INTO THE FRAY: The fatal flaw in Israeli strategic thinking

One of the reasons that the conflict with the Palestinian-Arabs has dragged on for years, is that Israel has failed to conceptualize the conflict correctly. Failed comprehension has brought failed policy.

 Poll: 23% of Arab Israelis would support Arab invasion in Israel i24NEWS Headline, May 15, 2022.

Paradoxically, perhaps an incident that most vividly illustrates the indelible Arab enmity for the Jews is an event, which begins with a display of Arab goodwill—indeed, gallantry—towards a Jew.

In Mid-June 2020, an Arab construction worker, Mahmoud Abu Arabian, on hearing a woman’s cries for help, rushed to her aid to find her under brutal attack by her boyfriend, stabbing her multiple times. At considerable risk to himself, he managed to overcome the (Jewish) attacker and extricate the wounded (Jewish) woman, who was rushed to hospital, where doctors managed to save her life.

Following her recuperation, Abu Arabian stated that he would have liked very much to visit her, but refrained from doing so because of the disapproval of his social circles, who frowned upon his actions of rescuing a Jewish woman and saving a Jewish life.

To a large degree, this episode affirms the dour findings of a recent poll, which indicated that a massive majority (75%) of Israeli-Arabs reject the right of the Jewish people to sovereignty and the status of Israel as the nation-state of the Jews, while only a quarter acknowledged this. Even more ominously, when asked as to their response in case of an Arab attack on Israel, almost a quarter answered that they would support the Arab aggressors, while over half would remain neutral, refraining from supporting Israel. Only fractionally more than a quarter (26%) would support Israel.

Inert lack of loyalty or latent disloyalty?

 These findings, grave as they are, are not—or should not—be unexpected. After all, Israeli Arabs voted almost monolithically for parties that promote an anti-Zionist agenda, with over 80% voting for either the Joint List or the Islamist United Arab List (Ra’am). Indeed, even a cursory glance at the official platforms of either of these dominantly Arab parties will reveal a rejection of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people that is both unabashed and undisguised.

Significantly, this somewhat disheartening situation comes after Israel’s Arab citizens have enjoyed full civilian rights for well over half a century (since the lifting of martial law in 1966). Indeed, since then they have generally enjoyed living standards markedly higher than those in Arab countries (with the exception, perhaps, of those blessed with petro-riches), and certainly more personal liberties than anywhere in the Arab world—making Arab reticence in supporting Israel against potential Arab aggression even more puzzling and perverse.

It matters little if the previously cited poll is not entirely accurate. For even allowing for significant imprecision, one thing is jarringly evident. A considerable portion of the Israeli-Arab population not only has no allegiance to their country of residence, but a sizeable segment thereof would be actively complicit in an enemy assault on it.

Indeed, there is, thus, little alternative but to reconcile oneself to the fact that for the indisputable majority of Israeli-Arabs, the attitude towards Israel ranges from an inert lack of loyalty to a latent disloyalty, waiting for an opportune moment to manifest itself.

An archaetypical zero-sum game.

This failure of the Israeli establishment to grasp the scale and scope—the depth, intensity, and durability—of Arab rejection of Jewish sovereign statehood among Israeli-Arabs is reflected not only in its domestic policy but in its foreign policy vis-à-vis external Arab adversaries—particularly the Palestinian-Arabs, allegedly the root of the Arab-Israeli dispute.

In this regard, it is perhaps worthwhile to recall the wise dictum of eminent social psychologist, Kurt Lewin, who observed: “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.” After all, action without comprehension is a little like swinging a hammer without knowing where the nails are—and just as hazardous and harmful. In this regard, good theory creates an understanding of cause and effect and hence facilitates effective policy.

Accordingly, to devise effective policy to contend with abiding Arab enmity, Israel must correctly conceptualize the conflict over the issue of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land.

The unvarnished truth is that—correctly conceptualized—the conflict between the Jews and the Palestinian-Arabs over the control of the Holy Land is a clash between two rival collectives, with irreconcilable foundational narratives.

They are irreconcilable because the raison d’etre of the one is the preservation of Jewish political sovereignty in the Holy Land, while the raison d’etre of the other is the annulment of Jewish political sovereignty in the Holy Land—thus generating irreconcilable visions of homeland.

As such, the conflict between the Jews and the Palestinian-Arabs is an archaetypical zero-sum game, in which the gains of one side imply an inevitable loss for the other.
It is, therefore, a clash involving protagonists with antithetical and mutually exclusive core objectives. Only one can emerge victorious, with the other vanquished. There are no consolation prizes!

Grudgingly accepted or greatly feared?

Consequently, as a clash of collectives, whose outcome will be determined by collective victory or defeat, it cannot be personalized. The fate of individual members of one collective cannot be a deciding determinant of the policy of the rival collective—and certainly not a consideration that impacts the probability of collective victory or defeat.

Thus, Israel’s survival imperative must dictate that it forgo the pursuit of warm and welcoming approval from the Arabs. For the foreseeable future, this seductive illusion will remain an unattainable pipe-dream. Rather, Israel must reconcile itself to the stern, but sober, conclusion: The most it can realistically hope for is to be grudgingly accepted; the least it must attain is to be greatly feared.

Any more benign policy goals are a recipe for disaster.

To underscore the crucial importance of this seemingly harsh assessment, I would invite any prospective dissenter to consider the consequences of Jewish defeat and Arab victory. Indeed, a cursory survey of the gory regional realities should suffice to drive home the significance of what would accompany such an outcome.

Accordingly, only once a decisive Jewish collective victory has been achieved, can the issue of individual injustice and suffering in the Arab collective be addressed as a policy consideration. Until then, neither the individual well-being nor the societal welfare of the opposing collective can be considered a primary policy constraint or

After all, had the imperative of collective victory not been the overriding factor of the Allies’ strategy in WWII, despite the horrendous civilian causalities that it inflicted on the opposing collective, the world might well have been living in slavery today.

In weighing the question of the fate of individual members of the opposing collective, it is imperative to keep in mind that, while there are doubtless many Palestinian-Arabs with fine personal qualities and who wish no one any harm, the Palestinian-Arab collective is not the hapless victim of radical terror-affiliated leaders. Quite the opposite. It is, in fact, the societal crucible in which they were forged, and from which they emerged. Its leadership is a reflection of, not an imposition on, Palestinian-Arab society.

The conclusion is thus unavoidable: The Palestinian-Arab collective must be considered an implacable enemy—not a prospective peace partner…and it must be treated as such.

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Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategic-israel.org), and a member of the research department of Habithonistim: Israel’s Defense and Security Forum.

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2 comments

  1. David Meir-Levi

    Daniel pipes and I reached the same conclusion years ago.
    David Meir-Levi
    Ca, USA

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