“The sea is the same sea, the Arabs are the same Arabs “(Israel PM Y. Shamir)
The above phrase was coined by PM Shamir before leaving to the first direct negotiation between Israel and an official Palestinian delegation at Madrid (1991). That phrase elucidates one of the most important aspects of what I will call henceforward the “Shamir Doctrine “. I will try to resume what is the “Doctrine” about and how it relates ,after almost 20 years to the evolution of the last tragic episode in the Sea of Gaza ( the death of 9 and the injure of dozens). In other words, I claim that the Israeli Cabinet decisions during the last days are not casual ( altohugh the result were not intended) and are deeply rooted in the vision of its leaders.
The essence of the “Shamir Doctrine” is that the Arab hostility toward Israel is similar to “The sea” i.e. a natural phenomenon that nothing can be done to change it. The operational consequence from such vision is obvious: Whatever Israel does or says cannot modify the basic hostility toward the State, so the Jewish State should base its relationship with the Arab world from a power position. “Force”, whether public or subtle, military or demographic is a basic premise in that doctrine and .Any concession is discarded as a sign of weakness although it is permitted in certain circumstances for tactical purposes, mainly to “buy time” in order to get stronger.
It is not just a coincidence that the main Israeli decision makers owe some of their early meteoric career in the 80 to PM Shamir: App. 20 years ago young Netanyahu was promoted to the higher ranks of the Foreign Affairs Ministry while at the same time General Barak gained the appointment to IDF Head of Staff, both during Shamir´s period in office. Just for the record in the past both leaders expressed their strategic views in line with the Doctrine : Netanyahu wrote a book about Terrorism and Barak expressed his own view with the “the villa in the jungle” metaphor.
Coming back to the Fleet incidence: The decisions taken by the Cabinet along the last tragic episode in the Gaza Sea (let alone the blockade itself) perfectly fits with the “Force” perspective and its internal logic. It is reasonable to claim that the Israeli Cabinet dealt with the Fleet issue in such a manner that it was prone, from the outset, to a violent outcome (although I am sure that there was NO premeditated intention to kill civilians). However, there is no doubt that matters could be handled in other ways so the risk of a tragic bloodshed could be minimized, after all Tzahal has already demonstrated in many of occasions its ability to perform “delicate” military operations w/o human losses. Nevertheless, the Israeli Cabinet has chosen the most (eventually) risky way to deal with the Humanitarian Fleet: Direct assault. The clash between Tzahal commando (among the best in the world) and unarmed civilians yielded 9 dead people and tens of injured and a political and media disaster for Israel. So why to risk so much?
The logic behind the decision to assault the vessel fits with Shamir´s legacy. “Force” by itself is not enough if there is no a clear indication “determination” that it will be eventually utilized and demonstrated. In some cases, as in the case of the Fleet, the exhibition of force by bringing your rivals to their knees is part of the force equation and the deterrence logic. The same logic applies to the last massive attacks during the Gaza strip or Lebanon wars (“The boss has gone mad”). Thus, the decision to go for the riskier alternative should be seen as part of a wider attempt to show force for internal and external consumption. The proliferation of cameras and films among the forces are part of the game. At some point the gamble went wrong and the outcome is known.
The massive use of force does not take into account future retaliations from “Arabs” since they will make use of any real or imaginary pretext for hostilities against Israel. They are a lost case so they don´t even deserve an explanation (“Arabs understand only (the language) of power”). However, since Israel is a small country which cannot ignore completely its foreign relations, the “world” (i.e. the rest of the human race excluding Arabs or their captive supporters) is a different story which requires another treatment.
The complementary component of the “force talk” is the “Hasbarah” talk i.e. the public relation effort to explain Israel deeds against the “Arab propaganda”. Under that perspective Israel suddenly ceases to be a mighty power and a magic transformation process becomes the clumsy guy in the neighborhood constantly bullied by mean guys (with more than a clear hint to the traditional Jewish suffering). This is the moment when the camera shifts its focus from military ships, helicopters armed with guns and missiles to the image of a single soldier bullied by an angry mob. Did anybody think about Pogroms? That line is essential to maintain the internal cohesion of the Israeli secular Jewish society around the Government and its policy which implicitly accepts the Shamir Doctrine
The use of force has its own limits, a say relevant for a country that despite its military and economic might is relatively small in area and population as Israel is. It also very static in its premises since the “sea is the same sea….” i.e. there is nothing new under the sun, so the best way to deal with reality is adopting a very rigid perspective. The irony is that the very creation of the State of Israel is the best proof for the futility of the Shamir Doctrine and that history can change. History demonstrates that people change, cultures evolve and history is in constant motion as Heraclitus said “You cannot take a bath twice in the same river “. From such a perspective “the sea” is never the “same” sea and the “Arabs” have the capacity to change.
Least and not last, the most upsetting point of the Shamir Doctrine is its extremely pessimistic nature (disguised in a quasi positive “we shall overcome” mantra), which offers to the people of Israel a lasting (I would dare to say an eternal) struggle with its neighbors. Your modest servant believes that Israelis and Palestinians deserve a better horizon ahead.