Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Defending the Holy Land by Zeev Maoz (University of Michigan Press)

I think even the detractors of this book will have to at least admit that this book is a very brave endeavor by the author. The analysis that Maoz gives us here is at times subjective which does leave the author open to criticism, but he takes such a scientific approach in analyzing the evidence that any critic will be hard pressed to find flaws in his methodology.

The book is not for the casual reader or those with just a passing interest in Israel or the Arab/Israeli conflict. The author uses almost fifty pages at the very beginning of the book to explain to readers his methodological approach to analysis of Israeli defense policy. I for one have never read such a detailed analysis of an approach to analysis before. Any potential reader should be prepared for a dense work that requires a lot from the reader.

If you decide to take on this book I think you will be rewarded with the best analysis of Israeli defense policy there is out there. The information is neutral and based on the best evidence available and presented in a rational and almost clinical fashion.

Maoz goes into great detail about how the IDF has had too much influence on policy making decisions within the government, and how civilian leadership has played a subservient role to defense needs. He goes on to explain how this lack of civilian leadership has created a process by which military solutions to conflicts take a priority role over political solutions. This has affected Israel's peace making efforts in the region. Israel has been all to willing to embark on some extremely risky military adventures to seek an end or at least an improvement vis-à-vis its neighbors, but at the same time Israel has been unwilling to try even moderately risky attempts at political solutions.

Maoz attributes some of this to the fact that Israel's founding elites instilled a siege mentality during the founding and early days of the Israeli state. Unfortunately this siege mentality has persisted even after the realities on the ground have taken on some fundamental changes. Israel now has a large conventional edge on all of its enemies, and Israel, for the foreseeable future, has no real existential threat from those states in the area. This does not mean that Israel is safe, but what it should mean is that Israel should have more political room to maneuver and seek political solutions that will further its security.

When Israel has taken some risk for political solutions it has benefited enormously, as when Israel finally accepted Sadat's overtures for negotiations which lead to the Israeli/Egyptian peace treaty. This peace, even though it has been a cold peace, has lifted an enormous burden from Israel. This should have been the template for Israeli peace policy towards its neighbors but unfortunately Israel seemed to take no lessons from this peace, but instead Israel insists on focusing on Arab rhetoric which is not grounded in reality nor are these states pursuing policies that could make their rhetoric a reality.

Israel is in a relatively safe position right now. They have an economic, social and military edge over every one of their potential enemies and Israel should try to capitalize on its improved position by bargaining for peace and establishing a WMD free zone in the Middle East. These types of policies could possibly go along way in bringing security to the Israeli state and it could lighten the defense burden which could free up money that is needed for infrastructure and social programs within Israel.

Maoz goes into all of this and more. His discussion of Israel's nuclear policy is fascinating, and his information on the economic aspects of Israel's defense policy and its economic situation as a whole was extremely elucidating. All in all I found this book to be an invaluable contribution to the discussion. This is one book that anyone who seriously studies this region and Israel cannot do without. I highly recommend this book.

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