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Jewish Political Studies Review 17:3-4 (Fall 2005)

Israel's "Mr. Security"

Shalom Freedman on
Rabin and Israel's National Security
by Efraim Inbar

In this book Efraim Inbar, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and director of its Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, closely examines former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin's conception of and contributions to Israeli security. In six clearly written and information-rich chapters, Inbar considers: (1) "The Approach to International Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict," (2) "The American Orientation in Israel's Foreign Policy," (3) "Building a Conventional Military Force," (4) "The Use of Military Force," (5) "Weapons of Mass Destruction," and (6) "Rabin of the 1990s: The Changing Strategic Assessment."

Inbar views Rabin as someone for whom Israel's security was the cardinal value, the guiding principle to which he dedicated his life. In surveying Rabin's career beginning with Israel's Independence War in 1948, Inbar notes:

He served in important military positions and contributed to making the Israel Defense Force (IDF) into a mighty military organization. As chief of staff from 1964 to 1967, he commanded the army in the Six-Day War, and he served as Prime Minister after the Yom Kippur War (1974-77) presiding over the Army's recovery process. During his 1984-90 tenure as Defense Minister, he oversaw a major restructuring of the army, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, and the IDF handling of the Intifada. He served again as Prime Minister and Defense Minister in 1992-1995, signing several interim agreements with the Palestinians and the peace treaty with Jordan.

Inbar maintains that Rabin was not a strategic thinker but rather a brilliant planner of military operations. Israeli generals Rehavam Ze'evi and Israel Tal called him the finest teacher of military skills the IDF had ever had. Rabin was also a skilled pragmatist, skeptical and cautious regarding Israel's security needs. He viewed international relations in Realpolitik terms, promoting national interests through reliance on military power. Inbar remarks that "Rabin was of all Israeli leaders the one most closely associated with an American orientation, looking to Washington for signs of approval or disapproval in forging Israel's national strategy." He also believed Israel's military power was not only necessary for its survival but to enable it to reach peace agreements with its Arab neighbors.

A Career that Raises Questions

Although generally praising Rabin's military leadership, Inbar also points out faults. For example, he claims that, while preparing Israel for large-scale security challenges, Rabin at first ignored the threat presented by the Palestinian intifada, only later finding a military answer for it. However, Inbar neither overtly criticizes nor adequately explains - perhaps no one can - the turnabout wherein Rabin not only agreed to relinquish parts of the Land of Israel but also to allow a foreign armed force into them. "In the last years of his life," Inbar observes, "Rabin seemed to have adopted the dovish diagnosis of the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as much dovish terminology."

Inbar acknowledges that economic factors played a greater role in Rabin's thinking in these latter years, and may have been one consideration. Still, the fact that Israel's "Mr. Security" should have made such a flip-flop in adopting the Oslo process, arming those who were enemies a moment before and relying on them to protect Israel, is clearly the great shadow hanging over Rabin's whole career in public service.

Regarding the increasingly critical area of nuclear defense, Rabin was traditionally known to emphasize the centrality of conventional forces. That is, in the 1980s and 1990s he still felt it possible to delay the entrance of Arab nuclear weapons into the region. "As far as Israel was concerned," Inbar writes, "Rabin considered these weapons of very limited strategic value, usable only in scenarios involving survival. When the missile and chemical weapons threats became greater in the eighties, Rabin emphasized more a deterrence rather than a preemption approach."

It is by no means clear what position Rabin would have taken toward the WMD threat Israel currently faces from Iran, whose missiles are reportedly capable of reaching every part of the Jewish state. In a work whose basic approach is a strong reliance on the historical record, Inbar does not speculate on this question.

Overall, this is a first-rate study and important reading for anyone concerned about Israel's security.

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The above book review appears in the Fall 2005 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review, the first and only journal dedicated to the study of Jewish political institutions and behavior, Jewish political thought, and Jewish public affairs.

Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (, the JPSR appears twice a year in the form of two double issues, either of a general nature or thematic, with contributors including outstanding scholars from the United States, Israel, and abroad. The hard copy of the Spring 2005 issue will be available in the coming weeks."

From the Editors: Manfred Gerstenfeld and Shmuel Sandler

The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries by Avi Beker

European Politics: Double Standards toward Israel by Manfred Gerstenfeld

Annals of Israeli-Albanian Contacts on Establishing Diplomatic Relations by Yosef Govrin

Perspectives - Jomo Kenyatta and Israel by Asher Naim

Assessing the American Jewish Institutional Response to Global Anti-Semitism by Steven Windmueller

The New Muslim Anti-Semitism: Exploring Novel Avenues of Hatred by Raphael Israeli

Arab and Muslim Anti-Semitism in Sweden by Mikael Tossavainen

Kill a Jew - Go to Heaven: The Perception of the Jew in Palestinian Society by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook

Israel in the Australian Media by Tzvi Fleischer

Barbara Tuchman's Comments on Israel by Moshe Yegar

Hidden in Plain Sight: Alexis de Tocqueville's Recognition of the Jewish Origin of the Idea of Equality by Joel Fishman

Perspectives - The Seventh-Century Christian Obsession with the Jews: A Historical Parallel for the Present? by Rivkah Duker Fishman

Book Reviews:

Isi Leibler on Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos by Dore Gold

Shalom Freedman on Iran's Nuclear Option: Tehran's Quest for the Atom Bomb by Al J. Venter

Shalom Freedman on Rabin and Israel's National Security by Efraim Inbar

Freddy Eytan on The Long Journey to Asia by Moshe Yegar

Susanne Urban on From Cooperation to Complicity: Degussa in the Third Reich by Peter Hayes, and The Nazi Dictatorship and the Deutsche Bank by Harold James

Joel Fishman on The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege by Kenneth Levin

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Rising from the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe by Pierre-André Taguieff

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Les territoires perdus de la République: Antisémitisme, racisme et sexisme en milieu scolaire by Emmanuel Brenner

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America's Courts by Michael J. Bazyler

Shalom Freedman on Double or Nothing: Jewish Families and Mixed Marriages by Sylvia Barack Fishman

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