In the run-up to the 70th th Independence Day of this week, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Gabi Eisenkot declared the country "invincible."
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This was a bold statement. The country faces a growing threat from Iran and its puppets in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and the possibility of a conflict with Russia over Syria. Yet only a few Israelis have objected to this assessment.
Confidence prevails here, and its origins lie in a doctrine of strategic defense that has proven itself for almost a century of intermittent warfare.
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At the time of its publication, the Jews of Palestine were a small, contested minority. Only three years had passed since the first Arab riots in Jerusalem. The socialist leaders of the Jewish community hoped they could appease Arab hostility through economic cooperation, progress and prosperity.
Jabotinsky mocked this as childish and insulting to the Arabs, who would not trade their homeland for more bread or modern railroads. They would resist, he said, while they had some hope of preventing a Jewish state.
"There is only one thing the Zionists want, and that is the one thing the Arabs do not want," he wrote. Giving up nothing less than the Zionist project would placate Arab hostility and violence. If the Jews wanted to stay, they had to put up with a harsh reality: this was a zero-sum game. There could be no peace until the Arabs accepted Israel's right to exist.
Jabotinsky saw that the Arabs (in Palestine and beyond) were far too numerous to be defeated in a single decisive war. The Jews had to build an iron wall of self-defense and deterrence – a metaphorical wall of Jewish resolve, immigration, material progress, strong democratic institutions and readiness to fight. Gradually, the enemy would have to conclude that this wall could not be broken.
The concept of the Iron Wall was to prevent aggression until a psychological victory was achieved, and extremists whose slogan was "Never!" more moderate leaders who are willing to live peacefully with a Jewish state.
David Ben Gurion, the founding president of Israel, despised Jabotinsky and his political heirs, the future Prime Minister Menachem Begin. He certainly rejected her ideological commitment to a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan.
In 1947 he accepted a two-state division. The Arabs of Palestine and their allies in the Arab world rejected it.
The ensuing war created the Jewish state, but as Jabotinsky had predicted, the Arabs refused to accept it. Ben Gurion came to the reluctant conclusion that the doctrine of his rival – deterrence by gradual demoralization of the enemy – was right. In 1953, Ben Gurion essentially adopted this concept (without, of course, attributing Jabotinsky). Israel would be forced to wage a long existential war consisting of many small wars. It must win every time and use the interim to strengthen the national iron wall by cultivating Israel's benefits in terms of human resources, technology and military experience.
Egypt, Jordan and Syria rebelled from the Iron Curtain in the 1967 Six-Day War. That was enough for Jordan, which withdrew permanently from the armed conflict with Israel. But in 1973, Egypt and Syria again tried to launch a surprise attack that hit the IDF completely unprepared. It was her last best shot and it failed. Israel did not collapse. Four years later, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem and signed a contract with Begin. A few years later, King Hussein of Jordan followed. The rest of the Arab states have gradually come to terms with the permanence of Israel.
The Palestinian Arabs have a harder time reading the scriptures on the Iron Wall. The leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, have spoken out against any deal that would end the Palestinian "right of return," which is a euphemism for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a political student of Jabotinsky, has accepted the diplomatic mandate of the Iron Wall doctrine and has stalled to this point. "The only way to reach an agreement in the future is to give up any idea of seeking an agreement in the present."
In the meantime, Israel maintains its basic security doctrine. It defends its sky an anti-missile system, whose first component was called "iron dome". And the metaphorical wall has now reached outer space.
"Israel's ability to develop and launch satellites is a clear message of national power," said Isaac Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Agency. "This contributes to and reinforces the image of the iron wall in the eyes of the enemies of Israel."
In the meantime, the IDF is building its tangible security barriers – defense against terrorism in the West Bank and aggression along the northern front with Iran's puppet Syria and its replacement Hezbollah. There is also a barrier separating Israel from Gaza, where Hamas has recently marched under the centuries-old Palestinian banner of Never!
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw @ bloomberg.net