Likud strategic thinker Inbar’s self-confident view of the world

Jerusalem, March 3—Israel’s government should try to block the reconstruction of Gaza; incoming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might try to send the military back into Gaza at some point; the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead; and Israel is strong and the rest of the world just needs to get used to that: These were some of the key themes that emerged in an interview I conducted here March 1 with senior Likud security-affairs specialist Efraim Inbar.
Inbar is Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, and has often advised Likud leaders in the past. The views he expressed in the interview coincided at several points with those expressed in an op-ed article published in Yediot Aharonoth today by former Netanyahu national-security adviser Giora Eiland.
Like so many other interviews that foreign journalists and researchers conduct in Jerusalem, this one was conducted over coffee in a lounge of the lovely, traditionally built American Colony Hotel. Inbar is a friendly man in his early 60s who wears a yarmulke atop a mass of springy white curls.
I asked his assessment of the prospects for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “The most important factor for us is not the Arabs, but the Americans,” he said. “And honestly, no-one there really believes in this. Even at Annapolis, in spite of all the fine rhetoric about concluding an agreement before the end of the year, in actual fact their only goal was a ‘shelf agreement’—that is, an agreement that could sit on a shelf for an indefinite ength of time.
“The two-state solution is passé—because the Palestinians aren’t up to it. The only way it could work would be if two conditions were fulfilled: that the Palestinians should support it, which they don’t; and that the state would have a monopoly on the use of force, which the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have.”

He recalled that he had published a book about Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who concluded the Oslo Agreement with Yasser Arafat’s PLO back in 1993, and said, “Even Rabin’s formula was always ‘land for security’… What Rabin wanted was a tyrant in power in Palestine. But he couldn’t get an effective one.”
He argued that this vision of Rabin’s “was the vision of most Israelis.” Modern Israel is, he said, “very realistic, not idealistic.”
Moving to the expectations he has, regarding the various strands of the peace process, from the incoming Netanyahu government he said he thought that with the Syrians, “the status quo is bearable for Israelis.”
Regarding the Palestinian track, he noted that Netanyahu has started to try to sell the idea of an “economic peace.” I noted that this approach had been mooted and even halfheartedly tried before, by Netanyahu during his earlier premiership, 1996-99, and other Israeli leaders, and it had always proven not to be viable in the absence of any real progress in the diplomacy. Inbar’s immediate response was to declare forthrightly “We don’t care if it’s viable or not!”
He then said, “We can’t give up the West Bank because it’s too close to our heartland. Gaza—okay, because it’s further away from the heartland. But there, anyway, we saw the chaos and violence that ensued after we withdrew.”
“What we should do,” he argued, “is try to involve Egypt in running Gaza and Jordan in running the West Bank.” (This was the same plan that Eiland espoused in his latest article.)
“Maybe Egypt would be interested in intervening in Gaza because they don’t want to see a Hamas state established there,” Inbar said. “In the West Bank, the Jordanians are wary of intervening for their own reasons. But maybe we could see some form of Palestinian-Jordanian confederation there, because the PA certainly hasn’t ‘delivered’ for us in the West Bank. They haven’t collected all the weapons held by the armed groups.
“Yes, sure, some people say the US-trained troops are better trained than what was there before. But we doubt if they’d fight against Hamas if they needed to. Palestinians don’t fight! Hamas didn’t fight in Gaza—they just left their weapons on the battlefield, which also means they weren’t undertaking a guerrilla-style tactical withdrawal.”
He noted that another Israeli strategic-affairs analyst had remarked that PA president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was actually relying on Israeli bayonets to protect his position in the West Bank. “And now, indeed, Abu Mazen is widely accused of collusion with Israel. He is truly not a great leader.”
The most realistic scenario Inbar could foresee over the coming years in the West Bank was, “Conflict management: to lower the flames, limit the suffering, and not anger the Americans too much.”
The other members of the international community, he said baldly, “don’t count—even though in Europe there is now greater understanding of the shortcomings of the Palestinians than there was before… There is movement.”
Turning to the situation of the 1.5 million residents of Gaza, he referred to an article he had published in early February in which he argued that the international community should not do anything to help the rebuild the homes and public infrastructure that were so extensively destroyed by Israel during the recent war. In the article he argued that the international community should “not be drawn into sentimental escapades of rebuilding and humanitarian assistance that undercut our paramount strategic goals.”
He told me he still believed that. I pointed out that most portions of the international community now seem to have decided that they should help to rebuild Gaza. “The international community may insist,” he said, “but we can certainly do a lot to slow the process down.”
Taking a different approach to the question of Gaza, he then commented with a smile that “Hamas is good for the Jews! As long as they are there it is a gift to us!”
He added, “I wouldn’t hesitate to make a wave of refugees out of Gaza. That would put pressure on Egypt to increase their presence inside the Gaza Strip. They should take over the whole Strip directly, or have their own puppet government there, be it Hamas or whoever.”
(During the recent war, the Egyptian government certainly seemed to fear the impact that a wave of refugees coming in across its seven-mile border with Gaza might have. The numbers of security forces Egypt can have anywhere near Gaza or the border with Israel is tightly limited by the terms of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel. But during the war it made a special effort to keep its border crossing with Gaza as firmly closed as possible, allowing only a trickle of medical-emergency cases to cross from Gaza into Egypt.)
I circled back to the idea of an “economic peace” in the West Bank that Inbar had mentioned, noting that though he and Netanyahu talk about the idea of that the West Bankers could be allowed to enjoy some real economic development—mainly, it seems, as an alternative to having their rights to national independence being seriously addressed—still, both he and Netanyahu also seemed to favor keeping in place the very intrusive system of more than 600 roadblocks with which the movements of Palestinians between different cities and areas within the West Bank remain tightly controlled. Referring to various studies from the World Bank and other bodies, I put to him the idea that you could not actually have real economic flourishing so long as the West Bank was diced up into a large number of tiny enclaves.
“It could be like Singapore or Hong Kong!” he said, at first.
I pointed out that those territories both had much larger populations than that of the whole of the West Bank, as well as free access to the regional and world economies. Picking up the demographic point there, he said, “Well, like Monaco then!” (He did not, however, seem to be very serious in trying to persuade me of the strength of his argument. Maybe his earlier response that “We don’t care if it’s viable or not!” was a more accurate expression of his real views on this matter than the argument he was halfheartedly making about Singapore, Hong Kong– or Monaco.)
I asked how he assessed the impact of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank on the peace process. “The settlements act as an incentive to the Palestinians to become more reasonable in the diplomacy,” he said. “And you know, that worked before Oslo. But since Oslo, well, their learning curve became very slow.”
But might not the Israeli government now start to face some pressure from the new US administration to stop the settlement-expansion program and to follow up on its previous undertakings to immediately remove those settlement outposts that even previous Israeli governments have deemed to be ‘illegal’?
He replied, “We may be pushed, yes. The Americans may push us some, so we’ll remove one or two outposts or one or two roadblocks. We’ll play with the Americans.”
So what were his expectations from the Obama administration, in general?
“Well, they are talking very differently from Bush. But they have so many other things to deal with! The economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran! How much energy will they have for this issue here?
“Most Israelis, you know, see their policy towards Iran as appeasement. So I hope Dennis Ross will come to the president after six months and tell Obama that there’s no deal to be had with Iran, so then Obama will be ready to get serious.”
More Gaza: “It just doesn’t make sense to rebuild Gaza! It doesn’t help to strengthen Abu Mazen.”
So Efraim, how can Abu Mazen be strengthened?
“No-one can do it from the outside…. The Palestinians need an Ataturk, but I just don’t see one on the horizon. It’s the same problem of weak regimes throughout the whole Arab world: in Palestine, in Lebanon, in Somalia…
“So we are building a fence. We don’t want to see them! The fence is more or less like a border… Israelis like the fence, you know. Most believe, however wrongly, that it’s of great security value, though in actual fact our success in preventing terrorism comes through arresting, and detaining, and targeted killing.
“That’s my main criticism of the operation in Gaza. If we did that—targeted killing—like we did Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Rantissi back in 2004—then, Hamas went immediately to a ceasefire.”
So Efraim, the picture you paint looks pretty bleak?
“Well, we are strong and they are weak.” (He gave a sweet smile. To underline his point, or to try to take the harsh edge off it? Who knows?)
“And time is on our side. That’s the difference between the hawks and the doves here. It is they who are pessimistic, while we, the hawks, are optimistic.”
But what about the mounting chorus of concern from the international community about the level of destruction in Gaza?
“We can take it! Jews have not always been popular in the world. And now, at the Durban review summit, we are being singled out once again.” (A chuckle here.)
His expectations from George Mitchell?
“Organizationally, it’s a clear problem, because Hillary has too many envoys. I don’t think he can do much good. But he’s American, so he’ll try. But what can he do? Can he change Abu Mazen? He might end up going along with Netanyahu’s plan an economic peace. He and the president probably don’t want a crisis in American-Israeli relations so soon.”
Expectations from Netanyahu?
“Well, he doesn’t oppose a flow of money to the PA. Then, there are people around him who speak of the need to destroy Hamas.” (He did not say whether he shared this view. Probably, I should have asked.)
He noted that the outgoing Olmert government was careful not to aim at the destruction of Hamas during the recent war.
So had the war as a whole been a success?
“No! They are still shooting at us every day. We may have to go back in, even though the Egyptians are not happy when there are ‘high flames’ there.”
And might Netanyahu agree that that the Israeli military might have to go back in to Gaza? “Yes, there’s quite a chance that Bibi would go back in. The security cooperation with the Palestinians didn’t work, and we are unilateralists by nature anyway. This is the Zionist ethos. We are no longer dependent on the Gentiles.”
He sat back and grew expansive. “I’m a student of Albert Wohlstetter,” he said, referring to the University of Chicago strategic studies thinker at the University of Chicago who influenced many of the leading US neoconservatives. “But I’m not a neocon! I told Paul Wolfowitz and Bill Cristol, both of whom are my friends, that trying to bring democracy to the Middle East was a big mistake.
“Oh sure, yes, it was good to get rid of Saddam. He was a very bad guy. But they didn’t need to try to democratize the country, too.”
More on Obama: “I was concerned about him at the beginning, but most of his appointments seem to be mainstream. It’s a real tribute to the United States that you elected a black person. So let’s wait and see. Yes, I’m critical of some of his policies on, for example, Iran, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt because we need a strong America.”
I asked his view of the emergence of hard rightwinger Avigdor Lieberman as a major force inside Israeli politics. He had an interesting analysis of the Lieberman phenomenon, noting—correctly—that along with many strongly rightwing views, Lieberman supported some of the causes of the left, including that he is not against the establishment of a Palestinian state.
He concluded by saying that Lieberman “is accepted by Israelis, even if he is not liked by some. Also, he has attracted some very prominent personalities to his party… I don’t like his tone; it’s not my cup of tea. But it’s acceptable in a democracy.”
We came back to the peace process. He described the decisions Olmert took in 2005 to allow the Palestinians of the West bank and Gaza to hold parliamentary elections, and to allow Hamas to run in them, as “a mistake.”
I asked about the prospect of resumed negotiations between Israel and Syria. He replied, “With Hamas now in power in Gaza there is much less pressure on our government over the peace process in general, so what need is there for us to do anything with Syria? Sure, if we’re under pressure from the Americans, we can negotiate. But why would Bibi want to proactively go after a negotiation or an agreement with Syria? … Also, we don’t have a demographic burden in Golan. It’s clean of Arabs. It’s very beautiful.
“Time is on our side! Who remembers 1967? And is President Asad serious, anyway? Does he want open borders with Israel? Is he ready to distance himself from Iran? I don’t think he’s going to ‘flip’ so easily… So I don’t think there will be pressure on Israel to leave the Golan Heights, because we won’t be seeing any pressure from Asad, either.”

11 thoughts on “Likud strategic thinker Inbar’s self-confident view of the world”

  1. It’s surprising that Mr. Inbar was (seemigly) so candid. These are subjects that we usually hear Israeli officials refer to with a healthy dose of ambiguity. He presents, point-blank , a lot of information that we don’t usually see without reading between the lines. I wonder why that is.

  2. re. the surprising candidness: I think the fascists in Israel smell total victory at last, which for them I think means Greater Israel and ethnic cleansing/apartheid of the Palestinians, and they are simply boasting about it, the views and hopes they had kept under wraps for years now bursting out like party favors out of a pressurized party can.

  3. I agree with Eppie’s explanation of Inbar’s frankness (though I’m not sure I’d totally agree with him being called a fascist.) There’s this huge self-confidence that he was projecting… and openly saying things like “we are unilateralists by nature”, “we can play with the Americans”… and describing Golan as “clean” of Arabs, all had an element of braggadocio (?sp) to it.
    I found what he said at several points in the interview very hard to sit and listen to without interjecting my own strong objections to what he was saying. But my years of training as a reporter (and more recently as a Quaker) kept me focused and for the most part calmly carrying on with the interview.
    I have known Efraim Inbar, professionally and not particularly closely, for probably more than 20 years at this point. He has to know, in general, what my views, analysis, and sympathies are– just as I know his. Was he trying to “shock” me with what he said? I don’t think so. He was just trying to explain himself.
    Re “evil” often wearing a friendly face I’d say, (1) I don’t believe anyone as a person “is” evil– but people, with all the mix of good and bad things that are in them, often do things that are very harmful to the other people and therefore bad. (And speech is also an act.) Also (2) I have often found that people who do very bad things can be, at a directly interpersonal level, quite appealing and friendly. In fact the only time when I interviewed someone and he turned out to be just as disgusting/bullying in person as his political acts were, it was Ariel Sharon. Bashir Gemayel, by contrast, had a sort of puppy-dog aspect to him that if I didn’t already know that his acts were those of a Falangist thug and bullyboy I might have found quite appealing.

  4. The racism is not new. Here is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies published in 1988:

    The same reaction would be elicited by a complaint that New York is “underpopulated,” meaning that it has too many Blacks, Hispanics, and Jews and too few WASPs; but that it has too many Arabs and too few Jews (Dissent editor Irving Howe in the New York Times)…It is pointless to discuss the journal of the American Jewish Committee, considered one of the most respectable voices of conservative opinion, where a lead article seethes with bitter scorn about “the Palestinian Arabs, people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery”; this is “obviously key to the success of the Arab strategy” of driving the Jews into the sea in a revival of the Nazi Lebensraum concept.

    The author of the last comment, Ruth Wisse was awarded the National Humanities Medal in a ceremony at the White House not too long ago.

  5. Thanks for the illuminating interview. What amazes me more than Efraim Inbar’s “candour” is the extent to which the Israeli propaganda machine manages to have it every which way with the American people. Inbar’s open contempt for the “peace process” and all it’s works are quite apparent in the actions of the Israeli government; the settlements, the wall, the Gaza blockade and the inhuman assault that followed and so on and yet for the suckers in America who pay the bills the “two state solution”, the nonsense dispensed at Annapolis and the routine demonization of Palestinians as terrorists as opposed to peace loving democrats like Inbar are successfully trotted out over and over again. Never has an occupying power of such naked brutality so dominated an occupied people in the manipulation of image and reality. This is the triumph of Inbar and his ilk, but also a lesson for the oppressed and those who want a more just future.

  6. “The two-state solution is passé—because the Palestinians aren’t up to it. The only way it could work would be if two conditions were fulfilled…” Efraim Inbar just about echoes the comments Arnold Evans and other people dismissing two-state solutions have been making on these boards. I don’t think two-state solutions are impossible; I think there are people out there with an agenda to obliterate two-state solutions that hammer the notion that a two-state solution was somehow equivalent to exceeding the speed of light. Regarding social issues, nothing is impossible, it’s just that people exist that insist something’s impossible. We need to move beyond the people spreading the 2-state-impossible line, move beyond Inbar and Evans. Israeli politics has not evolved past that notion, it’s even devolved if the recent election is an indication. The course has to be righted.

  7. There comes a point though, Inkan, when the future is now.
    How long will it take for you to give up on two-states? 50 years? What will be happening over these 50 years?
    The people of Gaza are starving now because Hamas will not accept a Jewish state. The Palestinians accepting a Jewish state is necessary for two states. So is starving Gaza necessary? Without starving Palestinians you’re not going to get them to choose Israel’s preferred leaders.
    Today, and until this two states happens, I don’t see how you can support two states without supporting the current policies of starving Palestinians.
    The way to resolve it is to kind of push it out of your mind. It’s not impossible. There’s always hope. We have to have faith in two states. In the meantime people starve, which you support.
    Helena Cobban was, to me, shockingly supportive of the Mubarak dictatorship that tortures any populist opposition. A cooperative Egypt is necessary to help starve Hamas which can lead to two states.
    Cobban describes their “balanced” role in the region. They could transfer food to Gaza and do not. They could hold elections and produce a leadership that would.
    Basically, while you dream of two states, you leave Inbar with a status quo that he is more than comfortable with. Don’t you have to? We have an opportunity to starve Gaza into submission and unless Gaza submits, there can be no two states.
    The fact is that the United States will not side with Israel in expelling Palestinians. And Israel knows it. Inbar isn’t confident that the US will watch Israel implement its final solution to the Palestinian problem over the next few years.
    Inbar is confident that Israel can manipulate Obama, and even Cobban and Inkan1969 to tacitly support Israel’s oppression of Palestinians in the name of this mirage of two states.
    I hope Inbar is wrong.
    I’d be ecstatic if Cobban would say that she’ll drop her support for two states in two years or even five years.
    If she signs up for the mirage, if twenty years from now she’s still saying two states is one negotiation away, she’s given Inbar what he wanted, twenty years of the status quo. Twenty years of hunger as Israel’s main foreign policy tool. Twenty years of support for a string of pro-US relatively pro-Israel dictators. Twenty years of Arab populists being tortured by CIA-engineered torture methods.
    Then fifty years, and forever.

  8. Sorry, I really don’t intend to monopolize this comments section. I won’t be back to this thread today or tomorrow, and apologize for two in a row.
    But let’s talk about the off chance, the near impossibility that two states cannot happen.
    What kind of one state do you want? Can you at least say now that Inbar’s one state of expelled Palestinians is unacceptable? Can you at least say now that if somehow two states doesn’t happen (even though it is much easier than traveling faster than light, it’s more like walking right around the corner) Can you at least say then that the one state should accept the refugees. Can we begin discussing now how to protect individual rights, Jewish, Muslim and other in one state?
    I think two-states is impossible. It’s seeming like everyone in Israel agrees. Only Palestinians, and only Palestinians on the US payroll seem to doubt this. But why not begin preparing for the possibility that somehow or other this dream of two states will not happen?

  9. The people of Gaza are starving now because Hamas will not accept a Jewish state.
    That is a blatant falsehood on so many levels, but I will only address one. Hamas has repeatedly stated that it will accept a two-state solution with Israel existing inside the green line. In other words, Hamas not only will but has stated its acceptance of Israel, and this has been well enough publicized that you should know it by now. Therefore the first premise of your argument is a lie, and that brings your entire argument crashing down around your feet.

  10. No longer dependent on the Gentiles, my arse. I guess that means we don’t have to give Israel any more money or weapons.

Comments are closed.