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January 22nd, 2009
06:32 PM ET

The myth of Israel's strategic genius

Israeli tanks prepare to leave Gaza on Monday.
Israeli tanks prepare to leave Gaza on Monday.

Stephen M. Walt
Foreign Policy

Many supporters of Israel will not criticize its behavior, even when it is engaged in brutal and misguided operations like the recent onslaught on Gaza. In addition to their understandable reluctance to say anything that might aid Israel's enemies, this tendency is based in part on the belief that Israel's political and military leaders are exceptionally smart and thoughtful strategists who understand their threat environment and have a history of success against their adversaries. If so, then it makes little sense for outsiders to second-guess them.

This image of Israeli strategic genius has been nurtured by Israelis over the years and seems to be an article of faith among neoconservatives and other hardline supporters of Israel in the United States. It also fits nicely with the wrongheaded but still popular image of Israel as the perennial David facing a looming Arab Goliath; in this view, only brilliant strategic thinkers could have consistently overcome the supposedly formidable Arab forces arrayed against them.

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Filed under: Crisis in Gaza • Hamas • Israel
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Mike, Syracuse NY

    The bottom line is that time and again Israel has survived dedicated assaults intended on it's extinction. They are surrounded by enemies that outnumber them hundreds to one. If they guess wrong, they're gone. The fact that they have survived and even prospered in this environment says they are doing something right. Stephen Walk calls the Gaza operation misguided. I wonder how he would have decided to stop the Hamas rockets that had landed on Israel for months, fired by an terrorist organization who's very charter calls for the destruction of Israel?

    January 23, 2009 at 9:09 am |
  2. Alex

    Well Jodi, your argument went out the window when you cite a "lawyer," including Alan Dershowitz. And yes, I am aware he is a "legal scholar," but that alone doesn't make his statements and arguments correct. Israel, though having the right to defend itself, hasn't exactly distinguished themselves with this latest invasion into Gaza. In the past, body counts haven't mattered as much as they do today. Based on that alone, there wasn't much "genius" involved in this incursion.

    January 23, 2009 at 9:06 am |
  3. KSuzanne

    I applaud this author's courage and brilliance in writing this article. It is time to really look at Israel's actions and stop the Goliath mentality as the author speaks. Wrong is wrong. It behooves me that a nation of people that have been so horribly mistreated in their history...can justify the treatment of the Palestinians and the insurgence into the Gaza strip! These actions are inhumane, indecent, immoral, and certainly not Godly.
    I hope we can now begin (with our new President that is respected the world over) to move toward a more peaceful world union...if we bring the peace, it will catch on like wildfire. Just imagine peace spreading to every corner of the globe faster than a wild-fire!!

    KSuzanne from San Leandro

    January 23, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  4. joelsk44039

    Ditto for me, Jodi. In fact, I didn't bother reading Walt's drivel. Israel has as much right to exist as the pseudo-countries of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, which were created in the early 1900's by the World War I victors over the Ottomans.

    Israel has every right to defend itself against the murderous thugs that don't give a hoot about life or humanity in general. Hamas and the PA are two "cousins" cut from the same evil cloth.

    If the hateful propagandizing of Hamas and the PA were to end today, it would take 20 years for the inbred hatred of the Palestinian Arabs to be eradicated. They are inherently evil.

    January 23, 2009 at 7:53 am |
  5. Julia Kahrl

    Why is no one talking about the fact that the invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces is related to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves, which are estimated to be valued at approximately 4 billion dollars, and perhaps more? Legally the reserves belong to Palestine. But Palestine's sovereignty over the offshore gas fields was challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court. Since then Israel has been negotiating with British Gas. And at the same time, demolishing Gaza. Understandably the humanitarian issues have obscured this dimension to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but what can we expect if it is not dealt with?

    January 22, 2009 at 10:25 pm |
  6. Mike in NYC

    I was surprised to see this on a mainstream US news site. Best of luck to Walt (and Mearsheimer, and others), in keeping the pot boiling.

    January 22, 2009 at 10:17 pm |
  7. jodi

    look at who's writing this article? how can you take anything seriously or objectively from a man who hates israel? respected politicians and lawyer alan dershowitz dispute everything walt says, so this is a waste of my reading time.

    January 22, 2009 at 8:41 pm |
  8. sam

    First time since i was born , i see someone that is not arab or muslim describes israel as it suppose to be described , i really give stephen thumbs up , since it is very rarely that someone speaks the truth about Israel . In my openion it is a country that is built on the distruction of countries and the divison of other nations , it was created through the killing of people and the imprisonment of humans . Israel has this image of a strong force in the world that cant be defeated and it also has the image of the victim that always been attacked , or maybe thats the image they want to be . But reallity show us who is the real victim . The truth is out there on the land , not on foxnews , cnn , or msnbc .To find the truth meet the people that really been affected by israel .

    January 22, 2009 at 8:40 pm |
  9. Franky

    "In addition to their understandable reluctance to say anything that might aid Israel’s enemies, this tendency is based in part on the belief that Israel’s political and military leaders are exceptionally smart and thoughtful strategists who understand their threat environment and have a history of success against their adversaries. If so, then it makes little sense for outsiders to second-guess them."

    You know, at first i thought "I hope they what they are doing", but as time moved on, I was like, "O.K, looks like they got the memo." The only thing i was worried about was the long term effect, if it had and quite frankly, it looks like they know what they were doing. I just don't like the fact how we are treating Israel like kids, I mean, we've hooked them, the least they can do is get our backs and not be weak and show character. Plus, I worried more about the civilian casualties AND any crazy attempts that may have happen, we don't know. Just as long they know what they are doing.

    January 22, 2009 at 8:39 pm |