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Learning From Mistakes: A Counterintuitive Approach

It was the late Abba Eban who famously said that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." In his time that was for the most part true, and it arguably worked for Israel's benefit, particularly when Israel found itself in a tight diplomatic squeeze.

Mazur-122112

It was the late Abba Eban who famously said that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” In his time that was for the most part true, and it arguably worked for Israel’s benefit, particularly when Israel found itself in a tight diplomatic squeeze.

More recently, however, Israel’s enemies have learned a few things, most especially how David-and-Goliath warfare plays out in the contemporary world. Without tanks and aircraft to challenge Israel’s dominance in traditional military terms, the quasi-military tactics of intifada, “nuisance” rockets and cease-fires have served the Palestinian and jihadist causes far better than the Egyptian and Syrian armies had in previous decades.

Moreover, of even greater significance for the longer term has been the repeated shellacking taken by Israel through diplomatic means, beginning with Sadat, flourishing with Arafat, and continuing to the present.

For decades there has hardly been a forum, military confrontation or terrorist catastrophe that hasn’t called into question Israeli culpability, no matter the facts. To the so-called international community, the Israeli voice has essentially become inconsequential.

The success of anti-Israel diplomacy and public relations is not due to Israeli ignorance of modern technology. After all, Israel is responsible for a vastly disproportionate percentage of telecommunications and Internet technology. But their effective use in making Israel’s case is something else entirely.

With the important exception of the remarkable achievement(s) of AIPAC in championing Israeli policy to the U.S. Congress, Israeli efforts on the diplomatic and public-relations fronts – for years the ones that truly count – have floundered or failed.

Since the world’s admiration for Israel peaked in 1967, the anti-Israel phenomenon, if that’s what it is, has moved from a consensus for mild condemnation to a growing clamor for delegitimization.

Some may ascribe this to anti-Semitism, but that too easily would explain a lot and yet nothing, with no prospect for improving much of anything.

Simply put, Israel has been outplayed. Only Israel can bloody an enemy whose defeat is then declared a victory. Hasn’t this happened too often – with the PLO, Hizbullah and Hamas – to be dismissed as merely false boasting on the part of Israel’s adversaries? It certainly has, and it’s not trivial.

With Arab recognition that conventional warfare with Israel is a non-starter, terrorist jabs and international pressure now define the war being waged against Israel. The former element, of course, is dealt with daily by Israeli leaders as well as probably any government could – with active intelligence, the security wall, missile shields, etc.

On the battleground of international pressure, however, Israel has been less than smart and repeatedly beaten.

Its most recent loss, that of the UN General Assembly’s vote to grant non-member status to Palestine, may actually prove helpful in finding a way out of the loser’s box. In the face of the inevitable adoption of the Palestine resolution, could Israel have done something to help itself? Yes – it could have voted for the resolution. Not because it favored it but because it could have avoided defeat while shaping the vote.

Briefly, the reality was that the resolution would pass but presumably have no effect “on the ground.” Its immediate consequence would be the perceived defeat of Israeli policy, along with the more significant possibility that non-member status could lead Palestine to initiate legal and other proceedings (such as war crime trials) against Israel. Worse still, down those roads lie the threats of economic and other sanctions from hostile forums.

The UN resolution could not create a state with borders, government, armed forces, controllable resources, etc. Everything it could do, though, was clearly unstoppable by Israel. Yet there was one thing Israel could do to snatch a tie from defeat. In the process, Israel would not have needed to waste diplomatic capital with the U.S., Canada and the few others who also voted against the resolution or abstained. Indeed, a unanimous vote favoring the resolution would have diminished its meaning and serve to spit in the UN’s eye (a not unworthy thing in itself).

Think about it: a vote in favor of the resolution, based on Israeli policy, would have been wise. Before casting its vote, the Israeli ambassador could have explained as follows: that Israel, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, favors two states living side by side in peace; that it hopes to negotiate such a long-term arrangement with a Palestinian state capable of entering into and honoring agreements defining borders, control of resources, and non-military police powers, etc; and that while it may dispute certain aspects of the proposed resolution, it seeks to further peace by ignoring the resolution’s flaws and voting for the prospect of a responsible Palestinian state. (Others, no doubt, would have added their voices in like manner, joining Israel.)

Going forward, Israel may want to go beyond rejection when confronted by antagonistic diplomacy and world opinion. Outright rejection might be correct policy but it doesn’t work. Co-opting and other techniques might better serve Israel’s interests.

Israel likely would be none the worse for responding differently to the international community’s effort to do it harm, because while much of it is foolish and without meaning, it is important. It’s the war, and one that Israel must win.

About the Author: Arnold Mazur is a retired attorney and business executive who, defying the Arab boycott office, was first to establish in Israel a subsidiary of a major U.S. software company.


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One Response to “Learning From Mistakes: A Counterintuitive Approach”

  1. Alexander Hofmann says:

    Iinteresting article!

    I truly believe better knowledge and awareness will contribute in improving the situation. It be great if you could leave your comments here to help others to better understand the situation. There is also a poll on this site which will show at some point that the issue we have is that we simply do not have enough knowledge on this topic and as a result we often judge to early or come to wrong recommendations.

    You can vote on this topic and leave your comments here: https://www.inqu.me/vote#!qid=do_you_understand_what_is_going_on_in_gaza.
    Thank you!

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More Articles from Arnold S. Mazur
Mazur-122112

It was the late Abba Eban who famously said that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” In his time that was for the most part true, and it arguably worked for Israel’s benefit, particularly when Israel found itself in a tight diplomatic squeeze.

Beginning with Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, major party nominations and presidential election campaigns have increasingly been subjected to forms of circus television we carelessly label “debates.”

Now that we’ve suffered, yet again, through the annual United Nations circus, has it occurred to anyone (other than New York City police officers) to question why we continue to tolerate the hypocrisy and waste of it all?

Small things make a difference. For example, as an old folk tale has it, a pebble in your shoe can cause more pain than a rock in your pocket.

Opponents of President Obama do not lack for reasons to criticize him or his administration. Not justifiably among them, however, would be the contention that Obama the candidate had misled the country regarding his intentions.

We need to learn from history. Once upon a time (nearly forty years but not so long ago, really) American foreign policy was being stymied, on every issue and continent, by a duplicitous Soviet Union, Confounded by the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon and his foreign policy czar, Henry Kissinger, faced not so much crises that threatened America as murky messes that wouldn’t yield to unilateral resolution. Soviet partnership was needed but at best absent.

Former president Jimmy Carter’s controversial twining of Israel and the “apartheid” epithet created quite the fuss, as has the Biden construction affair and its aftermath of bloodying the Israeli nose. Unsurprisingly, if leaky reports are true, lurking in the background of both stories is the second-rate theorist Zbigniew Brzezinski, still hoping somehow to overcome the frustration of not being Henry Kissinger.

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