And What if Lieberman Is Right?

Nobody should be surprised: Not only loud and belligerent professional "talkbackers" are enthusiastic about the aggressive verbal utterances of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. There are also people who are saying with all seriousness, and with what looks like reasonable judgment, that sometimes there is a need for an aggressive and confrontational policy.

They even bring examples from the current international scene: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. They all radiate power, they all threaten - and not only does nothing happen to them, the international community takes them seriously and their countries even profit from their tough and outspoken style. Why not follow their example?

Such judgments cannot be dismissed out of hand, and must be examined in themselves. The conclusion to be arrived at is more complex.

First of all, these are leaders who are aggressive not only toward the outside world, but also internally: None of them were chosen in elections that could be called democratic, and every one of them bases his rule on almost exclusive control of the media, internal oppression and the persecution of opponents. Anyone who behaves more or less like a bully in the international arena adopts aggressive methods of oppression internally as well. All those who are enthusiastic about Lieberman's style should be reminded of the internal conclusions regarding the democratic regime.

But it is also worth examining these leaders one by one. Although Putin restored to Russia much of the status it lost after the dissolution of the Soviet Union - that was a result not of his brutal style of speaking, but of the fact that Russia is an enormous country with a huge quantity of nuclear weapons, which controls sources of oil, gas and minerals that the entire world needs: Europe is dependent on the supply of gas from Russia, while the high prices of oil are the basis of its economic power, and make up for its industrial deterioration. Aside from that, Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with a veto right.

So Putin said that Russia would "flush down" the Chechen rebels "even while they sit on their toilets," and that that he wanted to hang the president of Georgia "by the balls." But it is not Putin's dirty mouth that causes the pilgrimage of world leaders to him, but the prices of oil and gas, and other hard facts in the real world.

Ahmadinejad really is confronting the West with a serious dilemma, and there is still no proof that the West has an answer. But Iran is not a tiny country. Not only is it a significant oil exporter, it also controls the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf - the embarkation point for most of the Middle Eastern oil - and its strategic position is of significance in the war against extremist Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, it would not be an exaggeration to assume that in the end Ahmadinejad will bring down a terrible disaster on his people.

Chavez is in a similar situation: His anti-American incitement is not only a product of his personality and views, but draws much of its power and legitimacy from a profound basis of hatred for "Yankees," which is amply justified in the history of Latin America. Venezuela is also the largest exporter of oil to the United States itself, and uses its oil to acquire influence the world over. Nevertheless, Chavez's internal economic policy is facing many difficulties, and for all his popularity in broad circles in Latin America, it is not quite clear that this attempt at anti-American and anti-capitalist rhetoric, based on a Latin American tradition of military leaders ("caudillismo"), will actually survive rather than disappear from the world like other populist and dictatorial regimes on the continent.

And last, but not least: Anyone who wants to take an example from Lukashenko, "the last European dictator," must also understand that Belarus - as opposed to the previous examples - is simply an unimportant country, and nobody really cares what kind of a regime it has. We may hazard a guess as to why the Israeli foreign minister, and the tourism minister who belongs to his party, see Belarus as a popular destination for their visits, but even these visits will not succeed in bringing us close to the status of this pariah country.

All this raises a basic question regarding the pattern of behavior adopted by the foreign minister. After all, there is no question that international policy is determined not only according to lofty principles, universal norms and moral values: Anyone who focuses only on them will certainly fail, and during its entire history Israel has known how to find the balance between these values and realpolitik.

After all, we should recall that Israel has been sitting for over 40 years on territories that the entire international community, including our best friends, do not believe we have a right to control; and nevertheless, and despite all the criticism, no significant international steps have been taken to free these territories and their population from Israeli rule. T his is a tremendous diplomatic achievement for generations of Israeli governments, and it stems from Israel's ability to exercise a policy that combines power and ethics, along with recognition of the limits of force. Lieberman is apparently unaware of this .

Instead, what characterizes Lieberman's approach is not the use of force, but rather his aggressive and belligerent rhetoric: Somehow he has apparently not internalized the fact that he is the foreign minister of a country whose standing actually does stem from its considerable military, political and diplomatic power. Lieberman has not proposed or initiated any policy, but he has introduced aggressive language into the diplomatic discourse, which did not add to Israel's real and impressive strength, but detracts from it: Hot air is no substitute for facts.

It is worthwhile doing an interim audit: Lieberman's statements, even while he was in the opposition, about the Egyptian president ("Let him go to hell") only encouraged those in Egypt who oppose peace with Israel - without providing any advantage. It even blocked his way to visiting any Arab country. Is this what he wanted to achieve?

Lieberman turned an evil and venomous anti-Israel article in a Swedish newspaper into a crisis in relations with Sweden and a cancelation of the Swedish foreign minister's visit to Israel at a time when that country was the rotating president of the European Union. Another legitimate argument with Norway regarding the country's tribute to writer Knut Hamsun, a Nazi sympathizer, also turned into a conflict with Norway itself.

The primitive humiliation of the Turkish ambassador to Israel by Lieberman's deputy did not really improve our complex, and strategically very important, relations with Ankara.

And last, but not least: Israel is also responsible for the Jewish people - its fate, its heritage, its values. There is no basis in Jewish history, in Jewish thought, in Zionist policy - which knew how to combine values with pragmatism - for a style that may be appropriate for an aggressive, undemocratic and brutal world power like Putin's Russia, or Lukashenko's Belarus.

The man who is now sitting on the chair of Moshe Sharett, Golda Meir, Abba Eban, Yigal Alon, Moshe Dayan and Moshe Arens has no clue what foreign policy is and how the world works. All those foreign ministers tried to acquire friends and supporters for Israel: He succeeded only in deepening tensions. Lieberman is a captive of primitive concepts that may bring him populist applause, but have nothing in common with the need to articulate a courageous policy, which does not reject force when there is a need for it. True strength and power, as well as an awareness of their limitations, are exercised in the real world not by bragging and verbal violence.