Israel's 'Iron Wall' syndrome and US military aid

Israel's 'Iron Wall' syndrome and US military aid
6 min read
26 Sep, 2016
Comment: Israel's 'Iron Wall' has become official policy of political parties from left to right, scuppering peace, and giving Israel one of the world's most powerful militaries, writes Nick Rodrigo
A decade of Likud power in Israel brought unprecedented trauma to the region [Anadolu]

On September 13, Israel signed a military aid package with the US - the largest in the history of the relationship between the two countries. The deal amounts to $38 billion over 10 years, an increase of eight billion from a previous package, a large proportion of which must be spent in the US arms industry. Before the deal, Israel enjoyed 53 percent of US foreign military spending, a consistent figure ever since 1967.

Israel's founding narrative centres on its establishment in the context of war and development over the ensuing decades in a hostile neighbourhood. However, since the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords, former enemies Jordan and Egypt have been neutered through successive peace deals.

By the 1994 Oslo Peace Accords, even the Palestine Liberation Organization had become compelled to accept Israel's existence. Over the next 20 years, the rise of Iran as a major regional actor has driven Israel closer to Gulf counties. From 2011 onwards, the unfolding Syrian civil war and rise of the Islamic State group in Syria have diverted the energies of Iran and Hizballah away from direct resistance to Israeli hegemony.

Israel's formidable air force, its well-trained standing army and 300 nuclear tipped warheads in the Negev desert city of Dimona, make it a regional military hegemon with no real rival to its actions. This begs the question, why would it need an improvement on its already favourable military relationship?

The answer lies in an essay written by a Russian Jew in 1923, a full 45 years before the establishment of the state of Israel.

Ze'ev Jabotinsky was born in Odessa - then part of the Russian Empire - in 1880. Organising in far right Zionist movements during his youth by the early 1920s he had become a prominent militant revisionist. Jabotinsky advocated for an armed uprising to expel the British who had taken control of historic Palestine after WW1 and a forced transfer of the country's Arab population to neighbouring Transjordan.

In contrast to his counterparts he was uncompromising and often disregarded diplomacy with major powers for the Zionist cause out of hand. In 1923 he authored a seminal text titled "The Iron Wall", which outlined how a fledgling Jewish community in Palestine, aspiring to statehood, should treat its Arab neighbours.

Jabotinsky's writing and approach was completely new for Zionist thought up to that point. A political realist, the text acknowledges the inherent colonialist nature of Zionism, but comments on its overarching moral validity. In his pragmatism, Jabotinsky wrote, "Every indigenous people will resist alien settlers".

Jabotinsky's strategy was to deal with Israel's Arabs from a position of overwhelming strength from behind an 'Iron Wall'

Jabotinsky's strategy was to deal with Israel's Arabs from a position of overwhelming strength from behind an "Iron Wall". This strategy would be two fold, first build a wall of impregnable military strength, which would force the Arab opponents to lose hope in resistance, the second would be negotiations with Palestinians about their status and national rights within the territory.

Despite the controversy his essay elicited, the Israeli political elite made it a pillar of the country's foreign policy after its establishment in 1948. By 1967 Israel was in a tactical position to exploit fissures within the Arab world to their strategic benefit.

The six-day war and seizure of Arab land enabled Israel to continue its policy of annexation over the whole of historic Palestine. The victory also irrevocably reversed Arab states' commitment to countering the Zionist project within the bounds of Palestine itself.

In addition to all of this, Israeli historian Avi Shlaim notes that UN Resolution 242 underwrote Israel's security by the international community, proposing peace for the swap of land, which Israel has used ever since as a bargaining chip.

The victory of 1967 provided Israel with an opportunity to begin the second phase of the Iron Wall - negotiations with the Palestinians over their status, and peace with its neighbours. However flush with victory, a hubris set in, and by 1974, a coordinated assault by Egypt and Syria caught Tel Aviv off guard. 1967 had ushered in a new phase in the relationship between Israeli society and the state.

Several decades of alienation for Jewish immigrants from Arab and Muslim lands coalesced with a new settler movement, steadfast in its commitment to a militant religious/nationalist ideology.

By 1979 this development propelled the Likud to electoral victory, a party that saw itself as the harbingers of Jabotinsky's political thought. For the founder of this party Menachem Begin saw the Iron wall was an end in itself, rather then a means to achieving a lasting settlement.

Ever since Oslo, successive Israeli governments of all political shades have hampered meaningful dialogue

The decade of Likud power in Israel brought unprecedented trauma to the region, particularly the Palestinians who were harried and terrorized after Israel's catastrophic foray into Lebanon in 1983. In 1984, a previous Memorandum of Agreement was renewed increasing Israeli access to US arms markets and blocking US officials' ability to politically veto arms deals.

Five years later, the second Intifada broke out across the occupied territories. During this decade Israel cemented itself as public enemy number one in Lebanon. The occupation played a large role in the creation of its most tactically aware non state enemy, Hizballah. Within Palestine, its constant harassment of nationalist groups played a considerable role in the creation of more intransigent Islamist paramilitary cells.

Israel's reliance on overwhelming power in the face of those who oppose its policies, has resulted in a resolute commitment to the Iron wall - US arms deals represent but one brick in this wall.

A collective security agreement with the Palestinian Authority is another, as is a dynamic cyber security industry, which makes it a valuable strategic ally and formidable source of intelligence to other states. The problem emanates from the inability of the Israeli political order to actually provide a framework for a viable peace, which recognises Palestinian national autonomy, the second phase of the Iron Wall.

Ever since Oslo, successive Israeli governments of all political shades have hampered meaningful dialogue through unreasonable demands on a demoralised Palestinian leadership, whilst battering into submission any resistance - violent or non-violent. The Iron Wall is a ruinous strategy, but Israel is deploying it in a way that only benefits US arms manufacturers.


Rodrigo is a journalist and PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Centre. He has worked in policy analysis on the Middle East in South Africa, as well as in Palestinian and Iranian human rights organisations in Palestine and the UK.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.