When Hirsh Goodman speaks about the destiny of Israel, people listen.
Goodman is a former executive of the Jerusalem Post, founder of the Jerusalem Report, and currently serves as a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Now he brings his authority and expertise to bear on a dire question that is being asked out loud, here and in Israel: Can the Jewish state survive?
“The question used to infuriate me,” Goodman writes in “The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival” (PublicAffairs: $26.99). “It has taken me years to understand there is much merit to the question, for both Israel and its enemies.”
The book is lucid and lively, utterly fascinating, and full of surprises. Goodman, for example, concedes that a nuclear-armed Iran is a worst-case-scenario for Israel — and not only for Israel — but he also argues that it is “the ‘simplest’ to deal with.” He insists that Iran’s goal of going nuclear is “immensely complicated and highly unlikely” to be achieved. He also emphasizes the intimate aspect of Israeli deterrence: “To make it personal,” he writes, “the Iranian leadership knows that no matter how deep the bunker they hide in, they and their families will be eliminated.” And he insists that Israel, precisely because it is so small, can be defended from an Iranian nuclear attack by the kind of anti-missile technology that is now deployed in the form of the “Iron Dome.”
Much more concerning, he argues, is Iran’s use of surrogates, including Hamas and Hezbollah, to make trouble for Israel on its own borders using only conventional weaponry. Indeed, he argues that the acquisition of more sophisticated rocketry by Arab militants is actually to Israel’s advantage because such weapons are more vulnerable to anti-missile technology. “The more technology dependent Hezbollah becomes,” he writes, “the easier a target it becomes.”
He is not panicked by the Syrian threat, whether or not there is war. “In either case, Israel’s survival will be tested but not threatened.” Indeed, he predicts that the strategic goal in any war with Syria would be “not only to win the war but to damage the enemy to such an extent that it would take years before they could even think of going to war again.”
The greatest danger, according to Goodman, is to be found among the Palestinians as a people. “De-legitimization” is a new and dangerous diplomatic strategy adopted by the Palestinians and their supporters, and he faults Israel for playing into the hands of its enemy: “It should have not ignored the claims against it in the International Court of justice in the Hague, and it should have cooperated with the Goldstone Commission,” he writes. “The country has nothing to hide. Not cooperating looks like an admission of guilt.”
Goodman also points to the Arab birth rate as a ticking bomb more dangerous than any bomb that Iran is likely to acquire. “Today there is virtual parity between the 5.7 million Jews and 5.4 million Arabs in Israel and the territories,” he points out. “[N]umerical equality between them will soon be reached, after which the Palestinians will surpass the Jews.” And he makes a similar argument about American Jews: “There is great concern in America that the Jewish community is diminishing through intermarriage, disinterest, lack of identification with Israel, and religious disenchantment.” If the “umbilical chord” that links America and Israel is cut, he suggests, the threat to Israel’s survival will be profound.
Goodman is not much impressed by the quality of leadership in Israel or its ability to deal with these dangers. “Ehud Barak was as disastrous a leader for Labor as Netanyahu had been for Likud.” But he credits an unlikely pair of political opposites for coming to the same conclusion about Israeli security: “[T]wo of Israel’s greatest warriors, Sharon and Ehud Barak,” he writes, “had both come to the same conclusion from two different spectrums of the political scale: it was vital for Israel’s future that the territories be returned, a Palestinian entity established, with the understanding that ‘we’ live here, and ‘they’ live there.”
But Goodman is, above all, a political realist, and he argues that “[t]he Palestinians have to realize that Israel cannot be expected to tear itself to pieces for the sake of peace.” The settlement blocs that are immediately adjacent to the Green Line, he argues, should remain in Israel, and “50,000 or so Jews could live in Palestine as Israeli citizens,” thus allowing the most militant of the settlers to remain on what they regard as holy land without making the IDF responsible for their private security.
“The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival” is provocative, to be sure, but Goodman is a persuasive advocate and. At a time when so many commentators are reduced to fatalism and despair, he sees a path to peace and security even if he always reminds his reader that the way forward is treacherous. “I have often been accused of being an optimist about Israel, a serious charge in a country that considers paranoia a virtue,” he quips. But Goodman shows himself to be an optimist with open eyes and clear vision, common sense and real courage.