In Israel, security is a “dormant war” (Rabin, 1967, 195). Although internal political evolution and external international developments has seen changing stimuli, the direction of Israel’s international policy has remained the same: entirely subservient to the perceived need to maintain security. An examination of Israeli-US and Israeli-Middle East relations, coupled with understanding of internal influences on the foreign policy elite, will demonstrate that foreign policy is a continual response to security threats, presenting “remarkable agreement within the Israeli body politic on essential foreign policy themes,” (Reich, 1988, 17). Security is the dominant policy concern, and when there are other goals, which have had to be pursued for reasons domestic electoral supremacy, they have always been implemented or assessed through the prism of security.
For this essay, considerations of the external appearance of Israel are central. Whilst the considerations of leaders internal power dynamics and Israel’s domestic political fabric provides some account of why security has consistently dominated foreign policy, it does little more than assume the premise. And before the discussion can begin justifiably, the security focus must be proven. Thus, the internal rubric, which aggregates the influences on internal foreign policy creation, holds little significance for this treatment.
Moreover, there is a tendency to explain the security focus as one institutionalized in “a restricted process” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 94), created by people “socialized in the defense establishment” (Inbar, 1998, 63). Amongst others, examples of the Knesset’s regular conflations of foreign and security policy give credence to such analysis. Evidenced by meetings of the cross party forum of foreign policy and defense issues, the overlapping of foreign and military spheres are rife and well-documented. However, a fierce internal debate rages, where the former is rebutted by examples of limited security significance, such as Netanyahu’s hamstrung National Security Council (Makovsky, 1999) which has given ammunition to reformist writers. Ultimately though, the internal foreign policy decision matrix “comprises: (a) societal factors […] which derive from cumulative historical legacy; and (b) personality factors […] those aspects of elite attitudes which are not generated by their role occupancy,” (Brecher, 1972, 11), or in logically equivalent terms: “the military and social aspects of national security are closely interrelated,” (Horrowirz-Lissak, 1989, 197). The result has been the formation of a unique Israeli narrative that pervades the following investigation, and will show how each aspect of foreign policy has been slanted by Orientalist conceptions of ‘us vs. them’ security policy.
Untangling the strands of Foreign Policy
In claiming one policy can be subservient to another, one generally assumes foreign and security policies can be segregated and balanced against each other. However, appealing critiques argues that in Israel the two areas converge far too regularly, or are too inextricably linked, to be considered separately. In most 21st century states, especially since the advent of the War on Terror, this approach seems tenable. Indeed, as threats to most liberal democracies have become more domestic so too has foreign policy become more centered on national security: traditional lines of delineation don’t work. In reality, it is still possible to see different foreign policy directions. In Israel, where domestic and foreign security threats exist inseparably, it is more accurate to say national security has been the dominant focus of foreign policy rather than usurped its significance entirely: security is dominant amongst equals, a supreme sub-section of traditional foreign policy. To such ends, “issue area focuses” (Rosenau, 1967, 11-50) are vital.
Foreign policy can be split into four overlapping areas: security, political/diplomatic, economic/developmental, and cultural. Importantly, the groups are divided by substantive content rather than motive, largely because “choice of content derives from the fact that is self-evident, whereas motivation emerges after analysis has been completed,” (Brecher, 1972, 13). The first, security, is defined here as, “Issues which […] pertain to violence, including alliances and weaponry,” (Brecher, 1972, 13).
This definition is vague, “the study of foreign policy is underdeveloped: […] and analysis for the most part lacks rigor,” (Brecher, 1972, 1). However, for our purposes, the sentiment rings true. In Israel, security policy, as distinct from its rivals, amounts to those areas where ‘violence, including alliances and weaponry’ are designed to alleviate or divert threats, and has been seen most commonly in country-to-country relationships. In line with Brecher, who defined his seminal research around “the selection, among perceived alternatives, of one option leading to a course of action in the internal system,” (Brecher, 1974, 1), there will be a macro focus to our evaluation. ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ policies to other countries will be considered as complimentary rather than separate, whilst the former is often more obvious in its security focus, the latter underpins the broader aims.
However, the aims themselves are unclear. Whereas, in most cases one could locate the dominant considerations of foreign policy by consulting a stated doctrine – such as the Bush administration 2001 NSS document – this for Israel is impossible. The lack of a clear national security doctrine to which one can refer is a problem that has plagued most of the literature, justifying stunted comparisons.
In Israel carefully evolved strategy remains ad hoc, developing sporadically upon a combination of peacetime principles and wartime necessities (Rodman, 2011), election patterns and international circumstance. Therefore to argue that foreign policy in Israel is subservient to security policy the signifiers must be reductively identified. Whilst “determining […] national interest […] remains a vexed question,” (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 93), history has suggested some insoluble aims. Such as: the stabilization of troublesome borders and defensive geography with the use of limited manpower; the creation of military superiority and deterrence (Bowker, 1996, 114), either by self-reliance, great power patronage or, historically, the maintenance of divisions within the Arab world (Telhami, 1990, 400), and dispersal of Middle Eastern threats.
The pursuance of these aims, born from weak borders, limited manpower and historical ostracisation, is our focus here, starting with a dependency on a global Hegemon. Our first consideration, the US-Israeli relationship, came from the broader Israeli foreign policy principle that “Israel should always have at least one great power patron,” (Rodman, 2011). Historically, the fit has been uncomfortable. In fact, Ben-Gurion’s awareness of a large Jewish Diaspora behind the iron-curtain, and the influence of socialist Zionism on political institutions, meant the USSR offered more ideological symmetry (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 97). However, in light of their malaise towards non-liberal-democracies, Israel originally turned to France for a relationship culminating in the Lavon Affair. This scramble for a great power patron, and the thaw of a frosty relationship between the US and Israel in the 50s and 60s, provides a key example of Israel’s security focus that is often under analyzed. The building of such relationships (Eytan, 2006, 169-182), regardless of socio-cultural symmetry, indicates an Israeli foreign policy concerned less with ideology than with arms. Where America failed to supply weaponry, commit troops or develop research-links, France succeeded, creating close ties between Jerusalem and Paris. Where such assurances of security faltered (e.g. the Suez/Egyptian quagmire), Israel deliberately cooled relations, turning to a new patron. Whereas most liberal democracies are expected to temper realist intent with ideological motive, Israel’s great power patrons have been decided, with perceived legitimacy, by security maintenance. Even before specific alliances are formed then, we see options considered through a security prism.
Parasitic Interests and The Lobby
The subsequent progression of academic evaluations of Israel and its great power – from co-beneficial to parasitic – has been retarded by strange systematic oversights. Special relationships like these, by definition, recognize the supremacy of one country over another, thus academic analysis has often discounted the policies of the lesser party as reactive: informed by the desire to maintain the patron at any price. Mearsheimer and Walt (2009), for example, concerned themselves with those of America exclusively, dismissing the complexity of Israel as a ‘strategic liability’ since the close of the Cold War. However, if we ignore the host temporarily and consider the parasite, a more equitable distribution of aims emerges. In fact, “since the end of the Cold War, Israelis have become concerned regarding the role and capabilities of the United States,” (Steinberg, 1998, emphasis added); a concern nurtured by a Republican Congress and the policies of the Senator Jesse Helms (Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). Once we recognize the aims of the client it is easier to see the commonality of Israel’s security focus. Indeed, only the reality that even a reduced American role is still vital to Israel (Steinberg, 1998) has kept the patrons’ clientele. Israel’s relationship towards the US is one dependent on real strategic value, and its prioritization over any other foreign policy concerns has marked a belief within the electorate that disengagement is possible, if not currently desirable.
US-Israeli relations, and specifically the lobby, have been largely separated from consideration of the Israeli national security doctrine: fifty years after the formation of AIPAC, the academic debate is stagnant. Most considerations survive by their interaction with the seminal work of John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, and thereby fail to constitute alternate interpretations. Their central argument largely holds true, despite contemporary difficulties and weak academic criticism (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 61), but the debate regarding US benefits has been had, an evaluation of the Israeli motivation is needed.
Such evaluation posits that every available example of the lobby exerting influence has been for security ends (below). Moreover, it was the realization of threats from surrounding Arab nations, rather than the desire for cultural or political global assimilation, that proved the main instigator of an Israeli policy to court “the US more assiduously, a process that included supporting more vigorously lobby groups of Capitol Hill,” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 100).
For example, Martin Indyk, the former Deputy Director of research at AIPAC, was given a senior position in Middle Eastern policy formation in the Clinton administration (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 65). The background of the appointee is less significant than his destination. This was not a victory for the Israeli lobby in cultural or economic spheres, but in security. Likewise, in Spring 2002, when the IDF resumed control of Palestinian settlements of the West Bank, Bush’s demand that Sharon “halt the incursion and begin withdrawal,” (Bush, 4th April 2002) went unheeded and without enforcement. The Israeli lobby, through Tom Delay (D-TX) and Richard Armey (R-TX), forced the administration to back down with the passing of two resolutions (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 65). The significant weight of the Israeli lobby was again bought to bear on security aims before any other. It is worth noting, though, that security aims may have been facilitated by unregulated socio-cultural hegemony between the two countries. A large Jewish Diaspora, and similar patterns of political evolution, has allowed other issues area to fade in significance, maintained as they are by informal cultural influences.
However, the quantifiable evidence available shows a relationship between soft power influences in, hard policy output of, the US administration that has allowed the importance of security in Israel to bleed out of the American lobby. The US response is a tacit assurance of the supremacy of security policy in Israel, evidenced by American conduct during the 1995 NPT conference (Steinberg, 1996). Such timidity from the US is the result of security rhetoric of a more obvious kind: “we made it clear to the United States that Israel had its own considerations which are unique to its situation in the region,” (Netanyahu, 1998). Investigations into the role of soft Israeli policy in the United States, shows clearly that, whilst other considerations exist, they do so in the shadow of security concerns.
Quantifiable Support for Security
Harder relations are easier to quantify. Almost all official trade and intelligence agreements have been focused, at least on Israel’s part, on the enhancement of national security. Acting upon Kissinger’s historic commitment to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative edge” (Gold, 1992), and beginning, during the expansion of the Cold War arms race in the Middle East, with the first sale of Hawk missiles to Israel, the official US-Israeli relationship was founded amid a plethora of security threats that have refused to abate. The result has been a series of financial trade agreements and intelligence alliances that have dwarfed other Israeli foreign policy concerns in output alone. Even after economic aid ceased, military aid continued uninterrupted, facilitating the creation of the preemptive doctrine (Ovendale, 1999, 195-205) and demonstrating renewed prioritization of security policy at the turn of Israeli fortunes. For example, from 1971-76 Israel was able to secure $6.9 billion in aid (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 104-105), the majority of which supported their mammoth defense expenditure (Mintz, 1985, 9-28). The Joint Political and Military Group (JPMG), in addition, met twice yearly to “provide a forum for ongoing co-ordination” in response to “regional threats,” (Steinberg, 1998).
However, clearly not every aspect of the relationship is concerned with security. Israel’s “willingness to forgo” retaliatory strikes against Saddam Hussein (Steinberg, 1998), for example, is levied as evidence that Israel sacrifices security for patron maintenance. However, given that restraint led directly to the American pledge for security against WMDs (Steinberg, 1998), a more compelling interpretation is that Israel sacrificed short-term security vulnerability for long-term security assurances. That said, the Middle Eastern peace process remains one level upon which Israel’s foreign policy towards the US doesn’t fixate on security exclusively. Tellingly though, in this area unlike others, although differences and tensions have been rife (see Steinberg, 1998), “strong disagreements have not resulted in any visible decline in the level of strategic co-operation,” (Steinberg, 1998). Why? Often disagreements within the peace process are ignored or relegated due to inconvenience.
For foreign policy elites, maintenance of security with a great power patron has trumped rivalries in Middle Eastern diplomacy. The ensuing relationship has been vital to Israeli security, too vital to see squandered on bargaining positions, not least of all in its ability to force a tacit concession amongst most Arab states that Israel has a right to exist, (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 115).
The Focus of Security
Whereas Euro-American relations see security founded on amicable terms, in reality, “… all aspects of foreign policy are skewed towards the Arab-Israeli conflict and are overshadowed by the focus on the security and the survival state,” (Reich, 1988, 1).
The priority of national security due to perceived necessity rather than societal preferences is born internally from the longevity of the threat, beginning with regular raids on the Yishuv (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 198). The reason for, and understanding of, security dominance arises from the lack of perceived development away from such threats; few open lines of dialogue and fewer cultural or intelligence exchanges, has created “a region where the use of force is widely considered a policy option and one which receives popular support […] Israel’s predicament has hardly changed,” (Inbar-Sheffer, 1997, 156). If Inbar’s claim holds true, Israeli foreign policy has inevitably withdrawn to security focus.
As a policy option in the wider Middle East the threat can be considered real, whilst to be seen to be the security candidate is vital, as was the case this year with Netanyahu’s negotiation of Gilad Shalit’s return (Levy, 2009). Such an equation is confounded by the perceived reality of the elite (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 113; Brecher, 1972, 12; Sprout, 1961, 109), and would therefore fit realist and neo-liberal interpretations alike.
Israel’s response to historical vulnerabilities demonstrates security policy supremacy in itself. Emerging with porous and conflicted borders from the War of Independence in 1949, policies evolved as attempts to secure these. “Strategic depth”, to fight the ease with which Israel could be divided, for example, led to a key emphasis on preventive (1956) and preemptive (1967) war (Rodman, 2011; Handel, 1973, 1-36), and to IDF retaliation against bandit incursions on Israeli land. However, debate arises, post-1967, with the acquisition of the Occupied Territories (OT) (Horowitz, 1975, 13-41) and the passing of ‘strategic depth’ into relative obscurity.
However, to argue that security was a focus that existed only while necessary is naïve for two reasons. Firstly, most threats are now low-intensity, requiring different tactics that would present less aggressively. Pre-emptive and preventative wars were, to illustrate, substituted for settlement re-housing and the creation of ‘the wall’. Secondly, most other threats now come from long-range missiles and WMDs (Cohen, Eisenstadt & Bacevich, 1995, 78), and as a result border security specifically has a less noticeable impact of foreign policy (Rodman, 2011). Indeed, the threat of WMDs has consistently caused security concerns which usurp Middle Eastern policy. Now, the “primary concern among Israeli decision makers centers on the threat […] of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 117), but the sincerity of this threat is questionable. Sprinzak proves the dominance of security in response to WMDs by political force of habit, rather than genuine threat response. On this question, modern Israeli identity is manipulated by “the constant presence of an enemy at the gate”, the absence of which would instigate an “identity crisis” (Sprinzak, 1998). The rationality of the response is insignificant here (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 118), but the way it has fostered an unalterable approach to Middle Eastern foreign policy undeniably indicates security’s dominance. The results of which are clear (see Beres, 1986 and Cohen, 1998).
The more potent threats of state and non-state terrorism have been alleviated, in part, by exchanging acquired territories for peace. However, the pervasiveness of security concerns in this new OT policy direction has not diminished. Direct public meetings between Israelis and Arabs have been, and are still, almost always handled by “military men” (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 209), suggesting a more security-focused approach. In explanation, a ‘security’ rather than ‘foreign/diplomatic’ policy towards the OT’s is necessary because the reverse would be a tacit concession that they constitute a foreign land rather than a national security dilemma. And despite developments, considerations have remained unchanged, “Palestinian territories were to be dealt with by Israel’s security forces as a security problem,” (Reich, 1988, 9), and still are.
For progression, the political future of Palestinians, which is a “more complex matter” (Reich, 1988, 8), must divorce itself from exclusively security concerns.
The general lack of that progress is in itself indicative of the supremacy of security policy. Whereas continued effort by the international community has failed to broker political settlement, Israel’s national security is maintained ruthlessly through IDF prevention and retaliation. Even conflation of politics and security sees the latter dominate, evidenced by governmental attempts “to limit the settlements to those that could serve a security function,” (Reich, 1988, 10). The OTs remain the single most important consideration of Israeli foreign policy, and they have been approached will almost unanimous security focus.
The election of the Rabin-Peres administration is the only anomaly, presenting brief moment of public disenfranchisement from the security rhetoric (Kimche, 1996, 139-40). The freezing of settlement building, (Reich, 1988, 6), as well as circumstantial developments in diplomatic relations with Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Tunisia (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 116), are often offered as evidence of diminished security focus. However, the change was limited and reactive. It provided at best an interlude, and worse “continuity” (Reich, 1988, 15), to a security focus in the OT and wider foreign policy directions.
The current stance towards the OTs, like that of the wider Israeli foreign policy elite towards America and the broader Middle East is one dominated by security, colored incidentally by “the incursion of political and ideological considerations,” (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 202). The result, however, has been friendly to the security agenda, bolstered by a powerful force “based on an Orientalist view of the Arab world,” (Cypel, 2006, 80). Israeli foreign policy, which has been examined here in its external context in order to compliment extensive work on internal considerations elsewhere in the academy, proves subservient to security policy: its primary and secondary goals remain evaluated through the prism of security.
Bowker, Robert (1996). Beyond Peace: The search for Security in the Middle East (London: Lynne Riener).
Brecher, Michael (1972). The Foreign Policy System of Israel: Setting, Images, Process (London: Oxford University Press)
Brecher, Michael (1974). Decisions in Israel’s Foreign Policy (London: Oxford University Press).
Cohen, Avner (1998). Israel and The Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press).
Cypel, Sylvian (2006). Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (New York: Other Press).
Handel, M (1973). Israel’s Political-Military Doctrine (Cambridge: Occasional Papers).
Horowitz, Dan (1975). Israel’s concept of Defensible Borders (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).
Horowitz, Dan and Lisak, Moshe (1989). Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel (New York: State University of New York Press).
Inbar, Efraim and Sheffer, Gabriel (1997). The National Security of Small States in a Changing World (London: Frank Cass).
Jones, Clive and Murphy, Emma C (2002). Israel: Challenges to Identity, Democracy and the State (London: Routledge)
Overndale, Ritchie (1999). The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Wars (Harlow: Longman Press).
Reich, Bernard (1988). ‘Israeli National Security Policy: Issues and Actors’ in Reich, Bernard and Kieval, Gershon (ed), Israeli National Security: Political Actors and Perspectives (London: Greenwood Press).
Rene Beres, Louis (ed) (1986). Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, MA; Lexington Books).
Rosenau, James N (1967). Domestic Sources of Foreign Policy (New York: The Free Press).
Cohen, Eisenstadt and Bacevich (1995). ‘Knives, Tanks and Missiles’ in Cohen, Stuart A, ‘Small States and Their Armies: Restructuring The Militia Framework of the IDF’ in The Journal of Strategic Studies (Vol. 18, No. 4).
Boulding, Kenneth (1959). ‘National Images and International Systems’ in The Journal of Conflict Resolution (iii).
Gerstenfeld, Manfred (2007). ‘European-Israeli Relations: Between Conclusion and Change?’ in Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Eytan, Freddy (2005). ‘French History and Current Attitudes to Israel; An Interview with Freddy Eytan’ in Manfred (2007, above).
Gold, Dore (1992). ‘US Policy Towards Israel’s Qualitative Edge’ in Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies (Report No. 36).
Inbar, Efraim (1998) ‘Israeli National Security, 1973-1996’ in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Vol. 555, No. 1).
Inbar, Efraim (1998). ‘Israel Strategy’ in Meria Journal (Vol. 2, No. 4).
Jones, Clive (1997). ‘Ideotheology: Dissonance and Discourse in the State of Israel’ in Israel Affairs (Vol. 3, No. 3 & 4).
Kimche, David (1996). ‘The Arab-Israeli Peace Process’ in Security Dialogue (Vol 27, No. 2).
Laswell, H. (1941). ‘The Garrison State’ in The American Journal of Sociology (Vol. 46, No. 4).
Mearsheimer, John and Walt, Stephen (2009). ‘Is It Love or Lobby? Explaining America’s Special Relationship with Israel’ in Security Studies (Vol. 18, No. 1).
Mintz, A (1985). ‘Military-Industrial Linkages in Israel’ in Armed forces and Society (Vol. 12, No. 1)
Rodman, David (1997). ‘Patron-Client Dynamics: Mapping the American-Israeli Relationship’ in Israel Affairs (Vol 4. No. 2).
Rodman, David (2011). ‘Israel’s National Security Doctrine: An Introductory Overview’ in Meria Journal (Vol. 5, No. 3).
Steinberg, Gerald M (1996). ‘The 1995 NPT Extension and Review Conference and The Arab-Israeli Peace Process’ in Non-Proliferation Review (Vol. 4, No. 1).
Steinberg, Gerald M (1998). ‘Israel and the United States: Can the Special relationship Survive the New Strategic Environment?’ in Meria Journal (Vol. 2, No. 4).
Telhami, Shibley (1990). ‘Israeli Foreign Policy: A Static Strategy in a Changing World’ in Middle East Journal (Vol. 44, No. 3).
Websites, Articles and Original Sources
Levy, Gideon (22nd December, 2009). ‘Gilad Shalit Must be Released at Any Cost’ in Ha’aretz. Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/gilad-shalit-must-be-released-at-any-cost-1.1639 [Last accessed 08/01/12]/
Makovsky, David (8th March, 1999). ‘Government Approves National Security Council Concept’ in Ha’aretz. (Print source)
Makovsky, David (13 April, 2010). ‘Obama and Netanyahu can’t afford to disagree’ in Ha’aretz. Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/obama-and-netanyahu-can-t-afford-to-disagree-1.284148 [Last accessed: 08/01/09]
Rabin, Yitzhak (21st September, 1967). Lecture printed in Academy in Memory of Yitzhak Sadeh (Hebrew, English translation).
Shiff, Z (June 24th, 1979). ‘Whose Professional Opinion Prevails?’ in Ha’aretz. (Print source)
Sprinzak, Ehud (29th September, 1998), ‘Revving up an Idle Threat’ in Ha’aretz. (Print source)