Has Israel’s militarism limited the effectiveness of diplomatic options? That’s the strong thesis from Patrick Tyler, whose new book Fortress Israel explains the implications of a society primed and fully prepared for war. It echoes Thomas Ricks’s new book on the US military–and builds upon the notions articulated in Stephen Glain‘s State Vs. Defense–that when the dominant institution sees the world as a nail all you have is hammers.
The IDF is, moreover, nowhere near being the all-powerful force in Israel that Mr. Tyler makes it out to be. It doesn’t, as he asserts, “dominate the national budget.” Military spending, though the 2011 budgets largest item, comprised only a bit more than 15% of it. It doesn’t “run a large portion of the economy.” Apart from weapons and military bases, the only significant IDF-owned asset is the popular radio station Galei Tzahal. It doesn’t “exert immense influence over communications and news media through censorship.” Nothing is ever censored by the military in Israel that is not genuinely security-related, and very little of that is, too. And it certainly doesn’t make its own decisions on anything but purely internal matters. Israel always has been, and is today more than ever, a fractious, democratic society in which it is the politicians and judges who have the final say.
Military force has often worked for Israel. The real question is not whether it should use diplomacy instead of force, but rather the conditions under which each might work. Tyler criticizes Israel for using force and not going to the United Nations in response to the Syrian nuclear reactor crisis of 2007, but in hindsight that decision looks better and better: In the past year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ignored world opinion as he slaughtered his citizens, and a Syrian nuclear program, even nascent, would be yet another nightmare for military planners.
via Books by Daniel Byman