This 500-page tome charts Israeli policy decisions from Suez in 1953 to the bombing of Gaza in 2008. Tyler describes how Israel’s leaders consistently took the military option so that opportunities for making peace were lost.
However, starting his account in the 1950s begs the question, what of the Nakba – the violent dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians. Tyler refers to “Zionist revolutionaries” who are a “moral beacon in a benighted region”. With no examination of a colonial settler project dispossessing the native people he attributes Israel’s militarisation to “its failure to build strong enough institutions to balance its military zeitgeist with imaginative or engaging diplomacy”. The detail of how the Israeli leadership built their formidable armoury in negotiations with France, the UK and the US touches on the interests of the major powers. But by concentrating on the personalities, cliques and rivalries, other factors that relate to the Cold War, Arab nationalism and regional politics are marginalised.
Oil is barely mentioned, nor the word imperialism. At times you are not sure if it is Tyler’s naivety or his inability to counter the Israeli narrative that leads him to certain positions. Rather than entertain the idea that it might suit the US “not to know” about Israel’s nuclear facility at the time Kennedy was arguing for non-proliferation, Tyler accepts not only that secrecy was maintained but that inspections (which have been evaded to this day) were prevented by the clever manoeuvrings of Ben Gurion.
Israel, as “a modern Sparta in a region of weak states” striving to preserve itself, lies easily with Tyler’s fascination with its military. His romancing about military leader Moshe Dayan’s “chiselled features” or retelling Sharon’s sexist pre-battle jokes combined with descriptions of Arabs as marauders makes for uncomfortable reading. Concluding the chapter on the Six Day War by saying Israel’s militarism had been “liberated” and by relegating Israel’s annexation of the West Bank to a pair of brackets suggests a certain bias.
The main problem is that Tyler poses the fortress mentality without giving an analysis of why it dominates. Chomsky claims in his seminal work The Fateful Triangle that Israel and the United States, especially the latter, far from engaging seriously in the peace process are opposed to peace. Tyler evades the question of Israel being the most dependent and therefore most loyal ally of the US. He lays the blame for being unable to make peace on the inability of a military elite to engage in diplomacy. Maybe there is an audience for this description of Israel’s equivalent to West Wing. But if you want a serious analysis and a deeper understanding of the forces for change and for peace I would look elsewhere.
Fortress Israel is published by Portobello, £25
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