ISRAEL'S STRATEGIC ERROR
By Professor Louis Rene Beres
The basic problem with the so-called Middle East "Peace Process" should be apparent to anyone who thinks. On the Arab side, Oslo-mandated expectations are always nothing more than a cost-effective method of dismantling Israel. On the Israeli side, these expectations are taken, more or less, as a necessary way of averting war. The resultant asymmetry in expectations enhances Arab-Islamic power while it degrades and immobilizes Israel. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Israel will soon face a carefully orchestrated assault on many fronts - convulsions spawned by Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line joined with major attacks (possibly unconventional) led by Syria, Iraq, Iran, and "Palestine."
At its heart, the problem of Israel's existential vulnerability lies in the Jewish State's basic assumptions concerning war and peace. While Israel's regional enemies, state and nonstate, believe that any power gains for Israel represent a power loss for them - that is, that they coexist with Israel in a condition of pure conflict - Israel assumes something very different. For Israel, relations with Arab/Islamic states and "authorities" are not, as these enemies believe, "zero-sum" relations, but rather a mutual-dependence connection, a nonzero-sum relation where conflict is mixed with cooperation. Israel, unlike its enemies, currently believes that any gain for these enemies is not necessarily a loss for itself. Indeed, Israel is generally unwilling even to identify its enemies as enemies.
Israel believes that its enemies also reject zero-sum assumptions about the strategy of conflict. Israel's enemies, however, do not make such erroneous judgments about congruence with Israeli calculations. These enemies know that Israel is wrong in its belief that Arab/Islamic states and authorities also reject the zero-sum assumption, but they pretend otherwise. There is, therefore, a dramatic and most consequential disparity between Israel and its multiple enemies. Israel's strategy of conflict is founded upon miscalculations and false assumptions, and upon an extraordinary unawareness of (or indifference to) enemy manipulations. The pertinent strategic policies of Israel's enemies, on the other hand, are founded upon correct calculations and assumptions, and upon an astute awareness of Israel's strategic error.
What does all of this really mean? Above all, it positively demands that Israel make rapid and far-reaching changes in the way that it conceptualizes the continuum of cooperation and conflict, of peace and war. Israel, ridding itself of wishful thinking, should immediately recognize the zero-sum calculations of its enemies and should begin to recognize itself that the struggle in the Middle East must still be fought overwhelmingly at the conflict end of the continuum. This struggle, in other words, must be conducted - however reluctantly and painfully - in zero-sum terms.
There is no "New Middle East." If Ehud Barak or his successor wants to continue the "Peace Process," even if only to appease his American masters, he should find another way of expressing this "pragmatic" sentiment. It ought not to be expressed upon the corpse of Israel.
Next, Israel should acknowledge immediately that its support for Oslo is fully inconsistent with both the zero-sum calculations of its enemies (which must now again be understood as enemies) and with its own newly- recognized imperative to relate on the basis of zero-sum assumptions. By continuing to sustain Oslo, Israel, in effect, rejects correct zero-sum notions of Middle East conflict and accepts the starkly incorrect idea that its enemies also reject these notions. By rejecting Oslo, Israel, in effect, would accept correct zero-sum notions of Middle East conflict and accept the correct idea that its enemies base their policies upon exactly these notions. By such rejection, Israel would also be acting in support of international law. This is the case because these accords with a terrorist organization that threaten national survival are intrinsically illegal.
As matters stand presently, Israel's mistaken strategic assumptions, and the juxtaposition of these incorrect assumptions with the correct assumptions of its enemies, undermine Israel's very survival. Ironically, these Israeli mistakes and asymmetries have the effect of creating an alliance between Israel and its enemies, not the sort of alliance that can help the Jewish State, but rather the altogether one-sided and unreciprocated sort in which only Israel serves its enemies' needs.
Israel should not continue to be the best ally its enemies could ever have. Instead, it should now seek to serve itself, supplanting false assumptions that stem from misguided hopes and projections with correct assumptions based upon valid argumentation.
In the language of formal logic, invalid forms of argumentation are known as fallacies. The overriding problem of Israel's current search for "peace" is the commission of various fallacies. Unlike simple instances of falsity and error, which of course abound in ongoing Israeli military judgments, these fallacies are vastly more injurious because they involve the very property of transition from a set of premises to a policy conclusion. Distinguishable from singular mistakes, these fallacies ensure that all subsequent calculations will also result in error. This means that it is in the process of strategic thinking, not in the assessment of particular facts and issues, that Israeli transformations are most desperately needed.
In the most charitable interpretation, Israel's strategic error has been the product of certain more or less remediable intellectual deficiencies. In a less charitable assessment, they have been the result of deliberate government manipulations, by Rabin, by Peres, by Netanyahu, by Barak. If the fallacies of Israeli government strategic policy have been expressed with the intent to deceive, to carry conviction without justification or to impede open discussion, they are an example not of mere foolishness, but of a fatal sophistry. [18 January 2001]
LOUIS RENE BERES Professor, Department of Political Science, Purdue University was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and has published widely on strategies of conflict and the theory of games. Strategic and Military Affairs Analyst for THE JEWISH PRESS, he is the author of twelve books and several hundred scholarly articles and monographs. Professor Beres's work is well-known to the Prime Minister of Israel and to the IDF General Staff. He is a member of the Advisory Council of the Tel-Aviv based CENTER FOR POLICY RESEARCH, and publishes frequently in NATIV, THE MACCABEAN and MIDSTREAM.