Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel's Security & Foreign Policy

By Aronson, Shlomo | Shofar, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel's Security & Foreign Policy


Aronson, Shlomo, Shofar


Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel's Security & Foreign Policy, by Zeev Maoz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006. 714 pp. $45.00.

This book was written by a "strategist," as described by the author, as against the "linear" approach based on documents, which, in his view, is common to historians. The main thesis of this book is that Israel's foreign and security policies were, and still are, caught between two poles: that of unwarranted patanoia, and that of unjustified arrogance. The criticisms of both policies are not new, regardless of their various forms and contents, and some were born with Israel itself. Yet the author did not feel obliged to add to previous critical opinions-many among them politically inspired-any new data, anchored in serious archival research, done in the newly opened American, British, French, German, Israeli, and former Soviet primary sources (I acknowledge that primary Arab sources are usually unavailable). Moreover, the author declares at the opening of his book that historical research is not necessary in order to offer "strategic," i.e., value-bound, advice or a "critical" analysis of Israel's problems, even though he engages in most parts of the book in historical issues, already much debated, pertaining to the same problems.

As a "strategist," the author feels free to find evidence for his "critical" analysis wherever he can find it, though he avoids archival research, but his information on Israel's foreign policy decisions and Israel's wars was is based upon secondary sources. Several among them, such as Avi Shlaim, Motti Golani, Tom Segev, and others, are criticized for ideological bias or missing facts, but they are clear-cut "histories" used by a "strategist" for his own purposes. Several other works used by him, including their methodology, were published more than three decades ago, when "perceptions" attributed to Israel's policy makers substituted for the missing primary sources, or indeed seemed to IR experts to be an analytical tool replacing them almost altogether. The necessary givens of Israel's domestic political system, based as it is on multiparty coalitions, elected by a proportional ballot, were mentioned, but hardly connected to the strategic-political developments around it; we learn about them by using both newly opened and older primary sources. The analyses of Arab sources-all of them secondary-would have benefited from either the knowledge of Arabic or some expertise in using authorized translations. The use of the late Malcolm Kerr's Arab Cold War (Kerr was a distinguished "Arabist," who had declared President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and the ensuing peace process between Israel and Egypt "a bett ayal of the Arab cause" and Israel as the factor which prevented the Arabs from pursuing normal national development) may be a tribute to Professor Kerr's memory, after his death at Hezbollah's hand while serving as President of the American University in Beirut, simply because he was an American.

The author's contempt for "historical" research leads him, to begin with, to several, surprising observations, which are "historical" all the same, among them that "Israel is by far [reviewer's italics added] the most conflict-prone state in modern history." One need only think of Prussia-Germany, starting with Frederick the Great, all the way through the Danish, the Austrian, and the French Wars, to WWI and WWII, with the millions who died as a result of them, or of revolutionary France, the Napoleonic wars, or France's colonial wars before and after its defeat in 1870, in order to criticize our "critical" author for simple, and yet arrogant ignorance, which might have been avoided if his historical-comparative-knowledge had been acquired first. …

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