Comment / Israel delegitimizers threaten its existence
Israel's enemies are scheming to bring about its implosion by turning it into a pariah state.
A year after Operation Cast Lead, it is increasingly clear: Together with the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the Gaza campaign exposed a dire need for Israel to reform its security and foreign policy doctrine.
Many Israelis are frustrated. Over a three-year period, despite overwhelming military, technological and economic superiority, we failed to achieve decisive successes in confrontations with both Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2006, Israel was dragged through a 33-day exchange, with a cost of 133 dead and a trauma to Israeli society that will take years to heal. And in last year's Gaza operation, our superior military power was offset by an offensive on Israel's legitimacy that led to a significant setback in our international standing, and will constrain future Israeli military planning and operations as effectively as any Arab army could. This is a scorecard Israel can't afford to accept.
Israel's wars are won, or lost, as much on the drawing boards of strategists and planners as on the battlefield. In its first 20 years of existence, Israel had remarkable military successes, but, notwithstanding the bravery of our soldiers, they were primarily the outcome of an intellectual victory in the war of ideas and concepts. David Ben-Gurion's 1947 "seminar," by which he prepared himself for leading the nascent state in an existential military confrontation, generated a set of principles for Israeli national security many of which are relevant today. By 1967, it was secure in its borders.
In the more than four decades since then, Israel's physical existence has been an unchallenged reality, even if at times its citizens have been subjected to terrorism and violence. Arab intentions to destroy Israel were repeatedly frustrated, to a point where any such effort was effectively abandoned, and Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel. Even though Iran may grow into an existential threat, Israel's successes to date have been truly phenomenal.
Frustrated by Israel's military might, its adversaries - primarily Iran and its Arab allies in Hezbollah and Hamas - have experimented with politics and violence in their attempt to cap our power and diminish it. Over time, they were able to crystallize a set of ideas that have proven effective. Rather than seeking to conquer Israel, they would aim to bring about its implosion, as with South Africa or the Soviet Union, by attacking its political and economic values. While Israel aims to avoid civilian casualties, they systematically involve civilians on both sides of the frontier. While Israel seeks decisive "victory" in direct confrontations, they value "resistance" and low-intensity conflict.
Turning Israel into a pariah state is central to its adversaries' efforts. Israel is a geopolitical island. Its survival and prosperity depend on its relations with the world in trade, science, arts and culture - all of which rely on its legitimacy. When the latter is compromised, the former may be severed, with harsh political, social and economic consequences.
The transformative change taking place stems from an unholy alliance with some European elites. The radical, brutal, sometimes-fascist Islamic states and organizations that reject Israel share aims with Europeans that deny the right of Jews to self-determination.
And so, our politicians and military personnel are threatened with lawsuits and arrest when they travel abroad, campaigns to boycott our products gain traction, and our very existence is challenged in academic institutions and intellectual circles. The country is increasingly isolated.
To date, Israel has failed to recognize these trends for the strategically significant, potentially existential, threat they constitute. It has mustered neither resources nor personnel to fight them, and lacks a comprehensive approach to the challenge.
Many frame the problem as one of public relations, as if what's required is a task force of eloquent speakers that can deliver a three-point punch line in polished English in 30 seconds. This may have been useful in the early days of global news, 20 years ago. Today it is insufficient.
Others say that Israel's policy is key, and that a genuine and credible commitment to the peace process will decrease both criticism and delegitimization of the country. But the delegitimization effort would continue even if Israel were to sign a comprehensive peace treaty with the PLO: Indeed, the forces that drive this effort are not Palestinian moderates, but rather people who oppose Israel's very existence. An agreement would only fuel their campaign to converge around the next outstanding issue that comes up between Israel and the Arab world.
Israel's delegitimacy is propagated in a few global metropolises - such as London, Madrid and the Bay Area - that are hubs of international NGOs, media outlets, academia and multinational corporations. Therefore, an extraordinary effort is required to respond to and isolate Israel's delegitimizers. We must play offense and not just defense.
The most effective barrier to fundamental delegitimization is personal relationships. In every major country, Israel and its supporters must develop and sustain personal connections with the entire elite in business, politics, arts and culture, science and academia. This requires not only an overhaul of Israel's Foreign Ministry, and particularly of its larger embassies, by infusing them with significantly larger operating budgets, but also the mobilization of our civil elite in Israel and overseas for the task.
Operation Cast Lead may have ushered in a new era in Israeli national security. The frontiers of our survival have shifted from the battlefields and military to our formal and informal diplomats the world over. This is a struggle that may be less bloody, but is as existentially important.
Gidi Grinstein is founder and president of the Reut Institute.