In his various capacities across many decades, this writer has delivered thousands (yes, thousands) of speeches in cities ranging from Jerusalem to Johannesburg, Melbourne to Munich to Memphis and from Buenos Aires to Birmingham. From the mid-1950s, I would often end my extemporaneous speeches with a quotation from the Book of Psalms that appears in many daily prayers: “The LORD will give strength unto His people; The LORD will bless his people with peace.” In this, I was deeply influenced by David Ben-Gurion, who often quoted that verse in his speeches. Ben-Gurion was immersed in the Bible, a way of thinking unmatched by any later prime minister. His strategic approaches and judgments – I believe – were swayed by his understanding of the Tanach.
Ben-Gurion’s first concern after World War II was to ensure that the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community here, could survive an Arab invasion from all sides. His second was to ensure a flow of immigrants, and in the first instance, people young enough to bolster the nascent IDF. Then came the massive immigration that tripled Israel’s population within a few years.
In essence, his defense doctrine was based on one main factor. Israel is small in numbers, and the Arab populations surrounding us are a multitude. “What we lack in quantity, we must make up for in quality.” That was the first point. The second military aim was that any future war should never be fought on the small land mass of the State of Israel, but always on enemy territory. And the third, applied by his successor, Levi Eshkol, leading up to the Six Day War in 1967, was never to join battle without the tacit or open support of a major power.
Often, in my own speeches, I would reinterpret the verse in Psalms in the light of Ben-Gurion’s doctrine: “When God gives his people strength, then he will also give them peace.” In simple words, Israel’s strength would eventually lead to peace.
To put it in brief, peace through strength is not a new principle at all.
Why, suddenly do we go back to Ben-Gurion? Because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man with considerable historic successes, has many tragic character flaws. One of them is a severely damaged ego. Therefore, he is always in need of the limelight, and constant reassurance that he is great. As a result, he is an inveterate credit-thief.
The US-brokered “normalization” deal with the United Arab Emirates is a great step forward for Israel, sufficient unto itself. It is a major change for the Middle East, and a vital message to Iran and Turkey. It needs no frills and frippery. But Netanyahu is Netanyahu.
When he made his statement about it – on prime-time Israeli television, in prime form and prime blitheness to the truth – he made two false claims. “This is the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country in 26 years. It is different from its predecessors because it is based on two principles: ‘peace for peace’ and ‘peace through strength.’ Under this doctrine, Israel is not required to withdraw from any territory.” How amazing. If “peace through strength” is a “different” principle, then Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin must have made peace with Jordan and Egypt because of Israel’s weakness. Certainly, even the most naive person will not believe that. It is obvious that to call this a “different” principle is a flagrant insult to previous leaders of Israel, and to the IDF.
The second false claim is that the UAE-Israel agreement was “peace for peace,” without yielding Israel territory. More than once, including in his election campaign “principles,” Netanyahu announced that we would annex the Jordan River Valley area. Then he had to withdraw the claim to placate the US and the UAE. (On a personal aside, I wish to make clear that I believe that we need full control of the Jordan River line. Without the unnecessary blather of the extreme Right and some of the settler leaders, we could quietly have created a fait accompli. But we live in an age of “Blah-blah, ergo sum!”) The prime minister gave up more than the official annexation of the Jordan line, he opened the way for the UAE to buy sophisticated weaponry, such as the F-35 stealth fighter. The fact is that wily Netanyahu never consulted with his defense minister or his foreign minister. Even the historic delegation that flew across Saudi airspace in the first direct Israel-Abu Dhabi El Al flight was headed by the Netanyahu-appointed National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, excluding the Defense Ministry and IDF.
This is a sure sign that the F-35s are under discussion. Ignoring military opposition to the sale of such weaponry is an established custom of this tragically flawed personality. He did the same when Israel bought more Dolphin-class submarines from the ThyssenKrupp German manufacturer than the military establishment needed.
Not only was this done behind the back of the IDF and the defense ministry, which were kept completely in the dark, Netanyahu then – again – on his own, behind their back, approved the sale of two Dolphin-class submarines to Egypt. There are murky financial manipulations in this matter, called Case 3000 by the Israel police investigators, but they are tangential to this column. They involve Netanyahu’s close coterie and relatives, but at this stage, not him personally.
The prime minister has denied that he gave a green light to the purchase of the F-35s by the UAE. His denial is as believable as his promise to annex the Jordan River Valley.
Taking a look further behind the UAE-US brokered deal, it is clear that US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, wanted to pull off a victory for Trump before the Republican Party’s national convention. The UAE has had near-open relations with Israel for a long time. Even Netanyahu had to admit that in his statement, while giving the Mossad more credit than others.
The “others” include the Foreign Ministry and various agencies and companies which have flown under the radar for years, beginning with the period when Netanyahu was not in government at all.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Israel to address the Republican convention from Jerusalem. His vain attempt to get more Arab states to join the UAE’s “normalization” may show that there is some competition between the Kushner crew and the State Department. The latter broke one of the first rules of diplomacy: never make a request that will be rejected. Bahrain, Oman and Sudan turned Pompeo down, which is a slap in the face to him, and to Trump as well.
Perhaps the next sentence is a known fact, but it may be a scoop. I clearly recall an American-Israeli was sent to Oman under the wraps to represent Israel’s interest. I do not guarantee the precise year, but do take responsibility for what I write about our clandestine long-standing relations with Oman. Furthermore, Israel has been selling products of peace, such as irrigation systems, as well as hi-tech – and maybe even products of war to many Arab states. The deals were almost always through a third country, and/or the origin of the goods was falsely labeled. Both buyer and seller knew the truth.
Furthermore, for Netanyahu to say “I brought peace... my efforts, etc.” and so on is just another symptom of a weak-egoed man who needs to claim credit for what others have wrought. This is so in every field. The fact that he kept his coalition partners in the dark about the UAE-US announcement “because he was afraid of leaks” is both an insult and a weak departure from the truth. His spokesmen are as leaky as a corroded drain pipe, while Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi – both former chiefs of staff – no doubt have kept and keep more secrets than their “partner,” the prime minister, even knows about.
A fellow journalist has written of the “Netanyahu Doctrine: Peace without territorial withdrawal and peace through strength.” The only Netanyahu doctrine I can see is that of a hoarse rooster donning peacock feathers. With these feathers, and his freedom with the truth, he may win election in this Orwellian world. His attempt to sneak into history as a peacock will face the judgment of time, as tens of doctorates and some television series will show the man with many accomplishments and with tragic flaws: a rooster in peacock’s plumage. ■ The writer has had considerable experience in government and public life across many decades. He served in the offices of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, and as world chairman of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.