Sign #2: The End of the Military Option

This is the second of my nine Signs of Hope for Israel and Palestine. You can read Sign #1 here and an introduction to the series here.

The US and Israel recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), a long-term commitment to an already long-term military relationship. The price tag of 38 billion dollars over 10 years was only one feature of this agreement. Far more important was the establishment and confirmation of a network of relations for technological transfer, joint development of weapons, and sharing of information, all of which was intended to insure the continuation of Israeli military dominance and prominence in the Middle East.

Already, Israel has an impressive military manufacturing and arms sales industry. It is the 8th largest in weapons sales in the world.[1] It is a major exporter of smart munitions and is reputed to be the top seller of drones worldwide.[2] It has developed its own nuclear weapons program and is reputed to have 200 nuclear weapons, which can be mounted on planes, rockets, or submarines.[3] During its incursions in Gaza and Lebanon, Israel used the latest weapons and boosted their sales by labeling them “battle tested.”[4]

While the Israeli narrative is that it is surrounded by threatening countries, the reality is that none of the nearby Arab countries, even combined, presents a serious military threat. The Sinai Peninsula is demilitarized, under the terms of the Egypt-Israel peace agreement, and forms a formidable barrier in the South. Jordan, apart from being a friendly country with a peace agreement with Israel, is effectively considered a buffer zone against any Arab army from the East. No such army is likely to come, though, especially after Iraq has been effectively destroyed as a military power. Syria has also been devastated, and it is struggling to maintain its own territorial integrity, much less threaten to invade Israel from the North.

On water, the Israeli navy and its submarines roam the seas and the Arab shores, and there is no hint of any naval military threat. To the contrary, Israeli forces have the ability to project their power far and wide. Netanyahu reportedly seriously considered bombing the nuclear reactors of Iran, before the Iran deal was concluded with the US, effectively ending its military nuclear program.[5] Israel’s army faces no real threats, but it operates as though an invasion were just around the corner.

There are those who claim, perhaps in hindsight, that Israel was never really threatened militarily. The Arab armies have never been a match to Israel in weapons, technology, or preparedness. Even in numbers, while the combined Arab armies sometimes appeared on paper to be larger than the Israeli army, the Egyptian commander Saad Mohamed el-Husseiny el-Shazly, once said in a lecture on the October War that in every military confrontation with the Arab armies, Israel has managed to field more men, tanks, fighter planes, and guns than the Arab armies. Today, no Arab army exists that threatens to confront, much less defeat, the Israeli army.

It is true that Israel continues to claim that it is in fear for its very existence,[6] but hardly anyone actually believes that. Even its own army professionals and intelligence officers have uniformly, and sometimes publicly, declared that no such existential threat exists and that whatever challenges Israel may face, they are NOT military in nature.[7] More often, references to security are used to justify political decisions regarding the Palestinians[8] or to plead for special treatment and trade advantages.[9]

More significant than the reality and numbers and military analysis of actual power is the common recognition of Israel’s military predominance. This is not only done by the Arab countries and governments, but also by the Palestinian people themselves, who now commonly recognize this and acknowledge that their chances of “liberating Palestine” militarily, or ending the occupation through “armed struggle,” are nonexistent.

Even those who continue to believe in armed struggle do so not out of any confidence in ultimate military victory, but out of a conviction that they need to continue to resist militarily, however helpless their prospect. They believe that surrender is not an option, and they hope that continued military operations can give them some advantage in their dealings with Israelis. The feeling in the Arab world that Israel can be defeated militarily no longer holds sway.

Yet this reality and this realization have not sunk into the Israeli collective conscience. Politicians still gain popularity by stoking deep-seated fears for security. The desperate actions of Palestinians, whether through “lone wolf” knifings or the ineffective Qassam missiles, which often do not even carry explosive warheads, only keep this fear alive and allow “security” language to dominate Israeli politics.

My point is that this military domination, which shows no signs of being overturned, can be itself a sign of hope for peace. Not because I accept the logic of “peace through power,” which only invites protagonists to an arms race, but because I trust that at some future point, we will be able to address the issues of peace and conflict without being totally stymied and trumped by Israeli “security” concerns. Not only is there no military threat from Palestine or the surrounding countries, but this is recognized both by these parties and the Israeli military. Security concerns should therefore be off the table, and not the determining dominant factor in seeking to move forward towards a peaceful solution.

 

[1] “Top List TIV Tables,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, http://armstrade.sipri.org/armstrade/page/toplist.php

[2] George Arnett, “The Numbers Behind the Worldwide Trade in Drones,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2015/mar/16/numbers-behind-worldwide-trade-in-drones-uk-israel

[3] Rachael Revesz, “Colin Powell Leaked Emails,” The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/colin-powell-leaked-emails-nuclear-weapons-israel-iran-obama-deal-a7311626.html

[4] Shuki Sadeh, “For Israeli Armies, Gaza War Is a Cash Cow,” Haaretz, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.609919

[5] Geoffrey Aronson, “Israel Won’t Bomb Iran But US Has Nothing To Do With It,” Al-Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/08/israel-won-bomb-iran-150828055312791.html

[6] David Rosenberg, “Netanyahu: Radical Islam is Existential Threat, Just Like Nazism,” Israel National News, http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/215980

[7] “Ex-Israeli Spy Chief: Iran Isn’t an Existential Threat,” Al-Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/upfront/2016/06/israeli-spy-chief-iran-isn-existential-threat-160601114106330.html

[8] Ben White, “Israel Uses Its Security Needs to Justify Discrimination,” The National, http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/how-israel-uses-its-security-needs-to-justify-discrimination

[9] Ryan McNamara, “Why the US Backs Israel,” Jacobin, “https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/09/israel-weapons-deal-obama-netanyahu/

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