Into the Fray: Parading past predictions

This week: Some of my writings, and the predictions/prescriptions made in them.

US President Barack Obama (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The past week has been particularly hectic, leaving little time to devote to writing.
Accordingly, I thought I might cut a few corners – and myself some slack – by laying back, and at the same time, showing off a little.
I decided to provide INTO THE FRAY readers with a glimpse of some of my past writings, dating back almost quarter of century, and the predictions/prescriptions made in them – all of which are still keenly relevant today.
I leave you, dear readers, to appraise the accuracy of these prognoses, and to assess, in certain cases, what might have been achieved, and in others, what might have been avoided, had they been heeded more, or earlier, by the nation’s leaders.
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Predicting the Obama effect
In early 1999, I wrote a paper for what was then the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies – today the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) – titled “Diversifying Strategic Reliance: Broadening the Base of Israel’s Sources of Strategic Support,” in Strategic Assessment, Vol. 1, No. 4.
In it, I cautioned that Israel must prepare for the possibility of tension with the US, precisely of the type currently developing with the Obama administration, and endeavor to diversify its sources of strategic support to reduce its virtually absolute strategic dependence on the US.
I warned of friction over foreign policy issues – such as proliferation of weapons technology, and relations with the Islamic world; and the political impact of shifts in the distribution of domestic power/influence in the US, and of changing US demographics on ties with Israel.
I wrote: “There is, of course, much that binds the US and Israel together – politically, militarily and in terms of shared social values.
Nonetheless, both political prudence and past experience suggest that the Israeli leadership should not disregard the prospect that the congruence of US-Israeli interests may not continue indefinitely.”
The Obama effect (cont.)
I went on to enumerate potential causes for this: “A possible divergence of interests may of course arise because of substantive policy disagreements between the two countries on a wide range of issues – from the proliferation of technology and weapons to relations with the Islamic world.
“However, dissension may also stem from factors largely unconnected to Israeli policy itself, [such as] changes in the American domestic power structure and in the relative influence of various pro- and anti-Israeli power centers and/or pressure groups...
fueled by problems of burgeoning ethnic diversity that challenge the prevailing definition of American national identity...
There are thus several substantive reasons why Israel should earnestly consider a scenario in which US strategic support is seriously reduced – either in absolute terms or relative to new emerging needs – and set about designing ways to cope with it.”
The current US-Israel tension over the Iranian nuclear program, Obama’s Islamophilic outreach to the Muslim world, the emergence of influential pro-Muslim groups such as CAIR (the Council on American–Islamic Relations), and the impact of changing demographics, reflected in the shrinking pro-Israel sentiment in the Democratic Party, bear out the grim prognosis with some precision.
Jaffee/INSS has since declined all proposals submitted by me regarding work in, or for, the institute.
Predicting Gaza
In a pre-INTO THE FRAY article, written almost a quarter of a century ago and well over a decade before the ill-fated disengagement, I predicted the consequences of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
The article, “Why we can’t dump Gaza” (Jerusalem Post, December 9, 1992), was prompted by an exasperated outburst from Yitzhak Rabin who, after the killing of three IDF soldiers, suggested that the best solution for Gaza would be for it to “sink into the sea,” while even Moshe Arens, a longtime opponent of territorial withdrawal, raised the idea of unilateral Israeli withdrawal.
I warned of the dangers such a measure would precipitate: “... the inevitable implication of [unilateral] Israeli withdrawal can be ignored only at great peril to Israelis and Arabs alike...”
I foresaw the seizure of power by Hamas.
“... in the ensuing vacuum, the most radical and violent elements in Gaza would undoubtedly seize power... all more moderate elements would be speedily eliminated either politically – or physically.”
I warned of unavoidable economic deprivation in the Gaza Strip: “Its water resources are increasingly being salinated through over-use; it has no land reserves, no indigenous sources of energy or power, no existing infrastructure for the conduct of international trade or finance and no supply of human skills which for example characterize Hong Kong...”
I wrote that an ensuing climate of lawlessness and violence was certain: “... A denial of employment opportunities [inside Israel] would inevitably increase the frustration and bitterness of the beleaguered population and its potential for incitement, lawlessness and violence.”
Gaza (cont.)
Moreover, I identified the difficulty of preventing arms being smuggled in “from the west (via the sea) or the south (via Sinai).”
The consequences were not hard to foretell: “... The combination of these... elements is a certain formula for explosive social and political unrest, feeding on a deepening sense of hopelessness, misery and deprivation... feelings which will inevitably be directed against the most obvious and convenient target – Israel...”
Precipitating operations Cast Lead (2008-9), Pillar of Defense (2012) and Protective Edge (2014): “The frustration and despair will manifest themselves in hostile action against Israel as the perceived cause of the privation; our southern settlements and towns will be the targets of frequent attacks, which will compel Israel to retaliate.”
I predicted the difficulties this would pose, both operationally and diplomatically, and the specter of malicious international condemnation such as in the UN’s 2009 Goldstone Report.
“But how and against whom? Without a military presence in the region, the IDF will not be able to identify and apprehend those responsible for firing. Air strikes or artillery shelling on civilian population centers would cause heavy casualties among the dense, destitute masses in whose midst the attackers conceal themselves. How would world opinion react?” All this in 1992.
Prescribing the humanitarian paradigm
This grim, forward-looking analysis led to me ask: “What, then, is the solution to this intractable problem?” I urged: “It is essential to realize that no measure, whether total annexation or total withdrawal, can be reconciled with either Israel’s security needs or the welfare of the Arab population there.”
I went on to propose, back then in 1992, the Humanitarian Paradigm that I have raised repeatedly in recent years in my INTO THE FRAY series, stressing: “This is not a call for forcibly imposed ‘racist’ transfer by Israel, but rather an initiation of an appeal to enlist international support for the rehabilitation elsewhere of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
They are victims of war, held hostage in vile camps – by those purporting to be committed to their welfare...”
I appealed: “Instead of expounding the merits of a policy of dismantling Jewish settlements or abandoning the fate of Jewish settlers to some autonomous Arab regime (both antithetical to the Zionist ethos), the new leadership charged with the responsibility for the conduct of Israel’s foreign policy would do well to devote its efforts to marshaling international pressure in support of this humane and historically imperative enterprise.”
How much tragedy and trauma could have been avoided had this prescription been adopted almost a quarter-century ago?
Predicting Oslo
Immediately following the signature of the Oslo Accords at the end of September 1993, I warned of the grave consequences this policy would herald.
Between early December 1993 (barely two months after the White House ceremony) and early October 1994, I wrote three articles in The Jerusalem Report, describing the dire dangers that the “Oslowian” process was almost certain to precipitate.
To the best of my knowledge, this was the only – at least, virtually the only – strident systematic and sustained opposition to be voiced against this ill-advised initiative at the time, from inside the Israeli academe. (I was then lecturing at Tel Aviv University.) In the “The Autonomy Fallacy” (December 2, 1993), I argued that the Oslowian vision of political separation from the Palestinians, while developing economic integration with them, was an impossible dream that would eventually precipitate the security nightmare that it has.
The following is a brief, but dour, prognosis in “The Road Down” (March 1994), written over a month prior to the “Gaza and Jericho First” agreement for Israeli withdrawal: “Acts of terror will continue, probably even intensify, but will not be considered sufficient provocation for Israel to launch large-scale military operations in the PLO-administered territories [until Operation Defensive Shield, almost a decade later – M.S.]. Left-leaning military figures will patiently explain to an increasingly skeptical, apprehensive public that all this was to be expected; that it was unrealistic to expect to eliminate terrorism; that these deeds were perpetrated by the ‘enemies of peace’; that the villains must not be allowed to prevail; that the ‘process’ must continue...”
And that’s pretty much the way things went…
In “Break the Oslo Accords” (October 1994), I expressed concern that “the Rabin government’s policy has already ignited sparks...among Israeli Arabs [that] would lead to interethnic bloodshed,” which in fact erupted in October 2000. I urged the then-right-wing opposition to disavow the Oslo-process and “... send the present government’s concoction of haste and shortsightedness to its demise.”
That, however, didn’t happen. Instead, the Right, albeit reluctantly, largely embraced the failed Oslowian paradigm and persisted in persevering along its perilous path.
Predicting Abbas
Faced with the carnage of the second intifada, orchestrated by Yasser Arafat, Oslo-addicts began to despair of his leadership. Accordingly, a new “star” had to be found to which they could hitch their Land-for-Peace wagon.
This role fell to Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen), who in 2003 was elected to the post of prime minister, they hoped, to mitigate the vices and vagaries of the Arafat regime.
In response to this, I wrote an article, “Pick Your Illusion” (Jerusalem Post, April 23, 2003), in which I warned that high hopes then pinned on Abbas could not be fulfilled.
It began: “The image of a new false prophet is rising above the wreckage of shattered hopes and abandoned dreams that litter the desolate political landscape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This latest illusion comes in shape of Abu Mazen. For the fanatical adherents of peace (or rather, of withdrawal), the newly elected Palestinian PM is the last gleam of hope for resuscitating the embers of their Oslowian vision (or rather, fantasy). However, the chances of this seductive apparition providing the yearned for tranquility are slim.”
In a recent report The Wall Street Journal (November 20, 2014) wrote: “Israelis who once looked to Mr. Abbas as their leading partner in peace talks now accuse him regularly of incitement, saying he has been fueling unrest by turning a blind eye to it or worse.” This bears eloquent testimony to how unfounded that hope was... and to the accuracy of the 2003 assessment.
Predicting other stuff:
Turkey, India, submarines and desalination
During the 1990s I dealt with numerous other topics of strategic interest to Israel and analyzed the plausibility of future developments, making recommendations as to how they should be dealt with.
Thus, although I was a strong advocate of Turco-Israeli cooperation while Ankara still had a secular, Western-oriented government, I warned (1999) that Israel should avoid becoming overly dependent on those ties, because of the possible “rise of an Islamic government in a secular Turkey, which seemed poised to convert a major secular, pro-Western nation into a fundamentalist theocracy...”
To the best of my knowledge I was the first Israeli academic to identify the strategic significance of the ascendance of India for Israel (1999). In particular, I stressed the importance of the Indian Ocean as the theater of operation for a submarine-borne second-strike capability against Iran, when many in high places scoffed at the notion.
In a paper for the Shalem Center (1994), I wrote on Israel’s water system, making recommendations that have all largely been adopted – after delays of five-10 years.
These included:
• Removing control of the water system from the Agriculture Ministry;
• Setting up an independent Water Authority – including control over the sewage system under either the Prime Minister’s Office or the National Infrastructure Ministry (the latter option was adopted in 2007);
• Building large desalination and sewage purification plants to augment natural water supplies;
• Cautioning against creating dependence on imported water from sources such as Turkey, which then many supported.
But details on those will have to wait. Like I said, I have had a hectic week.