Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Israeli Imperative: Divide and Survive

Silke points out an exceptional article in The American Interest:
As a continental power, rich in material resources and human capital, the American way of war has been characterized by the application of overwhelming force to exhaust adversaries, followed by the distribution of massive aid to reconstruct conquered societies and put them on the path toward liberal democracy and market economics. This approach has fit America’s material conditions and ideological convictions, particularly its founding declaration that all people have an unalienable right to a life free from foreign rule.

Israel’s geopolitical predicament and founding ideology are very different. While Jewish law commands that “you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”, the Zionist state exists first and foremost to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. As a tiny country, Israel can only defeat its more numerous adversaries by breaking them into manageable pieces, or by behaving so that already broken pieces stay that way. Indeed, its geopolitical predicament mirrors that of the original Hebrew polity. It was the unity of hostile empires—Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman—that doomed ancient Israelite kingdoms. When its neighbors were divided, the First and Second Jewish Commonwealths did rather well.

So, while America is free to frolic around the world, reshaping the affairs of smaller nations to promote its ideals - democratic government, market capitalism and the centrality of American security to the stability of the international system - Israel has more limited ambitions:
Israel’s strategy [divide and survive] can at best only manage the conflict; it can never solve it.
Right. Israeli policy is geared towards conflict management, not conflict resolution, as that resolution would necessarily either involve the Palestinians becoming ardent Zionists, or their political, military, demographic and cultural capitulation to the Jews.

I'm not certain I accept the author's point that American policy is altogether different. Where Americans have the capacity for regime change, or a rogue state's "behavior modification" they do so. However, when the American capacity falls short of the effort required for conflict resolution - the Soviet Union, China and today's Iran come to mind - then divide and conquer, and morally fuzzy conflict management of the type seen throughout the Cold War, is considered quite acceptable.

The Arabs are Israel's Soviet Union, China and Iran put together, and then another Iran to boot! In that sense, conflict management has worked fairly well for the Jews of Israel, if not for the Arabs. It also means the Jews have to be unified and strategically clever until an opportunity for conflict resolution presents itself, at least more so than the Arabs.

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