By Joel B. Pollak

Joel B. Pollak ’99 is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Cape Town. He was a political speechwriter for the Leader of the Opposition in South Africa from 2002 to 2006 and is a second-year student at Harvard Law School.
It still has no formal constitution. Its borders are contested and subject to negotiation. It relies heavily on foreign military aid. It has no majority party and seems incapable of electing a stable government. True, it has strong institutions, a successful economy, a vibrant cultural life, and a powerful military. It has won an Olympic gold medal and the Eurovision song contest. But sixty years after David Ben-Gurion proclaimed its independence, Israel remains, in many ways, an idea.

It is not just an idea. It is an idea with powerful political, legal, and historical foundations. Thousands of men and women have defended it with their lives, and more are ready to do so. Historian Michael Oren points out that in recent conflicts, more than 100 percent of Israeli reservists who are called to their units report for duty. [1] Israelis also have high hopes for the future, in spite of the daily barrage of rockets and the threat of nuclear annihilation. These hopes are best represented by rising birthrates among Israeli Jews, which reached 2.9 children per woman in 2006. [2] A string of Nobel prizes in the past several years serves as a reminder of what Israel continues to contribute to humanity.

But at the core of that success lies a profound—and self-inflicted—weakness: a lack of leadership. The birthday wishes said it all: “Happy 60th birthday, Israel—well done for surviving,” wrote Melanie Phillips in the Spectator. [3] “Will Israel Survive?” wondered Mitchell G. Bard in a recent book (answer: yes, after 236 pages). [4] “Is Israel Finished?” asked Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. [5] Speaking about his article to Shmuel Rosner of Ha’aretz, he offered this “note of optimism”: “Jews survive. It’s what we do. We survive in all sorts of improbable ways.” [6]

No other country is congratulated on its anniversary for its survival. It is true that no other country has faced the threats that Israel has confronted Israel for three generations. Worse than the immediate physical danger is the steady indoctrination of Arabs and Muslims by their leaders to hate Israel and Jews in particular. As George Orwell once noted:

“The truly evil thing is to act in such a way that peaceful life becomes impossible….By shooting at your enemy you are not in the deepest sense wronging him. But by hating him, by inventing lies about him and bringing children up to believe them, by clamouring for unjust peace terms which make further wars inevitable, you are striking not at one perishable generation, but at humanity itself.” [7]

That hatred has reached the West, and is preached not only in mosques, but in university classrooms. In the eyes of Israel’s enemies, the Jewish state has never existed at all—not now, and not ever. They have denied Israel’s legitimacy in every possible forum. But they are not solely to blame for Israel’s vulnerability.

Israel’s own leaders are partly at fault, for continuing to behave as if Israel’s right to sovereignty depended on the acquiescence of its most wretched and determined enemies. Yes, Israel has shown a continued will and ability to use pre-emptive strikes against the deadliest dangers—such as Syria’s North Korean-built nuclear plant, which Israel destroyed in September 2007. But on the home front, in the fight against terror, Israel’s most successful recent military operations—the Gaza disengagement, the West Bank security barrier—have all been tactical withdrawals. Necessary and advantageous, but retreats nonetheless.

The newest stop for foreign dignitaries visiting Israel is the town of Sderot, which has been bombarded with rockets by terror groups, with the assistance and approval of the elected Palestinian government, since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. Israel’s leaders wish to emphasize that the country remains vulnerable to attack. Instead, Sderot illustrates their paralysis and shame.

One of the primary reasons for any state’s existence is the protection of its citizens. A single assault against a country’s military—let alone repeated violence against its civilians—is enough to justify a serious military response. Its allies believe Israel has displayed restraint; its enemies know it has shown cowardice. Afraid of international condemnation, wary of the cost of a potential war on two fronts, Israel’s government has failed to fulfill its most basic duty.

Not that Israel should be easily provoked into hasty counter-attacks—certainly not when the lives of its soldiers and innocent civilians on all sides are at stake. That was the mistake made in the Second Lebanon War, a fight Israel rushed into without the preparation it needed to ensure victory. The appropriate response is the one described by U.S. President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11: “This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others; it will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing.” [8] Of course, Israel ought not give up on peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Nor, however, should it rush towards talks with unnecessary urgency and hysterical warnings of “apartheid” on the horizon. [9]

What it should do is muster the will to tackle its most serious challenges, military and political. Israel was slow to recognize the damage that the images of the “death” of 12-year-old Palestinian Muhammad a-Durra—an event that was probably staged—would do to Israel’s reputation abroad. Only the determined campaign of French media critic Philippe Karsenty gave Israeli officials the courage to call the a-Durra film a hoax. [10]

For decades, Israel’s leaders have failed to muster the political courage to deal with the country’s most pressing domestic questions: the role of religion in public life and the status of its Arab minority. These are problems on a scale far greater than the political puzzles faced by other democracies, such as America’s struggle with entitlement reform. They are primary questions of national identity, left unanswered.

Israel’s finest minds have been diverted from these issues and forced to return to basics. Human rights pioneer Ruth Gavison recently lamented:

“Is it possible to justify the existence of a Jewish state?…Over the many years in which I have participated in debates about Israel’s constitutional foundations and the rights of its citizens, I did not generally feel this question to be particularly urgent. Indeed, I believed that there was no more need to demonstrate the legitimacy of a Jewish state than there was for any other nation…Today I realize that my view was wrong. The repudiation of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is now a commonly held position, and one that is increasingly seen as legitimate.” [11]

Gavison adds: “More worrisome is the fact that many Jews in Israel agree with this view, or at least show a measure of sympathy for it.”

Legal scholar Amnon Rubinstein and historian Alexander Yakobson revisit Israel’s legitimacy in their masterful Israel and the Family of Nations: The Jewish Nation-State and Human Rights, which has already been published in Hebrew and French and is due out in English from Routledge later this year. They prove Israel meets the standards of other liberal democracies, and that its “Jewishness” ought not detract from its legitimacy. But this argument, however welcome and erudite, still frames Israel’s existence in a conditional way. No other nation measures its right to exist against the rights of other nations—except perhaps Palestine, Israel’s birth-twin and eternal shadow.

Palestine today is a grievance, not a cause. It is an anti-idea, what Orwell called a “negative nationalism,” which has been utterly failed by its leaders and by its purported champions in the broader Arab world. Yet that anti-idea has more clarity than Israel’s own incoherent self-consciousness. Never mind Palestinian textbooks; the standard American college Arabic text, Al-Kitaab, leaves Israel off the map and describes Jerusalem as the Palestinian, not Israeli, capital. [12] Anti-Israel activists accuse Israel of “apartheid,” using fake quotes from Nelson Mandela as “proof” [13] these soon become the iron truth of national myth.

There is one sense in which the South African analogy has merit. If a Palestinian state is ever established, it will look something like Lesotho and Swaziland—two tribal kingdoms, created at the end of territorial conflicts, economically dependent on their larger neighbors, which are not “Bantustans” but legitimate, sovereign states. That is the destiny to which Palestine will likely have to reconcile itself.

Whether it does so or not is not Israel’s concern. The fates of Israel and Palestine are linked but are not mutually dependent. The future of the Jewish state is entirely in its own hands. Israel cannot last if it believes its future remains contingent on “recognition.” U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 created both Israel and Palestine, but one was built. That—and not mere survival—is what Israel’s 60th anniversary ought to celebrate.

Independence was, and remains, a formality. The key to Israel’s existence has been, and ever will be, its own will to exist. The dream of Zion remains strong, but there are deeds left to be done. Borders must be determined—and defended. The status of Israel’s Arab citizens must be resolved fairly—and finally. The role of religion must be defined in a way that satisfies Israel’s unique identity as well as its pluralistic aspirations. Israel has the hope, and the experience, it needs to continue building—to 120 and beyond. What it requires now are leaders equal to the task.


1.    Michael Oren, “Q&A with Michael Oren,” Jerusalem Post, Jun. 5, 2007, <http://info.jpost.com/C004/QandA/qa.orenm.html&gt;; also Michael B. Oren and Benjamin Balint, “Save the Citizens’ Army,” Azure, Winter 5765/2005, No. 19, <http://www.azure.org.il/magazine/magazine.asp?id=11&gt;.
2.    Moti Bassok, “Study: Jewish births lead rise in Israeli fertility rates,” Ha’aretz, Jul, 11, 2007, < http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/921392.html&gt;.
3.    Melanie Phillips, “Happy 60th birthday, Israel—well done for surviving,” Spectator, Apr. 30, 2008, < http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/features/643426/happy-60th-birthday-israel-well-done-for-surviving.thtml&gt;.
4.    Mitchell G. Bard, Will Israel Survive?, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
5.    Jeffrey Goldberg, “Is Israel Finished?”, The Atlantic, May 2008, < http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200805/israel&gt;.
6.    Shmuel Rosner, “Is Israel Finished? Five Questions,” Ha’aretz, Apr. 29, 2008, < http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/rosnerBlog.jhtml?itemNo=979077&contrassID=25&subContrassID=0&sbSubContrassID=1&listSrc=Y&art=1&gt;.
7.    George Orwell, “As I Please,” Tribune, Aug. 4, 1944, in The Collected Essays, Journalistm and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3: As I Please, 1943-1946, Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, eds., Boston: Nonpareil, 1968, 199.
8.    George W. Bush, Remarks at the National Day of Prayer & Remembrance, Episcopal National Cathedral, Sep. 14, 2001, < http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/gwbush911prayer&memorialaddress.htm&gt;.
9.    Mark Tran, “State of Israel could disappear, warns Olmert,” Guardian, Nov. 29, 2007, < http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/nov/29/israel&gt;.
10.    Barak Ravid, “Government Press Office: Al-Dura’s death was staged by Gaza cameraman,” Ha’aretz, Oct. 2, 2007, < http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/908869.html&gt;.
11.    Ruth Gavison, “The Jews’ Right to Statehood: A Defense,” Azure 15 (2003), < http://www.azure.org.il/magazine/magazine.asp?id=188&search_text=&gt;.
12.    Kristen Brustad, Mahmoud Al-Batal and Abbas Al-Tonsi, Al-Kitaab fii Ta’allum al-‘Arabiyya: A Textbook for Beginning Arabic, Part One (2d ed., Georgetown UP, 2004).
13.    The fake Mandela quote, which is repeated all over the Internet and at gatherings of anti-Israel activists, has its origins in a “Mandela memo” written by Electronic Intifada founder Arjan El-Fassed, available at http://www.mediamonitors.net/arjan28.html.

By Asher A. Fredman

Asher A. Fredman ’08, a Government concentrator from Leverett House, graduates from Harvard College this year. This essay is based on his senior thesis.

As it enters its sixtieth year, the modern State of Israel continues to be one of the few democracies in the world without a written, formal constitution. The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (Declaration of Independence) explicitly stipulates that the Elected Constituent Assembly should adopt a constitution “not later than the October 1st, 1948.” Yet continued debates and disagreements over core issues relating to the identity and structure of the state have stalled the process. Since the controversial and contested 1992 ‘Constitutional Revolution’—which allowed the Supreme Court of Israel to review and strike down laws made in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament)—various political and civil society actors have come to see the development of a constitution as an attractive way to enshrine—or reverse—the results of the ‘revolution’. Amid fears of demographic changes—such as the growth of Arab and ultra-Orthodox Haredi populations—and over the spread of post-Zionist worldviews, many now believe that the adoption of a constitution has become particularly urgent.

In this essay I will outline some of the main issues in the debate and provide an overview of legislative activity in Israel. My observations are based on experience gained during two summers of working in the Israeli parliament, and on research conducted for my senior thesis, for which I interviewed many of the major players in the constitutional discussions. The core issues regarding the character and structure of the State of Israel which may be affected by a future constitution can be divided broadly into three categories (though the lines between them are often blurry.) They are the self-definition and character of the State, religion-state relations, and the structure of the government and political system. [1]

I argue that as long as the Supreme Court continues to play an aggressively activist role in all aspects of public and political life in Israel, it is unlikely that the members of the Knesset will have the motivation or willingness to make the compromises needed to resolve these debates and produce a constitution. The relationship and balance of power between the judiciary and the legislature has become a central point of contention, even eclipsing, perhaps, the ‘traditional’ core issues. It will therefore be necessary to structure the relationship in such a way as to ensure that complex and sensitive compromises reached by the various parties will not be overruled for conflicting with the ideological orientations of members of the court.

Definition and Character of the State

The vast majority of Israel’s Jewish population supports the idea that Israel should be both a Jewish and a democratic State. But Israelis have many different opinions about what the State’s Jewish character should entail. Should the State simply be a safe-haven for Jews persecuted or discriminated against in other lands? Should it be the nation-state of the Jewish people, as expressed in its primary language, Hebrew, and in its symbols such as flag and national anthem? Should the State actively promote the preservation, expression and advancement of Jewish culture? Or encourage Jewish settlement of the land. The position of the Arab minority is also the subject of debate. [2]

Similarly, there are questions about how the State should fulfill the practice and principles of democracy. Does democracy require simply that every citizen be given the right to vote, to hold office, and that public officials be held accountable through regularly scheduled elections? Or does it require the state to guarantee a broader spectrum of rights, and take positive action to ensure the economic and social equality of its citizens? Does it require that the State grant political or cultural autonomy to some or all minority groups?

There are many ways in which these questions may find expression in the constitution. The first is in the official definition of the state. One approach is to employ the formulation which defines the State as ‘”Jewish and democratic.” [3] Another is to divide the two elements, so that the first clause states that “Israel is the State of the Jewish People'” (or “The State in which the Jewish nation realizes its right to self definition'” or “A Jewish State and the National Home of the Jewish People”), while the next clause states that Israel is a democratic state which respects the human rights of all its residents. [4] The constitution proposed by Adalah, the ‘Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel’, defines Israel as “a democratic state, based on the values of human dignity, liberty and equality”, and elsewhere describes Israel as a “democratic, bilingual and multicultural State.” Other groups have proposed the using the phrase, “a state of all its citizens”. [5]

Some of the other provisions whose inclusion or non-inclusion would affect the definition and character of the state include [6]:

•    A special connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry; an imperative on the State to act for the safety and well being of Jews around the world; an imperative on the State to encourage Jewish immigration to Israel.

•    The constitutional recognition of Israel’s Arab population as a ‘national minority’ or an ‘indigenous people’; the granting of collective rights and/or limited autonomy to the Arab or other minorities; the official status of Arabic.

•    Neutral state symbols (such as flag, anthem and emblem) in addition to or in place of the current Jewish ones.

•    An imperative on the State to inculcate knowledge of the Jewish heritage in the Jewish educational system.

•    The right of the State to set aside certain pieces of land for exclusive purchase or settlement by members of a specific ethnic or religious group.

Religion and state

The debates on the relationship between religion and state revolve around whether aspects of traditional religious law (halacha in Judaism, sharia in Islam) should have a role in the legal system of the state. The debate affects issues as basic and personal as marriage, divorce, conversion, burial, and which activities are permitted on the national Day of Rest (the Sabbath.) The historical roots of the religion-state arrangements in Israel, which differ significantly from those in the United States, are in the Ottoman millet system, which was preserved by the British in the Mandatory era. This system designated people as belonging to one of a list of officially recognized religious communities, each governed by certain religious leaders.

In 1947, the Jewish Agency and David Ben-Gurion negotiated with representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel movement and arrived at an understanding which became known as the ‘status-quo agreement.’ The agreement gave the Chief Rabbinate control over issues of personal status, which include marriage, divorce, conversions, the Jewish status of immigrants to Israel, and kashrut (kosher) certification. It provided that the Sabbath would be observed in the public sphere by the closure of businesses, government offices, and public transportation.

Competition between the two large party blocs meant that support from religious parties was necessary for nearly every government coalition. The religious parties in turn insisted that the preservation of the religion-state status quo be included in coalitional agreements. At the same time, strong challenges to the status quo emerged and violations became ubiquitous. Secular Israelis objected to the enforcement of religious law in matters such as marriage and divorce, and to the closure of places of entertainment, restaurants and public transportation on the Sabbath, their day off. Issues surrounding marriage and conversion became especially urgent with the massive waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of these immigrants were eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return, but were not Jewish according to halacha, and therefore, lacked any official religion and could not legally marry within the State. [7] The Reform and Conservative movements within Judaism, despite still having relatively little presence or political influence in Israel, began to challenge the Orthodox monopoly over religious affairs. A number of their petitions to the Supreme Court on issues such as conversion were successful.

Several religious parties have opposed the creation of a constitution in the past, fearing that it would upset the religion-state status quo. Other prominent religious politicians have expressed staunch support for a constitution, because they believe the Supreme Court poses a greater threat to the place of religious life. Some of the proposals for a constitution explicitly single out the Jewish tradition as a source of inspiration for legal decisions and laws, while others discourage the incorporation of any aspects of religion into the legal system.

The constitutional issues related to the relationship between religion and state include:

•    The authority of the rabbinical courts, and the leeway, which the Supreme Court may exercise in interfering with their decisions.

•    The nature of Sabbath observance in the public sphere. Should restaurants, places of entertainment and retail shops be allowed to operate? Should businesses and factories? Should public transportation be allowed to operate in full or modified form in areas with significant secular populations?

•    Personal Status. Should there be a right to civil marriage and divorce, or should these issues continue to fall under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate? [8] One interesting compromise proposal would create an institution known as a ‘pact of couplehood’ (brit hazugiyut), which would have the same legal status as marriage. When entering into the pact, the couple would have to declare that they did not intend to enter into a halachically-valid marriage, thereby avoiding, according to a number of religious authorities, many of the halachic problems which the introduction of civil marriage and divorce might create.

•    The degree to which the Supreme Court may review arrangements and laws touching on religion and state. The constitutional proposal of the Israel Democracy Institute explicitly shields laws relating to four key areas—marriage and divorce, conversion, Sabbath, and religious dietary regulations (kashrut) in government buildings- from judicial review. It also states that when a judge comes to interpret a law relating to one of these areas, he or she is not required to do so in light of other principles found in the constitution. [9]

•    Who is a Jew? This question goes to the heart both of the character of the State and religion-state relations. Currently there are different criteria employed for eligibility to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, and to be recognized as a Jew by the Interior Ministry for purposes of personal status. Connected to this area are standards for and control over conversion. On this issue, as well as many of the other issues discussed above, the constitution’s drafters may decide that it is better to avoid any mention of it in the constitutional text, and leave its resolution to the realm of ordinary politics.

Structure of the Government

The rules and procedures governing the different branches of government and the system of checks and balances between them are a central part of any constitution. An issue of great importance throughout Israel’s history has been the electoral process and the types of political alliances it fosters. Article 4 of Basic Law states that elections to the Knesset shall be general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional. Israel currently has an electoral system which is proportional rather than majoritarian, and national rather than district-based. This means that people vote for a party rather than a particular representative of a district, and that each party receives a number of parliamentary seats (out of 120) in proportion to the percentage of votes they receive throughout the country. The result has been the proliferation of many small parties.

Many experts argue that the political system would function better if elections were held according to districts and candidates were accountable to specific constituencies. Assuming that each district elected only one representative (a majoritarian or winner-take-all system), the result would most likely be a reduction in the number of political parties represented in the Knesset.

The minimum percentage of nationwide votes needed for a party to receive seats in the parliament is unsurprisingly controversial, in the context of Israel’s party system. Since 2004 the minimum threshold for receiving seats has been incrementally raised from 1.5% to 2.5%. This threshold is one of the lowest in the world, and many analysts argue that in order to reduce the number of small parties—which in their view cause political instability and polarization—the threshold should be raised much higher. Some have advocated for even more radical changes in the Israeli political system, such as moving from a parliamentary to a presidential or semi-presidential system.

There are those who see the creation of a constitution as providing the best hope for bringing about significant changes in this area. It is unlikely that changes with far-reaching consequences will be passed within the framework of ordinary, day-to-day politics. A constitution which lays down for the first time the structure of the entire political system in a sweeping, holistic manner, could create these changes in a balanced and deliberate way, to ensure that the various reforms are compatible and complementary to each other.

Legislative-Judicial relations

At least until 1992, Israel had generally been viewed as operating under the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, similar to Great Britain. Power rested primarily in the legislature, whose acts were not subject to review by the judiciary. The judiciary tended to take a more restricted view of its role, only occasionally foraying into contentious political or ideological debates. It claimed the right to exercise powers of judicial review only in very limited circumstances. However from 1983 to 1995, during Meir Shamgar’s term as President of the Supreme Court, judicial practice began to change. Firstly, the court virtually eliminated the requirement that a petitioner demonstrate ‘standing’, i.e. a personal stake in the case. Whereas a person in the United States, a person must have a personal “case or controversy” in order to bring a matter before the court, the Israel Supreme Court allows NGOs, advocacy groups and even private citizens to challenge legislation and government policies, even if the petitioners themselves are not actually affected by it. Secondly, the court gradually broadened the range of issues it considers justiciable—or within its mandate. It became particularly eager to hear cases that may concern human rights. In the U.S., the Supreme Court has generally refrained from becoming involved in questions it believes to be inherently political, and therefore properly the jurisdiction of the other branches of government, such as matters of military and diplomatic policy and decisions relating to the national budget. Aharon Barak, Justice and later President of the Supreme Court from 1995-2006, on the other hand, has declared that “anything and everything is justiciable.” [10]

In 1992 the Knesset passed the first two basic laws dealing specifically with human rights. These were Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation (chofesh ha’isuk), and Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom (kevod ha’adam ve’chairuto.) The Freedom of Occupation law, which was passed 23-0, protected the right to engage in any occupation or employment not prohibited by law. The Human Dignity and Freedom law, which was adopted by a vote of 32-21, guaranteed the right to life, physical integrity, dignity, property, privacy, freedom of movement and freedom from unlawful search. Aharon Barak, then Justice and later President of the Supreme Court declared that these developments constituted a ‘Constitutional Revolution’, as a result of which “every branch of law had to change its fundamental concepts and its fundamental outlook.” [11] A new balance of power had been created, according to Barak, in which the judiciary had acquired much broader powers to oversee acts of the executive and legislature in order to ensure their compatibility with the ‘constitution’.

Barak’s and others’ designation of the events of 1992 as a constitutional revolution, and their use of that idea as a justification for a greatly expanded role for the Court, has proven very controversial. In my opinion, Barak’s description of the revolution as a conscious decision by the Knesset acting in its role as Constituent Assembly to transform the essential nature of the political system is unconvincing. [12] According to Members of Knesset from Labor, Likud, and the ultra-Orthodox Degel HaTorah whom I interviewed, there had been no special atmosphere or sense in the Knesset at the time of the passage of the laws that an act of particular significance was taking place. Revolutions are not generally carried out by one-fourth of the legislature, as in the case of the Human Freedom and Dignity law, or by one-sixth, as in the case of the Freedom of Occupation law. Of the four main speakers who spoke in favor of Human Dignity and Freedom in the Knesset plenum, two (representing two different segments of the religious population) were explicitly opposed to the idea that the law granted the Court the power to interfere in delicate issues. Uriel Lynn, then chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice committee, also seemed explicitly opposed to the idea that the law would transfer power to the judiciary, though he may have employed a degree of creative ambiguity. Only then-Justice Minister Dan Meridor clearly took a different stance, indicating that the law would lead to greater power for the judiciary vis a vis the other branches of government. The general public including the media did not seem to attach particular importance to the passage of the laws. [13] Several other technical factors relating to the content of the laws also serve to make Barak’s claims problematic.

A better explanation for the promotion of the idea of a Constitutional Revolution was the desire of Barak and other justices to ensure that the actions and policies of the State would be tested against the Court’s conception of what was proper and legitimate in an ‘enlightened democracy’. They were supported in this by old societal elites, largely liberal, secular and Ashkenazic, who saw transfer of policy-making power to the Court as a way of preserving their policy preferences against the vagaries of democratic politics and assertive minorities. This claim is of course is controversial and subject to wide debate within Israeli politics and academia. [14]

The Israeli Supreme Court under Barak, who served as its president from 1995-2006, evolved into one of the most activist in the world, becoming involved in many of the most divisive political, economic and social issues facing the State. The Court ruled (or claimed the authority to rule) on economic questions such as the permissibility of welfare cuts and allocation of the national budget, on military questions including the conduct of the army while actually engaged in combat, and the route of the security fence, on policy questions such as the legality of the disengagement plan, and on sensitive ideological and religious issues such as the ban on the importation of pork, the recognition of homosexual marriages performed abroad, and the right of the state to prevent the naturalization of the Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens.

Debates between those who support and those who oppose the Court’s activism and apparent ideological leanings are manifested in different proposals for aspects of the constitution. Those who wish to restrain the Court and who argue that it is the democratically-elected parliament which is most qualified to decide on these sensitive issues of ideology and policy seek to include within the constitution provisions that would grant the legislature greater power vis a vis the Court. Those who believe that the protection of those human rights that should be guaranteed in an enlightened democracy requires the careful guardianship of professional justices seek to ensconce within the constitution the current powers and jurisdiction of the Court.

Some of the central issues involved in the debate over the power of the judiciary and over judiciary-legislature relations include:

•    The method for selecting judges. Israel’s method for selecting judges is different to that in other countries. They are selected by a special committee made up of current justices including the Court President, members of the Israeli bar, Members of Knesset and government ministers. The dominant voice in the committee is that of the Court President. This has allowed the Supreme Court to decide who may and may not join its ranks and has led, according to the Court’s critics, to the ideological homogeneity of the court bench. Supporters of the current system claim that it ensures a professional judiciary, untainted by the factionalism that would ensue were politicians given a stronger voice in the selection process. Some of those who advocate reform of the selection committee, including current Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, argue for the alteration of the committee’s makeup in order to give more of a voice to the executive and legislative branches. Others would like to see the power to nominate and confirm justices actually transferred to the legislature or executive.

•    The ‘Override’ or ‘Nonwithstanding’ Clause. These types of clauses essentially enable the legislature to ‘disagree’ with the Court’s interpretation of the constitution under specific circumstances. An override clause would allow a special or absolute majority in the Knesset (80, 70, 66, and 61 members have all been suggested as the minimum number) to decide that a law does not in fact conflict impermissibly with a right guaranteed in the constitution, despite a Court decision to the contrary. Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation contains an override clause, which was used to overrule the Court’s determination that the ban on importing pork violated rights guaranteed by that basic law. The Canadian constitution allows legislatures to attach preemptive nonwithstanding clauses to laws, which determine that the law is valid notwithstanding a future court decision to the contrary. There are those who advocate this kind of clause in the Israeli system as well.

•    The Roles of the Supreme Court. Should the highest court of appeals also serve as the constitutional court, as is the case in the United States, or should there be a separate court for constitutional questions, as in Germany and France? At least on the European continent, separate constitutional courts have tended to be subject to greater influence by the legislative and executive branches.

•    Standing and Justiciability. Should the constitution require that a petitioner to the Supreme Court have standing in that case? Can the areas over which the Court is or is not allowed to exercise jurisdiction be delineated in some viable way?


At the opening session of the constitutional discussions of the 17th Knesset, there was a debate within the Law, Constitution and Justice Committee over which course of progress would most likely produce tangible results. One member suggested proceeding directly to issues of religion and state since these had historically been the most contentious, while another suggested beginning with the sections dealing with the powers of the judiciary. Committee Chairman Menachem Ben-Sasson however, insisted that the opening sections dealing with the basic definition and character of the state be addressed first.

I believe that the second approach would be the most effective. Successful constitutional discussions will require willingness on the part of the representatives to compromise and make painful concessions in return for other benefits. Representatives will be unwilling to work out multifaceted compromises on contentious issues if they fear that, no matter what is agreed to, the Court may step in and alter the arrangements. Those who find their views supported by the Court will have less incentive to engage in negotiations and compromise, since the prospects for success via judicial victories are greater. At the same time, those who are opposed to the content and nature of the court-developed constitutional norms will deny their legitimacy, leading to greater political instability and polarization.

There is a growing realization among the Members of Knesset that more important than the actual phrasing of constitutional clauses is the identity of their authoritative interpreter. The most important question is ‘who decides?’ Constitutional proposals which seek to establish substantive compromises on contentious issues, but which fail to make structural changes in the current balance of power between the various branches of government, will not reassure those who are wary of the Court’s willingness to reinterpret statutes and expand its oversight. Furthermore, while the focus had traditionally been on matters of religion and state, current debate over the role of the Court concerns the Court’s involvement in a wide range of economic, political, military, and civil issues. In order for the Knesset to be able to create a constitution successfully, mechanisms must be in place to ensure that key issues relating to Israel’s identity and character will be determined primarily by the representatives of the citizenry and not by self-selecting and unaccountable judges.


1.    An Israeli constitution would not necessarily need to touch on all of these issues. Yet most modern constitutions contain the three elements of 1) ‘rules of the game’ (structure of the political system), 2) credos or basic principles and values of the society, and 3) a bill of rights.
2.    On the one hand, a number of Israeli Arab politicians, intellectuals and NGOs have called into question the legitimacy or desirability of Israel defining itself as a Jewish state. On the other, a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2007 concluded that 75% of Israel’s Arab population would support a constitution defining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state as long as equal rights for minorities were guaranteed. See Yoav Stern, “Poll: 75% of Israeli Arabs support Jewish, democratic constitution”, Haaretz.com, 4/29/2007, (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/853564.html) Last accessed 4/2/08.
3.    This approach was taken in the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom and is found in the constitution proposed by the Israel Democracy Institute, and in alternative A of the draft presented to the 16th Knesset by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
4.    This approach is taken in alternative B of the 16th Knesset’s draft constitution, and in the constitution proposed by the Institute for Zionist Strategies.
5.    Though this term is problematic in the Israeli context, as it is unlikely that its proponents actually intend the type of system generally described by that term, which exists in states such as France. In such a system, as nationality is seen as congruent with citizenship, no national minorities may be recognized or supported. There would be little room for separate state-supported Arabic educational or cultural institutions, such as those that currently exist, under such a system.
6.    In this and the following sections I do not attempt to list all of the relevant or important issues, only some of the prominent ones.
7.    Many Israelis went abroad to get married, particularly to Cyprus. These marriages were then given legal recognition in Israel.
8.    The issue of civil marriage would also likely affect the possibility of officially recognized gay and lesbian marriages.
9.    At the same time, the IDI’s constitution largely preserves and institutionalizes the expansive scope of the powers which the Supreme Court has assumed for itself. The debate over the Court’s powers and jurisdiction will be discussed in the next section.
10.    Quoted in Ran Hirschl, Towards Juristocracy, p. 169 (Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Mass, 2004.)
11.    Aharon Barak, “Human Rights in Israel,” Israel Law Review 39, no. 2 (2006), p. 18.
12.    See Barak’s opinion in United Mizrahi Bank v. Migdal Cooperative Village (CA 6821/93, 1908/94, 3363/94), particularly paragraph 57.
13.    For example, the Jerusalem Post relegated a story on the passage of Human Dignity and Freedom to page 12 of the next day’s issue.
14.    For a detailed argument in this direction, as well as a contextualization of the Israeli case within the worldwide trend of increasingly powerful judiciaries, see Hirschl, Towards Juristocracy.

By Gabriel M. Scheinmann

Gabriel M. Scheinmann ’08, a Government concentrator from Eliot House, graduates from Harvard this year.

In sharp contrast to the rest of the Middle East, Israel has experienced unprecedented economic growth and has even outperformed much of the developing world, based on multiple financial indicators. According to the International Monetary Fund World Economic Database, Israel has the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of all Eastern Mediterranean countries. Its financial ranking was upgraded recently to an A by the world’s leading credit agencies. [1] Furthermore, Israel, after the United States, has the second largest number of companies listed on the U.S. stock exchange. [2] Prominent American venture capitalists, such as Warren Buffet, have invested heavily in the Holy Land, instilling high confidence in the future growth of the country. [3] Few scholars have focused on the causes driving Israel’s economic success. Some historians have falsely argued that Israel’s success is a direct result of a reduction in defense spending as a percentage of GDP. However, a close examination of the statistical record demonstrates that the periods of greatest economic growth in Israel follow the implementation of liberal market reforms. As witnessed in the 1980s and the early 2000s, the roots of Israel’s blooming economy lie in liberalization policies that have started to free the Israel economy from direct government control.

Economic Growth and Military Strength

Historian Paul Kennedy was the first to put forth the argument that a powerful state cannot maintain strong economic growth if it has committed significant national resources to its military. Documenting the rises and falls of the great powers in modern history, Kennedy concludes that great powers decline when security and military ambitions take precedence over economic growth. He calls this situation military “over-stretch.” As an increasingly powerful nation with high economic growth and a significant military budget, Israel has become a great regional power, with an economy and a military on a European scale. However, the causal relationship Kennedy draws between military spending and financial decline does not accord with Israel’s continued economic success. An application of Kennedy’s analysis to the modern Middle East would suggest that Israel’s economic growth would only be sustainable if accompanied by a substantial decrease in defense spending.

Kennedy’s theory, published in 1987, maintains that it is impossible for a country, such as Israel, to maintain high GDP growth and high military spending. His theory rests on the idea that, in any country, “allocating over the long term more than 10 per cent (and in some cases—when it is structurally weak—more than 5%) of GNP to armaments…is likely to limit its growth rate.” [4] At first glance, the theory seems to explain the meteoric rise of the Israeli economy and the continued decrepit state of most Arab economies. While Israel has sharply reduced the percentage of GDP spent on defense from 21 percent in 1980 to 8 percent in 2006, Arab states have maintained relatively large armies and their economies have stagnated. The chilling of the Arab-Israeli conflict [5] and the end of the Cold War permitted Israel to cut military spending and allowed it to avert “over-stretch.” Israel could then start to reallocate military spending towards internal growth and development, and thereby spur economic growth.

However, Israel’s defense spending has remained far above the 5 percent threshold Kennedy claims necessary for economic growth. His theory states that “if, however, too large a proportion of the state’s resources is diverted from wealth creation and allocated instead to military purposes, then that is likely to lead to a weakening of national power over the long term.” [6] In high-performing Western countries, military expenditures never exceeded 5 percent—except during World War I and World War II. However, Israel devoted nearly 10 percent of its GDP to military spending in the periods of highest economic growth between 1988 and 1992, and 2005 to the present. Contrary to Kennedy’s otherwise compelling thesis, Israel has not experienced the economic decline predicted by its comparatively large defense spending.

As Appendix C demonstrates, Israel reduced the percentage of GDP devoted to military spending from 23.1% in 1981 to 8.1% in 2006. During this period, Israel also witnessed a nearly 400% increase in GDP per capita. This data appears to support the simplistic relationship between GDP growth and military spending. Financial historian Niall Ferguson, though disagreeing with Kennedy’s thesis, supports the idea “that there is a close correlation between democracy and defense/GDP ratios: less democratic states tend to spend significantly more on the military.” [7] While there seems to be a general correlation between democratic and economic development and a reduction in military spending, there is no evidence that reduced spending caused such advances in Israel.

Kennedy’s argument fails to explain the nuances in the link between military spending and economic growth. His theory does not address the patters of the Israeli economy in the past 20 years. From 1986 to 1992, Israel doubled its GDP per capita while only modestly decreasing military spending as a percentage of GDP from 14.2% to 10.7%. [8] Kennedy’s theory would have predicted a far smaller economic boost. Second, from 1995 to 2002, Israeli GDP per capita actually shrank, while military spending as a percentage of GDP remained constant. Third, the Israeli economy has exhibited dramatic growth since 2002, reaching Western levels of prosperity. However, Israeli military spending as a percentage of GDP has stayed between 7.9% and 9.5% since 1994 while GDP per capita has risen nearly 50%, from $15,567 to $22,975 in 2008. [9] Since 2002, the figures are even more striking. While military spending has declined by only 1.4%, GDP per capita has grown 33% from $17,267 to $22,975. The Israeli case has defied Kennedy’s theory.

Financial Reforms: Credit Creation and Fiscal Competence

In 1985, the Israeli government instituted a series of drastic financial reforms known as the 1985 Economic Stabilization Plan to stimulate the economy, which had experienced three consecutive years of low growth rates: 1%, 2.6%, and then 2.3%. [10] Immediately prior to 1985, the annual inflation rate had exceeded 400% and net external debt had reached 80% of GDP. [11] The stabilization plan introduced fiscal discipline, increased central bank independence, reduced government intervention in the capital, labor, and financial markets, and enhanced competition in markets that were previously dominated by monopolies. [12] The government liberalized capital flows, allowing increased foreign investment, enabling investment to exceed national savings, and making financial and capital markets more competitive. [13] Israel also adopted a fixed exchange rate, originally at NIS 1.5 per U.S. dollar, in order to stabilize the currency and quell inflation. [14]

The liberalization program produced an explosion of credit for Israeli citizens, encouraging investment and consumption levels that were previously impossible. Direct government involvement in the form of directed credit and earmarked deposits decreased from 65% in 1985 to 5% in 1998. [15] Israeli households received new lines of credit following the liberalization of mortgage lenders. The percentage of homes financed with unrestricted credit increased 40% between 1984 to 1998. For the first time, Israelis could invest freely, sparking a housing boom.

Following the implementation of the reforms, the Israeli economy emerged from its “stagnation.” The share of government expenditure as a percentage of GDP declined 20% in the following ten years. [16] GDP per capita doubled in 7 years, from $7,518 in 1986 to $14,636 in 1992. [17] Net external debt as a percentage of GDP declined from 72% in 1985 to 35% in 1989, with further reduction to 16% in 1998. [18]

By 2002, however, the Israeli economy had plunged under the weight of economic and security concerns. In 2002 alone, Israel suffered 60 suicide bombs. A major pension fund defaulted, unemployment reached 10%, and the economy shrank for two consecutive years, sliding into recession. [19] Further financial reforms were necessary.

Menaced by an unrelenting economic downturn, Israel overhauled its economy with major banking and market reforms. The 2005 Bachar banking reforms, shepherded by former-Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, corrected the massive misallocation of credit administered by Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s two leading banks. The reforms liberalized the banking industry by breaking the banking giants’ duopolistic control on the market. Specifically, the reforms obliged Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim to sell all provident and mutual funds by 2008, [20] thereby opening Israel to fair competition. Prior to these reforms, the three largest Israeli banks controlled more than 80% of national savings. [21] Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim made 70% of all loans to only 1% of borrowers. Netanyahu also sought to eliminate the fiscal deficit by cutting government spending, which immediately dropped from 53% of GDP in 2003 to 47% of GDP in 2006. GDP per capita increased from $17,267 in 2002 to $22,975 in 2008, an increase of 33%. [22]

The Netanyahu-led financial reforms, which expanded the amount of credit available to Israeli citizens and reduced government involvement in the market, are the clearest drivers of Israel’s growth in the last five years. These liberalization efforts mimicked the 1985 Stabilization Plan, which similarly led to an explosion of GDP growth. Following the reforms, Israeli capital markets have issued more than NIS 100 billion of non-banking credit, leading to job creation, productivity enhancement, and growth. [23] Unemployment has decreased from 11% in 2004 to 6.9% in late 2007. [24] The only other Middle Eastern countries experiencing similar booms are Libya and Saudi Arabia, [25] petro-states which have reaped the benefits of the staggering recent increases in oil prices.

The Israeli economy has now experienced 20 years of near-uninterrupted economic growth. In 1980, GDP per capita stood at $6,356 while in 2007 it was at $22,975—on par with several European countries. [26] In 2008, per capita income adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP) in Israel is projected to exceed that in France, Italy, and Germany. [27] Israel is the only Middle Eastern country considered an “advanced economy” by the IMF [28] and it was recently the first Middle Eastern country to be invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). [29] Israel is currently enjoying its fourth consecutive year of real GDP growth of over 5%. [30] With inflation low, unemployment dropping, and exports increasing, Israel’s market is doing better than ever, defying expectations that a state can succeed economically while facing real and imminent threats to its own survival.

Strategic Lift: A New World Outlook

As Israel continues to face growing and constantly adapting security threats, from the nuclear threats posed by Iran and Syria to the activities of terrorist groups at its borders, the country now finds itself in a vastly different geopolitical environment from that 30 years ago. Though it is still not at peace with the vast majority of the countries in its region, three major geopolitical events have transformed the Israeli economy and military, reducing military spending and spurring confidence in a once-fragile economy. A peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 neutralized Israel’s greatest threat and prevented future regional wars. In addition, the 1994 peace agreement with eastern neighbor Jordan legitimated Israel’s permanent status in the region. This period also witnessed the early negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These peace-building efforts loosened the Arab economic boycott and permitted Israel to trade fully and freely with some of its neighbors.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 also had a remarkable effect on Israel’s economic and strategic outlook. First, the immigration of over 1 million, largely skilled, Soviet Jews to Israel boosted the total output of the economy. Second, the reemergence of Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics created new outposts for Israeli exports. Furthermore, the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and its material and financial support for Israel’s enemies, such as Syria, Libya, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, changed Israel’s strategic stance dramatically. The tiny state was no longer threatened by a nuclear superpower or by her proxies. At the same time, Israel’s relationship with the U.S. has grown ever stronger. The “New World Order” has allowed Israel to reorient its military and no longer tremble at the prospect of nuclear destruction, allowing it to reduce military spending slightly. [31]


The dazzling success of the Israeli economy is not the result of a reduction in defense spending. Rather, it is primarily driven by the adoption of liberal market reforms meant to stimulate the economy and release it from government control. Liberalizing financial reforms preceded the two periods of economic growth. In 1985, the introduction of free capital flows, the adoption of a fixed exchange rate, and a reduction in the fiscal deficit liberated the Israeli economy from its stagnant state. Similarly, in 2002, a liberalization of banking laws, which heralded an unprecedented creation of credit, and a reduction in government expenditure galvanized the new market economy. With current Israeli defense spending at 8.1% of GDP, Israel has managed to achieve Western levels of economic success while still maintaining Middle Eastern levels of military spending, contrary to Kennedy’s expectations.

The percentage of national income Israel expends on its military is unlikely to change in the near future. The 2006 Second Lebanon War, Israel’s largest conflict in 25 years, barely increased military expenditures, while the economy continued to grow rapidly. Israel’s economic outlook is encouraging: tax burdens are decreasing, national debt is decreasing and the savings rate is still rising. Not only will Israel free itself from dependence on foreign investment, but it will also become a major foreign investor. Israel has managed to avoid Kennedy’s prediction of “over-stretch” casting doubt on the future applicability of the theory. More research must be done to examine the relationship between economic growth and defense spending, and the mechanisms through which defense spending slows the economy.

More importantly, Israel’s ability to maintain high military spending while developing a flourishing economy could serve as a model to the United States, which has increased its own military spending over the past few years. Though rhetoric of an “Israeli Empire” is usually reserved for the far-left, Israel is in the unique position to extend both its political and economic influence far beyond its borders.


1. Gad Lior, “Israel’s Credit Ranking to be Upgraded.” Ynet News, November 25, 2007.
2. Shirley Yom Tov, “The Nasdaq Loves Israel.” Haaretz, September 17, 2006.
3. Sharon Wrobel, “Buffet: Berkshire in Israel Forever.” The Jerusalem Post, September 18, 2006.
4. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (New York: Random House, 1987), 799
5. There have been no regional Arab-Israel wara since 1973. Moreover, Middle Eastern wars have shifted away from the Levant and into the Gulf.
6. Kennedy, xvi
7. Niall Ferguson, The Cash Nexus (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 405.
8. See Appendix C. Economic data from all appendices is from the International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database. Data on Israeli military spending is from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
9. See Appendix C
10. See Appendix D
11. Avi Ben-Bassat, The Israeli Economy, 1985-1998 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 1.
12. Ben-Bassat, xiii.
13. Ben-Bassat, 15.
14. Joseph Djivre and Daniel Tsiddon, “A Monetary Labyrinth: Instruments and the Conduct of Monetary Policy in Israel 1987-1998,” in The Israeli Economy, 1985-1998 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 96.
15. Ben-Bassat, 18.
16. Ben-Bassat, 2.
17. See Appendix C
18. Ben-Bassat, 42.
19. See Appendix D
20. Ido Efrati, “Bachar Reform clears Knesset,” Ynet News, July 26, 2005.
21. http://www.nysun.com/article/60856
22. See Appendix C
23. http://www.nysun.com/article/60856
24. “Unemployment Falls to 6.9% in October,” Ynet News, December 19, 2007.
25. See Appendix A
26. See Appendix A.
27. See Appendix B
28. IMF World Economic Outlook Database. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2006/01/data/dbginim.cfm
29. “Israel Invited to Join OECD.” Ynet News, May 16, 2007.
30. Economist Intelligence Unit. http://economist.com/countries/Israel/profile.cfm?folder=Profile%2DEconomic%20Structure
31. See Appendix C

By Professor Jack L. Schwartzwald

Jack L. Schwartzwald, MD, is an Assistant Professor (Clinical) of Medicine at Brown University School of Medicine.


“…Sadat offered Golda Meir an interim deal for opening the Suez Canal in return for a partial Israeli pullback in the Sinai, which she rejected, making the 1973 War inevitable.” – Ehud Ya’ari, The Jerusalem Report (December 13, 2004), p. 28.

“Finding that Israel rejected American peace proposals (which involved the return to Arab sovereignty of virtually all the territories occupied in the 1967 War), and that the Israeli government headed by Mrs. Golda Meir dismissed contemptuously Sadat’s hints of readiness for an accommodation, Sadat decided to launch a fourth full-scale Arab-Israeli war.” – Larousse Encyclopedia of Modern History (revised edition, 1981), pp. 427-8


At 6 PM on June 10, 1967, a cease-fire took effect ending the Six Day War between Israel and her Arab neighbors—Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The war had changed the face of the region, and had left Israel in control of vast new territories: the Sinai Desert, the Golan Heights, the West Bank [1] and the Gaza strip. Israel, however, was not intent on keeping her new-won gains. Led by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Foreign Minister Abba Eban, she sought to barter the territories for a comprehensive peace. On June 19, 1967, Eban approached the American delegation at the UN with the following specific proposals: (i) Israel would return to her international boundary with Egypt in return for peace, demilitarization of the Sinai, and a guarantee of free passage in international waterways; (ii) Israel would return to her international boundary with Syria in return for peace, demilitarization of the Golan Heights, and a guarantee of Israel’s fresh water rights in regional rivers; and (iii) Israel would enter into direct negotiations with Jordan regarding boundaries and peace. Israel’s proposals were forwarded to Egypt and Syria by the American delegation. [2]

On September 1, 1967, Israel got her answer. Led by Egypt’s bombastic President, Gamal Abdel Nasser (whose decision to blockade the Straits of Tiran on May 23 had provoked the Six Day War), representatives of the Arab governments, meeting in Khartoum, promulgated the infamous “3 Nos”: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiation with Israel.” [3] It is probably safe to assume that the annals of diplomacy do not contain a more generous peace proposal by a nation that had prevailed in war, or a more thoughtless response by combatants who had been so soundly defeated. On hearing of the Khartoum declaration, Abba Eban remarked that the Six Day War was “the first war in history in which the victor sued for peace and the loser called for unconditional surrender.” [4]

In light of the impasse, the UN Security Council attempted to formulate its own peace resolution. Preliminary drafts were put forward by the United States and India, but the first was felt to be too “pro-Israel,” and the second too “pro-Arab” to obtain passage. The task of framing a more even-handed proposal thus devolved upon the British Minister of State, Hugh Foot, Lord Caradon. [5]

After an introductory statement against the acquisition of territory by force of arms, Lord Caradon’s resolution declared that a “just and lasting peace” required both “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and “termination of all claims or states of belligerency.”

The specific wording was important: Multiple resolutions had already been put forward insisting on reversion to the pre-war armistice lines. They had all been defeated. The new resolution anticipated an Israeli “withdrawal from occupied territories,” but did not stipulate the extent of this withdrawal. Quite purposefully, the resolution did not call upon Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories or from the occupied territories. The British felt that the pre-war lines were untenable and thus constituted a recipe for renewed conflict. Moreover, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Foreign Secretary George Brown thought a return to these so-called “June 4th lines” was a bad idea on principle, because it would teach the Arab states that a war could be provoked and lost without penalty, thereby rewarding their extremism. [6]

Furthermore, as Abba Eban has noted, by tying any return of territories to an end of belligerency, the resolution appeared to legitimize Israel’s presence on the cease-fire lines until the parties had agreed to “durable” peace terms. [7] Eban let it be known that the proposal would be acceptable to Israel provided that it contained a clause to the effect that the UN would strive to “promote” a settlement between the parties (as opposed to “imposing” one on them). [8]

Caradon’s resolution was duly submitted as UN Resolution 242, which this journal has analyzed in the past (see New Society 1, Fall 2007). Predictably, there were immediate efforts to redefine its meaning: Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin—who was hostile to Israel—pressured United States President Lyndon B. Johnson to construe the resolution as calling for Israel’s withdrawal from “all occupied territories” irrespective of what the document actually said. President Johnson responded that the U.S. “would not agree to a single word beyond what was written in the British text.” Next, the Indian and Arab delegations called upon Lord Caradon to say, informally, that the withdrawal clause obligated Israel to withdraw from “all occupied territories.” Caradon answered that “nothing could be read into the resolution that was not specifically stated therein.” On November 15, U.S. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg spoke at the UN in support of the withdrawal clause as written, noting that the conflicting parties had never come to an agreement on borders—either before or after the war—and that they would thus need to determine these borders by negotiation. [9] One week later, the resolution passed the UN Security Council by a unanimous vote.


By this time, some Israelis had begun to have second thoughts. A vocal minority adhered to the tenets of religious Zionism as espoused by the so-called “Land of Israel Movement,” which maintained that the territories occupied in the war had reconstituted Eretz Israel—the land of Israel promised to the Jews by God—and that the government did not have the authority to partition it again. Many more were moved by pragmatic concerns: Given the Arab position as elucidated in the Khartoum declaration, they felt that peace with the Arab states was an unlikely prospect and that Israel would do better to keep what had been won as a strategic buffer against renewed attack. Although the latter argument resonated with a healthy percentage of the population, the Eshkol government continued to pursue its original policy. Abba Eban has eloquently described the cabinet’s line of thinking: Israel had come into existence in 1948 largely because she had agreed to the notion of partitioning Palestine, and she would be without international support if she now pursued a policy of unilateral annexation. The Arab states would certainly not acquiesce. Thus, the expanded boundaries would not be “a guarantee of the security of the state and of peace,” but “a guarantee of future wars.” [10]

In February 1969, Prime Minister Eshkol died in office, and was replaced by Golda Meir whose attitude was more skeptical. Eban, who continued as Foreign Minister, has described her thus: “She was not a romantic territorialist. . . .Under her leadership Israel enunciated in clear terms a willingness to accept the principle of withdrawal to secure, recognized and agreed boundaries. But she was more inclined to articulate this principle than to ‘risk’ putting it into practice. And she was resolved not to be sold short on Israeli security.” [11]

On her first day in office, Meir declared that her government was “prepared to discuss peace with our neighbors, any day and on all matters.” [12] Nasser replied with his trademark bellicosity, saying: “That which was lost by war must be restored by war.” By month’s end, his shelling of Israeli positions in the Suez Canal Zone had made a mockery of the 1967 cease-fire and had initiated the so-called “War of Attrition” (March 1969 to August 1970). Israel responded by bombarding Ismailia (one of the Egyptian Canal cities).

Three months into the fighting, Meir offered to fly to Egypt to negotiate a settlement. In reply, the Arab press ridiculed her as “behaving like a grandmother telling bedtime stories to her grandchildren.” [13] Ignoring her offer, Nasser stepped up his attacks. Israel retaliated with bombing raids so deep into Egypt that the explosions were audible in Cairo. As Golda Meir has testified, she wanted to make it clear to the Egyptian people “that they couldn’t have it both ways: war for us, and peace for themselves.” [14] Whether or not her approach was the right one, it would be fair to say that the international community was less than delighted with it. And what was worse, Israel didn’t necessarily get the better of the fighting. Egypt obtained anti-aircraft technology from Russia, and the toll on the Israeli Air Force was such that Israel had to obtain new planes from the U.S.

Russian pilots, meanwhile, had begun guarding Egyptian airspace to the rear of the Canal Zone. Hoping to steer clear of them, Israel ceased her deep bombing raids, but in July 1970, there were two altercations involving Israeli and Russian pilots. In the first, there were no casualties, but in the second, Israeli fighters shot down four MiGs, and got away unscathed. [15]


Anxious to avoid any escalation in the conflict that might directly involve the USSR and the U.S., the Nixon Administration proposed a cease-fire agreement in August 1970 that included a joint commitment by Egypt, Jordan, and Israel to press forward with UN Resolution 242. Golda Meir objected to the proposal—not so much to its terms, as to its being thrust upon her without prior consultation. (She had been given assurances by the U.S. that she would be consulted.) Nor did she take solace from Egypt’s subsequent acceptance of the plan, since she was certain that Nasser was only playing for time while he regrouped his forces. [16] The U.S., however, offered Israel some excellent incentives to follow the Egyptian lead: (i) the U.S. would continue to supply weapons to Israel even if there was a cease-fire; (ii) Israel would not have to remove any troops from occupied territories unless or until a durable peace had been negotiated; (iii) Israel would not be expected to solve the refugee problem in a way that would jeopardize her sovereignty; and (iv) the U.S. would exercise its veto power in the UN Security Council to protect Israel from being bullied into concessions. [17] Israel embraced these terms, and in August 1970 the War of Attrition came to an end. Characteristically, as soon as the shooting stopped, Egypt violated the terms of the agreement by bringing new Russian missiles into the cease-fire area. [18]

One month later, Gamal Abdel Nasser died and was succeeded by his Vice President, Anwar Sadat. It was widely presumed inside and outside Egypt that Sadat would be a mere figurehead. Against all expectations, however, he began removing Nasser’s cronies from positions of power, and was soon in a position to pursue his own policies.

At the same time, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli Defense Minister, was propounding the idea of an interim settlement with Egypt that would call upon both parties to withdraw a specified distance on either side on the Suez Canal. The plan—which had been conceived as a means of averting a repetition of the attritional war without addressing the potentially difficult choices required for a comprehensive peace—would have removed the combatants from artillery range, and would have allowed a resumption of shipping through the Suez Canal (which had been closed since the beginning of the Six Day War).

Sadat was anxious to have the Canal open again. Deprived of Suez revenues, Egypt’s treasury had been severely drained. Thus, as Sadat relates in his autobiography, he spoke to the Egyptian Parliament on February 4, 1971, essentially saying:

“if Israel withdrew her forces in Sinai to the Passes, I would be willing to reopen the Suez Canal; to have my forces cross to the East Bank; to extend the Rogers Plan cease-fire by six, rather than three, months…and to sign a peace agreement with Israel….” [19]

This was not exactly what Dayan and Israel had envisioned. (For one thing, they could do without the Egyptian troops on the East Bank of the Canal.) Yet it might have been the basis for talks if the plan had not been derailed by a new United Nations initiative put forth by Gunnar Jarring, the UN’s special representative to the Middle East. Jarring’s proposal called upon Israel to withdraw to the June 4th armistice line on the Egyptian front in return for an Egyptian assurance of peace. [20]

Jarring’s opinion was that the proposal should be accepted without amendment. But it had long been a clearly and publicly stated tenet of Israeli policy that border issues would have to be negotiated between the parties, and that territorial exchange would require a formal peace treaty. Jarring’s initiative smacked of an imposed settlement—not the effort “to promote agreement” promised by UN Resolution 242—and it required Israel to make extreme concessions before any discussions had been held. After considering the matter, the Israeli cabinet answered with relative unanimity that the position of final borders would have to be negotiated. A debate ensued, however, over a phrase favored by Meir spelling out that Israel would not withdraw to the June 4th line. In June 1967, the Eshkol government had been willing to do so, but in the interim, Israel had sustained 3000 casualties in the 18-month attritional war waged by Egypt, and Meir presumably felt that it would send the wrong message to suffer such losses without taking a harder line on security.

Abba Eban disagreed. With many years of distinguished service as a diplomat, he felt that the June 4th stipulation was superfluous. Israel was already saying that the border would have to be negotiated. By ruling out a full withdrawal before negotiations even began, Meir might provoke charges of Israeli intransigence when the cabinet was merely adhering to its longstanding position that decisions on borders had to be reached by negotiation, not by imposition. Despite these arguments, the phrase was retained.

Jarring received Israel’s answer as though it had been the Khartoum declaration in reverse. He ceased his initiative forthwith—an unwarranted response given that Israel had clearly expressed her willingness to negotiate. (Indeed, if anyone was refusing to budge from his position, it was Jarring himself.) [21] Moreover, it is enlightening to note that Jarring seemed untroubled by the amendments Egypt wanted to append to his proposal. Indeed, he seems to have agreed with them, [22] even though they were far more demanding. To be sure, Sadat had agreed to talk peace, but he had a number of preconditions: Israel must agree in advance (i) to withdraw her forces from all occupied territories on all fronts, (ii) to settle the refugee issue “in accordance with United Nations resolutions” (undoubtedly as interpreted by Egypt), and (iii) to accept demilitarized zones of equal size on both sides of the June 4th Egyptian-Israeli border. [23] Such maximalist demands were not worthy of serious consideration—never mind acceptance. Nevertheless, just as Abba Eban had foreseen, many of Golda Meir’s detractors, at home and abroad, sought to saddle her with responsibility for the failure of Jarring’s mission. [24] Recalling these negotiations several years later, Meir said: “‘intransigent’ was to become my middle name.” [25]


Israel now reconsidered Dayan’s idea for an interim Israeli-Egyptian agreement consisting of a bilateral withdrawal from the Canal Zone and the reopening of the Canal to international shipping. Dayan’s plan called for a 30-kilometer withdrawal by each party, but Meir and the majority of the cabinet insisted upon a lesser distance—10 kilometers—so that Israel could push back to the Canal in an emergency.

A disengagement of 10 kilometers, however, did not suit the purpose of Dayan’s proposal: At 30 kilometers, the combatants would have been beyond each other’s artillery range and the Canal could be traversed with a sense of security. At 10 kilometers, passage through the Canal would, in effect, be taking place under Israel’s guns. Egypt was unlikely to accept under such circumstances. Eban, therefore, offered his support to Dayan if the latter would press for the greater withdrawal. Sadly, there was a history of antagonism between the two men, and rather than side with Eban against Meir, Dayan preferred not to pursue the matter (May 1971).

Eban thought this decision regrettable. In later years, he argued that if Dayan’s plan had succeeded, the surprise attack on Yom Kippur 1973 could not have taken place. [26] But Dayan’s lack of resolve was not the sole issue. The final nail in the coffin was Sadat’s response: He would approve a bilateral withdrawal from the Canal in order to restore his Suez revenues, but only if Israel agreed in advance that it was a preliminary step in the fulfillment of all clauses of UN Resolution 242 (again as interpreted by Egypt—meaning withdrawal from “all occupied territories,” etc.). Once again, Sadat was seeking maximalist commitments in the absence of face-to-face negotiations—something that Meir’s Cabinet would not abide. [27]

Although the chances for a speedy settlement seemed remote, they received a last boost in the fall of 1971 when four African presidents attempted to jumpstart the Jarring mission. After discussions with Israeli leaders, the four men—representing Senegal, Zaire, Cameroon and Nigeria respectively—reported to the UN that Israel was committed to negotiation and to “withdrawal from territories,” and that in negotiating boundaries she would not pursue an annexationist course, but would focus solely upon her security and her rights of passage in international waterways. [28]

Here was concrete evidence that “intransigence” on Israel’s part was not solely responsible for the failure of Jarring’s mission—indeed, that there was no Israeli intransigence. Unfortunately, the Arab states and their supporters had gained significant currency from the “intransigence” myth and used their votes to prevent the UN from accepting the report of the African leaders. [29]

Thus, by the latter half of 1971, matters had reached an impasse. Golda Meir was unwilling to cede territory in the absence of negotiations. Sadat was not willing to negotiate unless Israel accepted his far-flung preconditions. In this setting, Israel felt confident that the existing cease-fire lines guaranteed her security, and that the Arab states had no choice but to accept the present situation or come to the negotiating table. Nor did events in Egypt do anything to alter this estimate—for an unexpected twist in Egyptian foreign policy was now to make the chance of war seem exceedingly unlikely.


The Soviet Union had been Egypt’s chief arms supplier since the 1950s. In 1967, Soviet arms (and meddling) had helped push Egypt and Syria into war. During the War of Attrition, Soviet weaponry had again played a crucial part. After the collapse of the Jarring mission, Sadat signed a new Soviet arms accord (May 1971) and began speaking of 1971 as “a year of decision” in which the humiliating verdict of 1967 would be overturned. But then matters suddenly deteriorated: The Soviets failed to deliver much of the promised weaponry, and when Sadat questioned them on the matter, they would not be pinned down. Moreover, the thousands of Soviet “advisors” who were stationed in Egypt had begun to act as though Egypt was nothing more than a Soviet bailiwick. So, in July 1972, Sadat kicked the advisors out.

This was the cue that Henry Kissinger (U.S. President Richard M. Nixon’s National Security Advisor) had been waiting for. Kissinger had long kept a cautious eye on the Middle East. In his view, Israel’s insistence on direct negotiation was “as seemingly reasonable as it was unfulfillable,” since in essence Israel was asking “for recognition as a precondition of negotiation.” [30] On the other hand, there was no point in pressuring Israel to moderate her approach while the Arab states clung to their pro-Soviet policy and maximalist demands. The best course was to allow the impasse to continue until one or more Arab states broke with the USSR and assumed a more reasonable demeanor. “Then,” believed Kissinger, “would come the moment for a major American initiative, if necessary urging new approaches on our Israeli friends.” [31]

It certainly appeared as if Kissinger’s moment had arrived. By evicting the Soviets, Sadat had dismissed his chief arms supplier. An Egyptian offensive no longer seemed feasible.

But the truth was rather more complicated: the USSR had consistently failed to supply Egypt with the very weapons—particularly missile-firing jets—that were required for an offensive war. In effect, the Soviets had been controlling Egyptian policy by depriving her of the means to act. By dismissing them, Sadat had freed his hands to make his own decisions. While it might not have been clear to Kissinger—or to the Israelis—war was actually more likely with the Soviets gone.

Convinced that diplomacy was Sadat’s only option, Kissinger arranged a secret meeting with Hafez Ismail, Sadat’s national security advisor. Owing to America’s preoccupation with the Vietnam War, the talks were delayed until February 1973, by which time Russia had agreed to a massive new arms deal with Egypt in an effort to salvage Soviet influence in the region. As soon as the talks opened, Ismail made it clear that Israel must accept a return to the 1967 borders “with some margin, perhaps, for adjustment on the West Bank,” before any negotiations could take place. Moreover, Israel would have to agree to bilateral demilitarized zones on either side of the Israeli-Egyptian border. In return, Egypt would end her belligerency with Israel and guarantee Israel’s right of passage in international waterways. But there would be no formal peace treaty until Israel had negotiated a settlement with Syria and the Palestinians. Thus, says Kissinger, “the price paid for the return to the prewar borders was not peace, but the end of belligerency, not easy to distinguish from the existing cease-fire.” [32] Further talks were held in May, but there was no movement in the Egyptian position. In October, Kissinger met with Abba Eban and laid plans to open three-way talks in November. But by then it was too late.

In a Newsweek interview in April 1973, Sadat declared that, “For the first time, we see total and complete agreement between the U.S. and Israel on Middle Eastern Policy…. I want a final peace agreement with Israel. But there was no response from the U.S. or Israel—except to supply Israel with more Phantoms [i.e., fighter jets]… Everything in this country [Egypt] is now being mobilized in earnest for the resumption of the battle—which is now inevitable.” [33]

In May, the Egyptian army carried out a full mobilization. At great expense, Israel did the same. Nothing came of it. Thus, in early October, when the Egyptian and Syrian armies began massing troops on their respective borders with Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan thought it was another bluff and did not follow suit. On October 6, 1973—Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar—Egypt and Syria launched a combined surprise attack. The devastating setbacks sustained by Israel during the first week of the conflict, the dramatic airlift of new supplies from the U.S. (a remarkable feat in itself), and Israel’s victorious counterthrusts on both battlefronts must be left to others to recount—for we still have some detective work to do.


So what then is the verdict? Did Golda Meir make the 1973 War inevitable by rejecting Sadat’s offer of an interim deal as Ehud Ya’ari and several other writers aver? Did she provoke Sadat to war by “contemptuously” dismissing his “hints of readiness for an accommodation?” The evidence bears out neither charge. When Sadat’s preconditions are thrown into the mix, the interim pullback from the Suez Canal was hardly an attractive proposition for Israel. But the evidence exonerating Meir is stronger than this. The fact is that the same interim bargain came up several more times before the outbreak of war—in September 1972, January 1973 and February 1973. Each time, it was proposed to Egypt by the U.S. State Department, and each time Egypt turned it down. In contrast, on March 1, 1973, Golda Meir told Nixon and Kissinger that she was prepared to accept such a plan as the opening move toward a comprehensive settlement. [34]

Meir never contemptuously dismissed the notion of an accommodation. What she dismissed—contemptuously or otherwise—was the idea of having final borders imposed on her before anyone had even deigned to talk to her. If one seeks an example of a peace proposal being dismissed with contempt, a far better example can be found in Nasser’s response to Meir’s peace overtures: “There is no voice transcending the sounds of war…and no call holier than the call to war.” [35]

Offered the return of the entire Sinai by the Eshkol Government, Nasser traveled to Khartoum and issued the “3 Nos.” Given a second chance by Meir, he launched the War of Attrition. One may argue that the Egyptian President was not in a position to negotiate, for as Henry Kissinger has noted, “in the mood of Arab humiliation following the defeat in the Six Day War, concessions would in all likelihood be ascribed to military weakness rather than to statesmanship.” [36]

This is undoubtedly true, but one should not lose sight of the fact that Nasser provoked the Six Day War, and if the Arabs were humiliated over having lost it, that was a problem of their own making. Why should it have been incumbent upon Meir to solve it? As she herself was to say: “It was a great pity that the Arab states felt so humiliated by losing the war which they had started that they just couldn’t bring themselves to talk to us, but on the other hand, we couldn’t be expected to reward them for having tried to throw us into the sea. We were bitterly disappointed, but there was only one possible reply: Israel would not withdraw from any of the territories until the Arab states once and for all put an end to the conflict. . . .We waited for the Arabs to accept the fact that the only alternative to war was peace and that the only road to peace was negotiation.” [37]

Nasser’s culpability in the Six Day War and the War of Attrition is beyond doubt. In addition, he can be called to account for stonewalling all progress toward an accord. But Nasser had been dead for three years when the Yom Kippur War erupted. He may have done his part to lay the groundwork, he may have said, “that which was lost by war must be restored by war,” but he certainly didn’t carry the project through.

At whom, then, should we point the finger? As it turns out, one of the key participants has yet to testify. There is an interesting passage in Abba Eban’s Personal Witness, describing a verbal duel between U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Rogers sought to assure Meir that the new Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, was ready to make peace (May 1971). Meir replied that Rogers was naïve to place his trust in such protestations. Eban concludes that Meir “was affronted by the idea that an American secretary of state could discern virtue in an Arab leader.” [38] This was certainly one possibility. Another possibility is that Meir was right to distrust Sadat.

Is it possible that the far-sighted Egyptian statesman who would ultimately forge a peace deal and pay for it with his life was simply being duplicitous? The evidence suggests that he was—and the most damning of that evidence is to be found in his own utterances. In his autobiography, Sadat declares that on his accession to the presidency in late 1970,

“the key to everything…was to wipe out the disgrace and humiliation that followed from the 1967 defeat. I reckoned it would be 1,000 times more honorable for us—40,000 of my sons in the armed forces and myself—to be buried crossing the Canal than to accept such disgrace and humiliation. Posterity would say we had died honorably on the battlefield…and posterity would carry on the struggle.” [39]

It is no easy task to square these sentiments with an earnest desire for peace. Still, in his speech to the Egyptian Parliament in February 1971, Sadat did say that in return for an interim Israeli withdrawal from the Suez Canal he would, among other things, “sign a peace agreement with Israel….” Some might argue that this absolves him. But does it? Sadat goes on to say:

“My Peace Initiative of February 4, 1971, launched an Egyptian diplomatic offensive—the only alternative to a military one which I was, at the time, unable to undertake.” [40] [emphasis added]

This is a puzzling way for a man of peace to express himself. Was Sadat truly seeking peace, or was he dissimulating until the times were more conducive toward making war? The answer lies in a startling revelation made by Henry Kissinger:

“If I had been able in mid-1973 to guarantee [Sadat] the 1967 borders without his having to make peace, he would have accepted it—though with reluctance, as he later told me, since it would have done little for Egyptian pride.” [41] [emphasis added]

Each of Sadat’s so-called “hints at an accommodation” during the period under question contained maximalist territorial demands as the price of initiating face-to-face negotiations. Refusing to negotiate until all of one’s demands are met does not constitute “accommodation.” To say that war is “inevitable” unless one’s enemy accedes to maximalist demands is not to propose peace–it is to deliver an ultimatum. And to accept “with reluctance” everything that one has asked for, means that what was asked for was not what was wanted. Anwar Sadat did not want peace with Israel in the period between 1970 and 1973, because peace would not “wipe out the disgrace and humiliation that followed from the 1967 defeat.” War alone could do that. Consequently, war is what Sadat desired.

This, of course, does not mean that Israel achieved perfection in her pursuit of peace during this period. Most Israelis felt secure on the existing cease-fire lines and did not believe that another Arab attack was likely. As a result, they perceived little danger in a continuing stalemate: Either the Arabs would have to accept the status quo or they would have to negotiate – and whichever course they chose, Israel would be holding the stronger cards.

If anyone personified this confident mindset, it was Golda Meir’s Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan—the state’s most popular political figure. In addition to his duties as Minister of Defense, Dayan was responsible for the administration of the occupied territories. In the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War, his policy had been to make the occupation as inconspicuous as possible. As he told a subordinate: “I want a policy whereby an Arab can be born, live and die in the West Bank without ever seeing an Israeli official.” [42] At that time, the occupation had been viewed as temporary, but as the years passed with no progress towards a negotiated settlement, Dayan came to believe that the Arabs had no intention of making peace with Israel in exchange for territory. [43] In his view, it was not Israel’s task to remain in suspended animation if the Arabs refused to negotiate. Rather, she should “create facts”—especially by building settlements in crucial areas—so that if the Arab states did eventually agree to negotiate, Israel would already be ensconced in those sites that were critical to her security.

Within certain parameters, this concept was widely accepted in Israel. But there were two common objections to the way Dayan pursued it. First of all, he favored a more aggressive settlement policy than did most members of the cabinet. [44] Indeed, in Abba Eban’s view, his vision, particularly with regard to the West Bank, was “dark with false images.” [45] But the real objection to Dayan’s approach was that his preoccupation with administering the territories took his mind off his primary role as defense minister. His failure to fulfill this responsibility—which included determining, with some degree of accuracy, the likelihood of a major enemy offensive—was to produce consequences of the unhappiest sort once war broke out. Dayan completely missed the boat on Egypt’s and Syria’s war preparations, and he was slow to react even when the ugly truth could no longer be denied.

But even if Dayan didn’t see the war coming, he correctly discerned why it came. As he succinctly summarized it:

“The Yom Kippur War grew out of Egypt’s and Syria’s refusal to reach a peace arrangement with Israel or to leave Sinai and the Golan Heights in Israel’s hands. The Arabs wanted to retrieve the territories they had lost in the Six Day War without reconciling themselves to the fact of Israel’s existence. This goal could only be achieved through war.” [46]

War did not come because Golda Meir scoffed at peace proposals (she didn’t), or because Dayan was pushing too aggressively for settlements (there were only 7000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza in October 1973), [47] or even because Israelis were overconfident in the ultimate issue of the continuing diplomatic impasse. The ultimate cause of the war was Arab rejection of Israel’s legitimacy, compounded by an inimical and overweening Arab sense of pride—pride that could not have been assuaged even if Israel had handed back every inch of occupied territory and demanded nothing in return.


1. I.e., territories on the western side of the Jordan River that had been occupied the Jordanian Kingdom since the 1949 armistice.
2. Abba Eban, Personal Witness: Israel Through My Eyes. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1992, p. 437 & 446; Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Siege. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986; pp. 489-90.
3. Eban, p. 446.
4. Eban, p. 450.
5. Eban, pp. 455-6.
6. Eban, p. 456.
7. Eban, p. 457.
8. Eban, pp. 456-7.
9. Comments of LBJ, Lord Caradon and Goldberg: Eban, pp. 458-9.
10. Eban, p. 461.
11. Eban, p. 478.
12. Meir, Golda. My Life. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975, p. 383; see also Gilbert, Martin. Israel, A History. London: Black Swan Books, 1998, p. 410.
13. Meir, p. 384; Gilbert, p. 410.
14. Meir, p. 382.
15. Sachar, pp. 694-5.
16. Reich, Bernard. A Brief History of Israel. New York: Checkmark Books, 2003, p. 98.
17. Eban, pp. 488-9.
18. Sachar, p. 695.
19. Sadat, Anwar. In Search of an Identity, an Autobiography. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977, 1978, p. 219. Mitchell Bard, however, notes that Sadat’s offer of a peace agreement with Israel was not made public (Bard, Mitchell G. Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Chevy Chase, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2002, p. 72).
20. Eban, p. 500.
21. Eban, pp. 501-3.
22. Bard, p. 72.
23. Sachar, p. 696.
24. Eban, p. 501.
25. Meir, p. 373.
26. Eban, pp. 503-5.
27. Sacher, p. 696.
28. Eban, p. 507.
29. Eban, pp. 506-7.
30. Kissinger, Henry. Years of Upheaval. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982, pp. 197-8.
31. Kissinger, pp. 201-2.
32. Kissinger, pp. 215-16.
33. From Anwar Sadat’s interview with Arnaud de Borchgrave, entitled “The Battle is Now Inevitable.” Newsweek, April 9, 1973, pp. 44-5; see also, Kissinger, p. 225. (parenthetical text added by the author for clarity.)
34. Kissinger, pp. 207, 211-15 & 221.
35. Meir, p. 383.
36. Kissinger, p. 226.
37. Meir, p. 370.
38. Eban, p. 504.
39. Sadat, p. 215.
40. Sadat, pp. 221-2.
41. Kissinger, p. 226. (italics added.)
42. Gilbert, p. 396.
43. Perlmutter, Amos. Israel: The Partitioned State. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985, p. 217.
44. The cabinet had more or less officially adopted the “Allon Plan” for the West Bank, which called for a security belt along the Jordan River and the annexation of Jerusalem. Dayan favored more extensive settlement there, but the settlement movement was still in its nascent phase (see Eban, p. 470).
45. Eban, p. 466.
46. Dayan, Moshe. Story of My Life. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976, p. 504.
47. Eban, p. 470.

By Julie R. S. Fogarty

Julie R. S. Fogarty ’08, a Government concentrator from Dunster House, graduates from Harvard College this year.

The Greater Middle East has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, lower only than that in sub-Saharan Africa. [1] The regional rate has continued to accelerate over the past 60 years, from 2.64 percent per year in the 1950s to 3.1 percent per year between 1980 and 1992, the highest in the world at the time. Although the rate had dropped slightly to 2.79% by 2007, many people remain concerned. [2] Population growth has had enormous economic consequences, including extreme pressure on educational and health services and unattainably high demand for new jobs. In an attempt to alleviate these social pressures, which could in turn prompt political upheaval, Egypt and Iran have sought to curb population growth directly through family planning programs. Although both countries have committed vast resources through sustained programs, Egypt and Iran have exhibited “stop and go” family planning policies. [3] Although Egyptian programs have been supported by international aid organizations, Iran has seen a more dramatic decrease in fertility rates (and a corresponding rise in birth control usage) due primarily to its own, government-sanctioned family planning initiatives of the past 15 years.

Iranian Family Planning

Iranian family planning has gone through two dramatic transformations. First, in 1965, the government of Mohammed Reza Shah instituted a family planning program that stressed the “supply side” of fertility rates: the availability of contraception. [4] For the first time, the government created educational and promotional campaigns endorsing contraception as a means to stem population overgrowth and improve the standard of living of Iranian families. Likewise, the Shah’s government encouraged women’s participation outside the home, granted women the right to vote, and reformed the Family Protection Law. The results were dramatic and immediate. In the ten years following the new policies, the Iranian average growth rate fell from 3.1 percent to 2.7 percent and hundreds of thousands more women began to use contraception.

However, the 1979 Islamic Revolution, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, fundamentally changed the nature of Iranian society. Khomeini established an Islamic state, reversing many of the gains made in the area of women’s rights under the Shah and dismantling the family planning program. [5] In stark contrast to the previous policies, Khomeini nurtured a pro-natalist policy as a result of his religious outlook and his desire to usehigh birth rates as a strategic threat in the Iran-Iraq War (which began in 1980) and other conflicts. Islamic leaders publicly proclaimed that a woman’s first priority should be marriage and children. Subsequently, the government reduced the availability of contraceptives, lowered the legal age of marriage, dissolved the Family Planning Council, and provided subsidies for larger families. [6] These changes raised the growth rate to 3.4% and created a growing demand for food, health care, education, and employment. [7]

Changes within the Islamic Republic of Iran during the late 1980s altered the previously stringent pro-natalist policy. The 1986 national census served as a “wake up call” to family policy planners, underscoring the growing economic and social crisis. The end of the war with Iraq in 1988 and Khomeini’s death in 1989 provided the impetus for further change. [8] In 1989, the Ministry of Health announced plans for a new family planning program with three major goals: encouraging women to space their pregnancies, discouraging pregnancy for women not between the ages of 18 and 35, and limiting family size to three children. [9] Furthermore, sterilization for both sexes was legalized in 1990. [10] The program was endorsed by the country’s High Judicial Council, which declared that “Islam does not pose any barrier to family planning.” [11] In 1993, the government went a step further by restricting maternity leave and compelling the Ministries of Education, Health and Medical Education, and Culture and Education to incorporate information on family planning. [12]

The Iranian government has promoted these family planning initiatives through the state-run television and media, emphasizing the link between overpopulation and poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. [13] The media encouraged the use of contraceptives, which were provided free of charge on demand, and legal reforms were made in favor of women. [14] Interestingly, religious leaders endorsed the program, directing all religious authorities to support family planning because it was initiated by the Islamic government. [15] Religious leaders now describe smaller families as a social responsibility. [16] In addition, the majlis, the Iranian parliament, voted to support the program. As a result, the number of women using contraceptives has nearly doubled from 37 percent in the 1970s to 65 percent now, although urban women are more likely to use them than rural women are. [17]

Moreover, the population growth rate sharply declined to 2.5 percent between 1986 and 1991 then to only 1.2 percent in 2001, one of the fastest declines on record. [18] In only 15 years (from 1985 to 2001), Iran’s total fertility rate dropped from more than births per woman to fewer than 3. [19] From 2000 to 2005, Iran’s average fertility rate was 2.53 births per woman, [20] and the United Nations predicts that it will drop to 2 births per woman (replacement level) by 2010.

Egyptian Family Planning

Egypt’s family planning programs have followed a similarly unsteady course. Debated by Egyptian social scientists since the 1930s, Egypt’s high population growth became widely viewed as an acute problem in the 1960s, when the government acknowledged the serious economic and social problems associated with it. The government soon established the National Family Planning Program as one response to the economic problems. [21] Yet, the program languished in the 1970s as President Anwar Sadat adopted the slogan “Development is the best contraceptive,” and focused on economic development. He also yielded to Islamists’ pro-natalist views in an attempt to gain their political support against the pro-Soviet left. [22]

Following Sadat’s assassination, new Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak rejuvenated the family planning program and established the “National Strategy Framework of Population, Human Resource Development, and the Family Planning Program,” which promoted contraceptive use by married women. [23] From 1980 to 1992, the government, pressured by donor agencies like USAID, began to focus on expanding and strengthening family planning service delivery in both public and private sectors. These efforts doubled contraceptive use from 24 percent in 1980 to 50 percent in 2000, and reduced the total fertility rate from 5.3 births per woman to 3.5 births per woman in the same time period. [24]

Yet, the total fertility rate has remained at around 3.5 since 1995, a curious fact that one researcher attributes to upper and middle class Egyptian women. Although these groups drove the decline at the beginning, their fertility rates have since leveled off because of an increase in the level of fertility within marriage (which is offset by a higher age of first marriage). [25] Interestingly, while total fertility has remained stagnant at 3.5 among upper classes in the last decade, it has continued to decline among poorer women, moving from 5.02 children in 1988 to 4.03 children in 1995, and further to 3.62 children in 2000. Thus, while wealthier women still have lower total fertility rates than poorer women, the gap is steadily narrowing.

Unlikely Results

Although they took different paths, by the end of the 1980s both countries had made strong commitments to curb rapid population growth with family planning programs. The dire economic crises experienced by both Egypt and Iran in the late 1980s made both countries increasingly willing to support the distribution of contraceptives and economic conditions played a crucial role in the reintroduction of family planning programs later on. [26] Despite these similarities, the programs also exhibit several important differences.

First, the Egyptian program received significant aid from international donor organizations such as USAID. USAID pressured the Egyptian government to introduce family planning programs throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, and providing millions of dollars ($87 million from 1977 to 1983) in funding to Egyptian organizations that supported USAID’s emphasis on training personnel and promoting the use of intrauterine devices (IUDs). [27] IUDs and permanent devices such as Norplant (a birth control device implanted in the upper arm that lasts for five years) rank as the most popular methods of birth control in Egypt. These contraceptives are distributed in Ministry of Health facilities by trained professionals and were widely encouraged by USAID members who were concerned that women would not use birth control pills correctly. [28]

In contrast, Iran developed its family planning program independently. As one of the world’s largest oil exporters, it had the financial security to avoid dependence on international aid organizations. [29] Thus, the Iranian government has funded the creation of a comprehensive health network throughout the country, in which “health houses” include family planning as an aspect of primary care (thus removing the stigma). [30] Furthermore, the government covers 80 percent of family planning costs and provides various contraceptives (including condoms, pills, and sterilization) free. The country is the only one in the region with a government-sanctioned condom factory. Consequently, Iranians tend to use oral contraceptives like “the Pill” and condoms rather than IUDs. Additionally, men have an increasingly active role in family planning. Iran is the only country in the Greater Middle East that requires a couple to complete a class on contraception before receiving a marriage license, and vasectomies are becoming more common.

Despite the aid and influence of international organizations like USAID and the International Monetary Fund, the use of contraceptives in Egypt is less widespread than in Iran. In 1995, only 48 percent of married Egyptian women were using contraceptives, compared to 70 percent of Iranian women. [31] In both countries, urban women use contraceptives at a far higher rate than rural women (most likely because of higher education levels and employment rates). [32] In Egypt, the divide between the rural fertility rate of 4.2 children per woman and the urban fertility rate of 3 children per women can be largely attributed to the fact that rural women must travel to receive IUDs from trained professionals or pay for expensive private services. [33] Although Iran also exhibits a divide between rural and urban contraceptive use, the gap is narrowing because of the country’s extensive network of health clinics in rural areas, and presumably, the easy and free access to contraceptives. [34]

Finally, the religious views of the predominantly Muslim population of both these countries influence women’s decisions about contraception. Contrary to popular belief, Islam does not forbid contraception. [35] Yet, because Islam teaches that a woman’s sphere is the home, and that children are the major source of her value, Islamic women are often pressured to forgo contraception. [36] Because of these potentially restrictive social norms, the Iranian religious leadership’s support of contraception was an important element to that country’s campaign. On the other hand, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist organization, condemned family planning initiatives as “a Western conspiracy to limit the number of Muslims,” and Islamic media sources have also criticized the program. [37]

In addition to encouraging the use of contraceptives, both Iran and Egypt have supplemented their family planning programs with female education initiatives and improvements in health care, which are also likely causes of a decrease in fertility. As Iran and Egypt demonstrate, a comprehensive family planning program backed by the government, media, and religious leaders can lead to dramatic decreases in population growth and fertility rates, which are widely understood to relieve pressure on the economy. Although Egypt and Iran have made large gains since the 1980s, many issues, such as the discrepancy between urban and rural contraceptive use, remain. Furthermore, the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalist groups in Egypt and the resurgence of religious fundamentalists in Iran may the trend of the past two decades.


1. John Waterbury and Alan Richards, A Political Economy of the Middle East, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2007), 77.
2. Josh Martin, “The Population Time Bomb.” Middle East, 03050734, Nov 2003, Issue 339
3. Martin, 86.
4. Martin, 87.
5. Richards and Waterbury, citing Bulatao and Richardson, 1994
6. S. Edwards, “Iran’s Population Growth Rate Increases by About 40% After Abandonment of Fertility Control Policy in 1979.” International Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 18, No. 3. (Sep., 1992), 117. The legal marriage age for females was reduced to an unbelievably low nine years.
7. Akbar Aghajanian and Amir H. Merhyar. “Fertility, Contraceptive Use, and Family Planning Program Activity in the Islamic Republic of Iran. International Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 25, No. 2. (June 1999), 98.
8. Maryann Poya, Women, Work, and Islamism: Ideology and Resistance in Iran. (London: Zed Books, 2000), 98.
9. Aghajanian and Merhyar, 98.
10. Richards and Waterbury, 87.
11. Aghajanian and Merhyar, p. 98.
12. Janet Larsen, “Iran’s Birth Rate Plummeting at Record Pace: Success Provides a Model for Other Developing Countries.” Earth Policy Institute, 12/28/2001. 1.
13. Poya, 99.
14. Poya, 100.
15. Aghajanian and Merhyar, 99.
16. Larsen, 1.
17. Aghajanian and Merhyar, 100.
18. Richards and Waterbury, 87.
19. Larsen, 1.
20. http://globalis.gvu.unu.edu/indicator.cfm?Country=EG&IndicatorID=138
21. Richards and Waterbury, 86.
22. Richards and Waterbury, 87.
23. Kamran Asadar Ali, Planning the Family in Egypt: New Bodies, New Selves (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2002), 32.
24. USAID website. March 31, 2006. Viewed May 4, 2008. http://www.usaid.gov/stories/egypt/ss_egypt_family.html
25. E. Eltigani, “Stalled Fertility Decline in Egypt: Why?” Population and Environment. Sep 2003. Vol. 25, Issue 1, 41.
26. Ali (2002), 2.
27. Ali (2002), 38.
28. Poya, 38.
29. Poya, 44.
30. Larson, 1.
31. Rosalin P. Petchesky and Karen Judd, eds. Negotiating Women’s Reproductive Rights: Women’s Perspectives Across Cultures (London: Zed Books, 1998)
32. Kamran Asdar Ali, “Modernization and Family Planning Programs in Egypt.” Middle East Studies Network: the Politics of a Field. (Oct- Dec. 1997), 41.
33. Petchesky and Judd, 78.
34. Aghajanian and Merhyar, 100.
35. B.F. Musallam, Sex and Society in Islam: Birth Control before the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 16.
36. Petchesky and Judd, 96.
37. Ali 2002, 155.

By Hope A. Jones

Hope A. Jones ’08, a Government concentrator from Leverett House, graduates from Harvard College this year.

Ravaged by three wars in the last thirty years, Iraq—to some—seems beyond salvation. Religious terrorists across the country pose a grave threat to the country’s future. Sectarian violence, once political or territorial in nature, has become increasingly religious across the Middle East, from Algeria, to Gaza, to Pakistan. Against this deteriorating backdrop, religious violence in Iraq is not the exception, but the expression of a regional phenomenon of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam.

Despite such a bleak outlook, there is an undercurrent of attempts at religious reconciliation in these same troubled countries. Brave Iraqi leaders have brought together key religious and secular figures, underscoring the importance of intra and inter-religious dialogue. Some religious leaders have renounced violence and pledged to work together for a peaceful Iraq. These peace-building efforts would not be possible without the presence of a mediator welcomed by all sides. As the vicar of Baghdad’s only Anglican parish, Canon Andrew White is exactly this kind of mediator. Over the past ten years, he has been in a unique position to develop a nuanced understanding of religious factionalism in Iraq, and his tireless work with the religious leaders of the country is a testament to the importance of mediation in any effort to stabilize war-torn Iraq.

Understanding Violence in Iraq

Religious conflict in Iraq is multifaceted in nature and cannot be fully separated from nationalist concerns. The well-documented Sunni-Shi’a tensions comprise one of several crosscutting religious conflicts in the country. Iraqi nationalist religious groups have battled radical Iranian Shi’a for control of Iraq while all moderate groups, Sunni and Shi’a, have fought back against Sunni Al Qaeda in Iraq radicals. Furthermore, intra-Shi’a religious conflict has increased, as militias such as Sayyed al-Hakeem’s Badr Brigade and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army have sought to dominate Iraqi political affairs.

Finally, Iraqi Christians, whose presence in Iraq dates back 2,000 years, have been persecuted and driven out by both Sunni and Shi’a extremists. [1] While the exact numbers are uncalculated, it is estimated that 600,000 of the 700,000 Christians in Iraq have been killed or displaced since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. [2] Some have immigrated to Jordan and Syria and others have been displaced to the north of the country, leaving behind only poorer, less mobile families. [3] It is estimated that there are nearly 5 million Iraqi refugees, both outside and inside the country. [4]

Canon White’s Method of Mediation

Canon White presided over practical conflict resolution and prevention work in the Middle East peace process for the Anglican Church from 1998 until 2005. His work in Iraq began when he was invited by President Saddam Hussein’s Deputy Prime Minister and close confidant Tariq Aziz in 1998. [5] From 2001 to 2003, he was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Representative to the Middle East, [6] the first to hold this position following the five-year imprisonment of his predecessor Terry Waite by Hezbollah. [7] Since the Coalition invasion, White has developed rescue aid initiatives, negotiated hostage releases, and brought previously hostile religious leaders together for compromise agreements.

The personal relationships he forged prior to the 2003 war have enabled him to engage Sunni and Shi’a religious leaders in the fight for peace and stability in Iraq. White’s work and positive results demonstrate the potential for Iraqis to work towards national reconciliation from the bottom up and to reduce the religiously sanctioned sectarian violence that has destroyed much of the country. He strongly believes that inter-religious dialogue and reconciliation in the Middle East “may well lead us into a complex engagement between different religious communities that in time could save the world.” [8]

Currently, Canon White is the President and CEO of the non-profit Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), the chaplain of St. Georges Church in Baghdad, and the Anglican and Episcopalian chaplain of the International Zone in Baghdad. He is also the coordinator and international director of the Iraqi Institute of Peace (IIP) and an advisor to the Iraqi National Security Council, acting as its liaison with Iraqi religious leaders. In 2005, he published a book entitled Iraq: Searching for Hope. He also wrote a previous book on Iraq in 2003 entitled Iraq, People of Hope, and Land of Despair. [9] Canon White couples his peacemaking with enormous relief efforts for Iraqi citizens, including Baghdad’s minority Christian and Jewish populations. He provides families with basic food provisions, creates spaces for children to play safely, ensures that young boys and girls receive lifesaving surgery, and provides widows with information on support services. He has also been responsible for humanitarian projects such as the establishment of Iraq’s first bone marrow transplant center. Canon White has received numerous international awards recognizing his work, including the International Council of Christians and Jews Prize for “Sustained Intellectual Contribution to Jewish Christian Relations.” In 2003, he was also made a Grand Commander of the Order of Merit of the Knights Templar of Jerusalem.

Building New Bridges

Canon White advocates political peace initiatives through religious reconciliation in the Middle East. He spearheaded the Alexandria Declaration, a pledge by Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders to use their religious authority within their respective communities to work for peace and stop the bloodshed in the Holy Land. [10] Directing the initiative since 2002, White has played an active role in engaging Israeli and Palestinian leaders in reconciliation talks. In addition to being one of the main negotiators involved in resolving the siege of the Church of Nativity in the spring of 2002, he also was integral in resolving food shortages in Bethlehem, Beit Jallah, and Beit Sahour. In 2004, Canon White was responsible for bringing together twenty-six leading Palestinian clerics with prominent orthodox rabbis in Cairo. For many of the clerics this was the first time they had ever met a rabbi. [11]

Canon White’s interest in Iraq predates the 2003 American invasion. Starting in 1998, he visited Iraq frequently and acted as a mediator between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the West, while forging ties with many of Iraq’s most influential religious and political leaders. [12] In testimony before the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom last year, he explained, “the whole mechanism of dealing with religious leaders is based on long-term relationships and an awareness of who they are and where they are coming from.” [13] Canon White believes that his presence in Iraq before the war “is the very reason I can engage with people now because they knew me before and have not just seen me as part of the coalition. From those days even amongst foreign religious leaders I am the only one still here and if I had not been in several years before the war I would not be trusted now.” [14] His close ties with religious leaders prior to the war has earned him legitimacy in the minds of many Iraqis, allowing him to avoid the “occupier” label with which many Iraqis designate American envoys.

The Need for a Trustworthy Mediator

Following the 2003 invasion, the United States and its allies failed to adequately anticipate the outbreak of sectarian and religious-based conflict in Iraq that would force so many of Iraq’s religious minorities out of the country. With the removal of Saddam Hussein’s iron fist, decades-long religious conflict between and within Sunni and Shi’a communities erupted. While Shi’as targeted Sunnis for revenge after many years of repression, Sunnis attacked Shi’as in ill-fated attempts to remain in power. Furthermore, explains White, Iraqi Christians are “bearing the brunt of any resentment over the invasion of Iraq by the ‘Crusaders’ of the West.” [15] Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, many Iraqis proclaimed the Ba’athist party line on Sunni and Shi’a Muslims—“we are all the same”—and there was a considerable degree of tolerance for Iraq’s Christian minority population. What once appeared to be a secular-minded population without serious or violent religious differences soon became a battlefield for sectarian violence and inter-religious brutality. [16] Some argue that by ignoring the need for religious harmony and reconciliation, U.S. forces unwittingly exacerbated the violence and deepened the divisions.

“If religion is the cause of much conflict,” White says, “it can also be the cure to it.” [17] In the words of the British Foreign Office, the commanders in charge wanted only “to sort out the basics such as water and electricity.” Because of the immediate need for basic infrastructure, “dealing with these other issues [such as religious tensions] came a long way down the list.” [18] From the outset, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) did not make any effort to reach out to Iraq’s religious constituencies, nor did they make the effort to establish relationships with the major Shi’a or Sunni religious leaders of Iraq who hold considerable influence over the Iraqi people. [19] Once it was realized that religious leaders needed to be consulted on the reconciliation between warring religious groups, the formation of a new Iraqi Constitution and government, the CPA had little knowledge of the network of religious leadership, particularly in the Iraqi Shi’a community that had been excluded from the previous regime. CPA officials also did not know whom to work with or trust when countless individual Iraqis came forward falsely claiming prominent standing and leadership within their religious communities in order to solicit US funding. The CPA accepted many of these claimants at face value and often ignored the true community leaders.

To the detriment of religious reconciliation, Sunni Muslims were excluded from the effort to establish a new constitution and government. The de-Baathification process was powered by the belief that Iraqi Sunni leaders were the equivalent of the leadership of Nazi Germany, so the CPA disbanded Iraq’s Sunni-led army, ignored the Sunni religious and tribal leaders, and denied pensions that Sunnis had earned over a lifetime of government service. Instead, the CPA concentrated on satisfying the majority Shi’a at the expense of creating a unified Iraqi government because they were seen as victims of the Sunni minority under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Reconciliation under Mediation

Early on, Canon White lobbied the CPA to engage in dialogue with all Iraqi religious leaders in the process of reconstruction. [20] Ignored at first, he continued his own discussions with religious leaders in an effort to bring them together. In 2004, after the CPA’s initial strategies proved ineffective, the Coalition asked Canon White to act as an intermediary between the Coalition leadership and Iraqi religious leaders in the drafting process of the Iraqi Constitution. His familiarity with the tribal divisions among Iraqi religious groups made him a unique advocate of reconciliation and reconstruction. [21]

In his earlier work with Shi’a and Sunni religious leaders, Canon White had been responsible for the establishment of the Iraqi Centre for Dialogue, Reconciliation, and Peace (later re-named the Iraqi Institute of Peace). He also drafted the original Baghdad Religious Accord that marked the first major meeting between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’a leaders. [22] At the risk of his own personal safety, he has also been deeply involved in negotiating hostage releases. His foundation (FRRME) has become a leading mediator of hostage negotiations in Iraq and has the most successful track record of any entity. Canon White admits, however, that this is difficult work and that he is successful in far too few of these cases. He stated in his July 2007 testimony before the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom that, “in the past month, thirty-six of my own congregation have been kidnapped. To date, only one has been returned.” [23] In the years since the Coalition invasion, Canon White and his negotiating team have left Iraq several times following the issuance of death threats against them.

Despite such setbacks, Canon White has seen an unprecedented response among Iraqi religious leaders to his efforts to develop the first joint Iraqi fatwa issued by major Sunni and Shi’a leaders, mandating an “end [to] terrorist violence, and to disband militia activity in order to build a civilized country and work within the framework of law.” [24] Religious leaders have met at conferences organized by Canon White, giving them the opportunity “to listen to and engage one another.” The conferences have attracted top Iraqi clerics including many members of the Iraqi parliament, advisors to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Shi’a prelate in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi militia, and equivalent Sunni and Kurdish figures. [25] According to journalist Robert McFarlane, they have shown a clear interest “in fostering reconciliation, and in the process, reducing violence, disarming the militias and enacting into law a framework for a fair distribution of political and economic power in Iraq.” [26] These conferences have taken place in Amman, Baghdad, Cairo, and Copenhagen, with several more scheduled before August 2008. [27] The aim of this initiative will be to isolate religious radicals, dampen intra-religious competition, allow conflicts of religious views to be solved through dialogue and, finally, quell religious warfare, thus allowing a state to emerge and once again operate effectively.

In addition to the issuance of a fatwa to end violence, those involved in the process are in discussions to establish a “council of wisemen” consisting of intellectuals, scholars, and clerics to form a common understanding for religious communities. This council will be facilitated by the Iraqi Inter-Religious Council (IIRC) steering committee. It will assist the transition of Iraqi society following the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops. The council will not be a part of the Iraqi government, but will be supported by all the religious elements of Iraq. Positions will rotate approximately every five years and include the most senior Iraqi religious and intellectual figures.

Participants in this process have noted the rise of sectarianism across the Muslim world. The joint fatwa will call for a reduction in tension, highlight the current work of reconciliation by IIRC, and issue a call for Iraqi sovereignty and freedom. Negotiators are planning another preparatory meeting including a more representative group from Sunni and Shi’a communities. The meeting is likely to discuss and develop the joint fatwa and expand reconciliation discussions to the wider Gulf region.

Canon White’s Unique Appeal to Muslims

White’s success in instigating intra-Muslim reconciliation is based on his pluralist understanding of the role and interaction of religion and religious traditions in the world. White is firmly grounded in his Christian faith, and he honestly acknowledges the violence and destruction that have sometimes occurred with the support, or tolerance, of fellow Christians. “I can never forget the fact that in the heart of Christian Europe the Holocaust recently took place with the clear support of many Christian lead,” he reflects. White also has a deep respect for other religious groups and their differences. His philosophy and respectful manner are fundamental to his success in encouraging the cooperation of people from diverse and different traditions. “They know they will not be threatened by us,” White reflects.

Setting his sights on the “reduction of religiously inspired violence and [capitalizing on] the willingness of religious leaders from varying backgrounds to work together,” Canon White is beginning to see results, but he admits that, “it has taken a lot longer than we originally thought it would.” [28] Nonetheless, he sees signs that people are willing to engage with each other not only to end extremist religious violence, but also to protect all communities of believers. He has enlisted Muslim support and protection for his Christian congregation in Baghdad. He explains that the only way his congregants are able to worship at St. Georges is because they “are taken there and looked after by the Iraqi army all of whom are Muslim, [and] the decision to enable this comes from Muslim political leaders.” Some leaders, such as Prime Minister Maliki, will even lend their office spaces as places of worship when it is too dangerous to hold services at St Georges. [29]


Canon White has pursued religious dialogue and reconciliation in Iraq against all odds. Fundamental to his work has been his ability to use his relationships with the Shi’a and Sunni religious leaders to maintain a dialogue aimed at reconciliation. His persistence in the face of distrust and bitter hostility between warring religious sects has encouraged other religious leaders to realize they too have to act to achieve reconciliation. He notes that “in order to move forward it is essential that [these groups] are given something that they have ‘lost’ back. This concept is fundamental to proceeding successfully.” [30]

Canon White’s role is one of a peacemaker. He says of Iraqi religious leaders: “In many respects it is just because I am a religious leader that they will deal with me.” His own devoutness makes him a more credible and respected mediator between religious leaders. He is a valuable mediator, trusted by both the Sunni and Shi’a communities which he has coaxed into dialogue and cooperation.

In today’s Middle East, there can be “no peace among the nations without peace among the religions,” White argues. [31] Canon Andrew White and his tireless mission to bring relief, stability, and reconciliation to a war-torn Iraq demonstrate that dialogue between battling religious groups can sometimes yield important successes. As a neutral mediator, White succeeded in forging a leadership group and promoting dialogue among religious leaders because of his fearlessness, his initiative, his philosophy of pluralism and respect, and his development of prior relationships with Iraqis. Canon White deserves an honor on the scale of the Nobel Peace Prize for his relentless work in dangerous and challenging times.


1.    Andrew White, Iraq: Searching for Hope. (New York: Continuum Books, 2007), 83.
2.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
3.    Andrew White. “An extraordinary message of hope and humanity from the dangerous parish of Baghdad.” Daily Mail: The Mail on Sunday. December, 22, 2007.
4.    http://www.unhcr.org/iraq.html
5.    White 2007, 2.
6.    Andrew White. Iraq: People of Promise, Land of Despair. (United Kingdom: Sovereign World Books, 2003), 9-10.
7.    Jerry Jones. Personal Interview. 2 January 2008.
8.    White 2007, 97.
9.    The biographical information in this paragraph has been paraphrased from the Biography of Canon Andrew White provided by his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
10.    White 2003, 9-10.
11.    The biographical information in this paragraph has been paraphrased from the Biography of Canon Andrew White provided by his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
12.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
13.    Andrew White. “Testimony by The Reverend Canon Andrew White.” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Public Hearing on “Threats to Iraq’s Communities of Antiquity.” 25 July 2007. Washington, DC. Russell Senate Office Building.
14.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
15.    White 2007, 21.
16.    White 2007, 95-96.
17.    White 2007, 83-84.
18.    White 2007, 21.
19.    Jerry Jones. Personal Interview. 2 January 2008.
20.    Biography of Canon Andrew White provided by his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
21.    Jerry Jones. Personal Interview. 2 January 2008.
22.    Biography of Canon Andrew White provided by his Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
23.    White, Andrew. “Testimony by The Reverend Canon Andrew White.” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Public Hearing on “Threats to Iraq’s Communities of Antiquity.” 25 July 2007. Washington, DC. Russell Senate Office Building.
24.    Robert McFarlane. “A Fatwa Against Violence.” The Wall Street Journal. August 25, 2007.
25.    Robert McFarlane. “The Iraqi Nation.” The Wall Street Journal. June 27, 2007.
26.    Robert McFarlane. “The Iraqi Nation.” The Wall Street Journal. June 27, 2007.
27.    Jerry Jones. Personal Interview. 2 January 2008.
28.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
29.    White 2007, 147.
30.    Andrew White. Telephone Interview. 6 January 2008.
31.    White 2007, 95.

By Cindy D. Tan

Cindy D. Tan ’08, a History of Art and Architecture concentrator from Eliot House, graduates from Harvard College this year.

Iran’s April 8 announcement that it plans to install 6,000 centrifuges at its main enrichment site at Natanz comes without surprise given the regime’s flagrant posturing in recent years. After breaching its October 2003 agreement with France, Britain, and Germany to suspend all enrichment activities, [1] Iran has taken to boasting openly about its rapid nuclear developments and its aim to enrich and process uranium. Restating on multiple occasions its unwavering intentions to pursue nuclear technology, Iran is eager to advertise its gains, and even overstate the speed and scale of its nuclear program. Iran’s public exaggeration of its nuclear capabilities allows it to make valuable, short-term political gains. Iran believes it can purposefully embellish its nuclear progress without provoking a military response because it believes that the United States and Israel are unlikely to wage preemptive military strikes. Moreover, Iran’s minimal cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also allows it to exploit the indecisive and ineffective response by the international community. Regardless of whether Iran will divert its civilian nuclear program into a weapons program, creating the impression that it has an uncontrollable and rapidly advancing nuclear industry brings Iran closer to its aspiration of achieving regional hegemony.

Iran’s Nuclear Crisis

Iran operates key nuclear sites at Arak, Bushehr, Isfahan, and Natanz, with several additional research and laboratory facilities across the country. [2] Of central concern to the international community is the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), where Iran resumed assembling and testing centrifuge components in 2004, when it defiantly removed seals placed by the IAEA. Nuclear experts believe the Natanz site is comprised of a small pilot plant, which performs centrifuge tests and small enrichment functions, and a larger, commercial-scale plant that can house up to 50,000 centrifuges. [3] The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled Iranian dissident group, first discovered covert underground operations at the site in August 2002 and exposed what many insist is a nuclear weapons program. [4] The NCRI’s disclosure forced the government to admit, in a public statement by Iranian Vice President Rahim Aghazadeh, that Iran was “embarking on a long-term plan to construct nuclear power plants with a total capacity of 6000 MW within two decades.” [5] Although, according to the IAEA, Iran was not under obligation to disclose its nuclear facilities at the time, the reports attracted public criticism and speculation about the program’s intentions. Since the IAEA’s 2003 discovery that Iran had been conducting undisclosed uranium-conversion and plutonium experiments, [6] Iran has taken limited steps toward making its program more transparent and it has minimally cooperated with international agencies. Iran contends that its civilian program does not violate the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and it has responded to UN sanctions with boastful public announcements about its nuclear achievements. [7] The November 2007 United States National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) corroborated the IAEA’s finding and claimed that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in 2003. In order to evade such accusations, Iran has shrouded its current nuclear activities in mystery and performed propagandist media stunts that complicate efforts to understand its intentions.

The reality of Iran’s nuclear progress is probably far too inglorious to warrant Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claims of a “nuclear victory.” His announcements are often at odds with the findings of the United Nations and the IAEA. Iranian officials have frequently avoided addressing the UN reports that expose the primitiveness of their nuclear program. Nuclear analysts and experts frequently remark that the public portrayal of Iran’s nuclear progress is vastly inaccurate and overblown. [8] David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former UN weapons inspector, says that Iranian claims are “little more than vacuous political posturing meant to promote Iranian nationalism and a sense of atomic inevitability.” [9]

Announcing Progress

In a nationally televised broadcast, the Iranian President declared that April 8 would be a “national day of nuclear achievement.” [10] Standing at a podium before an Iranian flag imprinted with the atomic symbol, Ahmadinejad said, “today we have started the installation of 6,000 new centrifuges,” pausing in suspense before adding, “I will announce more achievements tonight.” [11] If Iran succeeds in installing the new generation of centrifuges, it will triple its current operating capacity. [12] However, little is known about the new centrifuges or how long it will take before they will begin operation. Ahmadinejad did not specify the model or the capacity level of the new centrifuges, arousing speculation that they are the same P-1 centrifuges currently in use, and a far cry from the “breakthrough” that he claims marks the “beginning of a speedy trend to eliminate the big powers.” [13]

The “achievements” Ahmadinejad mentioned most likely refer to an enigmatic claim he made later in his speech that Iranian scientists are testing a new type of centrifuge which works five times faster than the P-1 centrifuges at Natanz. [14] It is highly unlikely that Iran actually possesses such technology. In early 2006, the IAEA investigated Iran’s acquisition of designs for a modified, thinner centrifuge called the P-2 and Iran voluntarily provided details about the new model’s improved capabilities. [15] The P-2 was more difficult to produce and sustain, leading Iranian engineers to develop their own version, called IR-2. Diplomats familiar with the inspections believe that Ahmadinejad was alluding to this specific model. The IR-2 centrifuge, a modified and more reliable version of the P-2, can spin uranium hexafluoride gas at two or three times the speed of the P-1. [16] According to the most recent IAEA report released in February 2008, Iran reported that it was in the process of planning its first subcritical centrifuge and it provided designs for an IR-2 test cascade. At that time, Iran had not yet successfully processed uranium in the IR-2 and was still running mechanical tests on the P-1 generation, thereby contradicting its own public statements. Earlier this year, according to the IAEA report, the IR-2 had still not reached operational capacity and the series of P-1 cascades still required new testing due to repeat malfunctions. [17]

U.S. intelligence sources have been aware of the IR-2 technology since January 2008 when Iran announced that it was using ten of the new machines. [18] However, the report issued by the IAEA a month later found that only one machine had been fed uranium. [19] Contrary to Ahmadinejad’s earlier claims, the IAEA reported that the 10-machine IR-2 centrifuge was not operating and that uranium was being tested in only one P-1 machine cascade. This finding implies that fewer than two hundred of the 3,000 centrifuges Iran has installed are actually functional. [20] Given that Iran is still testing the IR-2 model and is experiencing significant difficulties operating the P-1 generation, it is unlikely that the country will possesses technology capable of operating faster centrifuges than the IR-2. Some IAEA officials have leaked that “Iran has exaggerated its progress and seen problems operating the 3,000 centrifuges already in place.” [21] Unannounced inspections at multiple facilities throughout the country document numerous schedule setbacks and technological malfunctions that present a vastly different image of Iran’s nuclear progress from that painted by its firebrand president.

Ahmadinejad’s pattern of unsubstantiated rhetoric regarding the nuclear enrichment program makes the veracity of his recent claims improbable. The April 8 announcement follows Ahmadinejad’s April 2007 proclamation that Iran had reached enrichment capacity at an “industrial scale.” He claimed that Iran had begun installing 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz and would ultimately reach 50,000. [22] Ahmadinejad appeared before a similarly oversized billboard of the Iranian flag encircled by the nuclear symbol, stating: “with great pride, I announce as of today our dear country is among the countries of the world that produces nuclear fuel on an industrial scale.” [23] The following day, government-owned newspapers ran headlines reading “Nuclear Power.”

The National Nuclear Technology Day, as it was called, did not actually herald any tangible accomplishment. On 17 April 2007, days after Ahmadinejad’s international broadcast, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the IAEA, said that Iran was only operating several hundred centrifuges, not the 3,000 which it reported to have activated. [24] A confidential IAEA document produced later that month reported that Iran had installed only 1,300 centrifuges and was unable to complete the full installation due to technical setbacks. The IAEA report was produced after a short-notice inspection. A diplomat speaking on anonymity added, “They are at the stage where they are doing one cascade a week.” At this significantly reduced pace, Iran was projected to complete installation by June and to reach 8,000 by the end of the year. [25]

Reza Agazadeh, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, responded to the report by “confirm[ing] that our technical efforts are going ahead appropriately,” restating that “improving nuclear technology and the installation and operation of 50,000 centrifuges are our aim.” [26] However, he never stated explicitly the actual number of functioning machines at the facility.

In the face of skeptical responses from nuclear analysts at the IAEA, Iran did not issue another public statement regarding its nuclear program until September 2007, when it again claimed that it had installed 3,000 centrifuges. However, the September 2007 IAEA report, released a few days after the announcement, found that only 2,000 centrifuges were functioning, significantly short of the claims made months earlier. [27] The November 2007 IAEA report also noted that the P-1 machines that had been installed were operating intermittently and enriched minimal amounts of uranium. Only two of the planned six groupings of centrifuge cascades were actually in use. [28]

Former Iranian government official and political analyst Saeed Laylaz remarked in April 2007 that “the president’s announcement was mostly important from a propaganda and political standpoint.” But he also noted that “that doesn’t mean the centrifuge goal is not reachable.” He argued that Iran could potentially have 3,000 operating centrifuges “in a matter of months.” [29] His statements are symptomatic of the general ambiguity and confusion surrounding Iran’s nuclear activities.

Strategic Propaganda

As the international community continues to debate the long-term aims of Iran’s nuclear program, it has underestimated Iran’s short-term strategy. Simply by exaggerating Iran’s capacity to build nuclear warheads, the regime has gained the country honor and political influence, and it has come closer to achieving its geopolitical goals. Ahmadinejad’s public exaggerations, which have been flippantly disregarded by nuclear specialists as empty boasting, serve to propel Iran into a position of political and strategic strength, even at the cost of international isolation. In February 2007, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei proclaimed that “nuclear energy is the future and destiny of the country” [30] and he was quoted earlier this year as saying that God will punish Iranians who do not support the country’s nuclear program. [31]

Iran exaggerates its nuclear progress because it believes it can make short-term political gains. The appearance of a highly advanced nuclear program with potential military capabilities bolsters deterrence by intimidating weak regional neighbors. As Iraq’s new government focuses on establishing internal order, Iran is in a strong position to assert its control over the region, namely by fueling, funding, and arming Shi’ite militias, most importantly those in Iraq. Iran will continue to extend its influence in Afghanistan and Iraq as it gains greater support among the Shi’a resistance groups in both of these countries.

Moreover, Iran can spread its influence by instigating intra-Muslim conflict in the Gulf Arab states, where many of the Shi’ite populations there identify with Iran’s Shi’ite majority. In 2006, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2006, said “most of the Shi’ites are loyal to Iran and not to the countries they are living in.” [32] By developing a base of support in other states, Iran can undermine the economic and technological superiority of the Gulf states and politically threaten several governments in the region.

The Iranian government also stands to gain significant domestic. Ahmadinejad’s ideological rhetoric and boastful announcements serve to inspire confidence in the government and pride in the country’s defiance of international sanctions. Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, says, “Our people feel great pride because our young Iranian scientists can produce nuclear fuel, the most important part of the fuel cycle, despite all of the sanctions and pressure from the West.” [33] This sense of nationalism is driven by Ahmadinejad’s claims that “every problem we [Iranians] have will be solved by global Islamic rule.” The desire for nuclear technology forms only part of Ahmadinejad’s call for expanded power. On multiple occasions he has told the Iranian people, “we must prepare ourselves to rule the world.” [34] To maintain the credibility of its expansionist aims, Iran must demonstrate constant progress in its pursuit of nuclear technology.

Iran is also eager to convince the international community that its acquisition of nuclear power is inevitable. If Iran can demonstrate that its nuclear program has already reached advanced degrees of development, then it can fend off demands to shut down the program. The idea of “atomic inevitability” contributes to widespread concern that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. While there is no explicit evidence that Iran has plans to build a bomb, it is approaching a ‘nuclear threshold,’ at which point it will have enriched enough uranium to be able to divert nuclear material from its civilian program to weapons manufacturing with speed. Israel’s Military Intelligence predicts that Iran will reach the ‘nuclear threshold’ by 2009. [35] However, Iran can only reach this ‘point of no return’ once it has resolved its technical issues. In the meantime, Iranian officials effectively deny the reports that its program is underdeveloped and continue to announce milestones on a yearly basis. The resolution deadlines issued by the UN Security Council pass without significant penalties, only further encouraging support for Iran’s nuclear industry. Even when the program fails to achieve tangible results, Iran will work to display its technical competency and enhance its renegade status on the way to its inevitable acquisition of nuclear power.

Iran’s political aspirations are intertwined with its deep-seated antagonism toward Western powers, especially the United States and Israel. Iran believes that it will not be able to compete with the West for influence unless it has nuclear weapons, although it is already exploiting political and ethnic conflict across the region. Iran antagonizes the West and destabilizes the Middle East through a combined approach of using propagandist rhetoric and terrorist sponsorship. Iran’s readiness to project as great a nuclear threat as possible and transgress the limits of a semi-transparent civilian program is based on its calculation that there is a low risk of preemptive attacks from the West.

Minimizing Risk

Iran has determined that it can afford to risk provoking a preemptive military attack because it believes that the United States is politically and operationally constrained by the lukewarm domestic support for such a move and existing military engagements. Because of the intelligence failures in Iraq, the U.S. government will struggle to convince Americans of the need for preemptive military strikes against Middle Eastern states assumed to possess weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, the U.S. may already have drafted preliminary plans for attack. [36] In May 2004, the House of Representatives passed a resolution allowing the U.S. government “to use all appropriate means to deter, dissuade, and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” [37] Despite some support within the Bush administration for the use of military force against Iran, a preemptive strike is likely impossible, given the overextension of U.S. forces already deployed in the region. Moreover, an attack on Iran would invariably put the large number of U.S. troops in the Middle East in danger of direct Iranian retaliation as well as by militias within Iraq. In 2007, Admiral William Fallon, former commander of the United States Central Command, rejected plans to send a third aircraft-carrier strike group to the Gulf as a threat to Iran. [38] He expressly stated that war against Iran “will not happen on my watch.” [39] Furthermore, Iran has buried its main enrichment facility, intended to house 50,000 machines, deep underground in order to avoid attacks similar to the 1981 Israeli air raid on the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor or the 2003 American “Shock and Awe” opening to the Second Gulf War.

Iran has also generated a multi-pronged strategy that it thinks will deter Israel from striking its nuclear facilities. First, Iran has invested heavily in its ballistic missile capabilities in order to demonstrate that it can attack Israel with its 1,200-mile range Ashura ballistic missiles. [40] Second, Iran employs the Shi’ite terrorist organization Hezbollah in Lebanon as a proxy force, which threatens to bombard or invade Israel from the north. For now, Israel has adopted a reticent public stance. Israeli President Shimon Peres has expressed emphatically, “I would prefer to stop the development of the atomic bomb without getting thrown into a war.” [41] While Israel could be waiting for further developments before making a decision, Iran currently exercises great liberties in its implementation of its “civilian” nuclear program and can continue to taunt and confuse the international community.

Staying the Course

Currently, Iran is in violation of three UN Security Council resolutions that demand the suspension of all nuclear enrichment activities. [42] It vehemently defends its right to develop nuclear technology under the NPT and defiantly advertises each stage of the process, however minor. For the Iranian government, defending the right to own nuclear technology has taken on such dramatic importance that political considerations have overshadowed the facts, and government officials have become adept at exaggerating nuclear developments instead of disclosing its actual setbacks.

Although the intentions of Iran’s nuclear program remain unclear, the political and cultural significance of a nuclear Iran has enormous international ramifications. Any evidence of Iran’s encroaching regional domination further inspires its growing militant Shi’a base, both domestically and internationally. Hassan Abbasi, the Director of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps says “approximately 40,000 Iranian estesh-hadiyun (martyr-seekers)” will carry out suicide attacks against “twenty-nine identified Western targets,” should the U.S. strike any Iranian nuclear facility. [43] National prestige and the promise of regional power drive the regime’s ambitions. It therefore chooses to employ such rhetoric in the short term as long as the risks of actual military strikes remain low.

In defiance of international sanctions, Iran will continue to pursue this short-term strategy because it perceives high payoffs and only minor risks. However, this strategy is predicated on the belief that Iran’s sensitive nuclear sites, oilrigs, refineries, and military facilities are safe from attack. As long as the international community is disinclined to threaten or undertake military action, Tehran will race toward regional domination based on both rhetorical and real nuclear power.


1. “Iranian Entity: Farayand Technique,” Iran Watch, July 21, 2004.
2. Esther Pan, “Iran: The Nuclear Threat.” Council on Foreign Relations, September 6, 2005.
3. Ibid.
4. “The New Mullahs’ Nuclear Site Under Scrutiny by International Media,” Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, September 28, 2007. <http://www.ncr-iran.org/content/view/4142/152/&gt;
5. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. June 6, 2003.
6. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. Novermber 10, 2003.
7. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. March 24 2007; United Nations. Security Council. “Security Council Imposes Sanctions on Iran for Failure to Halt Uranium Enrichment, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 1737 (2006).” Department of Public Information. December 23, 2006.
8. William J. Broad, Nazila Fathi and Joel Brinkley. “Analysts Say a Nuclear Iran is Years Away.” The New York Times, April 13, 2006.
9. Ibid.
10. “President Visits Natanz Enrichment Site.” Fars News Agency, April 9, 2008.
11. “Iran is Installing 6,000 Enrichment Centrifuges.” Fars News Agency, April 8, 2008.
12. Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran Claims to Install New, Faster Centrifuges.” The Washington Post, April 9, 2008.
13. Ali Akbar Dareini, “Ahmadinejad: Iran Has Tested New Generation of Advanced Centrifuges.” The Ledger, April 8, 2008.
14. Nazila Fathi and William J. Broad, “Iran Says It’s Installing New Centrifuges.” International Herald Tribune, April 8, 2008.
15. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. November 8, 2007.
16. Ibid.
17. International Atomic Energy Agency. Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Report by Director General. February 22, 2008.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. “Iran Tests Advanced Centrifuges.” Associated Press, April 8, 2008.
22. Nazila Fathi, “Iran Says It Can Now Enrich Uranium on Industrial Scale.” The New York Times, April 10, 2007.
23. Ibid.
24. “Iran Enrichment ‘in early stages.’” BBC News, April 12, 2007. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6549185.stm&gt;
25. David E. Sanger, “Inspectors Cite Big Gain By Iran on Nuclear Fuel,”The New York Times, May 15, 2007.
26. “Iran official: Nuclear Program Going Ahead as Scheduled.”Associated Press, May 20, 2007.
27. Azadeh Moaven, “A Nuclear Boast: The View from Iran.” Time, April 10, 2007.
28. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “Iranian Boast is Put to Test.” The New York Times, February 4, 2007.
29. Azadeh Moaven, “A Nuclear Boast: The View from Iran.” Time, April 10, 2007.
30. “Nuclear Energy Iran’s ‘Future and Destiny’: Khamenei.” Lebanon Wire, February 17, 2007.
31. “Iran Leader Says God Protects Nuclear Program.” Associated Press, February 17, 2008.
32. Lionel Beehner, “Arab Views of a Nuclear Iran.” Council on Foreign Relations, April 20, 2006. < http://www.cfr.org/publication/10491/&gt;
33. George Perkovich, “For Tehran, Nuclear Program Is a Matter of National Pride.” Yale Global, March 21, 2005.
34. Alireza Jafarzadeh, “The Man of a Thousand Bullets to Address the UN.” Fox News, July 20, 2007. <http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_story/0,3566,290208,00.html&gt;
35. Amos Harel, “MI: Iran Will Cross Nuclear Threshold by 2009.” Haaretz, July 11, 2007.
36. Michael T. Klare, “The Iran War Buildup.” The Nation, August 8, 2005.
37. United States. Cong. House. “H.CON.RES.398, Concurrent Resolution.” 108th Cong., 2nd sess. May 6, 2004.
38. Gareth Porter, “Commander’s Veto Sank Gulf Buildup.” Asia Times, May 17, 2007.
39. Andrew Exum, “Here’s Why the US Might Not Attack Iran.” Daily Star Beirut, August 31, 2007. Admiral Fallon has since resigned and President Bush has nomiated General David Petraeus as the new U.S. CENTCOM commander.
40. Robert Wall, “Pentagon Sees Iranian ‘Ashura’ Missile as Worrying Development.” ABC News Technology and Science, November 20, 2007. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Story?id=3936604&page=1
41. “Peres: Israel Won’t Attack Iran Alone.” The Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2008.
42. UNSCR 1803 (2008), UNSCR 1747 (2007), UNSCR 1696 (2006).
43. Ali Alfoneh, “Iran’s Suicide Brigades.” Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2007.