26 September 2012

Israel as a modern Sparta

I'm not sure that I agree with this thesis, but The Tablet has an item looking at a new book by a US journalist, Patrick Tyler, who has written for the NYT and the Washington Post (and who doesn't appear, as reported, to be particularly anti-Zionist), which, apparently, argues this very point.

Here is a small quote from the article: "Beginning with David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan in the 1950s and continuing almost up to the present, Tyler details a military mindset that pervades nearly all of Israeli culture and that, as he sees it, has made peace in the region all but impossible." (The article is linked to a 22 minute interview with the author, which I haven't listened to).

Well, okay, but this argument could be aimed at any modern state that feels, realistically or otherwise, threatened by its neighbours. The only state I can think of that took an alternative route in the modern world is Costa Rica (motto: "no army since 1948" - now there's a date to conjure with). And, by definition, as reported, it ignores unimportant little details such as the Oslo Accords, the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, the withdrawal from Gaza, the suggestion, in the same issue, that Barak appears to be arguing for a withdrawal from the West bank (and that, by anyone, is not for the first time. I haven't, yet, read the item myself, so I have no idea if that's what Barak actually said.

Of course, it also ignores certain realities in the region, not all (or any? depends how - delicately now - committed one is) of Israel's making, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Moslem Brotherhood, Yasser Arafat, Ahmanedinejad, the Ayatollahs...Complete the list according to taste.

Or, as Golda Meir once famously said, of the Palestinians, "We can forgive you for killing our children. We cannot forgive you for making us kill your children".

And I did start this piece by saying that I wasn't sure that I agreed with the thesis. On reflection, let me make that firmer: left-winger that I am, I definitely don't agree with the thesis. Given a genuine partner for peace, I suspect that even Netanyahu, despite his reputation, would willingly give up the West Bank. Think of all the resources that would become available to boost the general standard of living even higher. And it's the highest by far in the region as it is.

By Brian Goldfarb.


Dick Stanley said...

Tyler's got a way with titles and headlines but beyond that ability to sell a story, I wonder. As one of the Tablet commenters who listened to the podcast said, he's a nice enough fellow, he isn't angry or rude, but he's one-sided. And his thesis has one giant hole in it.

A true fortress-mentality would include long military parades with precision marching and weapon-handling, snappy salutes in ranked unison, gleaming boots and bayonets, banners flying, etc. Yet when has that occurred in Israel? Ever?

The colorful battle standards in the museum at Latrun, for instance, are sigils for the IDF's armored units. They unfortunately call to mind similar ones carried by the Legions of Rome. They would certainly look sharp in a military parade through the streets of Tel Aviv, but I'm told they're only rarely on outdoors display even at Latrun, and then only for enlistment ceremonies.

I expect I won't be missing anything in skipping Tyler's tome and saving my money for something else.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

As a matter of fact, IDF is notorious in that the parades it infrequently conducts (no carrying heavy missiles or tanks on the street in any case) are laughable as far as marching and gleaming boots are concerned. It simply doesn't work here, and doesn't attract many viewers too.

Brian Goldfarb said...

Does it need to? (work, as far as military parades are concerned). Those parades are usually to (a) cow the citizens - in case they're thinking of attempting to change the leadership; or (b) to remind the 'enemy outside' just what big toys the boys in uniform have.

What genuine democracies have these parades? Even in the UK, a fading military power anyway, they're restricted to ceremonial events (Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, etc). Last time, outside of these ceremonial times, I saw military uniforms on the streets was during the Olympics, helping out with security, because the civilian outfit had made a hash of the job. And the only weapons on show were those being carried by the armed (civilian) police, not the squaddies.

If one really wants to see Israeli military types, just go and walk around the streets of a major city. Anyway, Israel's enemies, actual and potential, know what the conventional forces are capable of. After all, as Nasrallah (Hezbollah top man) said after the last Lebanese confrontation, if he'd known what the Israeli response was going to be, would he have engineered the confrontation? No.

That is, if he didn't know before, he knows now what Israel is capable of.

Another reason for being sceptical about Tyler's claims.

Sorry for a comment longer than the original posting!

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I agree. Parades of this kind belong to other regimes.

Dick Stanley said...

Those Israeli soldiers, in the streets and in the malls, look just like what they are, conscripts, doing their required duty, not menacing professionals. Whatever Tyler makes of them, if anything. He may never have seen them. I get the sense he did his book by remote control.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Yeah. He is not the first to do it that way.