There has been a qualitative leap in military
technology that makes all inherited conventional wisdom, and war as an instrument
of political policy, utterly irrelevant, not just to the United States but also
to any other state that embarks upon it. Nations should have realized this a
century ago, but they did not. But there have been decisive changes in balances
of power, and more accurate and destructive weapons and soon nuclear
bombs and the missiles to deliver them are becoming more and more available
to the poorer countries. Technology is moving much more rapidly than the diplomatic
and political resources or will to control its inevitable consequences.
The United States should have learned its lesson in Vietnam, and its public
is aware of it to a far greater extent than its politicians. The war in Iraq
has reaffirmed the decisive limits of technology when fighting against enemies
who are decentralized and determined. It has been extraordinarily expensive
but militarily ineffective, and America is ineluctably losing its vast undertaking.
Rivals are much more equal, and wars are more protracted and expensive for those
who persist in fighting them. America's ambitions for hegemony throughout the
globe can now be more and more successfully challenged.
The ultramodern Israel Defense Force finally learned this in Lebanon last July,
when Hezbollah rockets destroyed or seriously damaged at least 20 of its best
tanks and they were fought to a draw abandoning the field of battle and
losing their precious myth of invincibility. Growing demoralization well before
the Lebanon war plagued Israel, and the percentage of Jews with higher academic
degrees who migrated grew steadily after 2002. Israel exports brain power to
an extent very high by world standards. The Lebanon war and talk both
from Israeli and Iranian leaders of "existential" threats to
the state's very existence only gravely aggravated this defeatism and the desire
to leave. At the end of January, 78 percent of Israelis were "unhappy"
with their leaders for a variety of reasons.
Israeli politics has always been highly unstable by any standard, but the corruption
and other scandals that are now plaguing it exceed any in its history, paralleling
its loss of confidence in its military power. Alienation from the political
class in Israel has never been greater, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his
cronies hope that spreading fear of the Iranian bomb will help them ride out
a political storm that has seen his poll-rating plummet to a record low. But
fear works both ways, frightening the people who can migrate most easily and
keeping out tourists and foreign investors.
Moreover, the Israeli public's anxiety has not been lessened by reports of
the efficacy of anti-missile systems that Israel has installed at great expense.
The Iranians have mastered all of the technical bases of missile technology,
according to Israeli experts, and although the quality and precision of Iran's
missiles may leave something to be desired, they can inflict immense damage.
Israeli specialists also argue that the missile-defense shield Israel possesses
in common with those of all other nations is not sufficient to
protect it. Syria has missiles also not so effective as the Iranian ones,
but much closer and capable of inflicting much damage if used.
Notwithstanding the apocalyptic proclamations on Iran's imminent nuclear power
by Olmert's major rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, or by the prime minister himself
and some of his cabinet on occasion, this hysteria is politically motivated
and intended to garner public support.
Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, told the Israeli Knesset last December that
diplomatic efforts were "far from being over" and that an Iranian
nuclear bomb was at least two years or more off. Many Israeli strategists, including
Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, now regard Bush's war in Iraq as a highly destabilizing
disaster for the entire region and a major boon to Iran's power, and they regret
having endorsed it. A war with Iran would be far more dangerous. Worse yet,
efforts to demonize Iran have failed. Only 36 percent of the Jewish population
of Israel polled last month thought an Iranian nuclear attack the "biggest
threat" to Israel.
Serious Israeli strategists overwhelmingly believe, to cite Reuven
Pedatzur in Ha'aretz last November, that "mutual assured deterrence
can be forged, with a high degree of success, between Israel and Iran."
Israeli strategic thinking is highly realistic. Early this February a study
released at a conference by the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel
Aviv University predicted that Iran would behave rationally with nuclear weapons
and "that the elimination of Israel is not considered to be an essential
national interest" for it. Iran "will act logically, evaluating the
price and risks involved." A preemptive attack on Iran nuclear research
sites would "be a strategic mistake," Pedatzur warned the conference,
and the use of tactical nuclear weapons against them sheer folly. "Our
best option is open nuclear deterrence."
Israeli experts have come to the realization that American policy in the Middle
East is not merely an immense failure but also a decisive inhibition to Israel
reorienting its foreign policy to confront the realities of the region that
the Jews have chosen to live in. The U.S. has ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan
and Saddam Hussein from Iraq and created an overwhelming Iranian presence. In
Palestine, its campaign for democracy has brought Hamas to power. Troop escalation
in Iraq is deemed futile. "It's a total misreading of reality," one
Israeli expert is quoted when discussing America's role in the region. Israeli
interests are no longer being served. American policies have failed, and Israel
has given a carte blanche to a strategy that leaves it more isolated
The only security Israel can have will be a result
of its signing peace accords with the Palestinians and the neighboring countries.
It is no more likely than the U. S. to defeat its enemies on the field of battle,
and its arms have been neutralized. The war in Lebanon was only an augury of
the decisive limits of its military power. It is in this context that secret
Israeli talks with Syria have enormous significance. They began in January 2004
in Turkey with the approval of Sharon, moving on to Switzerland, where the Swiss
Foreign Office played the role of intermediary. By August 2005 they had reached
a very advanced form and covered territorial, water, border, and political questions.
Details remained to be ironed out, but they were a quantum leap in solving one
of the region's crucial problems. When the Baker-Hamilton Study Group filed
its recommendations last December, negotiations with Syria were especially stressed
a point he reiterated when he testified to the U.S. Senate Committee
on Foreign Relations last Jan. 30. Baker undoubtedly knew about the secret talks
and Syria's explicit statements it wished to break with radical Islamic movements
and was ready to discuss its ties with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
These nominally secret talks were made public on Jan. 8, 2007, when Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak accused the United States in an interview with an Israeli
paper of obstructing peace between Israel and Syria.
Ha'aretz's Akiva Eldar then published a series of extremely detailed
accounts, including the draft accord, confirming that Syria offered a far-reaching
and equitable peace treaty that would provide for Israel's security and is comprehensive
and which would divorce Syria from Iran and even create a crucial distance
between it and Hezbollah and Hamas. The Bush administration's role in scuttling
any peace accord was decisive. C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state
for near eastern affairs, sat in at the final meeting, and two former senior
CIA officials were present in all of these meetings and sent regular reports
to Vice President Dick Cheney's office. The press has been full of details on
how the American role was decisive, because it has war, not peace, at the top
of its agenda.
Most of the Israeli establishment favors it. On Jan. 28, important Israelis
met publicly in Jaffa and called the Israeli response "an irresponsible
gamble with the State of Israel" since it made Cheney arbiter of Israeli
national interests. They included former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak,
former Shin Bet chief Ya'akov Perry, former directors of the Foreign Ministry
David Kimche and Alon Liel (who negotiated the deal and believes it is very
serious), and the like. Shlomo Ben-Ami, former foreign minister, has since supported
their position and argued that it is "too important" for Israel to
endorse yet "another failure in the U.S. strategy."
But Olmert has explicitly said that the Bush administration opposes a negotiated
peace with Syria. Therefore, he is opposed to it also. Olmert's contradiction
is that he wants to remain closely allied to the U.S., whatever its policies,
yet he is now one of the most unpopular prime ministers in Israel's history
and in power only because of Sharon's stroke. Israel is a crucial pillar of
American policy in the entire region, but this policy is failing. An alliance
with America is Olmert's recipe for political defeat when the inevitable election
is called. That is his problem.
Israel's power after 1947 was based on its military
supremacy over its weaker neighbors. It is in the process of losing it
if it has not already. Lesser problems, mainly demographic, will only be aggravated
if tension persists. It simply cannot survive allied with the United States,
because the Americans will either leave the region or embark on a war that risks
Israel's very existence. It is time for it to become "normal" and
make peace with its neighbors, and that will require it to make major concessions.
It can do that if it embarks upon an independent foreign policy, and it can
start immediately to do so with Syria.