Whither Israel's Grand Strategies? Mainstream Sunni Arab Countries-Traditionally Adversaries of Israel-Are Now Its Potential Allies in the Struggle against Iran and Militant Islam

By Alpher, Yossi | Moment, March-April 2011 | Go to article overview

Whither Israel's Grand Strategies? Mainstream Sunni Arab Countries-Traditionally Adversaries of Israel-Are Now Its Potential Allies in the Struggle against Iran and Militant Islam


Alpher, Yossi, Moment


One of the signal characteristics of Israel's security thinking in the country's early decades was its development of grand strategies--concepts for coordinating the nation's resources toward attaining its existential objectives in war and peace. It would be hard to find another country anywhere that, starting from scratch, honed its strategic drinking to such a degree in order to deal with adversity. Beginning even before independence in 1948, David Ben-Gurion and a handful of aides and advisors sought to develop a series of concepts for overcoming the hostility of the entire Arab world.

Judging by Israel's triumph and rise to prosperity through the decades, they did a good job. Yet a brief reexamination of those original grand strategies (italicized below), seen through the prism of contemporary Israel and the current Middle East, reveals just how strikingly--in some cases alarmingly--things have changed.

Link up with a great--or superpower--ally. Israel won its war of independence with Soviet arms, delivered via Czechoslovakia. It quickly turned to an alliance with France. Since 1967, its strategic ally has been the United States. Despite the many bumps on the road of Israeli-American cooperation, this grand strategy is still working.

Maintain an opaque nuclear deterrent. This grand strategy, too, is still working, but it is being Seriously challenged by Iran and called into question internationally, particularly as part of the growing challenge to Israel's legitimacy. If Iran does go nuclear--meaning the failure of Israel's grand strategy of denying enemy nuclear capability by force (Iraq, 1981; Syria, 2007)--" much of the Arab Middle East will follow suit, and Israel will have to develop a new nuclear strategy.

Under the periphery doctrine, Israel allied itself with non-Arab or non-Muslim state actors on the margins of the region--Iran, Turkey, Ethiopia--who shared its concern over the hegemonic and aggressive designs of Arab nationalism. Today that doctrine is in shambles. Iran leads the militant Islamist drive against Israel; Turkey has developed its own revolutionary diplomatic grand strategy, under which it is forging alliances with everyone in the region but Israel. Of the "periphery" ethnic groups that Israel worked with in past decades against Arab and Muslim encroachment, we have witnessed some achievements--Iraqi Kurdish autonomy, southern Sudanese independence--but these play little role in Israel's current relations with the Arab world.

Indeed, in today's Middle East, Israel's potential allies against Iran and militant Islam are precisely the Sunni Arab mainstream countries against which it fought wars and sought alliances in the past. Yet the Arab states have become so weak and chaotic--the turmoil in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere is symptomatic--that even if Israel made peace with Syria and the Palestinians, it would be hard pressed to develop a genuine long-term alliance with Arab partners.

In combating its militant Islamist non-state neighbors, Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel's traditional grand strategies for war-fighting have also become increasingly irrelevant. …

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