Jonathan Power
Arab News (Opinion)
December 17, 2007 - 1:24pm§ion=0&article=104735&d=17&m=12&y=2007

Across most of the political spectrum Israel is in a state of shock. The recently released US National Intelligence Estimate which concludes that Iran probably stopped work on its nuclear bomb back in 2003 has pulled the rug from under Israel’s proclivity to shoot first and ask questions after. The Israeli media and government have done a good hatchet job on the inconsistencies buried within the fine text of the estimate but they have nonetheless got the message that the Bush administration seems intent on delivering. There will be no American pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear industry this side of the general election and no secret green light will be flashed to Israel to do the job instead.

The Israelis go on living with the inconsistencies of their own convictions. They can’t bring themselves to believe that Iran may have stopped work on its bomb, just as they were the last to accept that Saddam Hussein didn’t have large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed Israelis have a long history of self-deception. They have always believed the worst of the other side. Precaution is a useful human attribute but taken to excess it can be quite counterproductive. And so it has become with the negotiations with the Palestinians and their Arab backers. As Zeev Maoz, an Israeli scholar, writes in his new heavyweight book, “Defending the Holy Land”, “Israel’s peace policy has been as reluctant and risk-averse as its military policy has been daring and risk-acceptant.” Israel is the Sparta of modern times. Israel signed its momentous peace treaty with Egypt, its most powerful enemy, back in 1979. In 1994 it signed a similar one with its closest enemy, Jordan, that sits just across the river that divides them. Yet this has made no impact on its determination to outspend both of them on defense nor on its policy of continuing to develop and improve its nuclear weapons capability.

The Israelis never ask themselves the question why, if the Arabs are so intent on pushing the Jews into the Mediterranean, they don’t any longer and haven’t for a very long time invested the resources to enable them to do the job?

Indeed, they could have done what Ronald Reagan did with the Soviet Union, build up their military machine to such an extent that Israel would have exhausted itself trying to match it.

Israel has engaged in five wars since it acquired nuclear weapons in the late 1950s. Two of the wars, the 1969 War of Attrition and the 1973 Yom Kippur war were initiated by the Arabs. The other three, the Six Day War of 1967 and the two Lebanese wars of 1982 and last year were started by Israel. But there is no way of arguing that its nuclear weapons deterred the scope of the Arab attacks. The Arabs never deployed a large enough armory to do serious harm to Israel. Their tactic was to create a military situation that would compel the big powers to pressure Israel into political and territorial concessions. Even in the Yom Kippur war when their attack went better than expected, the Arabs didn’t have the troops or the planes to exploit their advantage.

Israel’s defense spending at the time of the Yom Kippur war was at 25 percent of GDP. Now it is around 10 percent which seems to suggest that Israeli military planners themselves discount an attempt at an overwhelming attack. Nevertheless, if we exclude Saudi Arabia which has never participated in any attack on Israel, the ratio of Israel’s defense spending to that of Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Jordan combined is 1.5 to 1 in favor of Israel. Since its peace treaty with Israel, Egypt has reduced its defense spending from 22 percent of GNP to under 3 percent today.

The Israeli tank forces are nearly 60 percent bigger than the Arabs’ . These figures overestimate Arab strength because they don’t take into account the clear superiority in the quality of Israel’s arms.

Why then does Israel continue to act as if assumes the Arabs are intent on destroying Israel? Arab rhetoric has been a tremendous aid to the fearmongers in the Israeli leadership, but it is an informed leader’s responsibility to look at what the Arabs do, not what they say.

Israel will never get peace unless it drops its paranoia, realizes its strength and makes an offer the Palestinians cannot refuse. Everyone knows what that is: The Taba agreement that followed on the heals of the Camp David negotiations led by President Bill Clinton. Besides, if Iran has temporarily ceased its bomb making this is the occasion to go all out for a peace agreement with the Palestinians in tandem with an offer to negotiate a nuclear weapons-free zone throughout the Middle East.


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