This is a guest post by Daniel J. Levine (University of Alabama) and Daniel Bertrand Monk (Colgate University). Daniel J. Levine is author of Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique. Daniel Bertrand Monk is the co-editor, with Jacob Mundy, of the forthcoming: The Post-Conflict Environment: Intervention and Critique (University of Michigan, 2013). The authors’ names for this essay have been listed alphabetically.
tl;dr notice: ~2600 words.
“As Ambassador Gillerman has said many times on our show, ‘Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood.” — Fox News, 16 November 2012
“As he was asking instructions…a man in his early 20’s came up, stuck the point of a knife against his back and ordered him into the lobby of adjacent building….The youth was…ordered to surrender his money. He explained that the only reason he was there at all was that he had no money…. The man closed his knife and said: “Look, this is a very dangerous neighborhood. You should never come to this part of the city.” Then he instructed him to his destination via the safest route, patted him on the back and sent him on his way.” — New York Times, Metropolitan Diary, Lawrence Van Gelder
The Arab Middle East may have undergone significant political transformations in the period between Israel’s 2008 ‘Cast Lead’ Operation against Gaza and the recent ‘Defensive Pillar’ campaign, but no one in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv appears to think that a review of Israel’s ‘grand strategy’ is warranted. If anything, seasoned observers suggest, the Arab Spring seems to have driven Israelis to assume out of resignation a position which Zionist nationalists like Vladimir Jabotinsky once held with fervor. Writing in 1923, Jabotinsky evocatively described a metaphorical “iron wall” that would protect Zion from the ire of its neighbors; for their part, contemporary Israelis (we are told) can only imagine a future in which they will be perpetually enclosed within a (quasi-literal) Iron Dome. Hence, Ethan Bronner reports: Israelis have concluded that “their dangerous neighborhood is growing still more dangerous…”’ To them “that means not concessions, but being tougher in pursuit of deterrence, and abandoning illusions that a Jewish state will ever be broadly accepted” in the region.
Interpreters of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the ‘Anglosphere’ and seasoned Middle East watchers often resort to the same curious euphemism: seeking to make the region’s unique patterns of violence intelligible to American audiences and to themselves, they explain Israel’s impatience with diplomacy, and its reliance on disproportionate use of force, by referring to the “dangerous neighborhood” in which it finds itself. Bolstered by an “ideology of the offensive” that has been present in Israeli strategic/operational thought since the 1950s (see here, here, and here), and by the ostensible ‘lessons’ of the Shoah for Jewish self-defense, this euphemism evokes positions so pragmatically self-explanatory that no further justification is felt to be needed. The IDF Spokesman’s Unit even released a meme (see the opening image) with the intention of rendering this logic visually explicit.