Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country — and Why They Can’t Make Peace
By Patrick Tyler
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 576 pages, $35
Veteran Washington Post and New York Times journalist Patrick Tyler has written a comprehensive, well-researched 500-page survey of Israel’s encounters with war and peace from 1948 to 2011. It would be a useful read if the author didn’t nurse a seriously skewed ideological agenda about Israel. Tyler would have us believe that the country has endlessly missed glowing opportunities to translate military victory into peace agreements with its neighbors, and that this failure is attributable to the sabras, or native-born Israelis, whose militancy, land hunger and provincialism have, almost alone, damned Israel to live in turmoil.
Tyler touches on virtually every war-and-peace effort on record. He enriches his mining of secondary sources with many interviews. His characterization of Ehud Barak, who “stood alone as the architect of his own failure,” is spot-on. Serious factual errors are few, although someone should have explained to him not to discuss “the Mapai” and “the Mapam” as if they were “the” Likud. Few important developments are completely left out, although one serious lacuna is the total absence of Gunnar Jarring’s peace mediation effort, sponsored by the United Nations, following the 1967 Six Day War.
But why the sabra militancy fixation? Tyler’s determination to prove that native-born Israelis, along with founding father David Ben-Gurion, consistently ignored or closed openings for peace and plunged Israel into needless wars places his book, unfortunately, in the rapidly growing category of uninformed Israel-bashing treatises by the likes of otherwise respectable scholars and statesmen such as Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, and Jimmy Carter.
Of course Israel has missed opportunities to negotiate with its neighbors. And it has indeed on occasion launched unnecessary and harmful military operations. It has long had its hawks and its doves, and both have made mistakes, not just the hawks. Nor are all hawks “sabra militants” or all sabras hawks.
When Israel’s leaders in war and peace don’t fit Tyler’s mold, their record is simply brushed aside. For example, so locked into stereotyping is Tyler that he is at a loss to explain the behavior of Mossad head Meir Amit in 1965.