Dear Prime Minister, Deep down you surely know that you have lost the election.
And, as an intelligent leader with a sense of history, if you take time off to
ponder what your outgoing government did and did not do, you will surely
acknowledge that you have damaged Israel’s long-term national security by
refusing to engage seriously in an appropriate peace process, by souring
relations with the US President, by failing to restore cooperation with Turkey
To reverse these dangerous trends, you need to launch a major
regional peace initiative, nothing less.
True, the military has been
improved, action has been taken to prevent Syrian weapons reaching Hezbollah and
against other pressing dangers, and preparations for a potentially necessary
operation against Iran have been made. But this is inadequate in the absence of
comprehensive statecraft trying to assure the political support Israel needs for
its national security and making a serious effort to stabilize and also
“normalize” Israel’s position in the Middle East. And such statecraft was sorely
missing in your outgoing government.
My point is this: As you well know,
national security issues continue in the foreseeable future to constitute the
most critical factor for Israel’s future and will determine whether the Jewish
state thrives or declines.
This is so obvious that I wouldn’t bother to
spell it out but for the troubling fact that the predominant election discourse
was over what The New York Times called “kitchentable issues like class size and
apartment prices.” Therefore, it is essential that you again put Israel’s
national security at the heart of the public and governmental agenda.
Middle East is in turmoil. There could be many surprises. Most will likely be
bad for Israel, although positive developments cannot be ruled out. Here are
some low probability but very negative contingencies you may have to face: Iran
declares and proves that it possesses nuclear weapons; Egypt suddenly moves
heavy armor into Sinai; the US abstains at a UN Security Council vote demanding
that Israel stop all building activities in the West Bank; in a mega-terror
attack chemical weapons are used against a civilian population concentration in
Tel Aviv. To balance that dismal list, here is a low-probability welcome
surprise: The regime in Iran changes, ceases nuclear activities, stops
supporting Hezbollah and re-establishes full and cooperative relations with
More fundamental are megatrends shaping the future of Israel’s
national security, many of which it cannot influence. For example: Growing
numbers of Muslims worldwide, rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion in
2030, and from 23.4 percent of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9
billion to 26.4 percent of the world’s total projected population of 8.3 billion
in 2030 (Remember, Jews are only 0.2 percent of the global population.);
increasing turmoil in Arab and Muslim societies over issues of self-identity and
conflicts between modernization and religious traditionalism, aggravated by
demography, economic meltdowns, “failed states,” and more; growing energy levels
in Arab societies with significant influence of “street action”; proliferation
of weapons in the Middle East, including new instruments of mass killing; the
relative decline of the US as the single global superpower with the likelihood
of decreased American involvement in the Middle East; some strengthening of
global governance, because of the increasing pressure of global
To move to the Arab-Islamic Israeli-Jewish conflict itself, over
which Israel does have influence, which potentially can be much greater with
high-quality statecraft, the following megatrends are crucial: As demonstrated
by its persistence, the conflict has deep roots in Arab and Islamic resistance
to the very existence of a Jewish state in what they regard as the “territory of
This is aggravated by the view of Israel as a Western bridgehead
in the Arab world. This is exacerbated by envy and by Arab leaders needing
enemies to stay in power and more.
Consequently the conflict has a very
strong historic momentum, which can be shifted only by large-scale
Despite the present weaknesses of major Arab states and
other actors, escalation of hostilities towards Israel in novel and dangerous
forms is almost certain. Iranian nuclear policy constitutes the most serious
danger to Israel, but others may well emerge, such as a North-East-South
anti-Israel bloc – unless the trajectory of the conflict is shifted.
Palestinian issue is the most prominent component of the conflict, but does not
dominate it or determine its future. If achieved, an agreement with the
Palestinians is unlikely in itself to terminate or even significantly reduce the
conflict as a whole.
Furthermore, the stability of a Palestinian state
and its agreements with Israel are unsustainable within a continuing overarching
Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, in the context of continued overall conflict
Israel cannot risk withdrawing from territories, which may then be used against
it, while without such withdrawals it is impossible to reach an
International action to enforce a
stabilization of the conflict may become more insistent, with measures that
contravene core Israeli values and do not really assure its national
I do not know what classified assessments the various
intelligence units and the National Security Council are preparing for you. But
unless they present you with realistic long-term “alternative worlds” of the
vicious Arab-Islamic Israeli-Jewish conflict in a downward moving spiral, as
well as surprises likely to challenge your new government, a future Commission
of Inquiry will find them guilty of lack of professionalism and gross errors.
And you will be blamed for not being critical enough of the assessments
presented to you and not making sure that you received what you really
Be that as it may, the conclusions that emerge from any adequate
assessment are, I think, loud and clear: Significant cuts of the defense budget
are not a realistic option.
Taking into account the budgetary deficit,
most of the pre-election promises on social issues and upgraded quality of life
cannot be fulfilled until Israel’s natural gas finds start providing large
resources. You need to take some steps to extend military and national service
and make affordable apartments for rent available. And you should pay more
attention to education, science and technology, relations with the Diaspora, and
helping the really destitute. But your new government must focus, first and
foremost, on national security issues, adopting an innovative and
A broad Israeli peace initiative is
imperative, preferably coordinated with the US president, nominally based on the
Arab- Islamic initiative of 2002, with two states for two peoples, or some other
novel solution of the Palestinian issue, as a necessary element, but only one
part of a wider initiative. Trying to advance a broad Middle East agreement
terminating the Arab-Israeli conflict is not only essential for Israel’s
long-term wellbeing, including its national security, but also for strengthening
relations with the US, improving Israel’s global standing and preventing Iran
from acquiring nuclear weapons’ capabilities.
The proposed initiative is
in many respects a win-win option, with Israel significantly improving its
situation whether leading Arab states respond positively or not. The initiative
should be comprehensive, fitting a large range of geo-political shifts, trend
changes and surprise events. But, as is obvious to you, it requires explication.
Israel has to be ready for very painful and controversial concessions.
Henry Kissinger put it in his January 24 address at the recent World Economic
Forum meeting in Davos: “There is no doubt that any settlement will require
significant sacrifices on the Israeli side from the position they now hold.” In
return, the Israeli peace initiative has to insist on full diplomatic, economic
and cultural relations, and demonstrated acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state
by the vast majority of Arab and Islamic states, together with reliable security
arrangements including joint action to contain and defang opponents of the
Where does this leave you as prime minister? Given your
political skills, the composition of the 19th Knesset provides you with a clear
opportunity to advance a comprehensive Israeli peace initiative, by building and
changing coalitions as need be. But there remains a major problem, namely – if I
may say so – you making up your mind and deciding what you really
Given the rapid degree of change characterizing our epoch, the
capacity of leaders to creatively change their minds to cope with novel dangers
and utilize new opportunities is critical. This applies especially to Israel, as
a country in-the-making faced with shifting threats and great
Some past Israeli prime ministers demonstrated an
impressive capacity to change their minds and surprise the world, Israel, and, I
think, themselves, with radically creative policy innovations.
persons still active in politics, this was the case with Ben- Gurion, Begin,
Rabin, Barak and Sharon. Now it is your turn, and probably your last chance to
play a significant role in shaping Israel’s future for the better, by embarking
on a comprehensive peace initiative.
There remains the fateful question
whether, in the terminology of Machiavelli, you will mobilize the virtues
essential for making good use of the opportunities afforded you, paradoxically,
by election results that seemed to weaken you. It is entirely up to you.
Yehezkel Dror, a former Hebrew University political science professor, was a
policy adviser to Israeli governments and the Founding President of the
Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute. His most recent book is “Israeli
Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses, 2011”.