By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
“Assuring the security of Israel and the Jewish People as a whole is an existential imperative for Israeli statecraft, at whatever cost to Israel and others.” This is one among many salient arguments in Yehezkel Dror’s latest book, Israeli Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses.
Dror, a well-known figure in local circles, has been a member of The Hebrew University’s department of political science since 1957. He was an employee of the RAND corporation think tank in the US and a mover in foreign policy circles for many years. His latest volume has been published as part of a series at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center at Bar-Ilan University.
Statecraft is a broad concept, one the author uses to denote “coherent, longterm, and broadband, political-security paradigms, assessments, frames of appreciation, orientations, stances, and principles, dealing with issues of much importance to national security.” In setting out what he seeks to examine, he identifies some important characteristics of the Israeli statecraft experience. He notes, for instance, that “there is very little movement of professionals between academia and [the] statecraft elite, in contrast to US practices,” and further mentions “the lack of statehood and statecraft tradition, which reduces the availability of useful historical memory and causes the absence of a ‘statecraft aristocracy.’
“Based on his own experience working with the country’s statecraft elite, Dror estimates that “a maximum of 10 people shape about 70-80 percent of Israeli statecraft at any point in time.”
The book is relatively short at 200 pages, though it is broken up into an inordinate number of chapters (16 in all), few of which seem to flow cleanly from one to another despite an implied expectation that the reader has digested the former chapter before continuing to the next.
The book begins by examining the country’s uniqueness and some of the “mega-trends” of the region. While Israeli society is quite diverse, notes Dror, its policy makers or “statecraft elite” are “more homogeneous than Israeli society as a whole.”
Most interesting is his point that “on the surface, Israel appears more similar to Western countries than it really is,” and as such, “no adequate effort is made” to understand its particular features. The book returns to this theme several times, suggesting at one point that the country “should distance itself from the image of being a part of the Christian West that subjugated Islam, and instead portray itself as having a shared history with Islam of suffering at the hands of the Christian West.”
For too long, the author says, Israel has portrayed itself and allowed its enemies to label it as a Western implant in the Middle East. Dror argues that the creation of Israel represents a “radical intervention in deep historical processes,” and therefore maintaining its security in the Middle East’s primarily Muslim environment is a tough task. In the larger global context, the increasing pluralism and diversity of types of states in the world “will make it easier for Israel to preserve and strengthen its unique feature as a Jewish state and be fully legitimized as such, removing some obstacles to Israeli statecraft.”
Israeli Statecraft is incredibly prescient in examining the long-term effects of the democratization of the Arab world and the Palestinians’ decision to seek membership at the UN. “If Arab states suddenly become democratic regimes without significant changes to the characteristics of the society and mindset of their citizens then there most probably would be no chance of Arab- Israeli peace in the foreseeable future,” the author writes.
He correctly takes to task Western and Israeli opinion-makers who argue, naively, that the mere fact of democratization will make the Arab world more peaceful toward Israel. He further argues that a Palestinian attempt to “unilaterally declare statehood, or ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian state,” would leave Israel in a no-win situation.
While the book is generally strong on support for Israel’s policies, praise for its level of statecraft and condemnation of delegitimizing the country, Dror argues strongly in favor of several policies that may seem counterintuitive to the general thesis. He clearly favors greater cooperation with the UN and global governance and civil society, stating that “neglect of global governance and society should give way to positive engagement.” He also argues in favor of “vigorous action to assure full personal equality of minorities and to advance economic well-being and integration” of Israeli Arabs. In terms of military-diplomatic relations, the author argues that the country’s defense establishment has long had too much influence over statecraft.
The major weakness of this book is that it consists primarily of a series of lists – by my count, at least 44 – many of which appear inside other lists. It makes the book a handy resource, but also leads to confusion for the reader, who rarely feels grounded in a flowing text that clearly develops an argument. This is partly because it is an academic book into which a huge amount of information, based on a vast reading of sources, has been poured; however, it makes Israeli Statecraft less accessible to the public at large.