How Israel Should Respond to the New American National Security Strategy

Dec. 27 2017

After broadly praising the National Security Strategy recently released by the White House, Amos Yadlin and Avner Golov identify some lacunae—particularly with respect to Iran—that affect Israel, and urge Jerusalem to work with Washington to see that they are filled.

[T]he document . . . does not describe specific steps to convert the administration’s declared strategy into coherent policy. Thus, one source of concern is that [its] approach may not be fully translated into action, and, as a result, Iran will be allowed to broaden its influence in the region further without much interference. This gap will likely be examined in the talks among the various branches of the administration, . . . particularly in the field of military strategy. [Therefore], in the short term, Israel might in fact influence the formation of American policy. . . .

[Jerusalem should work with Washington to] draft a coordinated American-Israeli strategy against Iran that will ensure the implementation of the principles described in the National Security Strategy, while also protecting Israeli interests. This joint strategy should include an agreement . . . that [outlines] principles for coordinated action in the event of various Iranian breaches of the nuclear deal, to which Israel is not a party. Such a “parallel agreement” should guarantee Israel’s independent ability, as a last resort, to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. . . . In addition, Israel and the United States must coordinate their moves against Iranian threats that are not linked to the nuclear program—particularly the proliferation of terror and weapons in the Middle East, and growing Iranian influence in Syria.

The American response to the Iranian threat as outlined in the National Security Strategy is described in defensive terms: its objective is to neutralize Iranian activity, mainly through a united front [made up of Israel and anti-Iranian Arab states] to create a regional balance of power. In other words, it focuses on curbing Iran and containing the damage it causes, and on cooperating with the pro-American players in the region as a precondition for achieving these objectives.

America and Israel, Golov and Yadlin conclude, must prepare for the possibility that efforts to form such a coordinated regional alliance will fail, which is especially likely, in their view, if Saudi-Israeli rapprochement proves impossible.

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More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israel-Arab relations, U.S. Foreign policy

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat