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Amit, with his “sabra loyalty” to “the sabra code as [Moshe] Dayan practiced it” and to “the sabra military establishment” and the “sabra impulse for war,” mustered the audacity to propose to “hand-wringing consensus builder” (and nonsabra nonmilitant) Levi Eshkol, then prime minister, that Amit pay a visit to Egypt to launch a peace initiative. Eshkol rebuffed Amit and vetoed the initiative. Nor can Tyler explain why Prime Minister Golda Meir, she of Kiev and Milwaukee origins, repeatedly rejected Anwar Sadat’s peace advances prior to the 1973 Yom Kippur War. And Tyler ignores Israel’s entreaties to Jordan’s King Hussein on June 5, 1967, not to enter the Six Day War.
How does Tyler explain Shimon Peres’s stewardship of the Dimona nuclear project and his own sympathy for the early West Bank settlement movement? “The effete Europeanist played poker like a sabra!” Of course.
Tyler is so preoccupied with “sabra militarism” that he ignores or seriously downplays virtually any competing input to Israel’s wars and the Jewish state’s peace failures. He can’t accept that Israeli strategists might have been genuinely motivated in their decisions by Arab absolutism and real Muslim intolerance of Jewish statehood. That Yasser Arafat really may have been an unreconstructed terrorist and compulsive liar at heart. That Greater Land of Israel advocates like Menachem Begin and members of the settler movement sought to expand Israel’s frontiers not out of militarism, but because of religious ideological motives that actually contradict Israel’s security interests. That the Palestinians — as non-sabra, non-hawk Abba Eban once remarked — “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” That Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz flubbed the 2006 war in Lebanon precisely because they lacked the necessary military-strategic background for maintaining Israel’s security.
Tyler even misses the huge strategic significance of Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of Olmert’s far-reaching two-state offer of 2008: that even a moderate, nonviolent Palestinian leader can’t make the compromises necessary to end the conflict.
“Martial culture,” “covert machinations of a chekist apparat” — Tyler just can’t let go of his fixations. His book would have been better served by a more balanced approach.
Yossi Alpher has spent most of his adult life in or near the Israeli security establishment and has produced three sabra children who emerged from military service on the dovish side of the scale. He is a contributing editor to the Forward.