Thursday, April 23, 2009

Interview on Mideast with Martin van Creveld

Professor Martin van Creveld was kind enough to grant me an interview on U.S./Israeli/Palestinian/Iranian relations. Van Creveld is an Israeli military historian and theorist. The interview follows.

1. Security can be viewed as a continuum from “none” to a mythical “total.” What sort of security arrangements might suffice to convince Israeli leaders to accept an Israel living within its legal 1967 borders?

Van Creveld:
I cannot speak for Israel's leaders. Personally I think that, if Israel were to give up the West Bank and the Golan Heights, those areas should be demilitarized. Once this is done the outcome will be to enhance Israel's security, not to reduce it.

2. If Israel were to launch an attack on Iran, what would constitute “success” in the eyes of Israeli leaders?

Van Creveld:
I suspect that, in that case, any outcome would be declared a success, at least in public.

3. What are the chances of that “success” being achieved?

Van Creveld:
It depends on what you mean. Certainly there is no way Israel can cause Iran to give up its nuclear program forever. Whether we can delay it by a few years is a question I cannot answer on the basis of the information at my disposal.

4. How would you evaluate the nature of that “success” if it were achieved, e.g., considering "side-effects," long-term consequences?

Van Creveld:
Personally I agree with Defense Secretary Gates, who recently said that the long term consequences, both for Israel and for much of the rest of the world, would be disastrous. In case Israel uses mini-nukes, as some sources claim it is planning to do, they will be simply unimaginable.

5. How important is security relative to other factors (e.g., glory, ideology) in the eyes of Israeli or other relevant leadership groups?

Van Creveld:
Hard to say. I would think that, for most, security is paramount. However, there are always exceptions. Like every other country, Israel has its lunatic fringe.

6. US-Iranian relations cannot be separated from US-Israeli and US-Palestinian relations. They are all part of the broader issue of how to distribute power among various Mideast actors. How do you assess this argument?

Van Creveld:
I think that Israel has much less to fear from Iran than is usually thought. Of course it would be nice if we could solve all problems at once, but personally I would be in favor of getting out of the West Bank almost regardless of what Tehran and Washington do. After all, this is not about them; it is about safeguarding Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

7.What advice would you have for American leaders trying to deal simultaneously with Palestine, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan?

Van Creveld:
Palestine: knock the heads of Palestinians and Israelis together, forcing them to accept a settlement based on the "two states for two people" principle. Iran: try to improve relations, but keep a wary eye on the Mullas and make sure you have strong armed forces in the Gulf. Iraq: get the hell out. Afghanistan: ditto. In both cases, tell them that, in case they permit another 9-11 to be prepared on their territory, their principal cities will be wiped off the map.

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