Tuesday, June 25, 2013

  • Tuesday, June 25, 2013
  • Elder of Ziyon
At Jewish Review of Books, Benny Morris takes apart another anti-Israel screed masquerading  as a serious book.

In this case, the target is "Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country—and Why They Can’t Make Peace"
by Patrick Tyler.

The review is long but here are some excerpts:
Tyler’s book is a gossipy overlong pseudo-history of Israel, which is noteworthy mainly for what it indicates about the standing of Israel among the chattering classes. For Patrick Tyler is the former chief correspondent of The New York Times and the former Middle East bureau chief of The Washington Post, and his book comes festooned with blurbs from former Times executive editor Howell Raines, CNN’s national security analyst Peter L. Bergen, and others lauding its scholarship as “meticulous” and describing it as “the definitive historical and analytical account” of the role of the military in Israel. Incidentally, Tyler does not know Hebrew or Arabic, and the only archive he appears to have visited is the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in his home state of Texas.

In his Prologue, Tyler asserts that “militarism” is the ruling spirit in Israeli society:

Once in the military system, Israelis never fully exit. They carry the military identity for life . . . through lifelong expectations of loyalty and secrecy. Many Israeli officers carry their “top secret” clearances after retirement, reporting back to superiors or intelligence officers items of interest gleaned from their involvement in business, finance, and interactions with foreigners.

On the next page, he writes, “the specter of the security state remains a dominant aspect of life,” and a little later, “The military is the country to a great extent.” This is all nonsense. Had Tyler been writing about Israel during the late 1940s and 1950s, perhaps he would have had a point. Perhaps. But the Israel of the past several decades, Israel today, is another animal altogether. For most Israelis, individual achievement and interests trump the old collectivist Zionist ethic. Indeed, fewer and fewer Israelis actually serve in the army or do reserve duty (as the few who carry the burden are constantly complaining). It is true that among eleventh and twelfth graders, there is still great competitiveness to get a slot, once inducted, in one of the IDF’s elite units or in pilot training, but this has more to do with adolescent competition and machismo than militaristic ideology. Indeed, a good argument can be made for depicting the Israeli army as one of the world’s least “military.” Since its inception in 1948, the IDF has abjured saluting (the practice exists only in formal parades), and the men, after completing basic training, generally address their non-coms and officers on a first-name basis. The dress code in the army ranges from informal to sloppy and always has (except in the Armored Corps), and breaches of discipline tend to be punished lightly. While females are still kept out of combat units, women non-coms and officers are playing a major role in training combat troops (in armor and artillery, for example), and there are growing numbers of women pilots and navigators, also flying combat aircraft. All of this points to a liberal rather than “militarist” military.

As with poker players, books have tells. At one point in Fortress Israel Tyler writes that Israel’s paratroops wear black berets. Had he interviewed any Israeli, even a child (even an Israeli Arab child), he would have known that, as in Britain and France, paratroopers wear red berets. Sadly, Tyler knows nothing about the nuts and bolts of Israel or its military.

Israel is, in sober fact, a small, flawed, and embattled democracy, with a strong and unusually egalitarian military that has produced an extraordinary stream of writers, academics, and artists, supported by world-class academic and artistic institutions. In short, it is more Athenian than Spartan.

Tyler is as weak on the history of Israel as he is on its sociology, though he is chock-full of opinions and judgments, all of them anti-Zionist. ...

One other point Tyler makes about the [Six Day] war’s aftermath is worth quoting because it is so blatantly untrue: “It seemed that with few exceptions, everyone in Israel had embraced a creed that envisioned a Greater Israel, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. There were differences [only] about how to achieve it.” It is true that a semi-messianic euphoria took hold, but post-1967 Israel was nonetheless a deeply divided society and remains so down to the present. Many opposed, or were uncomfortable with, retention of the Palestinian-populated territories. Tyler forgets to tell his readers that Ben-Gurion, whom he repeatedly brands an arch-expansionist and warmonger, immediately advised Eshkol to withdraw from the whole of the West Bank except East Jerusalem, nor does he mention that Labor Party minister Yigal Allon quickly formulated a plan which called for withdrawal from the bulk of the West Bank in exchange for peace with Jordan. The “Allon Plan” was never formally adopted as the Labor Party’s platform or Israeli government policy, but it guided Labor’s policies for a decade. (Settlements were not established in the areas earmarked for transfer to Arab sovereignty.) In the immediate post-1967 years, Israel’s leaders, in secret meetings, repeatedly proposed the plan to King Hussein as a basis for a bilateral peace settlement to no avail.

...The War of Attrition came to an end after the Soviets sent in thousands of their own personnel to man anti-aircraft missile batteries and fighter squadrons to counter the IAF. In one incident, Israeli Phantoms shot down five Soviet-piloted MiG-21s. At this point, both sides called it quits. The Egyptians were now thoroughly exhausted, and the Israelis feared an open-ended clash with the Russians. Tyler, as usual, has the story all wrong. He tells us that Soviet pilots “shot down half a dozen Israeli Phantoms.” This never happened.

...The subtitle of Tyler’s book carries a clear message: Bloodthirsty Spartan generals “run” Israel and that is why it has not achieved peace with its neighbors. The actual history of the various post-1967 Israeli-Arab peace processes gives the lie to this argument. IDF generals and ex-generals have actually loomed large in these peace processes, both those which succeeded and those which didn’t.

Israel so far has signed two peace treaties with Arab states, with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994, both of which are still in force (though how they will fare in the coming years, with fiercely anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic Islamists on the ascent in Arab politics, is anyone’s guess). Negotiations with Egypt were led by Menachem Begin, a civilian who had headed the pre-state right-wing Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL). But the two men who pressed and persuaded him to make the requisite concessions, including handing over to Egypt the whole of Sinai, were his foreign minister Moshe Dayan and his defense minister Ezer Weizman, both of whom had spent most of their lifetimes in the IDF. Dayan was a former chief of general staff, and Weizman was a past commander of the Israel Air Force. The peace treaty with Jordan, in which Israel ceded several hundred square kilometers of territory in the south, was negotiated and signed by Yitzhak Rabin, also a former IDF chief of general staff.

...The basic problem with Fortress Israel is that Tyler dismisses, or is simply unaware of, the pan-Arab desire to rid the Middle East of the Jewish state and its periodic efforts to do so. According to Tyler, Israel alone is to blame for the wars, for the absence of peace, for the hopelessness. Thus, he fails completely to deal with the 1948 War, about which all acknowledge that the Arabs—first the Palestinians and then the neighboring Arab states—were the aggressors; thus, he fails to come to grips with the very real Arab threats to Israel in 1956 and 1967 and, indeed, ever since. He pooh-poohs Saddam Hussein’s effort to achieve nuclear weaponry in the early 1980s and writes off Israel’s destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor outside Baghdad in 1981 as merely “a new phase of [Israeli] militarism.”

Indeed, Tyler kicks off the book with a description of how, in 2011-2012, Israeli agents “murdered” two top Iranian nuclear scientists on the streets of Tehran. “The astonishing thing,” Tyler writes, “was that Iran might not have been engaged in clandestine nuclear weapons development at all.” Rather, Israel’s “highly provocative” killing of the scientists pushed Iran into pursuing, or resuming the pursuit of, nuclear weaponry. All of this flies in the face of what almost all the world’s intelligence agencies believe, which is that Iran aims to build nuclear weapons and has been trying to do so for more than two decades.

...Tyler’s purpose in writing this book was not to offer his readers an honest history, it was to blacken Israel’s image. Fortress Israel is just the latest in a spate of venomous perversions of the record that have appeared in the past few years in the United States and Britain, all clearly designed to subvert Israel’s standing in the world. Deliberately or not, such books and articles are paving the way for a future abandonment of the Jewish state.

(h/t Mel)

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