Into The Fray: If I were prime minister...

The first order of business would be to devise and deploy a political “Iron Dome” to protect Israel from the incoming barrages of delegitimization and demonization.

Cabinet sitting down Knesset 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Cabinet sitting down Knesset 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The State of Israel, the country that represents Jews throughout the world as much as its citizens, is slowly but surely abdicating its role by its action or perhaps better said inaction vis-a-vis public diplomacy. What has happened to the leadership of the past, men and women who were not afraid to state their minds and fight for what has always been rightfully ours? We are no longer respected and are at the mercy of a leftist faction and media who will stop at nothing to help in our destruction.Naomi Romm, in a Facebook response to my previous column, “Dereliction of Duty”
Israel cannot expect the world to be concerned if Israel does not regard itself, its existence and its rights with urgency and determination. This is the true and profound reason that the Israeli message about Iran did not touch the hearts of the world’s leaders, and the guilty party is we ourselves, the collective Israeli, we, the Right and the Left together, each one because of its acts of commission and its acts of omission. Dr. Mordechai Kedar, “Survival Skills for Israel – 101,” 2013
If Israel intends to regain its legitimacy, it must advance its historical claims aggressively and forcefully. The Jewish state cannot permit others to define its identity or distort its past. It is necessary to discredit the fraudulent claims of the other side and expose its lies. Such an effort should include a long-term campaign of relegitimization. Israel must defend its sovereignty and take its rightful place in the community of nations. These are the responsibilities of nationhood.Dr. Joel Fishman, The Relegitimization of Israel and the Battle for the Mainstream Consensus, 2012
I concluded my previous column with a promise, subject to breaking news, to provide a to-do list detailing the practical measures I would undertake to address/redress the abysmal failings in the conduct – read, misconduct – of Israel’s public diplomacy.
So despite the great temptation to invoke the “subject to breaking news” clause, and devote this week’s column to excoriating the egregiously inexplicable, inexcusable, incomprehensible release of convicted murderers in exchange for nothing, nada, zilch, zip, I will hold firm to my pledge.
After all, such disastrously counterproductive decisions as the prisoner release are largely a result of the catastrophic collapse of Israel’s public diplomacy strategy, which leaves the nation’s policy-makers hopelessly vulnerable and prone to outside pressures.
First week in office
Clearly, in a single opinion column I cannot provide a persuasive presentation of all the measures I would undertake were I to assume the role of prime minister. Constraints of time and space compel me to prioritize.
The most urgent item on the agenda is not difficult to identify. It is clearly reflected in the preceding introductory excerpts, which succinctly diagnose the chronic malaise eating away at the fabric of the nation: The total failure of the national leadership to defend Israel on the international stage as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Whether this is due to a lack of will or a lack of ability makes scant difference. What matters is that this failure has eroded Israel’s capacity to resist external pressure or rebuff external demands, no matter how absurdly unjustified or outrageously hypocritical.
It is because of the breakdown of the ability to resist pernicious initiatives that, last week, I likened Israel’s diplomatic debacle to the contraction of an HIV virus that destroys the immune system, while likening the danger of Iran’s nuclear program to that of being run over by a truck.
Of course, some might protest that the most pressing issue on the national agenda that must be given priority over others is the Iranian threat. This is, without doubt, a matter of utmost gravity, but even “Iran-firsters” will be compelled to concede that it is, as Mordechai Kedar aptly alludes, greatly exacerbated by ineffectual Israeli diplomacy.
For as is becoming disconcertingly obvious, especially in recent weeks, Israel’s ability to contend effectively with this peril is being considerably constricted by its failure to adequately convey to the world the severity and urgency of the problem. This undermines its ability to rally a reluctant world to employ sufficiently harsh measures to terminate Tehran’s nuclear endeavor, as well as its efforts to acquire international legitimacy for a preemptive strike of its own to disrupt that endeavor.
Accordingly, upon entering the Prime Minister’s Office, the first order of business will be the repair of Israel’s broken diplomacy – especially its public diplomacy.The Bamba syndrome?
This will require no less than a total overhaul of Israel’s current doctrine of the theory and practice of diplomacy. As Kurt Lewin, widely considered the founder of social psychology, observed, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.”
The first step in generating a practical operational metamorphosis is generating an attitudinal one.
The current governmental attitude of utter disregard for diplomatic endeavor is reflected in the pitiful amounts allocated for diplomacy, in general, and for public diplomacy, in particular. If the resources allotted for the achievement of a given objective is a gauge of the importance assigned that objective, and of the resolve to successfully attain it, then we are forced to conclude that the Israeli leadership has hitherto assigned virtually no importance to diplomatic objectives – and demonstrated commensurately little resolve in attaining them.
This distressing truth is reflected in the dismayed remark by former minister Michael Eitan several years ago in Haaretz: “It is dreadful to hear that the [popular children’s] snack Bamba has a promotional budget two to three times the size of the total state budget for public diplomacy.”
To contend with this debilitating condition, which might be termed the “Bamba syndrome,” there is a pressing need for a radical restructuring, reformulating and reinvigorating of the intellectual and material infrastructure that have hitherto determined the conduct of Israeli diplomacy.
Diplomacy as air power
Readers will recall that last week, I cited former prime ministerial adviser Ra’anan Gissim, who bewailed “the inability of Israel to prepare strategically with public diplomacy as a tool of war,” while Michael Eitan warned that “the results of the war in the media directly affect the results of the war in the field.”
This is precisely the message conveyed by these sentiments that must be – and would be if I were PM – incorporated into Israel’s foreign policy, both in terms of the mode of its conduct and the resources allotted for its conduct.
As I have pointed out elsewhere, the function of diplomacy should be perceived as essentially similar to that of the classic role of the air force. For just as the latter was traditionally tasked with creating freedom of action for ground forces to achieve their objectives, so should diplomacy be seen as charged with facilitating freedom of action for the nation’s strategic decision-makers, to allow them to achieve the objectives of strategies they formulate.
But if this is the perception of the role of diplomacy, it must be provided with commensurate resources to discharge functions that derive from this perception.
Accordingly, among my very first decisions would be to direct my finance minister to dramatically increase the budget allocation for diplomatic warfare – for promoting Israel’s case abroad, repudiating the accusations of its adversaries and repulsing assaults on its legitimacy.
And by “dramatically,” I mean up to $1 billion.
Diplomatic Iron Dome?
A billion dollars!? I can almost hear the gasps of disbelief and the dismissive snorts of derision. They would be sorely inappropriate and unfounded – detached from any factual foundation. For a billion-dollar public diplomacy budget might sound wildly exorbitant – until you compare it with the sums laid out for other purposes – like the air force or Israel’s anti-missiles system.
“Israel to invest $1 billion in Iron Dome missile defense system,” proclaimed the headline of a Haaretz report, citing the director- general of the Defense Ministry, Udi Shani: “In addition to Iron Dome there are plans to invest another $1 billion in the continued development of a medium-level missile interception.” Commenting on the purpose of this expenditure, Shani stated: “These batteries, when they are deployed, will provide decision-making space.”
But this of course is precisely the perception of the purpose of diplomacy that would prevail in the PM’s office were I to occupy it. The resource-allocation to fulfill that purpose would, therefore, be a top priority.
After all, and without engaging in a discussion of the relevant wisdom or foresight of one security-related expenditure or another, two things appear almost axiomatically obvious:
(a) Defensive weapon systems, however, sophisticated and effective, inflict no cost on determined adversaries and hence can never deter them from attempting to devise methods to circumvent or overwhelm those defenses.
(b) Offensive weapons systems, that can inflict dissuasive costs, are of little value if political constraints prevent/limit, their use. Thus even the sleekest super-duper modern combat jets with the latest hubba-dubba avionics and awesome destructive capability will be of little value if diplomatic pressures prevent policy-makers from allowing them to take off.Where will the money come from?
For Israel, then, it is a strategic imperative to devise and deploy an apparatus that will not only protect Israel from the debilitating effects of the unrelenting barrages of malevolent delegitimization, to which it is continuously subjected, but generate the legitimization for the effective use of its military might to deter and/or eliminate threats to the national security of Israel and personal safety of Israelis – whether these emanate from Iran, Gaza, Judea/Samaria, south Lebanon or elsewhere.
Finding the funding is hardly an insurmountable challenge – as the subsequent figures clearly demonstrate. The miserly amounts allotted in the past for a strategic diplomatic initiative do not reflect a scarcity of resources, but a grave lack of awareness and resolve.
To provide a sense of proportion, consider the following: Israel’s GDP today is almost a quarter of a trillion dollars, while its state budget is over 100 billion dollars.
Accordingly, to amass a billion dollars for the historic imperative of defending the legitimacy of Jewish national sovereignty, the lofty ideals of Zionism, and the practical policies to preserve them, would require less than 0.5 percent of GDP, or about 1 percent of the state budget.
All that is called for is shaving off infinitesimal amounts from other budget items to generate the necessary resources, which would still only total a small fraction of the defense budget – whose efficacy is, as argued, greatly impacted by the efficacy (or the lack thereof) of diplomacy.
This is surely a task that should not be beyond the capacity of any prime minister worth his/her salt.
More to come...
I realize that some readers might be disappointed that I did not provide more “red meat” and elaborate in greater detail on the nuts and bolts of the practical measures comprising my prospective policies as prime minister.
This is understandable – but allow me two closing comments:
(a) I would urge them not to underestimate the enormous transformational impact this single allocative decision taken in my first week in office is likely to have.
(b) Next week, again subject to breaking news, I will begin to specify how these allocated resources are to be mobilized to contend with questions such as: Who is to benefit from these newly allocated resources; what messages they should be used to convey; what organizational structures and personnel are required; how to counter the highly detrimental domestic sources of delegitimization; how to counter canards such as “no amount of PR will help” and “It’s useless to try and fight anti-Semitism with PR.”
That will be the agenda to be broached in my second week in office.
Abject apology: Last week in a moment of (what I hope was uncharacteristic) carelessness, I inadvertently attributed an excerpt from an article on public diplomacy written by Prof. Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University to Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilboa. I humbly apologize for this unfortunate lapse to Prof. Gilboa, whose continuous and commendable efforts have made him one of Israel’s best known authorities in the field of public diplomacy.
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (