URI MILSTEIN: A STRATEGIC ASSET FOR ISRAEL
Louis Rene Beres
29 November 2001
Louis Rene Beres
Professor of International Law
Department of Political Science
West Lafayette IN 47907
Dr. Uri Milstein is probably best known for his splendid multivolume HISTORY OF ISRAEL'S WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, but he is also an important military strategist in his own right. Unflinchingly truthful and courageous, he argues compellingly that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has never really learned from its major mistakes, and that Israel continues to lack a coherent and purposeful military strategy. Such a lack is especially critical in an era of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The IDF establishment is woefully inadequate in the creation of essential strategic theory. Understanding this condition fully, Milstein exposes, again and again, the associated posture of "defeatism." There is no "New Middle East," Milstein recognizes, and the Oslo Accords are little more than a manifestation of unforgivable national weakness and collective self–delusion. Ensnared by pervasive anti–intellectualism, the IDF establishment has brought a "country in siege" to a state of almost absolute insecurity.
Uri Milstein has been characterized as a "voice in the Israeli wilderness," an author of twenty–seven major books who dares to challenge the contrived "wisdom" of the military–defense elite. His THE GENERAL THEORY OF SECURITY: THE SURVIVAL PRINCIPLE – the first volume in his comprehensive work, A CRITIQUE OF MILITARY INTELLECT – is premised on the idea that warfare, more than anything else, molds the shape of human society. Following from this premises, Milstein unfolds an interrelated set of definitions, principles, asumptions and conclusions that together comprise what Israel needs most: A true theory to guide its survival.
The non–scientist may at first be unimpressed with the search for theory. After all, we are usually led to believe, theory is the very opposite of practice, and what Israel needs now is assuredly more of the latter. Yet, there can be no good practice in any field without prior development of good theory, and Israel – so long as it lacks a general theory of security – will be vulnerable to catastrophic harm and possible defeat.
Over the past year I have been in regular contact with Dr. Milstein about his valuable ideas for a National Security Academy in Israel, a place where IDF personnel could be schooled in strategy and tactics at a far higher level than is available to them today, and for the expression of more advanced thinking throughout the IDF. Responding to my own sustained calls for a less ambiguous Israeli posture on nuclear weapons and nuclear warfighting, Milstein has added his voice to my own, reminding Israelis that policy on so crucial an issue must always be informed by serious intellectual analyses. Asserting that "The Israeli security system has no intellectual depth whatsoever," he calls for a more open system rooted in an Academy for National Security, an institution that would be independent of the IDF and that would replace the IDF Officer's School and the College for National Security.
"The main lesson of contemporary civilization," argues Milstein, "is that survival skill of human systems is found in direct correlation to intellectual depth." Understood in terms of Israel's very precarious "survival skill," this means an imperative to create immediately an Academy for National security that could bring "intellectual depth" to the IDF. Whether or not such a proposal is practicable in time – and time is a luxury that Israel lacks – Milstein's advocacy is conceptually right on the mark. It deserves the full support of every person who values Jewish survival in the endangered State of Israel.
Milstein is no arm chair academic in such matters. He was the official historian of the IDF Paratrooper Force during his own service, from when he was nineteen until shortly after the Yom Kippur War in 1974. In 1968 he published THE PARATROOPER WARS, which revealed, for the first time, the existence and operations of Ariel Sharon's Unit 101. The book became a sensational best seller in Israel, and had a direct and dramatic effect upon the IDF. Among other things, it brought to public awareness such names as Ariel Sharon, Rafael Eitan and Mordechai Gur.
Most recently, Dr. Milstein has adapted his very powerful intellectual insights to the security of the United States. In an article constructed as a post–September 11th letter to George W. Bush, President of the United States, Milstein identifies DEFECTS in this country's ability to protect itself (primarily poor strategic and tactical theory); RESULTS (substantial loss of life and power); LESSONS (the need for a "new theory of security" and for "a new intellectual elite to match the strategic realities of the twenty–first century"); IMMEDIATE TERM REQUIREMENTS (prompt war in Afghanistan and against Iraq); MIDTERM REQUIREMENTS ("The United States must declare war on all the terrorist organizations and use all of its special operations forces to annihilate every terrorist on earth...."); and LONG TERM REQUIREMENTS (the development of a "National Academy for National Security," a recommendation that clearly parallels what Milstein expects of his own country.)
Dr. Uri Milstein, who currently teaches at Bar–Ilan University, is
dedicated to new paradigms of security for both Israel and the United
States. Whether all of his insights and proposals are equally well–founded
and achievable is surely a matter of some debate, but one thing is certain:
His ideas are fundamentally sound, and can be ignored only at our own
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and publishes widely on American and Israeli security matters. His work is well–known to the Israeli Prime Minister, to the intelligence communities and to the IDF General Staff. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs Analyst for THE JEWISH PRESS in New York City.