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Op-Ed: Israel and the Palestinians: Who is Stronger?

Although terror and rockets cannot destroy the state of Israel, they have definitely affected the power equation.
Published: Wednesday, July 09, 2014 2:07 AM


Recently, in a very thoughtful column by Giulio Meotti on Arutz ShevaIsrael National News, the writer asked a difficult but essential question: "Are the Arabs stronger than Israel?"

At one level, of course, in part because there are no precisely reliable criteria of strength in such complex matters, the question is unanswerable. At another level, however - that is, at the core conceptual level of routine geostrategic comparison - there is a meaningful answer.

For his part, Giulio (a current writer of unparalleled insight and courage in all questions relating to Israel), concludes, inter alia, that Israel's obvious superiority in weapons technology does not add up to greater power.

On the contrary, he calmly informs his readers, Israel is, effectively, the weaker side. It is still David, not Goliath. Nothing really has changed.

Giulio is correct, at least with particular reference to Palestinian Arab terrorism. Here is why.

To be sure, by every conceivably important military, economic, technological and fiscal standard, Israel is immeasurably more powerful than its combined Palestinian foes.

Nonetheless, from time to time, there are stark reminders in Middle Eastern world politics that the powerful can sometimes be weak, and that the weak can sometimes be powerful.

For example, referencing the recent Arab kidnapping and murder of three Israeli children, Meotti points out incontestably: "For one month, an entire nation was humiliated by a small gang of Arab terrorists. They had just a few guns, an old car, and lots of anti-Jewish hatred. Against them, Israel used its famous army, its secret services, its special units, and even brigades of volunteers...."

For a related example, one evident to anyone who turns on the evening news, Israel remains under hourly rocket attacks from Gaza, indiscriminate attacks that immobilize huge numbers of Israelis, and that employ weapons vastly cheaper to produce than Israel's Iron Dome interceptors.

Sometimes, especially in the Middle East, truth can emerge through paradox. Sometimes, in world politics, the supposedly weak can prevail over the reputedly powerful. Although, by definition,  power is powerful, and weakness is weak, power can sometimes become weakness. At times, moreover, weakness can become an authentic source of power. 

Nowhere is this irony more starkly apparent than in Israel’s persistent struggle with lascivious Palestinian Arab terrorism.

 Seemingly, from the start, Palestinian terror strategy had displayed an intuitive understanding of this particular irony.  Again and again,  the "weak"  Palestinians outmaneuvered the "powerful"  Israelis. Often, this cleverness even spilled over into broader victories within the United Nations, and the associated "international community."

Some unambiguous cases in point are the General Assembly's formal elevation of the Palestinian Authority to the higher status of a "nonmember observer state," and the still-earlier decision, by the U.N.'s International Court of Justice, to condemn Israel's security barrier (rather than condemn the reason for this barrier, which was and remains the unhidden criminality of Palestinian terror).

Today, even after Israel's prior Gaza Operation Cast Lead, and even while the Palestinian terrorists still rocket Israeli civilians with substantial impunity, world public opinion generally blames the "powerful" Israelis for using "disproportionate force" and "collective punishment." We can expect the same regarding Operation Protective Edge.

From time immemorial, the Jews remained stateless and defenseless. Yet, in a number of critically important spheres of human activity, especially intellectual and professional, they were able to emerge as  innovators and leaders.  Now, today, when there finally does exist a sovereign Jewish State, one suitably empowered with modern weapons, and also with remarkably advanced centers of science, medicine, learning, and technology, the 6 million Jewish citizens of Israel comprise the most thoroughly vulnerable Jews on the face of the Earth

These numbers - 6 million - reveal an almost unutterable truth.  Still, the world sees only what it wishes to see. And what it wishes to see in the Middle East is long-suffering Palestinians, not existentially fragile Jews. The antecedent fact that all this Arab suffering has been brought about directly by refractory Palestinian terrorism,  and not by any gratuitous Israeli resorts to force, remains beside the point. 

Hamas  “perfidy,”  the Islamic Resistance Movement's insidious and plainly illegal resort to human shields, has deliberately created  Palestinian Arab civilian casualties, or "martyrs." Under authoritative international law,  Hamas, not Israel, is fully responsible for these harms. Nonetheless, the  convincingly heart-wrenching images of  alleged Palestinian weakness have already become a vital and sustainable source of Palestinian terrorist power.

Credo quia absurdum. "I believe because it is absurd."

The Arab world is comprised of 22 states, nearly five million square miles, and more than 150,000,000 people. The Islamic world contains 44 states, with well over one billion people. The Islamic states comprise an area 672 times the size of Israel. Israel, now with a population of  six million Jews, is smaller than New Jersey, and less than half the size of Lake Michigan.

Power vs. weakness? The State of Israel, even together with Judea/Samaria (aka West Bank), is less than half the size of California’s San Bernardino County. Leaving aside that present-day Jordan wrongfully comprises 78 per cent of the original British mandate for Palestine, and that it has long had a substantial Palestinian majority, the fratricidal PA/Hamas union proceeds with plans to declare a second Palestinian state, on land torn cruelly and violently from the "more powerful” body of Israel.  

From the start, the Palestinian Arabs have drawn very tangible benefits from their alleged "weakness," including hundreds of millions of American tax dollars, easily diverted  to buy rockets and heavy weapons. Will an impending Palestinian state, supported by U.S. President Barack Obama, further enlarge Arab/Islamist power, or will it produce a weakened adversary?

Perhaps, with an even tinier Jewish State existing next to a newly-tiny Palestinian state, there could develop a mutuality of weakness. But this implausible scenario would make no real sense, as power, conceptually, is always a relative condition.

Plato wrote imaginatively about the reality of ideas. In matters of national security, as in science, good ideas must precede good policy. In this connection, Israel and the United States will soon need to appreciate more usefully the meaningfully reciprocal ideas of power and weakness.

Writer Giulio Meotti is right on the mark. The most advanced weapons of war, however necessary for Israel, will not, by themselves, create Israeli power.  Indeed, by nurturing continuous misjudgments of regional power, they could even create additional weakness.

         

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and publishes widely on international relations and international law. Born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945,  he is the author of ten major books, and several hundred articles in the field. Professor Beres' most recent scholarly writings on Israeli security have been published in the Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; BESA Center of Strategic Studies (Israel); Parameters, Journal of the U.S. Army War College; Oxford University Press; and International Security (Harvard).