Even Sapir, Jerusalem
Tuesday, May 13th, 2003 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/allah-help-the-jackals
mericans are accused of being imperialist, Israelis of being expansionist. The truth behind this accusation is of course its opposite: no nations in the world are so content to be insular. Both respect the otherness of other nations but just want to be left alone to get on with their fascination with themselves. So irritating!
At the same time, both nations seek to engage the world deeply. America has successfully done so for decades, and Israel has always sought friendly relations with other countries. Both mainly get into trouble when their instincts leads them to underplay their power and tend towards isolationism. Whereas it’s obvious that overplaying your power leads to your downfall—Hitler’s two-front war, Saddam’s continuation of his beef with the US after a lucky break in 1991, and America’s recent Middle East nation-building—it’s less obvious that underplaying your power also leads to trouble. Outside of one-off military strikes, Israel has done so well nigh perennially.
Israel in some ways accepts the propaganda war against it at face value and acts as if the whole Middle East is against it. Which is of course true, but there are more relevant truths, such as the facts that many Middle Eastern nations are more immediately at odds with other, and that Israel is an integral part of and a vital player in the region. Israel should more thoroughly recognize this reality and behave accordingly.
When deemed absolutely necessary, Israel has played its part and intervened in the region. It saved Jordan from a Syrian invasion after destabilization from the PLO; acted similarly in Lebanon a few years later; and took out Iraq’s nuclear reactor [Update 2018 Mar 20: Ditto Syria’s.] But all these have been extreme measures, hostilities, whereas involvement at all levels should be an ongoing activity, peace treaties or the lack whereof notwithstanding. Mutual interests don’t require peace treaties.
Arguably there is some merit in not getting involved, that the Arab rejectionism has been a blessing in disguise, keeping Israel away from the mostly despicable morass that passes for Middle Eastern relations. But Israel is no longer quite so young and impressionable, and such willful ignorance has now become more a hindrance than a help. Israel is part of the Middle East, and even if it doesn’t step into the Arab world, the Arab world, in case we haven’t noticed, will step into it.
More than that. With power comes responsibility, as one Jewish mythmaker wrote, but Israel does not fully act upon its own mighty power and heavy responsibilities in the region. This irresponsibility causes real danger. When the mightiest force in the region behaves mostly like a timid victim, it throws everybody else off kilter, distracting them from their own business, suggesting spoils when there aren’t any.
Israel does nobody any favors by trying to do people favors. Its concern that its neighbors don’t like it is ridiculous, if not outlandish. If Israel started playing a part, issuing statements in Arabic, endorsing this Jordanian politician, condemning that piece of Egyptian legislation, it would no longer be such a pariah. But to do so it has to take enough of an interest in its neighbors to speak about things that don’t concern it directly but which it believes are important. It has to start punching at its weight, which is significant.
Perhaps Israel is following a subconscious national strategy of the strong, in which it behaves too meekly for a decade or so, emboldens its vicious but feeble enemies until they go too far, then lashes out in a now-obviously-justifiable response and gains untold assets in the process. This is clearly what has happened with the US. Clinton under-projected American power, leading to September 11th, which led to the US taking possession of Iraq.
While Israel inhales, its own citizens must—scandalously—beware. But when it exhales, Allah help the jackals. This seems pretty irresponsible behavior, but in the two-party system that forms the heart of the modern liberal democracy, a bait-and-switch foreign policy may be inevitable until a foe learns to stay down.
[Update 2018 Mar 20: Having been playing Risk a lot lately, I now see the benefits of infrequent, overwhelming interventions. The long down-time enables the conservation and nurturing of forces, so that when an overwhelming attack does come, it does so with an intangible impression of invincibility that discourages opposition. That is to say, familiarity could breed contempt.]