Israel needs to rethink national security

Celebrations of Israel’s 59th year of independence may be overshadowed by the Winograd Commissions’ interim report on the political and military leadership’s conduct during the
Second Lebanon War last summer.

Personal conclusions notwithstanding, the report will expose an ill-structured government that is institutionally unfit to deal with Israel’s national security challenges. But that’s only part of the national security story of our 59th year.

In two other areas Israel has experienced painful disappointments recently. In Gaza, we don’t win, in spite of our absolute military superiority. In addition, the “Convergence Plan” for unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank was abandoned although it was the Olmert government’s political flagship.

Put together, these three events should be a source of serious concern.

A national security strategy involves leveraging a nation’s resources toward securing its existence, security and prosperity. Don’t Google ‘Israel’s national security strategy’ because you won’t find it. No official publication exists; the outlook has not been comprehensively formulated or articulated. Nonetheless, this strategy shapes and impacts countless statements, decisions and actions at all levels of Israeli government, and drives huge financial undertakings.

Some of its key principles are obvious to anyone who observes Israel — for example, maintaining military superiority over Israel’s neighbors, nurturing the country’s special relationship with the United States and preserving a state that is predominantly Jewish demographically.

In fact, the main points of the strategy are mostly shared by Israeli leaders on the left and the right and serve as an anchor for their policies, hence generating relative consistency in national politics.

However, faced with permanent adversity and exceptional regional volatility, tenets of our national security strategy are challenged and sometimes rendered irrelevant at a pace that’s unparalleled elsewhere. This means Israel is required to constantly revisit and update its political and military approach.

The Second Lebanon War showed that Israel’s primary national security challenges are gravitating from the “harder” security-military sphere to “softer” areas of diplomacy, politics, legitimacy and international law.

Continuous military friction along our borders notwithstanding, the logic of the Resistance Network — those groups in Israel, the region and around the world that deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state — is primarily political. This network wishes for Israel’s implosion through processes similar to those that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and apartheid-era South Africa.

This logic of implosion is not yet a strategy, but it’s more than just a bubbling idea. It’s articulated most prominently by figures such as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad.

Their approach has three legs. First, use terrorism and guerilla warfare to undermine any breakthrough toward securing and consolidating Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. Second, work to undermine the “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while promoting an alternative “one-state solution” that’s tantamount to the abolition of Israel as a Jewish state. Third, challenge Jews’ fundamental right to self-determination and question the legitimacy of Israel’s Jewishness.

To date, they have been effective. The Oslo peace process of the 1990s has been derailed, and the unilateralist approach blocked. Israel, the West and Arab moderates have been left with no credible and viable political framework.

Israel’s path to ending its control over the Palestinian population and securing its Jewishness seems lost. Hence, while Israel perceives terrorism to have been contained at a level that doesn’t citizens’ daily existence, our enemies have leveraged terrorism into a strategic tool with potentially existential implications for us.

Furthermore, the vision of Israel’s implosion impacts our enemies’ approach toward the Palestinian issue. Some of them believe Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank may actually be a blessing in disguise if it accelerates Israel’s collapse. That’s partly the reason why there is no effective pressure on Israel to withdraw.

One implication for Israel is that there is asymmetry between the emerging threats and our response, which places our national security at a strategic inferiority. Our chief adversaries’ organizing logic is primarily political, while Israel’s response is primarily military. Hence, the tools we use to secure acceptance and legitimacy for our Jewishness and democracy have proven less effective than the tools that the Resistance Network uses to undermine us.

The Winograd Commission may lead to structural reforms of profound significance. Some 40 other military commissions looked into other aspects of the Second Lebanon War, and conclusions have been reached and implemented. The Israel Defense Force is training, gearing up and getting ready for the next round.

But it’s not enough. The combination of the Second Lebanon War, the disappointment in Gaza and the cancellation of the “Convergence Plan” is more than a red light. No commission has been established to look at the substance of our national security strategy and to question the basic allocation of resources between military and diplomacy, and within them. Such a reassessment could lead to the conclusion that instead of another infantry battalion, we need 100 new diplomats and experts in international law.

If most of the public debate in the coming months focuses on personal findings, conclusions and recommendations, Israel may miss the point. Our national security strategy must be revisited. Our 60th year should be one of substance.