Presenting, PART TWO: A Strategic-Based Policy Interview With Dr. Martin Sherman, Founder Of The Israel Institute For Strategic Studies (IISS)…By Adina Kutnicki

As promised, the following is Part Two to a very well received maiden interview with Dr. Martin Sherman, Israel’s foremost strategic policy analyst – Part One can be found here –

Without further ado, presenting,

AK: In the first portion of this interview, you made the point that the major problems/challenges facing Israel today should be characterized more as an interfacing and interacting complex, rather than an “itemized” list of discrete and disconnected topics. However, it you had to prioritize the severity or urgency of those problems/challenges, how would you approach the question?

MS: Without a doubt, Israel’s greatest strategic challenge, its gravest strategic failure and its grimmest strategic danger is the (mis)conduct of its public diplomacy.

In this regard, I endorse entirely the grave warning conveyed by Professor Eitan GIlboa in a 2006 article entitled “Public Diplomacy: The Missing Component in Israel’s Foreign Policy”:

The lack of an adequate PD programme has significantly affected Israel’s strategic outlook and freedom of action…. Any further neglect of PD would not only restrict Israel’s strategic options, it would be detrimental to its ability to survive…

Gilboa is quite right. In an era of unprecedented power and influence held by the media, it is difficult to overstate the strategic importance of diplomacy (particularly public diplomacy) and public relations. These are circumstances that call for a far-reaching change in Israel’s approach to diplomacy – and the resources allocated to it. In fact, the role of diplomacy is in many ways similar to that of the air force – and should be treated accordingly. For just as the classic role of the air force is to provide the ground forces the necessary freedom of action they require to attain their objectives, so the classic role of diplomacy is to provide national policy makers the freedom of action they require to attain the objectives of that policy.

AK: I understand that you feel that this is something not grasped by Israeli officialdom?

MS: Definitely not. The attitude of Israeli officialdom towards diplomacy (especially public diplomacy and public relations) does not reflect an appropriate awareness of their importance – as is revealed by the minimal scope of resources allocated for this purpose.

After all, one of the most revealing criteria regarding the importance an organization assigns a given activity is the amount of resources it allots for the conduct of that activity. In Israel, the resources allocated for the conduct of its public diplomacy efforts are – by any standard – ridiculously small.

The following description by outgoing MK Michael Eitan at a joint session of the Knesset Science and Technology and the Foreign Affairs and Defense committees underscores the point vividly:

It is horrifying to hear that the advertising budget for the [popular peanut] snack “Bamba” is two to three times the overall PR [hasbara] budget of the state… the outcomes of the war on the media front directly influence the outcomes of the battles at the front line.

So Israel spends – literally–less than a medium-large size corporation spends on promoting fast foods and snacks on conveying its message to the world. There is thus little reason to believe that the message will be successfully conveyed. The connection between diplomacy and public relations, and the ability to wage war on the battlefield, is abundantly clear. Without the removal of political restraints – whether in fact real or merely perceived – on the use of Israel’s military power to safeguard its vital interests, its theoretical martial might is meaningless. After all, what is the value of even the most advanced weaponry, if the nation’s leaders believe it cannot be used because of political constraints?

This was recently expressed in Jerusalem Post opinion piece by Shmuley Boetach, in which he correctly noted:

What good is having Apache helicopter gunships, or Merkava tanks, to defend your citizens against attack if you can’t even use them because the world thinks you’re always the aggressor?

Over 200 years ago, Frederick the Great, who reigned as king of Prussia 1740-1786 reportedly stated that “Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.” Over time his relationship has been entirely reversed and today it is true to say that :”Arms without diplomacy is like music without instruments”.

According, diplomacy – particularly public diplomacy – constitutes a strategic instrument of primary importance and should be treated as such.

AK: Perhaps it is a result of lack of sufficient financial resources?

MS: Regrettably, this “thrift” is not dictated by a lack of resources. After all, whenever Israel has desired to achieve a non-budgeted objective, money has rarely been an obstacle.

When billions of shekels were needed for the construction of the separation barrier, that was no problem; when billions of dollars were needed for the Gaza “disengagement”, that was no problem either. Likewise, the tens of billions of dollars required for the planned “convergence” (i.e. withdrawal) from Judea and Samaria were not considered an insurmountable obstacle—even though it was clear the money was not coming from the American taxpayer.

Currently, Israel’s GDP is around a quarter trillion dollars. If even a small fraction of one percent of GDP was devoted to public diplomacy, this would generate a budget of one billion dollars—rather than the paltry sums provided today.

But if this seems excessive to some – consider what could be achieved by a massive   $100 million public diplomacy drive that focused merely on the Hillel (Jewish student) branches across US campuses.

AK: But is it merely a quantitative problem that can be addressed by allotting more resources, or is the malaise more profound?

You are right. Regrettably, in Israel there seems to be serious (mis)comprehensions as to the role and purpose of diplomacy. It must be addressed without delay.

AK: What do you mean?

Instead of diplomacy being seen as a means to help remove obstacles impeding the attainment of national objectives, the diplomatic obstacles have become the point of departure from which the national objectives are derived. Thus, a situation has been created where the relationship between the “dependent variable” and the “independent variable” has been inverted. Rather than Israeli national policy makers viewing diplomacy as an instrument at their disposal to enable them to achieve the goals of their chosen policy, diplomatic difficulties themselves have become the factors that dictate the goals chosen by the policy makers.

The first step in transforming Israeli diplomacy into the strategic resource that it should be is to comprehend this conceptual distortion and to rectify it.

AK: What would this entail?

Perhaps the most important transformation requires its removal from a largely defensive roll – with the emphasis on trying to rebut accusations against Israel – to a more offensive and aggressive mode of public diplomacy. After all, ever since Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, written about two and a half millennium ago, it has been widely accepted that “the ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive….Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength”.

So it should be, in effect, diplomatic warfare – which should be guided by the traditional Zionist doctrine of warfare – i.e. of bringing the battle to the enemy’s territory.

Accordingly, such offensive diplomatic measures should not, however, be confined to refuting false accusations against Israel that it is an “apartheid state” that conducts a harsh policy of racial discrimination, and which inflicts untold harm on its international image.

Together with an assertive and self-confident presentation of Israel as a tolerant, open pluralistic society, in which both dark-skinned and light-skinned individuals are accorded identical civil rights, in which non-Jews (including Arabs) hold senior positions in the government, the parliament, the police, the judiciary, the military and the public service, resolute attacks against the blatant deceit and hypocrisy of Israel’s critics must also be mounted. It should also strive vigorously to highlight the cruel and discriminatory nature of the regimes and the societies of many of Israel’s detractors.

AK: What would this include?

This diplomatic counter-offensive should focus world attention on, and raise international consciousness to, the fact that it is actually Israel’s most vehement accusers who comprise a huge “apartheid empire”, in which they practice, as a matter of everyday routine, brutal and widespread discrimination – including the malicious oppression of women (gender apartheid); the vicious persecution of virtually all non-Muslim religions (creed apartheid); and the ruthless hounding of homosexuals (gay apartheid). This calls for an aggressive and ongoing public relations drive aimed at emphasizing, exposing, and sharpening international awareness to the fact that these brutal iniquities are the hallmarks of Israel’s foes in the region.

AK: Some (leftists) would protest that these kind of attacks are too harsh to be conducted by Israeli official organs?

It is true that some of the “inconvenient truths” that need to be conveyed could be considered inappropriately brusque and abrasive to be administered by the official organs of state. To circumvent this difficulty, a complex of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be established which can articulate positions, propose policies and formulate paradigms. These NGO’s need not comply with the niceties that bind the conduct of official organs of state.

To a large degree, this is what the Israeli left has done very effectively through organizations such as the New Israel Fund, J-Street and Peace Now, which were the vanguard in successfully promoting policies that were considered too radical or controversial for the political establishment to endorse initially – such as the Oslo process, recognition of the PLO, and the acceptance of a Palestinian state.

AK: So how would you suggest addressing the Palestinian issue in the context of what you have just said?

The Palestinian issue is the overwhelmingly dominant source of the de-legitimization of Israel. Unless this issue is addressed, there will be little chance of stemming the ongoing deterioration of Israel’s international standing.

AK: Substantively what does this mean?

The first and most crucial issue to grasp is that if the Palestinian narrative – which portrays the Palestinians as an authentic national entity – is acknowledged as legitimate, then all the aspirations, such as achieving Palestinians statehood that arise from that narrative, are legitimate.

Conversely, any policy that precludes the achievement of those aspirations will be perceived as illegitimate. But—in the absence of wildly optimistic and hence irresponsibly unrealistic “best-case” assumptions—any policy that is designed to secure Israel’s minimal security requirements, will preclude the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Accordingly, any endeavor to realistically provide Israel with minimal security will be perceived as illegitimate. The inevitable conclusion must therefore be for Israel to secure conditions that adequately address its minimal security requirements, the Palestinian narrative and the aspirations that flow from it must be delegitimized.

AK: Delegitimize the Palestinian narrative? How?

An elaboration of the full range of operational details—some of which I have detailed in my weekly Jerusalem Post column,”Into The Fray”—clearly goes beyond the bounds of an interview such as this. But the endeavor must be based on the same offensive principle we discussed in Part One—and abandon collaborating with the fiction of portraying the Palestinians—or at least a major portion of their leaders–as pragmatic moderates.

Clearly, if you present the Palestinians as being not really different from the folks in Manhattan or Orange County, no-one will understand why Israel needs the measures it needs to preserve its security. But if you present the Palestinian society as it really is – a cruel, brutal society that suppresses its women; oppresses its homosexuals; represses its political dissidents; a society that if it does not legally permit, at least socially condones the honor killing of young women, the brutalization of political rivals, and summary execution of gays, if you present the Palestinians as such, it makes no sense to bring such a state to the perimeter of your only international airport and to the length of the trans-Israel highway.

To put it metaphorically, if Israel persists in portraying the Palestinian’s as cuddly poodles, rather than vicious Rottweiler, no-one will understand why it needs Rottweiler policies to contend with poodles

AK: But given the international climate can you see why the government is loath to do this?

Yes – but this is precisely why it needs a well-funded, assertive and articulate ex-governmental system, discussed previously, to initiate this kind of discourse – both domestically and abroad.

This is precisely the kind of enterprise I am trying to spearhead with my Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

AK: Most especially, once again, thank you for your invaluable insights. You offer enlightening, targeted, incisive lessons in the “art” of geo-politics. They include trenchant strategic prescriptions, outlined for the most imperiled nation in the world; a speck on the map, yet a never ending obsession with the world’s leadership.

If this blogger (and her readers) are fortunate enough, perhaps Part Three will be forthcoming. As always, a pleasure.

Dr. Martin Sherman acted as a ministerial adviser in the 1991-2 Shamir government. He also served for seven years in various defense related capacities and taught political science at Tel Aviv University. His works have been published in academic journals such as Journal of Strategic StudiesJournal of Theoretical Politics,International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence and Nations and Nationalism. He is the author of two books on international conflicts (Macmillan UK).Dr. Sherman is also a member of the advisory board of the Nativ journal in which he has published frequently.

UPDATE: Dr. Martin Sherman recently expanded upon this blog’s featured exclusive interview. It can be read in his weekly column, Into The Fray – ‘Intellectual Warriors, Not Slicker Diplomats’ –