Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of August 11, 1997


By Efraim Inbar

It is a strategic fallacy to believe that political entities
are bound by signed accords.

After the recent terrorist attack in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda, Foreign Minister David Levy sent messages to friendly countries asking for enhanced cooperation in combating terror. This Pavlovian response to Palestinian terrorism has limited value in terms of public relations, but is completely worthless in the area of counter-terrorism.

Significantly, the March 1996 Sharm el-Sheikh international anti-terrorism conference, called by President Clinton in the aftermath of a wave of Palestinian terror, ended in a display of goodwill and with determined statements to act forcefully against the terrorist plague, but produced no tangible results.

For our own good we must realize that we are on our own. Any reliance on others to fight our battles is irresponsible and dangerous.

Indeed, there is tendency in Israel, particularly on the Left, of adopting a paradigm of thought on national security which is very naive and extremely risky. Cooperative security and confidence-building measures are fashionable notions imported from the liberal discourse in the West. However, they are flawed strategic concepts.

The expectation that the Palestinian Authority will fight terror against Israel in the absence of a clear interest to do so has proven baseless. Carrots should be offered to Arafat to induce him to comply with his commitments, but they should be accompanied by a big stick. Incentives without putative sanctions may not be enough to induce Arafat into a pattern of behavior with which we can live.

Moreover, Israel should maintain the military capability to act effectively and unilaterally against terror, or additional security challenges from other quarters. This is how the international game in the Middle East is played. IT is a strategic fallacy to attach great importance to agreements and to believe that political entities are bound by signed accords. States abide by treaties only as long as it is in their interest to do so.

In 1975, Saddam Hussein signed a treaty with Iran. He broke it in 1980 when he believed he had an advantage over his neighbor, which was in the throes of a revolution. The Turks often complain about numerous breaches of Syrian President Assad of bilateral agreements. Arafat is no different from the other rulers in the region in his flexible approach to interpreting formal commitments. Therefore, Israel should not hesitate to disregard specific provisions of the Oslo agreements if they are abused by the Palestinian Authority.

Another prevalent fallacy in the discourse on the peace process concerns the diplomatic efforts to restore trust between the parties. Arafat trusts nobody and this is precisely why he has survived. It is totally unrealistic to expect Arafat to trust any Israeli leader more than he trusts King Hussein or presidents Assad or Mubarak.

It would be ill-advised to accept Arafat's word; Rabin did not trust him. Indeed, Arafat has not kept his word regarding his promises to crack down on terrorism until now. Similarly mistaken are those who believe that negotiations are sufficient for obtaining one's objectives, and that eventually by talking to each other, Israelis and Palestinians will find a compromise. From what we now know about the positions of the two sides it takes a great deal of imagination to believe that the differences can be bridged by just talking to each other. The progress made so far is partly a result of the suffering we bestowed on each other.

Arafat knows better than his well-intentioned but misguided supporters in Israel and the West; his bargaining strategy incorporates threats to use force and acts of violence in order to raise Israel's cost of maintaining its position in the negotiations.

Indeed, use of force is part and parcel of the rules of the game in the Middle East. Israel's reluctance to use measured force against its enemies is counterproductive. It weakens Israel's deterrence and is perceived as weakness.

Even a crisis, something many view with trepidation, may well be the recipe for changing the positions of one or both of the sides. Brinkmanship is often practiced in our region.

What Israel needs more than anything else is a clear conceptual framework for assessing its strategic predicament. Sensible policies can stem only from a sound evaluation of the reality around us and from a correct understanding of how the political forces in the strategic equation relate to each other. A flawed conceptual framework could lead to appeasement and disaster.

(c) Jerusalem Post 1997


Efraim Inbar is an Associate Professor of Political Studies and the Director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

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