– By Colonel (Res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, Editor-in-chief Jerusalem Strategic Tribune, Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security
It is not easy to find a common thread running through the variety of essays, columns, facts, and opinions offered in the third issue of the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune. But perhaps what marks many (albeit not all) of these contributions is a touch of hope, a reasoned argument in favor of the proposition that things may yet get better, even in the conflicted and troubled world we inhabit in 2022.
Our publisher, Ahmed Charai, looks upon the year that just ended as—perhaps—the turning point in the bitter battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, and an opportunity to build a better world. Two prominent Israeli public figures—former Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Oslo process, and former Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee in the Knesset, Ofer Shelah, a leading defense intellectual, both suggest that Israel can, and should, endorse new strategies: seeking an alternative solution (a confederation?) with the Palestinians, and acting as a responsible regional power.
Moreover, amidst the turmoil and the very real dangers of our time, do we fail to detect a declining proclivity to go to war? For the third issue in a row, the JST is proud to present a significant contribution to the general debate on where the world may be headed. In our first issue, the late Aharon Klieman left us a call for a return to strategic realism. In the second issue, alongside and in association with the detailed discussions of the challenge posed by Iran’s ambitions, Efraim Inbar reminded us that war is still with us as a tool of policy. It will remain a basic aspect of human affairs, even after the US ended its “Forever War” in Afghanistan.
This time, it is another distinguished Israeli scholar—Azar Gat, a historian of military thought—who offers a long-term perspective on war as a political phenomenon. He argues that despite the horrifying slaughter in the wars of the previous century, the overall motivation to go to war is in distinct decline. The “long peace,” in which the great powers have been able to avoid fighting each other directly, may prove to be the rule, not the exception.
Not all pieces here, however, point to the same hopeful conclusion. Steve Simon’s sad dirge over the ruin of Syria (and over the failure of the US government to do much about it) offers little room for optimism. Much the same is true of Ksenia Svetlova’s profile column, depicting the cost that Lebanon—teetering at the edge of becoming a failed state—is paying for Hassan Nasrallah’s grip on the levers of power. Venturing far away from Middle Eastern concerns, we learn the fears of another nature (and magnitude) led Australia to opt for US-made nuclear submarines: The circumstances of this decision are related by a veteran Australian analyst, Paul Monk. And back in Washington, as Dov Zakheim explains, American politics have become deeply polarized and occasionally chaotic.
Nevertheless, military energies can and perhaps should be directed not only at preparing for the previous variation of a shooting war. As Reuven Ben-Shalom suggests, “military diplomacy” can also be a tool of establishing cooperation and understanding between nations. In her column, Pnina Shuker tells the story of the post-modern warfare role of the Israeli Defense Forces in assisting in the fight against COVID-19, Yaakov Falkov warns against western complacency in the ongoing battle of psychological operations, and Lev Topor—against Israeli complacency facing weaknesses in the country’s cyber defenses.
Joining the ongoing debate about Iran, veteran analyst and observer Edward Luttwak suggests that Tehran’s “performative” bark is probably worse than its bite. His discussion, in this context, of the challenges facing the Jewish community there is a useful segue to the discussion in this issue of the role of diasporic communities—one country’s kith and kin abroad—in shaping national policy and affecting the conduct of international relations.
Here, once again, a touch of optimism can be discerned. One of Israel’s more systematic researchers on American Jewry, Uzi Rebhun, finds the trans-Atlantic kinship still largely in place and hopes that the new Israeli government (open to the concerns of the non-Orthodox denominations) can undo some of the damage of recent years. Nadav Tamir offers a personal note on this subject, while Dan Feferman argues that exposure to the Abraham Accords can renew the faith of the young in Israel’s role. As for my own Grand Strategy column, I suggest that Ben-Gurion’s realization that the US would lead the world after Pearl Harbor was colored also by the availability of US Jewry as a strategic ally.
Oshrit Birvadker and Shira Loewenberg offer parallel stories of the Jews, on one hand, who came to Israel (made aliyah) from India and struggled to find their place – and of America’s immigrants of Indian origins, on the other hand, who now meet with a troubling incidence of hate crimes and appreciate the solidarity of Jewish organization. On a non-Jewish angle, Veysi Dag—a Kurdish scholar based in Germany—surveys the struggle in Europe to make the Kurds’ voice heard.
Finally, on another note, two of our regular columnists raise—from very different angles—the question of professionalism in intelligence work, military affairs, and diplomacy. Amir Oren takes note of the growing role of artificial intelligence in analyzing reams of data in the battlefield and in the face of dynamic challenges; yet he concludes that there is no substitute for the human mind when the most dramatic questions of war and peace are being asked. Meanwhile, Bob Silverman makes the case that diplomacy is a profession, and the common practice of appointing political favorites to key ambassadorial positions comes with a cost: This is not a field for would-be George Plimptons. We at JST plan to apply the same standard of professionalism as we begin to prepare for our next issues and their own takes on global, American, regional, and Israeli affairs.
Col. (Ret.) Dr. Eran Lerman is a former senior intelligence officer. He served as Israel’s deputy national security adviser (2009–2015), and prior to that as director, AJC Israel and ME office (2001–2009). He is currently the vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and a lecturer at Shalem College. @EranLerman