What Ze’ev Jabotinsky Got Right about Israel’s Strategic Needs

April 24 2018

In a 1923 essay, the Zionist thinker Ze’ev Jabotinsky—the ideological progenitor of today’s Likud—argued that only by building a powerful military force could a prospective Jewish state safeguard itself against destruction, and eventually come to live in peace with its neighbors. Zev Chafets argues that Israel, wittingly or unwittingly, has succeeded by following the prescriptions set forth by Jabotinsky in that essay, titled “The Iron Wall”:

At the time of its publication, the Jews of Palestine were a small, embattled minority. Only three years had passed since the first Arab riots in Jerusalem against them. The Jewish community’s socialist leaders hoped they could appease Arab enmity by offering economic cooperation, progress and, prosperity.

Jabotinsky derided this as both childish and insulting to the Arabs, who would not barter away their homeland for more bread or modern railroads. They would, he said, resist while they had a spark of hope of preventing a Jewish state. “There is only one thing the Zionists want, and that is the one thing the Arabs do not want,” he wrote. Nothing short of abandoning the Zionist project would placate Arab hostility and violence. If the Jews wanted to remain, they would have to come to terms with a harsh reality: this was a zero-sum game. There could be no peace until the Arabs accepted Israel’s right to exist.

Jabotinsky saw that the Arabs (in Palestine and beyond) were far too numerous to be defeated in a single decisive war. The Jews needed to erect an iron wall of self-defense and deterrence—a metaphorical wall built of Jewish determination, immigration, material progress, strong democratic institutions, and a willingness to fight. Gradually, the enemy would be forced to conclude that this wall could not be breached. . . .

In 1953, Ben Gurion essentially adopted this concept (without, of course, crediting his former arch-rival Jabotinsky). . . . Egypt, Jordan, and Syria bounced off the Iron Wall in the Six-Day War of 1967. That was enough for Jordan, which withdrew permanently from armed conflict with Israel. But in 1973, Egypt and Syria tried again, launching a surprise attack that caught the IDF completely unprepared. It was their last best shot, and it failed. . . . Four years later, the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem and cut a deal with Prime Minister Menachem Begin. A few years later, King Hussein of Jordan followed. [Most other] Arab states have gradually come to terms with the permanence of Israel.

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More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Ze'ev Jabotinsky

Benjamin Netanyahu Is a Successful Leader, Not a Magician

Sept. 20 2019

Following the inconclusive results of Tuesday’s election, weeks may elapse before a prime minister is chosen, and there is a chance that Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career isn’t over yet. Perusing the headlines about Netanyahu over the past year, Ruthie Blum notes how many have referred to him as a political “magician,” or some variant thereof. But this cliché misses the point:

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Election 2019, Israeli politics