Interview: Uzi Arad
Uzi Arad conceived of and directs the annual Herzliya Conference, a power-and-policy summit that brings together Israeli and world figures and has come to play a pivotal role in defining Israel’s national agenda. Most recently director of intelligence of the Mossad, today he is chair of the Institute for Policy and Strategy and professor at the Lauder School of Government, Strategy and Diplomacy at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. Educated at Harvard and Princeton, the kibbutz-born Arad, 58, has become one of Israel’s most influential thinkers on political, security, economic and social issues.
Q. Why have you said that the road to Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian Authority elections began with Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza?
A. Israel has been under continuing terrorist attack since 2000, much of this spearheaded by Hamas. Suddenly, the Israel government sharply reversed its position around 2003, saying that the security and future of our presence in Gaza was no longer as precious as that in Tel Aviv. Suddenly, Israel was prepared to withdraw from Gaza without any sort of reciprocity or even without securing any cessation of terrorism. If you were a terrorist, how would you interpret that? Most likely, you would assume that it was your efforts that had borne fruit. An overwhelming majority of [the Palestinians] are convinced that the withdrawal was the direct result of the intifada. Inevitably, the Palestinians translated this into increased support for the party claiming the credit, Hamas…. The real question is what we do now with Israel’s architects of this disengagement who predicted that [it] would pave the way to renewed negotiations with moderate Palestinians.
Q. Can Hamas become moderate?
A. Hamas has long been the ideologically motivated wing of radical Islam. Its leaders are relatively free of corruption, pursuing their struggle in the most violent, least compromising ways. They have been…hunted and jailed by us [while] pursuing goals at high cost and risk…. Why in the world would they suddenly change their entire approach now that they have finally achieved victory? They will likely be more pragmatic, but only on procedures and tactics, not on core beliefs or strategy.
Q. So you see a more focused and negative course?
A. They are gathering force, piling up munitions, explosives. We have successfully foiled a number of new attacks, but I think there will be more. In the final analysis their insistence on pursuing an armed struggle—what we call terrorism—will be way more extreme, and they will not compromise. And the more we see a willingness to engage and accommodate them by the world’s apologists and appeasers, the more it will radicalize them.
Q. Is Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations good?
A. Of course it’s a good policy. It curtails the terrorists’ activities and exacts a dear price from the leaders who are responsible. It is…both moral and effective. Those Hamas individuals…actively involved in carrying out terror attacks against us should be held accountable. Period.
Q. Israel’s intelligence is world renowned. Were you guys good, lucky or do you just have good press?
A. I used to say Israel’s intelligence services were amongst the least bad. Intelligence is a risky business that never [brings] total satisfaction. All intelligence services have erred on important issues…. On identifying and hunting down key terrorists who know they are being hunted, we do well. But once you…speculate on things that might or might not happen in this or that way, you are much more vulnerable to making mistakes.
Q. Diaspora Jews hear a lot of inspirational Zionist rhetoric. Why is it different in Israel? What prompted your groundbreaking survey on Israeli patriotism?
A. I was always curious why in Israel [patriotic expression] is largely shunned. You hardly ever find any serious patriotic speeches made by Israeli leaders…. The answer…is erosion in the legitimacy of discussing and promoting patriotism. Israelis are perhaps more patriotic than the citizens of any other Western democracy. In fact, that is the major finding of our survey. Our leaders and educators are not aware of this, so we decided to do this survey—which will become an annual undertaking—in a thoroughly academic, scientific, emotion-free manner.
Q. What is the most telling criterion of patriotism?
A. I think it might be one’s willingness to fight for one’s country. Israelis actually came out as first in the world on this issue…. This likely reflects our sense of feeling threatened. Look at the resilience of the Israeli people when confronted by the intifada in the last few years.
Q. What other key findings did you discover?
A. We asked if you had a choice of moving to another country to enjoy better economic conditions, for example, would you consider doing so. Some Israelis indicated they might consider such a move, but the share is [comparable to that of] Americans who were posed the same question. The roots of Israelis and their sense of association to this land are far stronger than those of many other countries. [Note: According to the survey, 87 percent of Israelis said that, given the chance, they would not move to another country for better economic conditions. On similar surveys, the figures were 90 percent for Americans, 72 percent for British and 56 percent for Swiss.]
Q. What less encouraging results surfaced?
A. The most troubling item for me was an…erosion of patriotism amongst the younger generation…. We did not have comparative data…but I suspect that younger people in many other countries reflected a similar lessening of patriotic sentiment…[as] an effect of globalization. In Israel, however, the extremely high levels of patriotism amongst adults falls to ‘just’ high levels amongst the young. We should not accept such a decline; we need to replenish the commitment. We are also quite concerned by the finding that Israeli Arabs have a stronger sense of Palestinian patriotism than Israeli, but that is regrettably a natural [consequence] of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Q. What enabled you to make the Herzliya Conference such a prestigious annual gathering in so brief a time?
A. [It attracts attention because] our agenda has one overwhelming focus: the balance of Israel’s national security situation and policies. It is thus not only the setting for the nation’s agenda or the venue where the prime minister of Israel gives his Herzliya Address, the equivalent of the U.S. president’s annual State of the Union speech.
Q. You have always made Jewish peoplehood a major part of your focus. Why?
A. Our formula for the Herzliya Conference is based on five pillars. The ones you would likely expect are national security, international diplomacy, economic and technological developments and social change. To these we have always added a fifth: the Jewish people. Not everyone in Israel understands our relationship with the Jewish world and the Jewish idea. Israel’s entire raison d’être is to be both a Jewish state and a state for the Jews.
Q. What will we see at future Herzliya gatherings?
A. In 2007, I would like to…present a global Jewish pride survey…. Jewish patriotism…transcends the national patriotism that each of us has. American Jews are American patriots, but they are also Jewish patriots. In this year’s survey, more Israelis expressed higher pride in being Jewish than in being Israeli. Why? Because in a healthy way, some Israelis have some mixed feelings about Israeli policies of which they may not be so proud or positive. There are no such problems about being Jewish, however. There is a wholesome degree of Jewish patriotism, but what are the underlying things that we as a people can celebrate and take pride in? The more we understand values such as Jewish genius and excellence, the better equipped we will be to inspire future generations.