Saturday, January 02, 2010

Three strikes for Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon

An interesting point is that Israel is a small country, with a small population base. Israel's Jewish population, from which Israel structurally draws all of its significant leadership, is about 5 million people, which is the size of the metropolitan area of a medium-sized US city (the actual city plus its suburbs).

In a competitive system that selects leadership based on some form of political skill, a small population base limits the expected level of talent for the leadership. This is a long way to say nobody would expect Israel's national leadership to be as talented as Russia's leadership, just as nobody would expect the mayor of Albuquerque New Mexico to be as talented as the US President.

Israel has more talented leadership than the colonial stooge states - for example Saudi Arabia's leadership is selected from a dozen or so direct descendants of the Saudi king who first began collaborating with the British empire. Egypt draws its leadership from the pool of Egyptians acceptable to Israel. So Israel has an advantage over its neighbors that is artificially maintained by US resources but from time to time you see just how poorly led the country is by any standard of comparison except what the US imposes on its neighbors.

Barak Ravid from Haaretz reports on a question and answer session by Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon. The quotes just go from bad to worse.
"It is not certain that the regime in power now in Iran will be there in one year," Ayalon said at a question-and-answer session in Tel Aviv.
So this will start us off. Now "certain" is a strong word. "Not certain" is a powerful hedge. It is possible that an asteroid hits earth or somehow the sun stops burning. Because of that Ayalon is correct to say it is not certain that Iran's regime will be in power a year from now. But in real life, it is certain. Just like it is certain that the US controversy over Barack Obama's birth certificate will not lead to Obama's removal from office.

Americans analysts, because of their disagreement with Iran's leadership over Israel, and the intense emotional antipathy that engenders, systematically over-estimate the capabilities and significance of internal opposition to the regime. It is largely projection. If Iran's regime ruled over a population of people like Juan Cole, Gary Sick and Michael Slackman, its demise would be imminent. Instead Iran's regime rules over a population of people who agree with it on most issues. (Really if Iran's regime ruled over a population of people who think like US analysts, its positions would match those of the people it rules and who vote in its elections.)

But if Americans project their antipathy onto Iran's population, we can only imagine how strong that tendency is in Israel. Avalon's hope of regime change in Iran will certainly be dashed in 2010. Even US analysts do not go as far as he does.
"The world is uniting against Iran's nuclear program and within a month there will be United Nations Security Council sanctions," Ayalon said. "There is agreement in Washington, Moscow and Beijing that a nuclear Iran would destroy the current world order."
Woah, slow down.

There aren't going to be UN Security Council sanctions this month. This is the Deputy Foreign Minister of a country that considers Iran its primary rival. He doesn't read newspapers? "Destroy the current world order?" What? I'm not sure an actual response is necessary.
Ayalon also addressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent efforts to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians, saying, "The Palestinians need to understand that time is working against them," Channel 10 news reported.
This statement is the reason I wrote a post about the article. Do Israel's leaders really think time is working against the Palestinians? Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama do not think so. One explanation could be that Israel's leaders have a distorted view of their situation out of necessity, because it is painful to envision the failure of the Zionist project. Another explanation though, is that Israel has such a small Jewish population that that it just cannot produce leadership talented enough to identify basic facts about the situation they find themselves in.


N. Friedman said...


For once, there are portions of your article with which I agree, at least to some extent. I suspect that Iran's leadership will remain in place. I also suspect that the UN Security Council will do nothing of significance. I would not go and state things with the certainty you use but the probabilities favor those outcomes.

As for Israel's position in the world, I think it is improving with time. It is not improving with European citizens but it is improving with European governments in some important ways. It is, far more importantly, improving dramatically with Russia and with China. And that improvement abates substantially the leverage of Europeans and even the US, which recognizes that Russia is offering Israel, if Israel decides to jump from the US ship, an alliance on better political terms than the US even offers - i.e. with no demands that Israel accommodate Arab demands. That, in exchange with technology which Israel has and the Russians very much want.

Lysander said...

"And that improvement abates substantially the leverage of Europeans and even the US, which recognizes that Russia is offering Israel, if Israel decides to jump from the US ship, an alliance on better political terms than the US even offers - i.e. with no demands that Israel accommodate Arab demands. That, in exchange with technology which Israel has and the Russians very much want."

That's a new one. Norman, you are correct that neither Russia nor China will make any demands that Israel do anything. You are incorrect in assuming that either will offer total cover and support for whatever Israel does. Vetoing UNSC resolutions, pressuring Egypt to close the Gaza border, for example. The Russian Duma will not condemn a Swedish newspaper for an article about organ harvesting. They will not present Israeli bombardment of Gaza or Lebanon as a fight against terror.

Most importantly, neither will give Israel 30 billion dollars of advanced weapons for free. Although both will sell, at market price, whatever Israel wishes to buy.

As for technology, while I will happily admit Israel has accomplished much, technology transfer for the most part has not been from Israel to Europe and the US, but the other way around. American Jews are well represented in the sciences, that is true, but I suspect they will remain in the US and not move to Israel or Russia regardless of circumstances.

While I'm sure Russia and China would happily buy Israeli tech, they will be just as happy to buy Dutch or German or French.

In short, Israel really has no option other than the US. While other countries will be happy to keep cordial relations with Israel, none are looking for such a high maintenance strategic "asset" whose best years are likely behind her.

N. Friedman said...


What Russia wants is to disrupt US influence in the Middle East. They would pay a big price for that. And, on top of that Israel has much technology to transfer to Russia, more than the Dutch or Germans or French, all of whom are, compared to Israel, laggards.

As for aid from the US, Israel is paid for services it provides to the US. That and nothing more. Israel may, at one time, have been an economic basket case. That ceased being true quite a while ago. And, you will note - and read that famed or infamous neo-con letter used to suggest that Israel was pushing war on Iraq, which actually suggests that Israel end its receipt of money because it does not benefit Israel sufficiently.

Now, if Europeans want to continue to think that it is legitimate to run traditional Antisemitic tropes in newspapers, there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. But, frankly, Europe overplayed its limited hand with Israel and, for that reason, has little influence on Israel's activities.

Arnold Evans said...


Nothing would increase US influence in the Middle East more than allying with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran in a rivalry against Russia and Israel.

The only problem would be that somehow the US would want to make sure Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran don't end the rivalry too quickly by scaring the Israelis into accepting a one state solution, at which point though Palestine would, by default, join whatever camp Egypt and Saudi Arabia are in.

Boy I wish I could get you onto a Russian foreign policy team.

Seriously, where does this idea that Russia wants to be Israel's ally come from? This is the first I've ever heard it and while it can't be taken as anything but a joke, I'm curious as to the source.

Mark Pyruz said...

A minor note, Mr. Friedman. Israel's military technology exports tend to be highly specialized, system upgrades or system add-ons.

Moreover, Israel buys and operates big ticket items from Germany such as attack submarines, not vise-versa. So characterizing Germany's arms industries as "laggards" is just flat out wrong.

N. Friedman said...


You will note that at the time that the dispute, insignificant as it was from the start and as it turned out to be, opened between Netanyahu and Obama, Russia invited Israel to send a team of diplomats for in-depth political discussions. The Israelis sent Israel's Russian speaking foreign minister, who was known to be urging Israel to expand its horizons so as not to be too dependent on the US.

There have been, since that time, a string of very quiet, unpublicized but high level talks going on between Israel and Russia. They continue to occur even now.

In that people tend to think that the Arab-baiter, Avigdor Lieberman, is as dopey as the manner in which he, to Western ears, raises issues - at least understood that way by those who do not, as my family does, have roots in the former USSR -, the assumption is that his activities mean nothing. That is a serious blunder in thinking that is based on a misunderstanding of who Lieberman really is and what he actually stands for - as opposed to what he proclaims to Russian speaking Israelis who, like people in Russia, respond best, electorally speaking, to demagogic rhetoric.

More than likely, the contacts between Israel and Russia are, at least for Israel, being used as a negotiating tactic. However, to doubt that Russia would want Israel as an ally is to live in fantasy land. Such a relationship, if it excludes the US, would be an unmitigated disaster for the US - whether or not it would be wise for Israel, which it would probably not be so wise.

Your comment overlooks that the US already has a close relationship with Egypt and, most especially, with Saudi Arabia. The relationship with Saudi Arabia, like that with Israel, runs very deep in the US government establishment (although not with the American people who mostly think that Saudis are mostly primitive religious fanatics).

No serious US policy maker really thinks there is any realistic chance of close relations with Iran merely if the US dumps Israel because no US policy maker thinks that Israel plays the role in Iranian politics that you think it plays. Americans policy makers think that Iran has Iranian, not Palestinian, reasons for raising the issues it raises, all to advance the role of Iran or Islam, not Palestinian Arabs - a people for whom Iranians have never, in the history of mankind, shown any love.

You may recall the million lives wasted in the war between Iraq - an Arab country - and Iran. Palestinian Arabs did not side much side with Iran and Iranians are not in love with any of the Arabs and certainly not with Sunni Arabs.

And, everyone recalls that to the Islamist rulers of Iran, the US, not Israel, is the great Satan, something that will not end even if Israel no longer exists.

I might add. The chances that the US will dump Israel are essentially nil. The thrust of your overall argument, that Israel is a product of colonialism falls on pretty deaf ears in the US, not because Americans know nothing about colonialism but, instead, because Americans, apart from real hypocrites, are well aware that all countries in the Americas are the product of colonialism. And, most realize that, all things considered, the Israelis have been rather tame, at least by the standards employed in the Americas, to advance Israeli interest. Moreover, the general assertion that Israel is really colonialist flies in the face of fact.

So, to Americans, Israeli Jews are seen as pioneers, much as Americans mythologize the US past and there is an understanding, one you seem to ignore, that oppressed people making a home for themselves, even if that results in people being displaced, is not the great wrong that you see.

Which is to say, I think the entire thrust of what you write is ill-considered.

N. Friedman said...

Mark Pyruz,

Your point about Germany is well taken. And, you are correct that Israel's main achievements have involved high tech enhancements.

Lysander said...

I'm curious, NF. If Russia and China are so eager for Israeli tech, why have they not offered to back "crippling" sanctions against Iran in exchange for it? Has Israel simply holding out all these years for a better deal?

N. Friedman said...


Russia and China are eager primarily to limit US power. Israel would be a means to that end. Obtaining Israeli technology and know-how would be a secondary, albeit important, benefit.

Arnold Evans said...


There have been, since that time, a string of very quiet, unpublicized but high level talks going on between Israel and Russia. They continue to occur even now.

Where'd you get that idea?

That's really the only thing I'm curious about. Where are you getting your ideas of what Russia wants from Israel or that Russia wants an alliance with Israel.

Are you making this up, or do you have some kind of link or what?

N. Friedman said...


Try reading the Jerusalem Post.

lidia said...

NF is clatching on straws - a good sign for every anti-Zionist (i.e. the majority of the world)

Russia will NEVER able to do for Israel the same as USA doing now, thank god (in which I do not beleive), even if Russian rulers were craizy enough to want it :)

lidia said...

Then NF is also being simply ridiculouse - both China and Russia have much better opportunity to "limit USA power" by supporting anti-Israel states in the ME. As if siding with Israel will bring any real advance against USA! Israel could be a cancer of the ME, but it is still tiny, all its significanse are from USA (and EU) support.

GeneralOreo said...

Funny that this nation with such apparent shortage of talented people, as you put it, kicked the crap out of the entire arab world and produces more scientific papers and technology then the entirety of over a billion muslims.

Jews are some of the most talented people in the world, the amount of Nobel prize winners, intellectuals/artists/pioneers/scientists/etc.., alone should give you an idea of that.

Those other countries with their 'disadvantage' in the way of choosing their leaders is completely their fault and nobody else's. As khomeini said, every people deserve their governments. Egyptions and Saudis deserve their governments. Those rulers are the result of culture and values of those societies and the people in those countries that support them and others that don't oppose them and let them rule. It's easy to blame the US when it's convenient though. There's an american embassy? Why US america's to blame! Not the case with syria, or Iran, but who cares about reality! Not that there isn't an embarrassment of evidence without the cases of syria and iran, but again an ideological and emotional narrative overrides reason and constructs your own world to live in.

I said I'm done with this blog but dammit I couldn't stop myself replying to this post, even if it's old and probably nobody would read it.

GeneralOreo said...

You know I was just thinking about this again, and I think motivation definitely has something to do with it too, not just genetics. Considering what the jewish people went through, and the threats the still face, you get the best out of their talents.

Their enemies seem motivated too, but only in hatred rallies.