Enunciated by David Ben-Gurion in the early 1950s, the periphery doctrine as a strategic approach to the Middle East derived from the perception — essentially correct at the time — that Israel was surrounded by a wall of militant Arab states, led by Nasser's Egypt, that sought its total destruction. Accordingly, Israel set out to establish relationships with countries on the periphery of the Arab Middle East that shared its fears of the Arab mainstream. These states sometimes also offered the additional attractions of pro-western regimes and large Jewish minorities anxious to emigrate.
Ben-Gurion conceived the periphery doctrine in rather subtle terms not always recalled by his disciples of recent years. Thus, the notion of alliances with the periphery was linked to the expectation that these would eventually generate a desire on the part of the Arab mainstream to enter into similar alliances with Israel — once the Arabs recognized how valuable an ally Israel could be. Additionally, the periphery alliances were seen as a means of attracting the interest of a great power, the United States — by demonstrating that Israel could be helpful in collaborating with key states in which the United States had a considerable strategic interest. In this sense, the periphery doctrine interacted with a second strategic tenet enunciated by Ben-Gurion early in Israel's history as a modern state: the need for close military association with a great power.
The periphery doctrine led Israel into strategic relationships with Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia and Morocco, as well as the emerging Sahel states of Africa that feared Arab meddling with their Muslim populations. As a corollary, Israel also fostered ties with an 'ethnic periphery' of non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities within the Arab Middle East — e.g., the Maronites in Lebanon, the Kurds in Northern Iraq — that shared its fears of Arab nationalist encroachment.
Almost inevitably, strategic decisions concerning periphery interests came to be seen in Israel as operational matters, to be judged by the senior decision-making echelon (that usually knew periphery leaders intimately through clandestine contacts), without any need for the significant intelligence input considered requisite for decisions concerning the Arab countries. This perception was reinforced by the existence of an intimate military strategic relationship with some of the periphery states. In the case of Iran, this involved, in the 1950s and 1960s, primarily co-ordination in planning and intelligence, followed during the 1970s by expansion of Israeli arms sales. The latter factor, in turn, created a vested economic interest inside Israel in maintaining the relationship.
The periphery doctrine was one of the pillars of Israeli foreign and defence policy for about three decades. Viewed in retrospect, by the late 1970s its foundations had become considerably less viable, as the Arab core and the non-Arab periphery of the Middle East in many ways exchanged roles. On the one hand, the Sunni Arab heartland was becoming more stable, more moderate and more amenable to the need to deal with Israel politically rather than militarily. The Sadat peace initiative, and the emerging de facto coexistence between Israel and Jordan, were the principal expressions of this change .4 On the other hand, the periphery itself was either becoming radical - Marxist in Ethiopia, Islamic fundamentalist in Iran — with sharp anti-western and anti-Israeli positions; or was abandoning Israel in favour of the Arabs - the Sahel and other African states; or, as in the case of the Maronites of Lebanon, it was simply proving itself unsuitable and unable to support a strategic alliance with Israel.
Nor, in retrospect, could Israel take its periphery relationships for granted even at their zenith. After all, periphery ruling elites had their own agenda in terms of exploiting the Israeli 'card' in dealing with the Arab world. Note, for example, the Shah's prescience in a remarkably candid interview given to Muhammad Hassanein Haykal in April 1975 — shortly after the conclusion of the Algiers Agreement, and at the height of the Israeli-Iranian alliance: "We followed the principle 'my enemy's enemy is my friend,' and our relations with Israel began to develop. But now the situation has changed ... I think occasionally of a new equilibrium in the region ... Perhaps [it] could be integrated into an Islamic framework."