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Foreign Policy Islam & Arab

Arab and Israeli Statecraft

Arab rulers, for example, Syrian dictator Bashir Assad, have learned from Anwar Sadat how to get territorial and other strategic resources from Israel for nothing. Thus, in an interview with The New York Times dated October 19, 1980, Sadat boasted: “Poor Menachem [Begin], he has his problems … After all, I got back … the Sinai and the Alma oil fields, and what has Menachem got? A piece of paper.”

Two years earlier, in November 1978 (hence four months before the signing of the March 1979 Israel-Egyptian peace treaty), I warned Israel’s government in these words:

The Arab rulers aren’t fools. They surely see the utility of Sadat’s strategy, which provides them with a model for regaining their own lost territory. One can go so far as to say that even if Sadat were assassinated, he would continue to be useful. Having served the Arab cause, he isn’t physically necessary any more. But his example is. (Sadat’s Strategy, p. 41, English edition.)

Arab leaders probably look at Israel’s ruling elites as “useful idiots,” to use Lenin’s cynicism. Whatever the case, Israeli prime ministers are simply not equal to the challenges confronting the Jewish state. Although institutional reform, such as replacing multiparty cabinet government with a Unitary Executive or Presidential System, would or could help enormously, in the final analysis, the intellectual and moral caliber of Israel’s decision-makers—and how they make decisions—is of fundamental importance.

Israel is confronted by enemies who have risen to power not by the spin of democratic politics but by unmitigated cunning and ruthlessness. They succeed or fail to the extent they are well attuned to Machiavelli. They are not concerned about winning elections or seats in a parliament. They are not preoccupied with public opinion polls. They study war and therefore history. If they engage in peace talk or hudnas, it’s only as a means of gaining some strategic advantage over Israel. (See my analysis of martial diplomacy in Jewish Statesmanship: Lest Israel Fall.)

The ultimate goal of Israel’s enemies is not peace but Israel’s annihilation. Thus, in an interview with al-Anwar on June 22, 1975, Sadat declared: “The effort of our generation is to return to the 1967 borders. Afterward the next generation will carry the responsibility.” Nor is this all. A year after signing the March 1979 peace treaty with Israel, Sadat ominously declared: “Despite the present differences with the Arab ‘rejectionist’ rulers over the Egyptian peace initiative, the fact remains that these differences are only tactical not strategic, temporary not permanent.”

Israel’s ruling elites may not be paragons of virtue—the public deems them venal—but on the world stage, they cannot compete with the ruthlessness of their Arab adversaries. Confronted by Islamic terrorism, humanism is misguided, and a policy of self-restraint can be—and has been—disastrous.

Let me put this on a larger historical scale—despite President Shimon Peres, who boasts that we can learn nothing from history.

According to a monumental study of Pitrim Sorokin (The Crisis of Our Age), during the last 2500 years there have been almost 1000 wars in the Western world alone! From this data one may reasonably conclude that the norm of international relations is not peace but war. Indeed, Sorokin’s study indicates that “peace” is little more than a preparation for war. It also means that treaties of peace are worthless.

This is the conclusion of Lawrence Beilenson (The Treaty Trap). After studying every peace treaty going back to early Roman times, Beilenson concludes that they are made to be broken; that treaties for guaranteeing the territorial integrity of a nation are useless to the guaranteed nation, and worse than useless insofar as they engender a false sense of security. Such treaties can only benefit nations governed by rulers intending to violate them whenever expedient.

There are crucial lessons to be drawn from these facts—but one may doubt they will be taken seriously by Israel’s ruling elites.

  1. The only way Israel can remain at “peace” vis-à-vis its militant neighbors is to prepare for war. This requires long-range planning at which politicians preoccupied with the next election do not excel. Indeed, long-range planning in Israel is short-circuited by the short duration of Israeli governments, which flip flop, on an average, every 23 months. (The average term of a cabinet minister is only 18 months!)
  2. Needed, therefore, is a presidential system of government with a fixed but one-time renewable term of office of four or five years.
  3. Also needed is an invigorated National Security Council well-staffed and headed by an eminent public figure whose advice cannot be easily ignored by the political echelons. The efficacy of the NSC will depend on expertise derived from many disciplines. Suffice to mention military science, intelligence, science and technology, economics, and of course knowledge of Islam—the culture, tensions, and resources of Israel’s neighbors.

One last word. As is well known, nations are governed by interests, not friendship. To recur to Machiavelli, better to be feared than loved. To be feared depends on you; to be loved depends on the other—yes, and love can be very fickle. Most people in Israel know they live in the hate-filled Middle East, not in Disneyland. Needed are statesmen to translate this harsh reality into a long-term national strategy. Needed is statecraft of the highest order.

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