Op-Ed: When Craziness Makes Sense

Israel at 69, re-finding American deterrence.

Published in the Jerusalem Post

Independence Day is a good time to take stock of the state of the Jewish state – and it doesn’t look so bad. As a Jew, an Israeli and a Zionist, I enjoy seeing the half-full glass on such occasions. Living in a crazy neighborhood as a normal state could have rendered the strange idea of Zionism unachievable, a temporary dream. At least the half-empty glass of Iran has been delayed, even though the same cannot yet be said for the tragedy in Syria or about some other crazy regional actors. But in many aspects we seem to be climbing toward new peaks.

Employment rates in Israel are high, and even the ultra-Orthodox population has a more significant profile in the workforce. The Mobileye deal, which injected $4 billion into Israel’s economy, reminded the world that Israel is on a very short list of hi-tech innovators, and that Waze was not just a flash in the pan. Two of the six authors shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize are Israelis: David Grossman and Amos Oz. Israel still ranks near the top of the UN’s annual Happiness Index, and similarly punches well above its weight in all innovation metrics.

The Jewish People Policy Institute’s (JPPI) Pluralism Index, published last week, clearly shows that the Ashkenazi-Sephardi gap is behind us. It makes the integration of Diaspora Jews from more than 90 countries into one thriving society Israel’s greatest success. They wish to live together, form families together and build a common future together. Eighty-seven percent of Israeli Jews feel comfortable being who they are in their country, and three quarters of Israeli Arabs feel the same, despite the fact that they are living in a Jewish majority state. Even if secular and ultra-Orthodox, or Jews and Arabs, prefer to live in their own neighborhoods, these numbers are very encouraging.

On a different but no less significant level, the shift in the American attitude toward crazy global actors may diminish some existential challenges. In tallying Israeli assets, a powerful United States is prominent among them. Without taking a partisan stance, and even though a clear strategy has yet to emerge the steps the new American administration has taken in the past three months to project its deterrence have surpassed those taken in the past decade.

In 1971, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, JPPI’s founding president, conceptualized an analytical model with which policy-makers can assess, forecast and even influence the behavior of “crazy states.” Dror’s term refers to actors with specific characteristics: the pursuit of aggressive goals against others; radical commitment to their goals; a readiness to flout international standards and act immorally; and the ability to marry bad intentions with deadly capabilities.

In our neighborhood it is easy to identify crazy states like Iran and Syria and crazy non-state actors like Hezbollah, Islamic State and Hamas, which may pose an existential challenge to the State of Israel. Dror argues that in order to preempt the success of a crazy state or a crazy religious or ideological group, they must be identified internationally, and the world must prepare to counter their actions, sometimes with overwhelming force. He recommends establishing a multi-national taskforce to coordinate intelligence and planning against those crazy entities to create a strategy that includes real red lines that are unfailingly enforced.

Without dismissing the Obama doctrine, it is clear that in recent years America’s geopolitical standing eroded significantly. Russia stepped in, North Korea became more arrogant, and Iran ably manipulated the great powers. Dror’s prescription has not yet been filled by Trump. We do not yet see a strategy or a successful international coordination to counter crazy actors. Without rebuilding American deterrence, those goals are impossible.

The 59 Tomahawks launched against the Syrian airbase, the warships approaching North Korea and the MOAB strike against ISIS in Afghanistan all show that the new administration will not tolerate terrorist blackmail.

All this enhances the state of the Jewish state. At 69, we still face many challenges: remaining an island of stability in an unpredictable region, maintaining the ethos of a learning society that creates and innovates for the good of all humanity, and keeping our Jewish and democratic character while ensuring full equal rights and well-being for minorities. Nonetheless, on this occasion we can allow ourselves to fill the glass with champagne and toast with gratitude what has been achieved so far.