Back in 1965, in a small meeting room in Tel Aviv, former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan gave a pep talk to a group of RAFI (Rishimat Poalai Israel) volunteers, myself included. At that time, RAFI, a breakaway faction of the Mapai Party, included such notables as former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and former Defense Minister Shimon Peres. Peres and Dayan had been considered the "hawks" of Mapai and it was no accident that in the 1965 election they supported a strong defense and security policy.
Dayan was always interesting to listen to, but this talk was something special and we paid attention to every word. "The essence of Israel's security in this region (Middle East) is deterrence," he said. "When we formed the State in 1948-9, we were very weak. The Arab States had planes, tanks, heavy artillery and many more soldiers than us. We had very little heavy military equipment. In the period 1949-55, we absorbed almost a million immigrants. Tent cities sprung up all over the country. We were totally disorganized. Had the Arabs mounted another major invasion, we could have lost. We devised a solution to this problem. It was deterrence. Think about being lost in a forest and surrounded by hostile animals. If you light a torch, boldly approach them showing no fear -- they will retreat. But, if you show fear -- they will attack and you are lost. We used this principle to save Israel during those early years. Every time we were attacked, we retaliated ten fold. We showed daring and penetrated deep within their borders to attack our targets. We were fearless, brave, and even a bit bloodthirsty. You know the result. The Arabs were afraid and never attacked. Deterrence worked. By 1956 when we invaded Sinai, the Israel Defense Force was not just strong, it was invincible."
The story above was not told just for nostalgia. The lesson is extremely important for the survival of Israel today. Unfortunately Israelis are daily witnessing the consequences of seven years of declining deterrence vis a vis its Arab population. In 1987, the intifada presented Israel with a new challenge. It was a new kind of war, but with the same aim of driving the Israelis out of their country. The Israelis fought the intifada with many handicaps, not the least of which were their own rules of conduct. Israeli soldiers failed to cope with attacks by teenage Arab boys. In the course of several years, the Arabs learned that the soldiers would not aggressively retaliate for their attacks. They became emboldened.
The Jews living in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza showed great fortitude, enduring thousands of attacks and still tripling their numbers. The serious security failure developed as Arabs became accustomed to attacking Jews and Israeli soldiers. By trying to remain humane in the face of massive attacks, Israel emboldened the Arabs to more and more attacks. Throwing concrete boulders, Molotov cocktails, and then using firearms at Israelis became the norm of behavior among the Arabs. The Israeli government allowed its citizens to be attacked solely because they were Jews. In no other country of the world would such a policy be tolerated. Just two weeks ago a reserve officer of the Israel Defense Forces made a wrong turn and ended up in the center of Ramallah, a Arab city. He was immediately attacked by a vicious mob of Arabs, murder in their eyes, who almost beat him to death. Deterrence had vanished.
While the Jews may not have been afraid like the man in the forest, the affect of multiple restrictions on the Israeli right of self defense had the same result. That result was to increase the bloodlust of the Arab population and to multiply the Jewish casualties.
In 1991, the Persian Gulf War, with its SCUD attacks on Israel, further undermined Israeli deterrence. Having to depend on United States Forces instead of her own had a deleterious effect on Israeli self-confidence. It is notable that the Arab population of Judea and Samaria danced on their on their roofs and cried, "Gas the Jews" as the SCUD's headed for Tel Aviv. The self-assurance of the Israelis also declined immensely as a result of their cowering in sealed rooms during the missile attacks.
After the war, Shimon Peres and his associates began to search for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that did not require deterrence. The answer, Peres thought, was to be found in the growing influence of the extreme left (Meretz Party) in Israeli's ruling Labor elite. For many years, the left in Israel and its supporters in America have promoted the doctrine of "Israeli guilt" for the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict. The leftists accepted the Arab propaganda version of Middle Eastern history and see their role as making amends for alleged "wrongs" committed against the Palestinian Arabs. When the Labor Party formed a coalition with Meretz, it was assumed that Meretz would be the junior partner. What we have witnessed is the virtual infusion of extreme left-wing philosophy into the body of Labor.
Peres took this "Israeli or Jewish guilt" and developed it into a "peace" policy based on rectifying "wrongs" committed against the Palestinian Arabs. The leftists saw the most serious "wrong" as being the occupation itself. Jewish rule over a minority of Arabs was considered so immoral, in and of itself, as to cause a destructive decline in Israeli democracy and public morality. The details of maintaining the occupation, like reserve duty in Gaza, were said to cause everything from violence in the home to reckless driving. Divorcing Israel from the territories was seen as a goal for Israel and not just a victory for the Arabs.
I describe the Peres "peace" policy as the "dhimmization of Israel." It was based on virtually giving the Arabs everything they wanted: a PLO state in most of the territories, control of land and water, return of refugees, and a shared status for Jerusalem. His belief was that by Israeli actions and concessions, he could terminate Arab hostility to Israel. Peres exhibited the fallacy of believing that anti-semitism is caused by the "bad behavior" of Jews. He failed to understand that there are major forces of religion, history and psychology in the one billion strong Islamic world that can not be manipulated by anything that Israel does. Would the Holocaust have been prevented if the Jews of Europe had been "nicer" to the Nazis? By shrinking Israel to a size that was non-threatening to the Arabs, Peres hoped to achieve for Israel the status of a dhimmis-nation in the Islamic world. Dhimmis status, you will recall, is the inferior third-class status afforded Jews in Arab countries throughout the centuries.
Israel, with its powerful military and independent citizens, had always been an affront to Moslems everywhere. Therefore, Jews should be made subservient, weak and dependent on the approval of their Moslem overlords. Peres understood that Israel in its present borders was too strong to be destroyed. He also understood that the Arabs were offended that they could not destroy Israel within its defensible borders. The Peres solution seems to involve making Israel weak, creating a PLO state, and generally groveling before Arab rulers. Such an emasculated dhimmis-like Israel, would now win the approval of the Islamic world. He would call it "peace." Some would call it appeasement. Some would cheer. Some would protest.. Freeman Center members (and real Zionists) see the Peres/PLO plan as a nightmare and pray that Israel's leaders will come to their senses and return to a policy of deterrence, security and defense of Israeli interests.
Bernard J. Shapiro is director of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies in Houston, Texas and is editor its monthly political magazine, THE MACCABEAN.(12/23/94)