threat of the highest magnitude and a risk that no rational nation should be forced to accept. He took th
e extraordinary measure of ordering an air assault to destroy Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. That mission, though wildly unpopular in the international community, saved countless lives and was absolutely necessary. Ahmadinejad's rhetoric today dwarfs that of Saddam in the 1980s. Doubtless, such a mission against Iran would be far more complex. Whoever leads Israel over the next few years must have unflinching confidence and nerves of steel.
I strongly agree with Caroline that perfection cannot become the enemy of the good, to paraphrase an old proverb. Every leader in history has made mistakes. Churchill, Lincoln, Ben-Gurion, and other great men made severe tactical and even strategic mistakes in times of war and peace. But on the whole, they were leaders of incredible resolve who saw right from wrong and tirelessly pursued their aims. They were willing to take enormous risks for the betterment of their countries. They withstood immense personal pressure. Churchill and Lincoln specifically, were extraordinarily unpopular at crucial points in their careers.
The general thrust of an administration is a much better barometer than one or two particular policies. Netanyahu helped bring about a dramatic decrease in terrorism and for that he deserves credit. His rhetoric on Iran is also very good. Yaalon is a wonderful human being with the most noble of convictions. If Netanyahu and Yaalon teamed up, that would be a hard combination to beat.
In 1950, Ben Gurion said "The most dangerous enemy to Israel 's security is the intellectual inertia of those who are responsible for security." That is as true today as it was then. Israel has an incredible army, educated populace, robust society, and a luminescent heritage. What is most lacking today, are political leaders who have the personal qualities to guide this great nation—men and women of deep courage and unwavering moral clarity. Sharansky is such a man, but alas, perhaps he is too good for the dirty business of politics. Let us hope that Israel can transcend this most corrupt moment and once again elect leaders who are worthy of defending its good name.
Hornik: Caroline Glick, Kenneth Levin, and David Keyes have made telling points in rounding out the picture regarding Netanyahu and giving him credit for his very real achievements. His energy, determination, and successes in the economic sphere, almost alone and against huge odds, have been little short of breathtaking. Although he is not a Ben-Gurion or a Begin, his capacities in both the economic and foreign/security spheres–particularly, as pointed out, the drastic drop in terrorism while he was prime minister–add up to a gifted and versatile individual with real leadership talents.
I do not think the domestic pressures facing U.S. presidents like Truman or Bush, Jr., which Rael Jean Isaac mentions, are comparable to the geopolitical pressures Israel faces from a sole ally that is also a superpower. (For an immediate flavor of how brutal and intimidating those pressures can be, I recommend Moshe Arens's accounts of his dealings with James Baker in Arens's book Broken Covenant.) In any case, while we can argue about whether, in specific cases, Israeli leaders should or could have resisted the American pressures, the severity Ms. Isaac has expressed seems directed only at the Israeli side. But one might well ask why, whereas in Israel it is outright capitulationists or wishy-washy individuals like Peres, Peretz, or Livni who show enthusiasm for the Abbas-chase, in the U.S. it is not only liberal leaders like Clinton but also conservative ones like Bush and Rice who continue the decades-long American pursuit and courting of the Fatah movement and the obsession with the "two-state solution" of creating a twenty-second Muslim-Arab dictatorship on biblical land that would gravely threaten and destabilize both Israel and Jordan.
If Israeli leaders (those capable or desirous of doing so) need to be encouraged to stand up to the pressures, American leaders also need to be criticized for exerting them and for the shameful, persistent, bipartisan reflex, going back at least as far as Kissinger's pressures on Rabin in the 1970s, of handing territorial and other plums to the Arabs while progressively weakening a democratic ally. Although Ms. Isaac rightly points out that Israelis could do more to press this case in America , I suggest that it is mainly a task for Americans.
True, Israelis need leaders who not only can make rational points about security but can articulate and reinforce basic values and the national ethos. Although disappointingly Netanyahu seems generally better able to do this in addressing foreign audiences than in addressing Israelis, when he tends to take a technocratic and "spin"-based posture, those of us who are not ready to write off Israel as pretty much a flop and a failure outside of the religious-Zionist camp are aware of, for instance, Moshe Yaalon's ability to articulate deep truths about the Zionist endeavor and its enemies, and of his potentials as an Israeli leader of great substance, insight, and strength. Another bright spot is Member of Knesset Steinitz's intensive work with U.S. congressional and other leaders in developing joint understandings and approaches to the Iranian threat.
That Israel , a democracy under constant siege, has developed the reality-denying and appeasing tendencies seen in all other democracies that face enemies is not surprising. We can all agree that the present Olmert-Peretz-Livni government is disastrous, and most of us see a better alternative and hope it will be voted into office as soon as possible.
Levin: Again we all agree that the current Israeli government is a disaster. Those holding the three key portfolios, Olmert, Livni and Peretz, are subjecting the nation to a "perfect storm" of incompetence and self-delusion.
We all concur on the need to replace those presently in power as soon as possible. Of those politicians looking clear-eyed at Israel 's predicament and seeking to translate that clear-sightedness into policy, most are affiliated with Likud. Others whom we might wish to see in leadership positions, such as Natan Sharansky and Moshe Yaalon, are currently not involved in party leadership roles.
Once more, I share many of Rael Jean Isaac's concerns about Benjamin Netanyahu's previous stewardship of the government. And while I, as others, am in awe of his achievements as finance minister, noting his accomplishments in that office does not address his performance as prime minister. And, yes, terror attacks in Israel fell dramatically during his tenure. (It did so mainly because, under the 1992-96 Labor-Meretz coalition, Arafat and his associates paid no price for terror. Indeed, they were even rewarded for it, as some in the government, such as Yossi Sarid, argued – even as there was extensive evidence of Arafat's collusion in the terror and certainly of his praising of it and incitement of it – that Arafat was not clamping down on the terrorists because he was too weak to do so and that the Israeli response should be more concessions to him in order to strengthen his position; a line depressingly echoed in current government arguments for supporting Mahmoud Abbas. With Netanyahu as prime minister, it was clear that the government would use terror attacks as a reason to refuse further concessions, and so Arafat – the supposedly "weak&
quot; Arafat – decided it was politic to rein in the terror for a time and effectively did so.) But this decline in terror is also beside the point when one is noting such problems as Netanyahu's acquiescence to the Wye agreement.
Still, the best available alternative to the present fiasco of a government is Likud. In addition, the Israeli public, I believe, is much more prepared to be receptive to clear-sighted exposition of Israel's predicament and the steps it must take to defend itself, as well as to broader reaffirmation of Jewish rights in the Jewish homeland; and the best available voices for articulating these messages are also within Likud. More particularly, it is Netanyahu's voice.
One can recognize the problems of his previous premiership, harbor concerns about a reprise of those problems in a second term as prime minister, and yet fervently desire to see Likud returned to power as soon as possible.
Isaac: Mr. Keyes notes that given our agreement on the nature of the threats Israel faces, this panel has evolved into a debate on who is most fit to lead the nation. Here I seem to be the chief warning voice that placing faith in Netanyahu, clinging to the hope that he will act differently this time round, is to court failure and this Israel can simply not afford in its current critical situation.
Caroline Glick sets up a straw man when she invokes "perfection" as the standard to which Netanyahu is being unfairly held. True, Netanyahu was an excellent Finance Minister, a position to which one hopes he will return. But character is fate, and Netanyahu simply lacks the character necessary for the role of Prime Minister; he lacks political courage and resolve, the willingness to abide by bedrock principles and commitments, even when the going is tough.
Alas, no matter what the issue, in big matters and small, Netanyahu showed the same distressing inability to hold his ground. In his 1995 campaign he declared "reciprocity" would be the central principle in relations with the PLO. On being elected, he refused to meet with Arafat until the PLO ceased its violations of Oslo. But when the U.S. demanded "progress" in the "peace process" he met with Arafat anyway. The Netanyahu government issued a steady stream of reports about the PLO's violations of Oslo, but since in practice it did nothing to make continued negotiations (and concessions) dependent on compliance, Netanyahu's rhetoric on the subject became empty bombast. The situation became so bad that erstwhile supporters resorted to satire. In a speech to the Likud Party meeting in March 1997 Benny Begin declared: "Arafat releases terrorists and so does Israel. Arafat smuggles in weapons and we give him assault rifles to round off his stores. We have security men in Jerusalem and so do they. We have government offices in Jerusalem and so do they."
Glick tries to cast a favorable light on Netanyahu's 1997 agreement to withdraw from Hebron. This is what Netanyahu had said of Hebron on December 7, 1994. "We dwell in Hebron not out of benevolence but as a right. Hebron belongs to the Jewish people eternally as a result of our right and as a result of our strength, our strength of faith, our strength to stand up for what is legitimately ours." Notice this was said more than a year after the 1993 Oslo agreement, whose provisions, Netanyahu would claim in 1997, gave his government no choice but to relinquish Hebron. But whoever heard of an agreement that only one side was bound to honor? And contrary to what Glick says, Netanyahu did not improve on the earlier agreement. Counterterrorism expert Yigal Carmon made a detailed analysis for the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot on January 16, 1997 and found the new agreement made the identical failure to condition Israeli withdrawals on PLO compliance. Moreover, Carmon reported, Netanyahu's claim that he had won "American guarantees" in the agreement, was simply false.
At Wye Netanyahu faced — and failed — his most crucial test. Making utter mockery of the principle of reciprocity — Arafat had failed to honor a single commitment — Netanyahu now offered up 40% of Judea and Samaria, a safe corridor between those areas and Gaza, more releases of terrorists from prison, even an airport in Gaza to permit Arab aircraft to fly over Israeli cities. Glick defends this performance by saying that while people are angry with Netanyahu for signing the Wye Accord they forget he never implemented it because of Arafat's violations. But this is like shrugging off an attempted murder because the bullet failed to kill. It overlooks the impact of this terrible agreement in demoralizing Netanyahu's supporters in Israel and Israel's well-wishers abroad.
Nor should we forget that Netanyahu sought to return the Golan to Syria. Daniel Pipes has described the dispute over the details on his weblog ( June 27, 2004). Was Netanyahu prepared to go back to the 1967 border (which Clinton and Dennis Ross assert in their respective memoirs) or did Netanyahu hold out for several kilometers beyond the international border line? But the point is that Netanyahu was prepared to return the heights to Syria and clearly a concomitant, destroy the Jewish communities there. What does that presage for a return of Netanyahu to the Prime Minister's office?
Glick says that Netanyahu was the best Prime Minister since Yitzhak Shamir but this is what Shamir had to say about Netanyahu in an interview with Maariv in 1997: "The fact is he's working against the principles of the Likud. He has no principles at all. I don't see any principles."
So I agree, one should not demand perfection or expect men to be gods. Yet surely Israel is entitled to want something better than a leader in the relentless pursuit of imperfection. Glick speaks of founding "future greatness on the attainment of realistic and responsible goals on a daily basis." That begs the question of what realistic and responsible goals on a daily basis are. Judging Netanyahu by the record, for him they are what U.S. government officials demand at any given moment. That is not the basis for future greatness but the state's destruction.
What are the characteristics of great leaders? It is hard to improve on what Mr. Keyes says: individuals with incredible resolve who see right from wrong and tirelessly pursue their aims, willing to take enormous risks and withstand immense personal pressure. In the case of Israel I would add that a true leader would not hold out promises of peace but steadily explain the realities to his people, no matter how unpalatable. A true leader would seek to lift his people out of the slough of despond, reawakening their faith in themselves, reenergizing them to work for national renewal. There are many wonderful people in Israel thirsting for direction and hope.
We must be honest with ourselves. To expect anything different from Netanyahu now because he says the right things is folly. He has always talked the
talk, but never been able to walk the walk. Netanyahu is surprising in the sense that it is not as if he had a set of beliefs prior to assuming power and then modified them once he experienced the constraints of power. In his case it's as if he had a split personality, one that articulates values, the other that ignores them in practice.
To say that Netanyahu is Israel's best hope is to give up in advance, something I would hope this panel at least is not prepared to do. Israel cannot afford another round with hollow leaders. Eventually everything gets hollowed out including the army, as we saw horrifyingly in Lebanon. Israel's soldiers may still be fine, but that goes for nothing if leadership fails.
A final point: David Hornik says that I focus only on the Israeli side when so much of the problem is American pressure, from conservative Republican administrations as much as from liberal Democratic ones. If Israeli leaders need to be encouraged to stand up to these pressures, he argues, the primary responsibility is on Americans to be criticizing American leaders for exerting them. I would certainly agree about this bipartisan pattern of pressures, and indeed they go back much farther than Kissinger's pressures on Rabin in the 1970s, which Mr. Hornik takes as a starting point. They go back to the beginning of the state; from the outset U.S. administrations had a disastrous obsession with "territories for peace," at that time wanting Israel to make territorial concessions in the Negev. I fully agree that Americans need to exert pressure on their government. Unfortunately it is difficult to be more Catholic than the Pope; unless Israel has a principled policy, it is difficult to effectively exert such pressure. I would add that American Jews are also much to blame, most of them far more concerned with gay rights and abortion than with Israel's survival.
Glick: In 1992, angry over Shamir's decision to bow to US pressure after the Gulf War and attend the "peace" conference at Madrid, Shamir's coalition partners on the Right brought down his government. They were mad at him for "abandoning his principles" by going to a conference where he conceded nothing to the Arabs.
As a result, the Shamir government fell, Israel went to elections and Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres formed the next government. They brought us Oslo.
A big thank you is therefore due to the brilliant political strategists on the "pure" right, Hanan Porat and Geula Cohen et. al. who, while demanding unshirking loyalty to the path, thought Yitzhak Shamir too weak and so helped bring Arafat to the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Then, in 1999, the purist Benny Begin resigned his position in the Netanyahu government and formed the Tekuma party. He ran against Netanyahu in the elections that year and so split the vote on the Right. For his part, Sharansky and his Yisrael B'Aliyah party ran an anti-religious campaign for the Russian vote and supported Labor leader Ehud Barak for Prime Minister.
Netanyahu lost, Likud went down to 19 seats and we got Ehud Barak as prime minister. Barak, in turn brought us the handover of south Lebanon to Hizbullah; the Camp David Summit where he offered the Temple Mount to Arafat; and jihad replete with more than 1000 murdered Israelis, and international hatred and criminalization of Zionism and the Jewish state.
So a big thank you to Benny Begin and Natan Sharansky et. al. for helping to usher in the Barak years by getting rid of the bogeyman Netanyahu who brought terrorism down to a minimum, turned the economy around and attempted to force a peace crazed Clinton administration and Israeli media to recognize Arafat for the terrorist he was.
Then there was the 2002 Likud primary. It took place before Sharon decided to become a charter member of the far Left but after he had already handed over Israel's post-9/11 foreign policy to Shimon Peres and corrupted Israeli politics beyond recognition with the help of his sons and his public relations advisors working hand in glove with the leftist media in Israel.
Sharon waited until over 500 Israelis had been murdered to launch the Defensive Shield counter-terror offensive in Judea and Samaria and refused to take action in any concerted manner in Gaza. At the same time, while grudgingly taking action against the terror infrastructures in Judea and Samaria, he bowed to US pressure and took no action against the Palestinian Authority which stood behind that terror infrastructure and so guaranteed that Israel would not win the war.
Moreover, after September 11, 2001 he idiotically acceded to the ridiculous and geo-strategically disastrous fiction that the jihad against Israel has nothing to do with the jihad against the rest of the Free World. In so doing, in a stroke he destroyed the coherence not only of Israel's counter-terror strategy, but the counter-terror strategy of the entire Free World.
Most importantly, Sharon declared that as far as he was concerned, Judea, Samaria and Gaza were under "occupation" and that he supported establishing an independent Palestinian state in the areas, knowing full well that Israel cannot survive without defensible borders and that any lands Israel vacates become bases of operations for jihad against Israel and the rest of the world.
Netanyahu challenged Sharon in the primaries on all these issues. But there were people there who said, "Who is Netanyahu to talk when he gave away Hebron and signed Wye?" So blinded were Netanyahu's purist detractors by their hatred of him that they refused to recognize the dangers of Sharon regardless of how many times they were warned. They supported Sharon and his lackey Ehud Olmert. Sharon returned the favor by expelling the Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria; bringing Hamas to power; setting the course for the war in Lebanon last summer; decimating the Likud party; decimating the IDF's General Staff; corrupting the Police Force; and shattering Israel's intellectual and ideological support base in the US by inducing almost every single American Jewish organization to support land giveaways to Hamas and Fatah.
In 2006, after Sharon and Olmert had turned Gaza into a Hamas-controlled terrorist camp and Olmert announced his plans for further mass expulsions of Jews and land giveaways to terrorist organizations, Netanyahu ran again at the head of the Likud party Sharon had ripped apart. Again, the right-wing purists focused their campaigns on demonizing their great foe: Netanyahu. Many defected to Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party that is now a full partner in Ehud Olmert's failed government.
There is a reason that the right wing in Israel has been so unsuccessful holding onto political power even as its analysis of world affairs has turned out to be right again and again. The Israeli right fails to grasp the "big tent" theory of politics – that govern
ment is maintained with coalitions of 50% + 1. The right fails to grasp that being right in our strategic understandings and moral underpinnings is not good enough. We must give people reasons to join us, not dismiss so many of those who are on our side while childishly thinking that we can build coalitions with our enemies. This is not how one governs a country.
The Israeli media is almost monolithically leftist and yet, rather than understand that we need to open up the media market, build new media outlets and support the alternative outlets that already exist, right wingers cling to the old ones and pretend they can somehow change them from within, or fight with one another over the crumbs the Left throws us every now and again.
So too, the courts in Israel are post-Zionist and yet the Right insists on continuing to petition the Supreme Court rather than build wide coalitions with others to reform the court system, amend the laws for selecting Israel's judges and overhaul the criminal justice system.
Israel is in dire straits and it finds itself in these straits in part because of the immaturity of our political activists. We are a people with a long tradition of learning and faith but a very short history of wielding actual power. Much of our political failure can be chalked up to inexperience. But it is deeply disturbing to watch otherwise clear-thinking people tearing down the foundations of a recovery because the foundations don't match 100% of their expectations, rather than building wide coalitions based on shared interests with as many people as possible to ensure that we emerge intact and even victorious.
Let us understand that, despite my criticism, I appreciate the good work of people like Natan Sharansky, and I want to see more of him and of people like him in Israeli politics. I support people like Sharansky and the former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli military Moshe Ya'alon even though I think that both have been mistaken in the past and I do not agree with everything they say today because it is clear to me that they have brought far more benefit than damage to Israel and because there is certainly much further benefit that Israel can enjoy from their public service in the future. I support them – and Netanyahu – because the demands of statecraft require that we be led by the politicians we have rather than the politicians we may wish we had.
As to Rael Jean Issac's specific critiques of Netanyahu's leadership, I would just say that her reading of the Hebron agreement, like her analysis of the rest of his record, is faulty. I was in the Hebron negotiations in my position in the military. During the period in question, I served as the Coordinator of Negotiations in the Ministry of Defense. I drafted the initial agreement on Civil Affairs in Hebron just as I worked on earlier accords during the Rabin-Peres governments. I did not support the IDF redeployment in Hebron at the time and continue to view it, like the rest of the Oslo process as a massive failure. But I do believe that if the agreement that Peres and Rabin acceded to had been implemented, Israel would have found itself in a much more precarious situation in the city than that which presented itself as a result of the updated agreement that Netanyahu achieved.
While Yigal Carmon does wonderful work at MEMRI, he is simply wrong about the Hebron agreement, as he has been about other analyses of Israeli political developments. I didn't read Carmon's critique at the time, but I did notice that he supported Barak's candidacy for premier in 1999 and thought that Barak's offer to Arafat at Camp David was a brilliant idea because it exposed Arafat. Interestingly, I haven't noticed that Carmon has had anything to say since Camp David about the fact that after Barak "unmasked" Arafat, he refused to defend Israel but rather continued to attempt to give Arafat the Temple Mount until he was finally thrown out of office in January 2001.
Keyes: It is nearly axiomatic that anyone elected Prime Minister of Israel will go on to break many of his or her most ardent election promises. For decades, and even up to the days before he was elected, Sharon was adamantly opposed to unilateral withdrawal. It would be a reward for terror, he said. It would bring rockets deeper into the Israeli heart-land. It would become a safe-haven for terrorists groups. Once in power, Sharon reversed his position 180 degrees and led the campaign for unilateral disengagement from Gaza. This led to the rise of Hamas. Sharon eventually subdued the second intifada but, as Caroline correctly points out, waited until 500 Israeli civilians had been blown up before launching Operation Defensive Shield. He also freed many hundreds of Palestinian prisoners which encouraged future waves of terrorism.
In 1999, Barak promised a "Jerusalem, united and under our rule forever, period." As Prime Minister, he offered the Palestinians half of Jerusalem. He also attempted to give Arafat a state that would have left Israel with utterly indefensible borders. Netanyahu brought terror to an all-time low, but made mistakes as well. Peres was woefully weak in the face of relentless bombings. Rabin promised not to negotiate with the PLO but did exactly that one year later. He, perhaps more than anyone else, was responsible for legitimizing Arafat.
I take for granted that much of what is said on the campaign trail is rhetoric tailored to specific audiences. My ideal leader is the person who breaks the fewest of his promises. Look at Bush. Like clockwork he declares his opposition to tyranny throughout the world. And yet, he maintains close alliances with despots like Musharraf, Mubarak, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. What matters most, however, is that the two biggest decisions of his presidency—the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—did more to dismantle apparatuses of tyranny and terror than anything else in a very long time. 50 million people were liberated from dictatorship and allowed to partake in consensual government for the first time ever. A veritable shockwave was sent throughout the region. The elimination of two of the most repressive regimes of the past several decades is a beautiful thing that forever changed the world. While I fervently hope the White House distances itself from odious autocrats like Abdullah and Mubarak, I still recognize that Bush has put democratization on the map as never before. Democracy is the talk of the world—the new barometer by which to measure progress—and that is due in no small part the Bush administration. While there is no perfect government and certainly no perfect president, we must hold every leader's feet to the fire and hope that more good is done than bad.
Caroline Glick is saying that Netanyahu is better than the present competition. Rael Jean Isaac is saying that's not good enough. What I believe Israel needs is a Prime Minister who will return to the basics. Rewarding terror encourages terror. Releasing prisoners sends the worst possible message. If your kitchen is on fire, you cannot "disengage" by mo
ving into the living room. Rational enemies must be deterred and irrational ones must be struck first. There is no substitute for victory. Nations should only be trusted as much as they trust their own people.
Frankly, I do not know who can or will fulfill these principles. But whoever it is, to quote the great philosopher Mr. T, "I pity the fool."
FP: Rael Isaac, David Hornik, Caroline Glick, David Keyes and Kenneth Levin, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.