1967, 44 years on
This year's anniversary of Israel's victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war has led to unusual soul-searching in the country, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Described as "Israel's hero" and the man responsible for killing the greatest number of Arabs during Israel's various wars, Meir Dagan has also been described by his mentor, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, as "the best in the art of severing the head of an Arab from his body".
Dagan is the head of the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency, and it was under his leadership that the agency was able to achieve "the greatest strategic, intelligence and security achievements," as stated by present Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Yet, Dagan apparently also feels some regret about what has happened to Israel in the 44 years since the 1967 war, not hesitating to state his doubts that Israel will fail to safeguard its existence on the world map because of "arrogance and the rejection by its leadership of the Arab peace proposals."
For Israeli leaders, this year's anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war comes amid the Arab democratic revolutions, former Israeli defence minister Amir Peretz commenting that for the first time since 1967 "the Arabs have begun to rid themselves of the fundamental reasons that enabled Israel to make progress on the battleground, such as the tyrannical and oppressive regimes that prevented Arab states from improving their ability to confront us."
In statements made to Israeli Television, Peretz said that Israel's official rhetoric, to the effect that Tel Aviv supports the democratic transformations in the Arab world, is far from being the whole truth, since "such transformations do not serve Israel's interests because they would generate leaders in the Arab world who are different from what Israel is accustomed to. These would be leaders who consider the best national interests of their nations, rather than the interests of the regime and ruling families."
Chairman of Israel's National Security Council, Yaakov Amidror, who previously served as chief of research in military intelligence, went further by asserting that the Arab revolutions are a "grave danger, because they allow the wider representation of Arab public opinion in decision-making."
Amidror told Israeli Radio that any future war between Israel and the Arab world would be very difficult, and warned that the transformations underway had helped shore up Arab citizens' confidence in unprecedented ways.
Etan Haber, chief of staff to former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, also believes that the Arab revolutions have taken Israel's most valuable strategic cards and undermined its ability to fight future wars. Haber said that the Arab revolutions had changed the strategic environment for Israel, requiring Tel Aviv to double its military expenditure.
"Israel is transitioning from a reality where it received security cooperation and exchange of intelligence from surrounding Arab regimes to a different reality," Haber said, "and to one that gives hostile Arab public opinion immense powers, not only to monitor, but also to direct the policies of Arab states."
One camp of opinion in Israel believes that conditions in the country are deteriorating on the anniversary of the 1967 war. According to Alon Pinkas, Israel's former consul-general in San Francisco, 44 years after the war Israel lacks leaders, vision and political realism.
In an article published in the Israeli Maariv newspaper marking the anniversary of the war, Pinkas said that "Israel has lost its edge, enterprise, creativity and flexibility. Israel is obsessed with inaction although it is harmful; Israel gave itself a ridiculous image to the world of rejecting peace; Israel in 1967 had the sympathy of the world, and today it is battling to maintain a grip on its legitimacy amid criticism of its policies."
Despite Israel's achievements in the areas of immigration, industrial and technological progress and military strength, the outcome of the 1967 war had frozen the country in time, he said. At the time viewed as "the greatest victory in modern history," victory in the war had become a "boomerang" against Israel and the entire Zionist project.
If Israel does not move quickly to change, he warned, it could expect the worst, with demographics being one of the threats facing the country. "What started as a spectacular military victory should have effected a strategic transformation and become a political accomplishment within a few days, but it has now become a deadly lethargy," Pinkas wrote.
In marking this year's anniversary, many questions have been posed about the war and its outcome. Many Israeli thinkers reject the proposals made by the Arab regimes in their attempts to justify reaching a political settlement with Israel after the 1967 war, with social scientist Oz Almog claiming that a settlement between Israel and the Arabs will not succeed in preventing wars in the future.
"It is certain that further wars will erupt between the Arabs and Israel because the Israeli- Arab conflict is a battle between two polar opposite civilisations and cultures," Almog said. "This conflict is like an active volcano that erupts from time to time. Some eruptions are small, and others are earth shattering. The Six Day War was the latter."
Israeli historian Michael Oren says in his book Six Days of War that the 1967 war paved the way for a political resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, although this option was unthinkable for the Arabs before the war. Oren argues that the controversial Arab Peace Initiative is one outcome of the 1967 war.
According to Israeli intellectual Durant Nissanm, history "laid a trap" for Israel by giving it victory in the war. The outcome of the war destroyed the "moral foundations of the Zionist project," he says. "This war is not a source of pride or revival. Our occupation of the Palestinians caused an internal fracture, which is slowly and surely eating away our body. Occupation has resulted in inertia in our actions, and day by day has removed us from looking in the mirror and reevaluating ourselves."
"We should not have lived with occupation and surrendered to it, but we grew accustomed to occupation and surrendered to it, ignoring its ramifications -- namely that any people who occupy another in time lose their abilities and their sense of justice about their cause."
Israeli thinker Yigal Serna also claims that Israel has "lost" as a result of the 1967 war, and he has mocked the achievements of the war since these did not result in the recognition of Israel by the Arabs.
The war led to Israel's confronting what he calls "the Islamist monster" that defeated the earlier nationalist and secular regimes. Israel will live to the end of its days by the sword because of its leadership's foolishness in exulting in victory in the 1967 war, Serna claims.
Israeli Channel 2 senior analyst Amnon Abramovitch has also argued that the outcome of the war put Israel in a dilemma brimming with strategic hazards, since Tel Aviv was unable to defeat the national Palestinian movement despite the use of all the means of oppression against it.
Even incumbent Minister of Defence Ehud Barak has expressed his disappointment in Israel's inability, 44 years after the war, to suppress the Palestinian resistance. "After 44 years, there is a sense of despair in each of us," Barak said. "The Palestinians are like a pillow which every time you punch it comes back at you with force."
The 44th anniversary of the 1967 war has highlighted the importance of the democratic revolutions sweeping the Arab world, and the expectations that they will result in comprehensive changes getting rid of a defeatist environment.
While Netanyahu claimed in his recent address to the US Congress that Israel was comfortable with the democratic transformations in the Arab world, it was also Netanyahu himself who pressured world leaders not to ask former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down.
Sources close to the Israeli prime minister have quoted him as saying that "what is taking place in the Arab world could take us back to even before the 1948 war."