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Two disagreements

Reader comment on item: Explaining Israel's Strategic Mistakes

Submitted by Dan Simon (United States), Feb 2, 2009 at 02:11

I disagree with two of your points:

1) The Iranian nuclear threat to Israel is widely considered the most pressing one, but an examination of the history of the Cold War makes it clear that MAD works, and that in the presence of a nuclear standoff, a conflict between a democratic state and an ideological dictatorship bent on ruthless expansion of power and influence proceeds pretty much as it would have if nuclear weapons had been entirely absent. Iran is having no trouble seriously threatening Israel via its entirely nuclear-free proxies, and would actually gain little in its war against Israel by obtaining nuclear weapons. They're attractive to the Iranian regime because they deter existential threats to it--but Israel was never an existential threat to it in the first place. Moreover, they're useless as an offensive weapon against Israel because Israel's retaliatory power is an effective deterrent. Israel would therefore do better to counter Iran's elaborate and potent conventional maneuvers against Israel than to waste its effort on an irrelevant nuclear game.

2) The idea that Israel's early leadership was much more farsighted and courageous than today's is a popular one, but a look at Michael Oren's landmark history of the 1967 war shows that it is largely a myth. In fact, the Israeli leadership was just as confused and vacillating back then as it is today, and backed into a stunning victory largely due to the utter incompetence of its Arab neighbors. Then, as now, the Israeli government spent most of its effort begging the "international community" to come to its rescue and offering up concessions in the hope that doing so would avoid war, and not realizing that it only stiffened the resolve of its enemies. It only reluctantly agreed to launch an attack when all its diplomatic efforts failed miserably, and spent the war itself trying to salvage defeat from victory by offering disadvantageous ceasefires that were fortunately rejected or accepted too slowly.

The main difference between then and now, in fact, is in the expectations game: Israel's early survival against overwhelming odds has created a "superman" myth that it consistently and predictably fails to live up to. In addition, its enemies are occasionally more competent than they used to be, and therefore are able to avoid being humiliated by Israel a bit more often than they used to.


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Daniel Pipes replies:

1. If MAD did work with the Soviets, how does that prove it will work with the Khomeinists? Not a chance I want to take.

2. I read and wrote a column on the Oren book and it shows the execution of a brilliant war, one without parallel in military annals. I cannot imagine interpreting his book as showing the leadership to be incompetent as today's is.

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