Amanda Ripley

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Israeli Ambassador: Strategy is for Sissies

6th Jan 2009 posted in Resilience

Granted, his country is at war. But it was striking, listening to Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor talk at George Washington Hospital today, how little mention was made of any long-term strategy for a better, more peaceful future. I don’t know if it was cynicism, realism or myopia, but it was remarkable.

In his talk, which was set up by GW’s Homeland Security Policy Institute, Meridor detailed a three-point plan for combating terrorism generally and in Gaza specifically:

1. Be realistic. “Recognize that this is a threat that doesn’t have an easy answer.” A fair point, and something U.S. leadership has totally failed to do here. “The goals you set for yourself cannot and should not be total victory—total defeat of the enemy. You have to create a sense in your society of being ready to be patient, to persevere, to be able to overcome terror, to continue the routine of life with terror.”

2. Take military action: “[You] need a mix of partial deterrence, partial defense and defensive prevention.” In other words, build fences, hope, pray and pay for a better missile defense system, and pre-emptively strike at your enemies (or as the Ambassador so eloquently put it: “You must get as many of them as possible before they hit you.”)

3. Get international cooperation. On this point, Meridor was less passionate and more vague. He spoke of “encouraging internal discourse, an authentic one, that would minimize the recruiting grounds on which they are thriving.” Aha. This would seem to be an exceptionally important point in an asymmetric war. Otherwise, you can (as Israel has proven time and again) obliterate the enemy and intimidate your neighbors—and you will still see homemade rockets dropping from the sky.

Forty-five minutes into his talk, Meridor touched on the importance of a long-term strategy for reducing the appeal of terrorism, but with breathtakingly little dedication: “Another thing I forgot to mention [emphasis mine]: we must find a way ot minimize this hatred [that is] spreading and at the same time offer another type of education and engagement for a young boy or girl.”

During the Q&A period, almost all of the questioners pressed the Ambassador to say more—to articulate a long-term vision for the campaign in Gaza and for reducing the spread of radicalism generally. He did not seem interested. “We do not have a grand political scheme for which we are fighting in Gaza. We were forced to defend ourselves and are doing that in order to provide for better security for our people. Period.”

To close the event, writer and professor Yonah Alexander thanked the Ambassador and suggested he come back one day to continue the conversation—to discuss for example how to combat an intellectual culture of death with a culture of life. An excellent idea. Sign me up, I thought. Meridor chuckled and said, “For that, you will have to find an intellectual. I am a diplomat.”