E. B. Samuel is the pseudonym of a former congressional staffer and now a Washington-based analyst
It has long been the conventional wisdom that, absent successful negotiations, Arab-Israeli tensions increase, along with the chances of miscalculation, violence, and even prospects for war. While this understanding may be correct, a look at trends over the past fifteen years suggests another development that is even more likely to lead to an Arab-Israeli war: the decline in Israel's ability to deter would-be aggressors.
To be sure, Israel still has a potent armed force, takes delivery of the latest U.S.-built fighter-bombers, and mounts successful surveillance and seizure operations against suspected terrorists. But Israeli deterrence ultimately rests less on its capabilities than on its national morale and its willingness to use the resources at hand in pursuit of a vital goal—something that seems to have deteriorated significantly since 1982. This in turn could have dire implications for Israel's future security.
DETERRENCE AND ITS DECLINE
Israel came into existence to provide a haven for persecuted Jews and provide a home in which a sovereign Jewish people reemerges, "normalizes," and thrives. Those goals implied that an 1,800-year-old condition be reversed; no longer could Jewish blood be shed without retribution. Jewish lives would never again be cheap. "Never again," the attitude that emerged from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and by example inspired the first Jewish army in reborn Israel, did not guarantee that Jews would not be victims of aggression but did assure that aggressors too would feel pain. The diaspora image of a weak and powerless Jew was not to reappear; retaliation had the dual goal of meting out justice and deterring future aggression.
Of course, the lesson that Jews no longer would go quietly had to be repeated—notably in 1948-49, 1956, 1967 and 1973—before Arab governments began to learn it. At the sub-state level, the covert executions of those responsible for the 1972 Olympic massacre and, indeed, the 1982 war against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon made the same point.
It worked, more or less. As Egypt's President Anwar as-Sadat wrote to his Syrian counterpart, Hafiz al-Asad, explaining why he was asking for a cease-fire in the 1973 Yom Kippur War: "I cannot accept the responsibility before history for the destruction of our armed forces for a second time."1 Likewise, among terrorist practitioners of "low intensity warfare," the expectation of Israeli retribution took hold. Looking back, it appears that Arab assumptions about Israel's response to threats—based on tangibles including armament and training, and intangibles such as military and civilian morale—helped prevent the 1982 war against the PLO in Lebanon from becoming a wider Arab-Israeli conflict, despite Israeli-Syrian combat in Lebanon. Aharon Levran, a retired Israeli brigadier general and a leading security expert, for one, believes that Israel's overwhelming air superiority over the Syrians in 1982 reinforced Israel's regional deterrent posture on a state-to-state basis.2 Except for such painful behavior modification, it's hard to imagine Yasir Arafat's 1988 disavowal, however halting, of terrorism or his 1993 handshake, however insincere, with Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Of late, however, Israelis are less ready to retaliate. Three factors, in particular, may well have contributed to an erosion of the Israeli psychology of deterrence. First, some Israelis have come around to accept the old and unchanged assumption in the Arab world that Israel is the aggressor. Beginning with the Lebanon war, "post-Zionist" Israelis have spread doubt whether Jews have the unconditional right to lay claim to a Jewish state. Israeli belief in the rightness of their cause—a Jewish state on ancient Jewish land—has suffered as a result.
Second, a fatigue has set in. General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, the recently retired chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), reportedly talked about signs in Israeli society of a growing weariness.3 Third, internecine conflicts sap Israeli readiness to face the outside world. Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai publicly warned that "no advanced technology will save us if our soldiers do not possess an enormous desire to prevail, if they lack motivation and an understanding of what they are fighting for. I must say that the growing tension between various sectors of Israeli society, between secular and religious communities, does nothing to enhance the IDF's capability."4
A number of specific Israeli actions form a pattern that could cause potential aggressors to doubt Israel's clarity of purpose and morale. These actions fall into four categories—military, counter-terrorism, political, and changes in mood.
Several specific, high-profile episodes point to the deterioration of Israel's military deterrent. During the 1982 war in Lebanon, the IDF needed only days to push 10,000-plus PLO gunmen fifty miles from southern Lebanon to the piers of Beirut, from which they eventually departed into distant exile. But the same IDF has since 1985 been mired in a narrow "security zone" in southern Lebanon, unable to suppress 10,000-20,000 Hizbullah gunmen even as it loses several dozen young men annually and the country engages in a polarizing debate.
In 1991, during the Kuwait war, Iraq's Saddam Husayn fired thirty-nine ballistic missiles into Israel. The Scuds, inaccurate armaments bearing only conventional warheads, caused miraculously few casualties. But Israel, led by Yitzhak Shamir of the Likud Party, agreed to be sidelined by its American patron (on the grounds that Washington's Arab allies might buckle if they had to fight alongside the Jewish state) and Saddam's attacks went unanswered. An Israel short-leashed by Uncle Sam, not retaliating for direct aggression, marked a milestone on the drift from deterrence. Citizens of the Jewish state met an enemy attack by wearing gas masks and huddling in "sealed rooms." This was hardly in keeping with Israel's founding insistence on "never again."
The same scene was nearly repeated in February 1998, as the United States confronted Iraq and Israelis rushed to purchase plastic sheeting and gas masks or fled the country. Israelis exhibited a public display of anxiety in 1998. The implications of these fears were lost neither on Israelis nor, one suspects, on their neighbors. Yossi Klein Halevi a columnist, finds that although most Israelis did not panic, enough of them did "to create an atmosphere that undermined national morale, and put into question the country's ongoing ability to withstand crisis."5 Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem's mayor, lamented, "We're acting as though we've been defeated in a war that hasn't even begun."6
In mid-1993, Hizbullah and PLO factions targeted northern Israel with Katyusha rockets and infiltrators. In July 1993, Israel—now led by Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party—conducted "Operation Accountability," a massive bombardment of southern Lebanon that reportedly drove up to 250,000 residents toward Beirut and depopulated much of southern Lebanon. It appeared to be the old Israel in action, as Rabin, on a visit to Israel's northern border, pronounced that "we will take all measures to make it clear to all those who are north of the security zone that if there will be no more peace and tranquillity here, there will be no peace and tranquillity for the Lebanese who live north of the security zone."7 But when the operation ended, its futility emerged; terrorists returned with civilians to southern Lebanon and eventually renewed their campaign against Israeli forces and, occasionally, civilians across the border. Rather than engage in a more onerous counter-insurgency infantry campaign, Israel's leaders had preferred long-distance bombardment; another sign of an Israel unwilling to pay the premium on a policy of "never again."
Israel—now led by Shimon Peres—reprised the futility of Operation Accountability in April 1996 with "Operation Grapes of Wrath." Major suicide bombings against Israelis a few weeks earlier had killed forty-six people in Jerusalem and Ashkelon, wounding scores more; the operation took place in the context of an election campaign in which Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu hammered at Peres and Labor for not adequately protecting the country's security interests. Grapes of Wrath amounted to a massive artillery tantrum in which Israeli shelling accidentally killed a reported 100 Lebanese civilians at Kfar Kana and highlighted the immorality of punishing non-combatants to put indirect pressure on terrorists. It did result in an internationally-brokered understanding between Hizbullah and Israel. While impressive on paper—both parties swore off targeting civilians—the agreement permitted Hizbullah, aided by Syria and Iran, to continue its war in the narrow "security zone" just north of Israel against the IDF and its client, the 2,000-man Christian-led South Lebanon Army (SLA). Two years later, it is apparent that the agreement essentially held the IDF and SLA in place as targets for Syria, via Hizbullah; thirty-nine Israeli soldiers died in Lebanon in 1997, an almost 50 percent increase over the years immediately before. Through July 1998, nine Israeli soldiers had been killed in south Lebanon and seventy wounded. Although the number was lower, it did nothing to stem the vociferous Israeli debate over withdrawal.
Israel had established a reputation second-to-none for its competence and resolve fighting terror. The renowned commando rescue on July 4, 1976, at Entebbe, Uganda, freeing Jews held hostage by German and Arab terrorists, epitomized the reality of "never again." But this too has faded in recent years.
In May 1985, Prime Minister Peres agreed to exchange 1,150 Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists and terrorist suspects in Israeli jails for just three IDF prisoners of war, a decision whose effects continue to be felt. The exchange did powerfully fulfill the army's doctrine of not leaving a single soldier behind and the Jewish insistence on the value of individual life, but it could be read another way too—as showing Israel's inability to take casualties, its growing tendency to act on short-run emotion, to think tactically, and to pay less attention to long-run national interests and strategy policy. Though released only upon pledges to kill no more, many of the released terrorists helped organize the intifada that erupted two years later and the waves of terrorism that followed the Oslo accords.8
The Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was destroyed by a car bomb in March 1992, killing twenty-six and wounding more than 200. U.S. diplomats pointed the finger at Tehran, probably working through Lebanese Hizbullah; others found Arab émigrés in South America, and neo-Nazis among the Argentine police, also responsible. Whoever it was, he apparently paid no price. Unlike the massacre at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and dozens of other terrorist outrages over the previous four decades, no Israeli retribution followed, at least none known or even rumored. The explosion at the Jewish community headquarters building in Buenos Aires in July 1994, killing eighty-six and wounding over 300, then reinforced this impression of Israeli passivity. Again, Iran, acting through Hizbullah and its accomplices in South America, was believed to be responsible.9 Again—as far as is known—there has been no retribution.
In December 1992, Rabin ordered the deportation from Israel to Lebanon of 400-plus fundamentalist Muslims, many of them implicated in anti-Israel incitement and attacks. In the past, deportation was a small-scale counter-terrorism measure that, like the demolition of houses belonging to terrorists' families, signaled Israel meant business. But this mass expulsion backfired when the governments of both Jordan and Lebanon refused custody, leaving the four hundred men to squat in a tent camp on a wintry Lebanese hillside just north of the Israeli border, their every move covered by a sympathetic world news media. International pressure finally forced Rabin to take them back. Some returnees went on to rejuvenate Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
When U.S. authorities arrested a Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, as he entered through a New York airport in July 1995, Prime Minister Rabin requested his extradition to Israel. The wheels of American justice grind slowly; by the time a U.S. court was about to decide this matter in April 1997, the Netanyahu government changed its mind and dropped the extradition request. Despite Netanyahu's having built his political career on a policy of toughness toward terrorists, he indicated that having to deal with Abu Marzook might be too hot for the Jewish state to handle. Israel agreed to Abu Marzook's release to Jordan where he would live as a free man, beyond the reach of "never again." The Hamas leader, in other words, had spilled enough Jewish blood to earn himself immunity from trial in Israel. Taking advantage of his freedom, Abu Marzook now forecasts "the liberation of Palestine"—meaning the destruction of Israel—in the twenty-first century.10
Since the signing of the Oslo agreement, Israel has freed approximately 16,000 Palestinian detainees, including thousands of terrorists and terror suspects, among them a number of convicted murderers. (The 4,000 Palestinians still held by Israel in early 1998 included some of those 16,000 who were subsequently re-arrested). Notorious terrorists are now leading members of the Palestinian Authority (PA) police and administration, including Fatima al-Burnawi, responsible for a fatal 1968 bombing in Jerusalem's Zion Square Cinema, now commander of the women's corps in the Palestinian police; and Mustafa al-Liftawi ("Abu Firas"), responsible for car-bombs in Jerusalem in the 1970s. At least twenty-three Hamas men wanted for the murders of twenty-one Israelis serve in the PA police. Never again, indeed.
When Israel exchanged sixty Lebanese prisoners, some held for up to fourteen years, plus the bodies of forty terrorists including Hadi Nasrallah, son of Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah, for the body of one Israeli soldier killed in Lebanon,11 it confirmed both its continuing disproportionate sensitivity to casualties and its inability to deter Arab gunmen with either prison or death in battle.
The intifada of 1987-93 stands out as the premier political event casting doubt on Israeli morale, the foundation of deterrence. A surprised Israel fought the uprising, but could not or would not squash it. As one wave of rioting and terrorism waned, as the IDF and police congratulated themselves on restoring order, new violence broke out. The intifada effectively redrew the pre-1967 "green line"; what prior to that had been under Arab control—Gaza, the West Bank, and eastern Jerusalem—now was functionally off-limits to Jewish Israelis (except settlers). Defense Minister Rabin's tough talk of "breaking bones" and crushing the uprising in its early months proved unavailing as guidance even as it was disheartening as propaganda. The prolonged use of army reservists as substitute police, the corrosive effect of hostile news media coverage, and the eruption of Palestinian nationalist and Islamic fervor all sapped Israelis' personal confidence and national consensus.
In September 1996, Prime Minister Netanyahu opened a second exit to the Hasmonean tunnels near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City. The Palestinians responded by rioting and Arafat's police turned on their Israeli counterparts. In the ensuing gun-battles, fifteen Israelis and sixty Palestinians died. The images of uniformed Palestinians shooting it out with Israeli forces within hiking distance of the Western Wall, televised throughout the Middle East, could only weaken assumptions about Israeli predominance.
Deterrent psychology risked being burlesqued a year later, when Israeli agents bungled an assassination attempt in Jordan against Khalid Mash‘al, a Hamas leader, by injecting poison in his ear. The U.S. government compelled Israel to provide the antidote to the poison used and then to make up for its failure by exchanging the two captured Israeli agents in Jordan for Ahmad Yasin, the co-founder of Hamas. As if that were not enough, two Mossad agents were caught in Switzerland in February 1998, apparently engaged in surveillance of Hizbullah and Iranian diplomatic targets. Danny Yatom resigned as chief of the spy agency and commentators across the spectrum called for a shake-up. In June, Israel permitted Yasin to make a grand tour of the Middle East, raising tens of millions of dollars for Hamas, then return as a hero to Gaza. Yasin then began predicting Israel's demise within twenty years. An Israeli newspaper summed up the situation regarding Yasin: "there is no mistake not committed by the Israeli government."12
In an unrelated issue, but one that also bears on Israel's fighting mood, the Supreme Court ruled on September 22, 1993, that reasonable doubt existed in the case of John Demjanjuk, a retired Cleveland auto worker, who had earlier been convicted as "Ivan the Terrible"—a particularly sadistic guard at the World War II death camp at Treblinka. Strong evidence indicated that even if he was not "Ivan," he was a guard at another death camp. But instead of holding Demjanjuk for retrial, the court returned him as a free man to his children and grandchildren in the United States. A victory for Israeli justice? Or a metaphor for a nation weary of memories, of war, of struggle, and another question mark over national will? The Jewish state, polarized not only over how to deal with the Arabs but also over "who is a Jew" and even its post-Zionist raison d'être, appears ambivalent about reaffirming "never again" to itself and the world.
IV. CHANGES IN MOOD
Developments in Israeli society point to a further erosion of the psychology behind deterrence. The "Four Mothers" movement arose in 1997 as a protest against seemingly endless Israeli losses in southern Lebanon; it quickly grew to include members of parliament, and talk of unilateral withdrawal from the south Lebanon "security zone" was recurrently revived. Mutterings by serving Israeli officers about a lack of strategic plan against Hizbullah, as opposed to tactical preparations, appeared in print.13
Some prominent Israeli academics and journalists have begun to describe Hizbullah as a broad social-welfare movement that happens to have a "military wing" and that could be induced to reach a compromise settlement.14 Similar views of Hamas, Hizbullah's counterpart in the West Bank and Gaza, have also gained currency.15 Hizbullah and Hamas leaders, eager for Israeli withdrawals from territory without giving assurances of subsequent good behavior, burnish this image.
The four years following the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles were the most deadly ever for Israel's civilians, with some 250 persons murdered in nearly eighty separate acts of terrorism. Arafat had promised to end Palestinian violence against Jews; his completely unsatisfactory performance here, along with his continued demands for further Israeli concessions, deeply demoralized the Israeli body politic. Rather than insist that Palestinians first behave peaceably, opinion polls show that Israelis support continuing a process that has increased their personal vulnerability. They expect the Palestinians to help improve Israeli security even as they mistrust them.
The Oslo accord generated expectations of a strong Israel "taking risks for peace." But the underlying assumption at work in the Arab world (that Israel has been the aggressor) has, in the past fifteen years, begun to pay dividends by increasingly working its way into the Israeli subconscious. If it is not offset by an invigorated Israeli belief in the rightness of their cause, that is, by a "neo-Zionist" revival, then their morale will continue to ebb. As it fades, so will Israeli willingness to use force as necessary—the sine qua non for deterrence.
Israeli demoralization impeded the planning to celebrate Israel's fiftieth anniversary celebrations in the spring of 1998. One dispatch carried the headline, "Jewish youth see Zionism as ideology of Israel's past," and noted that students at the Herzliya Gymnasium in prestigious north Tel Aviv—the first high school in Palestine to teach Hebrew—agreed that "army duty and youth movements are two of the last vestiges of patriotism left in their young state, and even those are losing in popularity."16 A leading Israeli public opinion polling firm found that 20 percent of Israelis do not rule out emigration; these consist of those most likely to be on Israel's front lines—"mainly non-religious people between the ages of 19 and 29."17 Draft evasion and desertion from active duty, insignificant problems in the past, grew in the 1990s as social taboos against them softened.
Meanwhile, Israel's defense expenditures decline precipitously. Martin Sherman of Tel Aviv University has highlighted the attrition of Israeli defense spending in both absolute terms and relative to the gross domestic product (GDP): from $11.3 billion and 24.5 percent of GDP in 1984 to $6.6 billion and 8.6 percent of GDP in 1994 (in constant 1994 dollars).18 Further, this drop has taken place even as potential enemies—from Iran to Egypt—have acquired large quantities of weapons of improved quality. By the year 2000, Iran will probably possess nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel. Iraq, Libya, and Syria persist in efforts to expand their unconventional weapons capability. Saudi Arabia's purchases of high technology conventional weapons systems dull, at least statistically, Israel's qualitative edge.
In short, Israelis seem less inclined to keep "never again" operational. As it becomes less a vow than an echo, the calculus of deterrence changes. When Israelis become more unwilling to use force, the sine qua non in maintaining a psychology of deterrence, they signal their enemies that bellicose actions can be taken with reduced fear of retribution. And those enemies have indeed taken note of the weakening in its will.
Watching the nervous response by Israelis to threats from Iraq, ‘Abd al-Halim Abu Ghazala, Egypt's former defense minister, concluded that the Arabs do not need nuclear weapons to deter Israel: "It is sufficient to recall the panic which a few Scuds fired by Iraq caused in Israel."19 An Israeli commentator notes that "While Israelis are caught up in assessing their own reactions to the latest Gulf crisis, their behavior is being closely monitored elsewhere—in Arab capitals—with potentially worrisome strategic
Perhaps the most explicit comment comes from Sheikh Nasrallah. A month after Nasrallah's 18-year-old son Hadi was killed by Israeli troops in battle, Nasrallah was asked if he and Hizbullah had not bitten off too much. As the interviewer put it, "Are your emotions not running away with you? Hizbullah is only a small resistance movement, and Israel is one of the biggest military powers in the Middle East." Nasrallah replied that the weary Jews want to prevail without losses against people seeking martyrdom:
You do not seem to be watching what happens. . . . How do you interpret the Zionists' behavior after each military debacle in the occupied territories in southern Lebanon? The lamentations in Zionist society can no longer be ignored. Netanyahu said recently: "I am prepared to withdraw from southern Lebanon, if someone guarantees that Hizbullah does not follow us to northern Israel." Just think what these words mean—coming from a head of state of what you consider as one of the biggest military powers in the region. . . . Netanyahu no longer demands a peace agreement with Lebanon. He no longer demands a security zone, he only wants us to leave him alone.
The Hizbullah leader then makes it clear that he and his colleagues will never leave Israel alone and concludes that while "it is true that the Zionists have a strong air force, the army of the Zionist entity has long ceased to be the legendary army it used to be."21
A PALESTINIAN STATE
One can only speculate what would happen were Israel to grant the Palestinian Arabs their own state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and eastern Jerusalem, but public Palestinian assertions give a clear idea of this state's likely goal to destroy Israel.
Each week brings fresh examples of irredentism by senior PA officials, religious fundamentalists, and others. Jamal ash-Shati, head of the Refugees Committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council, stressed that "the Palestinian people accepted it [the Oslo accord] as a stage toward the fulfillment of the Palestinian national plan" that involves "the return of 3.5 million to 4 million refugees to their homes" inside what became Israel in 1948.22 In like fashion, Mufti Ikrima Sabri reiterated his hope in a sermon at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque on the eightieth anniversary of the "cursed" Balfour Declaration that God will soon "bestow on us quick salvation and clear victory" over the "calamity" of a Jewish state in Muslim Palestine.23 Arafat's own assertions that Oslo is a temporary truce are numerous and on the record.24 These sentiments are widespread and consistent. Motta Gur observed in 1995, when he was deputy defense minister, that "The Palestinians don't talk about a house in Hebron, they talk about Tel Aviv. . . . I told the head of the PLO delegation that if I were to record the deliberations and play it for members of the Labor Party, 90 percent would say: ‘Stop the talks at once!'"25
It is hard to imagine that Israel—unable today to compel Hizbullah's docility or Palestinian compliance—will enforce the peaceable nature of a Palestinian state tomorrow.
A Palestinian state could do much more to demoralize Israel. It could undermine the government of Jordan, Israel's long-standing security ally. It could exploit the Jewish state's greatly lengthened borders to send in terrorists, forcing Israelis to mobilize at unprecedented high alert levels. Arafat's "police force," consisting of tens of thousands of soldiers, many of them former PLO gunmen, will present a nearby opponent that could slow down Israel's ability to mobilize its citizen army and deploy across the territories to repel foreign aggression by an all-important day or two.
Against this long list of specifics—and it could be longer—enthusiasts for the peace process argue that the above events have to be placed into context. Such leading Israeli figures as Peres, Knesset member Yossi Beilin, and Maj. Gen. Oren Schahor (a negotiator of Israel's Hebron withdrawal and a likely future Labor parliamentary candidate), plus President Clinton and his Middle East team, make two main points.
First, they say, the peace process itself is a new form of Israeli deterrence. By giving the Palestinians much of what they want, Israel drains the abscess of Arab-Islamic hostility and thereby lessens prospects for future war. Schahor says that "If there is no progress, if there is no effective advance in the process," Israel draws close to violence and even war.26 Against this, one can only note that Palestinian attitudes were supposed to be transformed, but were not. A long-term mutual security cooperation was supposed to develop, but did not. Israeli expectations proved unfounded that international diplomacy would hold Palestinians no less than Israel responsible for complying with Oslo commitments. The Oslo process was presented as reversible—if the Palestinians did not keep their side of the bargain; they did not, but no reversals took place.
Second, the Oslo optimists point out that Israel has repeatedly struck back. It was presumed responsible for the October 1995 assassination of Fathi ash-Shiqaqi, head of Islamic Jihad, and the January 1996 death (by cellular telephone) of Yahya "the Engineer" `Ayyash, Hamas's top bomb-maker. But these have been superficial wounds that have hardly diminished the terror apparatus against Israel—as shown by the fact that it continued in the same manner. In fact, some argue that Israeli retaliation only sparked more acts of terrorism.27
THE AMERICAN ROLE
Even in Israel's more heroic days (the Entebbe rescue or the destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981), its deterrence capabilities depended in large part on close ties to the United States. However much Israel seemed to act alone, it did not act unilaterally but depended on the assurances of a fundamental bond with America. That relationship, however, cuts both ways, as Israel's imposed restraint during the Kuwait war suggests. For Israel, America's sole superpower status constricts as much as it supports the relationship.
Herein lies the import of the U.S. government's obvious loss of patience with Israel's "hard-line" and its weak reaction when Israel complains about PA violations of agreements. After her first Middle East tour as secretary of state in November 1997, Madeleine Albright sent precisely this message when she pointedly noted that Israel needed to get with the program and make further redeployments from West Bank territory.28 When the Clinton administration thus makes its impatience with Netanyahu clear, while simultaneously downplaying Arafat's responsibility for the prolonged impasse in negotiations, it tacitly confirms the Arab view that compromise is a unilateral Israeli exercise.
Washington has made other mistakes as well. In the attempt to rebuild the coalition against Iraq in late 1997, it partially blamed Israel's policy toward the Palestinians for Arab unwillingness to back new attacks against Saddam Husayn for dragging his feet on weapons inspections. By isolating the Jewish state from its only significant ally, this false linkage between two unrelated problems likely encouraged Palestinian recalcitrance in the negotiations and further weakened the psychology of Israeli deterrence.
Despite numerous and close connections between the U.S. and Israeli military establishments, these are essentially bilateral, largely isolated from multilateral U.S. military-diplomatic ties to the Arab world. For example, Israel is specifically excluded from the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the structure responsible for U.S. military planning in the Middle East;29 and the Jewish state has long been unable to purchase supercomputers used in weapons design from a United States sensitive to Arab sensitivities about Israel's presumed nuclear capabilities.
American administrations since the mid-1970s have been committed to maintaining Israel's military "qualitative edge" against any potential combination of aggressors. But already in autumn 1990, Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Arens asserted that "the American policy [of assuring Israel's] qualitative edge is not being implemented anymore."30 Egypt, with a rearmed, remodeled, Westernized military, staged maneuvers in 1996 with neither troublesome Libya nor subversive Sudan in mind but an enemy to the east as the target.
If the U.S. government wants to lessen chances of another Arab-Israeli war, it should help reinforce Israel's psychology of deterrence. In part, this means, of course, continuing the bilateral military cooperation and provision of new weapons systems. But these will avail little if the Israelis are demoralized. So it also means, as eighty-one senators point out in a letter to President Clinton, that "it would be a serious mistake for the United States to change from its traditional role as facilitator of the peace process to using public pressure against Israel."31 Pressure, as the senators correctly imply, needs to be primarily on the Arabs, the Palestinians in particular.
1 Quoted in Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars (New York: Viking Books, 1984), p. 320.
2 Interview with Aharon Levran, Apr. 5, 1998.
3 "Qol Yisra'el," Sept. 14, 1997.
4 Russkiy Izrailtyanim (Tel Aviv), May 12, 1998.
5 Yossi Klein Halevi, "Bitter Truths," The Jerusalem Report, Mar. 19, 1998.
7 Associated Press, July 25, 1993.
8 Ahmad Yasin, "spiritual leader" of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, may be the most important of these figures. Sentenced to thirteen years in April 1984 on charges of belonging to a hostile group and possession of weapons, he was exchanged in 1985. Arrested again in 1989, he was sentenced to fifteen years for his role in the kidnap and murder of two Israeli soldiers, but then released in 1998
9 The Washington Post, May 21, 1998.
10 Islamic Republic News Agency (Tehran), May 27, 1998.
11 JTA Daily News Bulletin, June 25, 1998.
12 Ma'ariv, June 9, 1998.
13 Ha'aretz, Apr. 1, 1996.
14 Ehud Sprinzak, "How Israel Misjudges Hamas and Its Terrorism," The Washington Post, Oct. 19, 1997.
15 Yedi'ot Aharonot, Mar. 20, 1998.
16 JTA Daily News Bulletin, Feb. 2, 1997.
17 Globes (Tel Aviv), Nov. 13, 1997.
18 Testimony before the Knesset Joint Economics Committee, Oct. 21, 1997.
19 Al-Wasat, cited in The Jerusalem Post, June 13, 1998.
20 Halevi, "Bitter Truths."
21 Adel S. Elias, "Wir Lieben den Tod," Der Spiegel, Oct. 20, 1997, pp. 204-8.
22 Al-Bilad, Nov. 7, 1997.
23 "Friday Sermon," Palestinian Authority Radio, Nov. 7, 1997.
24 For example, Orbit Satellite Televison (Egypt), Apr. 18, 1998.
25 Ha'aretz, Jan. 30, 1995.
26 News briefing at the Jewish Community Center of the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 1997.
27 Yossi Melman, "Israel's Dark Secrets," The New York Times, Mar. 25, 1998.
28 The Washington Post, Nov. 15, 1997.
29 On which, see Anthony Zinni's comments in this issue, pp. 57-65.
30 Joshua Brillant, "We Can Deter Iraq," The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 19, 1990.
31 Senators Joseph Lieberman, Connie Mack, et. al., "Letter to The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton," Mar. 26, 1998.