Israel's Foreign Policy

An examination of the development of the Israeli military.

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In girding its strength against this danger, too, the Jewish republic was limited by more than a paucity of territory, weapons, or citizens. It was deprived equally of friends and patrons. For Israel alone in the Middle East belonged to no defensive pact or political alliance whatever. Even the funds and diplomatic manpower it had available to explore and establish ties abroad were painfully meager. To be sure, Israel's firstforeign minister, Moshe Sharett (formerly Shertok), a colleague of Ben‑Gurion's since Second Aliyah days, was a man of uncommon brilliance and charm, and endowed with almost superhuman linguistic and negotiating skills. His closest associates, Reuven Shiloach and Walter Eytan, were similarly persons of unique dedication and imagination. But their personnel were under strength [limited]. As late as 1968, after twenty years of independence, only eight of Israel's missions abroad possessed staffs of ten or more, while twelve missions were staffed by one person only, and the rest by three or fewer representatives.

The perception of national vulnerability, then, remained the obsession of Israel's leadership. Its one advantage for the government was political. National isolation ensured that at least in foreign policy the government enjoyed a reasonable freedom of action. In fact, the Knesset [Israeli parliament] played no direct role in foreign affairs at all, not even in the ratification of treaties. Parliamentary debates on international policy were useful mainly in contributions to public education, but these discussions rarely took place more than once a year. Although the foreign affairs committee met weekly, hearing testimony from ministers, diplomats, and army leaders, its sessions were executive, and those attending were pledged to secrecy. The committee's membership unquestionably was of high quality, and enabled it to exert a certain intangible influence on foreign policy. Yet initiative and virtually complete freedom of decision in this area remained the prerogative of the cabinet.

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Howard Sachar

Howard M. Sachar is the author of numerous books, including A History of Israel, A History of the Jews in America, Farewell Espana, Israel and Europe, and A History of Jews in the Modern World. He is also the editor of the 39-volume The Rise of Israel: A Documentary History. He serves as Professor of Modern History at George Washington University.