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June 2, 2010

the myth of Israeli competence

Even if you think that Israel has the right and a decent reason to blockade Gaza, it's pretty clear that dropping heavily armed commandos at night onto the decks of Turkish [!] ships loaded with peace activists and humanitarian assistance was stupendously dumb--especially since there was evidently no contingency plan in case of resistance.

This is an opportune moment to note that Israel's government is quite capable of self-destructive and foolish policy. That would be self-evident in most countries, but the State of Israel has a pervasive reputation for competence. Anti-Semites and committed Zionists agree on that, if nothing else. Stereotypes of Jews as smart people feed into it, as do all those military victories from the War of Independence to the Raid on Entebbe.

But Israel has a Jewish population of only about 5.6 million, just a bit more than the population of the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA metropolitan statistical area. With that population, they have to run all the institutions of a modern nation, from a stock market to a nuclear weapons program, from a parliament to a navy. There is no reason to think they have the brainpower to do it all well under pressure.

The myth of Israeli super-competence causes anti-Semites to overestimate Israel's deliberate impact on world politics. If anything important happens, Mossad must have caused it, because those Israelis are diabolically brilliant. Meanwhile, the myth causes some Israelis and would-be friends of Israel to put far too much stock in military or technological strategies. In theory, a country could run a blockade (whether they should or not) and avoid humanitarian disasters, p.r. fiascoes, effective smuggling, and other failures. In reality, success would take an enormous amount of talent in the civilian government and the Defense Forces. I simply don't think Israel has what it takes, and that limitation should strongly influence their strategic thinking.

June 2, 2010 1:32 PM | category: none



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