Yitzhak Rabin and Israeli National Security
Efraim Inbar *

The late Yitzhak Rabin played a critical role in the shaping of Israeli national security policy and doctrine over the past four decades. As an influential officer and chief-of-staff (1965-68) of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF); as ambassador to the U nited States (1968-1973); as defense minister (1984-1990; 1992-95); and as prime minister (1974-77; 1992-95) he was a principal decision-maker in defense and foreign affairs, especially relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict. His views commanded the respec t of Israelis of all political colors, as well as many leaders abroad.

Many prominent Israeli leaders have been prolific writers -- including David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Alon and Shimon Peres. Yitzhak Rabin, however, has not produced a written strategic legacy, having written only a 1979 autobiography. 1 This essay is an attempt to present and analyze Yitzhak Rabin's strategic legacy, by looking at his thinking on key strategic issues, such as the orientation of Israel's foreign policy, the use of force, and Israel's regional strateg ic equation in the 1990s.

The American Orientation in Israel's Foreign Policy

Israel always has aspired to self-reliance in its defense. Traditionally, Israeli leaders have placed little faith in the good intentions of the international community. Nevertheless, Israel also has sought to bolster its defense by an alliance with a strong world power because of sharp asymmetries between Israel and Arab states in military manpower and resources. 2

The French orientation in Israeli foreign policy of the 1950s slowly gave way in the late 1960s to an American orientation, but not without considerable and impassioned debate within the Israeli political leadership. Yitzhak Rabin realized in the earl y 1960s that Israel's military and diplomatic links with Europe were fraying and that the United States was a preferable ally. 3 He clashed with Shimon Peres on this matter. 4 Peres was the archi tect of Israel's French orientation. In Rabin's opinion, the Europeans were of insignificant weight in geo-political terms. Only the United States counted for Israel in the strategic game. In concrete terms, Rabin was one of the driving forces behind the Eshkol government's effort to tap the American arms arsenal. Furthermore, upon his retirement from military service in 1968, Rabin lobbied hard for the Israeli ambassadorship in Washington. He sought to continue to serve his country on the diplomatic bat tleground. 5

Rabin's American-oriented strategic outlook was reinforced by his Americophile disposition. He had learned from his father to admire the United States 6 and had always wanted to spend an extended period there. He liked Am erica very much despite critical attitude to some aspects of American society, and greatly enjoyed the five years stay in Washington. 7 Moreover, In Washington, he learned to appreciate the American political system. Later, h e sought to import some of its features to Israeli politics.

As ambassador, Rabin looked for ways to endear Israel to the U.S. and to minimize matters in dispute. For example, he lobbied Israeli leaders hard to adopt a tougher military reaction in the 1968-70 War of Attrition, because he believed that this woul d be helpful in establishing a better relationship with the Nixon administration. In Rabin's opinion, destabilizing the Egyptian regime of President Nasser was an American desire, as well as an Israeli interest. He believed that Israeli action would weake n the elements within the administration that favored a U.S.-Soviet imposed solution in the Middle East, which was inimical to Israeli interests. 8 Furthermore, the image of a strong Israel, ready to use its force in pursuing its national interests, Rabin believed, was conducive in acquiring more weapons from the U.S.

Similarly, Rabin regarded Israeli readiness to take military action to assist Jordan in repelling the September 1970 Syrian invasion, at American request, as having a far-reaching impact on U.S.-Israeli relations. "Israel's willingness to cooperate cl osely with the U.S. in protecting American interests in the region altered her image in the eyes of many officials in Washington. We were considered a partner - not equal to the U.S., but nevertheless a valuable ally in a vital region during times of cris is." 9 According to Rabin, Israel later reaped on the benefits in terms of access to weapons and economic assistance.

Washington acquired an even greater strategic importance for Israel after the October 1973 war, because of the energy crisis, which enhanced Arab political power and contributed to Israel's diplomatic isolation. 10 Euro pe was energy dependent and could not possibly compensate Israel, from a military point of view, for withdrawal from territory nor support Israel in the event of Arab treaty violations. Relations with Europe, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin felt, ought to be limited to economic and cultural affairs. Israel's diplomacy in Europe was directed primarily at neutralizing the damaging effect of European positions on matters of the Arab-Israeli conflict. 11

At that time, Rabin reacted with pessimism to the U.S. retreat from Indochina, its desertion of the Kurds in 1975, as well as the lack of support for the Christians in the Lebanese civil war. He questioned the future of the United States as a global p ower. Furthermore, Rabin feared that Israel might become an additional "sacrifice" of a declining West. 12 Nevertheless, he did not see any alternative to the United States in Israel's quest for diplomatic and material supp ort. Furthermore, only the U.S. was considered able to offer inducements to the parties involved in negotiating agreements in the Arab-Israeli arena and to compensate them for the risks taken.

In his blunt fashion, Rabin stated in 1976 that "Israel's mere existence will be in jeopardy in case of total desertion by the U.S." 13 He outlined five areas in which United States support was needed: (1) weapons; (2) financial support; (3) deterring the Soviet Union; (4) preventing the misuse of the United Nations; (5) help in maintaining contact with Jews in countries where there was no Israeli official presence. 14

Post-1973 international circumstances and serious differences of opinion with the United States regarding Israel's borders and the Palestinian question made it a difficult time in U.S.-Israeli relations. Under these circumstances, prime minister Rabin emphasized that Israel had to nourish carefully its relations with the U.S. He also sought to take advantage of the peculiarities of the American political system; in particular the partial paralysis of U.S. foreign policy during election years. At the e nd of 1974, he said: "We have to pass one year in our relationship with the United States by walking on tiptoes. If we pass successfully the year 1975 and we will reach 1976, we will gain not one year but two." 15 "Playing for time" was a central component of Israel's political strategy in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israeli leaders, including Rabin, believed that they could wear the Arabs down over time and eventually, the Arabs would reconcile themselves to the existence o f the state of Israel.

Rabin strongly believed that U.S. support of Israel was closely tied to the American conviction that Israel was sincere in searching for peace and was negotiating in good faith. 16 Recognizing the difficulties in purcha sing weapons from United States he said: "The struggle to get weapons is continuous, but the United States will aid us, if it finds Israel displaying a willingness for peace." 17

To a great extent, Rabin subordinated his policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the mid-1970s to the state of American-Israeli relations. The need to prevent any deterioration in ties with the United States, as well the need to reduce the risks of an other war with the Arabs, converged in creating Rabin's willingness to make territorial concessions. The Egyptian-Israeli Sinai II agreement of September 1975, which required an Israeli withdrawal from the strategic Mitla and Gidi passes and oil fields in Sinai, was regarded by Rabin primarily as a measure meant to please the Americans. He signed Sinai II, not as an act of Egyptian-Israeli reconciliation -- but in order to strengthen the U.S. Israeli bond and to buttress the new Egyptian pro-American orie ntation, and introduce a wedge in the Egyptian-Syrian war coalition. 18

Rabin viewed peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors as a lengthy historic process that would take decades. Continuous American friendship and support was needed to nourish this process, he believed. Only a diplomatically and militarily strong Isr ael could bring the Arabs to terms and the U.S. was critical for projecting such an image. Even after Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and the Camp David Accords, Rabin felt that the differences of opinion between the Arabs and Israel were un-bridgeable, and th e continuing tensions with the United States were unavoidable because the Americans hardly supported Israeli requirements for border changes. Therefore, Israel had no choice but to play for time. "There is no way of finding the middle ground, even with th e best intentions of the world. Our most sensible policy is to stall." 19 In 1979, Rabin viewed the peace treaty with Egypt as just another interim agreement useful primarily in maintaining good relations with the United S tates. Moreover, he criticized the "low price" extracted by the Begin government from Washington for the Israeli withdrawal from the entire Sinai peninsula. 20

Indeed, the American quid-pro-quo in 1979 was not significantly greater than the compensation Rabin extracted from Washington in September 1975. Then the U.S. committed itself high levels of economic aid, to supply sophisticated weaponry to Israel, as well as oil, if unavailable on the world market. Furthermore, the 1975 understandings between the two countries placed limitations upon the American freedom of action in negotiating a resolution in the Arab-Israeli dispute.

For example, the 1975 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) included a U.S. promise to veto any change in the UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338; a U.S. commitment not to change its policy toward the PLO; it allowed for an Israeli veto on reconve ning the Geneva peace conference; and it stipulated that the next Egyptian-Israeli agreement would concern itself with a full-scale peace treaty. 21 The 1975 accord also institutionalized high level American military and ec onomic assistance to Israel, and served as an example of what Rabin coined as "strategic coordination" between the two countries.

Rabin's overwhelming emphasis on proper relations with the U.S. also extended also to the symbolic level. Toward the end of 1975, he insisted on delaying his planned trip to U.S. to January 1976 in order to become the first foreign dignitary to pay an official visit to the U.S. in its bicentennial year. Indicative of Rabin's Americo-centric orientation, he wanted to underscore the cultural commonalties between the two countries -- one of the pillars of the special relationship -- with a symbolic "firs t visit" of a small democratic ally to the bicentennial celebrations. 22

The U.S. remained centrally important to Yitzhak Rabin when he became Prime Minister again in 1992. Only the U.S. could lead an international effort to stop nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, Rabin stated. 23 Isr ael also relied on the U.S. to prevent the sale of North Korean Nodong (Scud III) missiles to Teheran, which would place Israeli targets within Iranian range. 24 As soon as Washington indicated displeasure with a discreet I sraeli attempt to negotiate independently with North Korea, the bilateral contacts were halted. In 1993, Rabin explicitly expressed his desire for "active American participation in the security of Israel." 25 Specifically, he asked the Americans to station again "Patriot" SAM batteries in Israel, and for assistance in deploying a defense system against missiles. 26

Rabin also expressed an interest in the stationing of American troops on the Golan Heights as part of the security arrangements in an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty involving Israeli withdrawal. 27 Rabin wanted a significa nt American involvement in the peace process to minimize the risks taken by Israel. Such a preference was evident already in the mid-1970s, as Rabin had welcomed an American monitoring force in the Sinai as a useful "trip-wire" arrangement, to warn of hos tile movements and as a mechanism for slowing the transition to war. Furthermore, the presence of American personnel Rabin believed, would raise the political cost of violating a U.S.-sanctioned status quo.

Yet, despite his strong American orientation and his desire for strategic coordination with the U.S., Rabin never warmed to the idea of a formal U.S.-Israeli defense treaty. Rabin emphasized again and again, particularly to American audiences, that Is rael had no intention of asking American soldiers to fight her wars: "Israel has an important principle: It is only Israel that is responsible for our security." 28 Such a treaty could undermine the widespread support withi n the U.S. for assisting the Jewish state and could curtail Israel's freedom of action, Rabin believed. Furthermore, a formal treaty could increase the pressures on Israel to make concessions on the nuclear issue. In the 1990s, Rabin even opposed the cond uct of regular meetings of a ministerial American-Israeli forum for strategic dialogue. 29

Many within the Israeli political leadership shared the American orientation in the state's foreign policy, as well as the sensitivity to American wishes in the decision-making process. Yet, more than others, Rabin is identified with this approach. He constantly looked to Washington for signs of approval or disapproval in forging Israel's national strategy.

The Use of Force

The building and use of military power has preoccupied the Israeli political leadership since the pre-state period. Rabin was one of these responsible for developing the IDF into the mighty military machine that triumphed in June 1967. He, like Ben-Gu rion, believed that Israeli military might was a necessary precondition for surviving in the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet, he did not believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict could be solved by military means alone. He criticized the tendency, prev alent among some right wing leaders, to rely on the use of force in determining the outcome of Arab-Israeli conflict.

In Rabin's view, Israel would never be able to muster enough military power to impose a peace treaty on its neighbors. 30 In recent years, he appeared to be increasingly doubtful of the utility of initiating a war again st the Arabs, because neither territory, nor the destruction of the enemy forces warranted the price that would have to be paid in war by Israel. Rabin advocated a "defensive strategy" involving a strong offensive force that would achieve a swift decisive victory in case of a deterrence failure: "I considered the prevention of war as the test of our security policy; in addition to being able to rapidly and forcefully end any war forced upon us." 31

Rabin viewed military superiority as a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for ending the conflict. In his opinion, Israel had a chance to reach a negotiated settlement with her neighbors only from a position of strength, because "no Arab rule r will consider the peace process seriously so long as he is able to toy with the idea of achieving more by the way of violence." 32 Rabin regarded military strength as instrumental in propelling resolution of conflict from the battlefield to the negotiating table -- under conditions favorable to Israel. IDF superiority was seen a tool for moderating Arab political expectations in the conflict. Military force was the means for a "diplomacy of violence." 33 Furthermore, occasional use of force was seen by Rabin as useful in signaling determination and in restoring and enhancing Israeli deterrence.

Rabin preferred the limited use of force, and was always cognizant of the political ramifications of military action. A review of Rabin's stance on the Syrian attempts to divert Jordan waters in the 1964-6 period; of Rabin's policy toward the Intifad a (1987-90); and of his policies in Lebanon, clearly demonstrates his support for relatively limited force, on the one hand; his subordination of military policy to political considerations, on the other.

Syria: Toward the end of 1964, Syrian began implementing the Arab Summit decision of January 1964 to divert the waters of the tributaries of the Jordan to prevent the successful building of the Israeli National Water Carrier. The Israeli government re garded the diversion plan as casus belli. Some within the Israeli cabinet advocated a military campaign to capture the territory inside Syria, where diversion was under way. 34 Rabin, then IDF Chief-of-Staff, opposed the id ea because it could lead to a full scale war with Syria. He insisted on a more limited approach. Rabin suggested that Israel hit the Syrian engineering equipment by tank and/or artillery fire without crossing the border. Furthermore, he preferred to take advantage of Syrian-Israeli artillery duels, usually started by the Syrian army, to respond in the area where the diversion efforts took place, rather than initiating an exchange with the diversion equipment as its main target. Long range fire and several commando operations in Syria and in Lebanon, considered "low-profile" military measures, put an end to the Arab water diversion plan. Rabin sanctioned also the use of air power against Syria, which was then viewed by the parties as an escalatory step, in order to overcome the Syrian topographic advantage. The Israeli-Syrian air duels were the precursor to the 1967 Six-Day War.

Intifada: The Palestinian uprising of 1987, the Intifada, constituted a strategic surprise for Israel. Rabin was the Defense Minister at the time. He has since admitted, with typical frankness, that the policies adopted in responding to the Intifada w ere essentially "trial and error," which was typical of Israeli decision-making. 35 Initially, Rabin assumed that the riots would quickly decrease in intensity. He ordered a massive IDF military presence, and the arrest of Palestinian inciters, coupled with orders to the military to minimize contact with rioters and to refrain from shooting live ammunition unless directly threatened. Later, in January 1988, Rabin ordered a firmer response: forceful confrontation of the demo nstrators and a policy of beatings.

The new policy was rooted in (a) Rabin's realization that the Intifada had far reaching political objectives that had to be denied, and in (b) his rejection of methods that might lead to a bloodbath. Rabin was impressed with the ability of the Border Police to "restore order" by the use of clubs, and consequently the troops were equipped with batons. This was the context of Rabin's infamous remark "nobody dies of a beating." Through measured force he sought to restore some of the deterrent power lost by the IDF. Though a reduction in casualties was quickly achieved, the policy of beatings failed to achieve its main goal of ending the mass demonstrations. Furthermore, Rabin learned that beaten Palestinians were even "hotter news" than dead ones. 36 The political implications of the international attention, in particular the repercussions in the U.S., coupled with soldiers' distress at beating civilians, led in March 1988 to a reassessment and to the adoption of a new pol icy, which remained in effect for the years to come.

In this reassessment, Rabin applied his outlook on the use of force in the Arab-Israeli dispute to the particular violent opposition Israel faced in the territories. The Intifada was regarded as another facet of the Arab-Israeli protracted conflict, w here the use of military force was no longer sufficient to solve the problem. Rabin devised a politico-military strategy to deal with the issue. He initiated a policy of attrition against the Palestinian population through military and administrative meas ures stressing that Palestinian violence would be met with Israeli countermeasures. Notwithstanding the harsh nature of the new approach, Rabin was not interested in pushing the population to despair and to further opposition. This consideration constitut ed a moderating factor in the fine-tuning of implementing the Israeli policy in the territories. Furthermore, Rabin insisted that his attritional approach, which emphasized Israeli determination not to succumb to the Palestinian use of force, had to be co mplemented by political measures. Despite the emphasis on a limited-power contest, the search for a political avenue to satisfy some of the Palestinian aspirations was an imperative for Rabin.

Indeed, before the 1988 elections, Rabin agreed to change his party platform, approving of negotiations with an independent Palestinian delegation for an interim agreement. Rabin believed that the Intifada created a situation in which, for the first t ime the residents of the territories were leading the Palestinian struggle, and therefore they might be able to serve as partners for negotiations. 37 While in the past, Rabin had been skeptical about elections in the Israe li-ruled territories, he was convinced by his Labor colleagues that elections were the only mechanism for selecting a Palestinian delegation with a mantle of legitimacy. Therefore, he and Peres suggested an election plan in the territories, which was late r incorporated in the National Unity Government peace initiative of May 1989.

Lebanon: Another example of Rabin's approach to armed conflict is the Lebanese arena. Already in 1976, when Prime Minister, he refused to commit any Israeli troops north of the Litani River to help the Christians in the Civil War raging since 1975 (al though Israel provided military assistance). 38 Rabin realized that the U.S. did not oppose the Syrian intervention in the Civil War on behalf of the Christians. But he regarded the denial of Syrian air, surfa ce-to-air and naval activities in Lebanon and opposition to a Syrian ground presence in southern Lebanon, as vital Israeli interests.

He succeeded, via the U.S., in acquiring Syrian acquiescence to the Israeli terms -- the so called "red lines" -- in exchange for a pledge of non-interference (which was never really entertained) in the Syrian 1976 invasion of Lebanon. Rabin preferred to see south Lebanon become a haven for the Palestinians (who fled from the advancing Syrian army in Lebanon) and a base for terrorism against Israel, rather allow the Syrian army approach the Israeli border and police the area. In March 1977, a Syrian f orce moved into southern Lebanon, violating the recently agreed understandings. Rabin deferred to American diplomacy in warning the Syrians to retreat, instead of ordering an Israeli attack on an exposed Syrian column. Indeed, the Syrians retreated.

During this period, Rabin's government capitalized upon the willingness of several Lebanese officers to defend their villages against the Palestinian armed organizations in order to establish the "good fence" policy (involving economic and military as sistance to friendly militias). This was the forerunner to the "security zone" north of the Israeli border, established in 1978.

In 1982, Rabin questioned the wisdom (but not the legitimacy) of the Lebanon War and its far-reaching political goals. 39 Despite being a member of the opposition, his criticism was muted. Rabin, as well a s other Laborites, were initially reluctant to oppose what seemed to be a U.S.-supported military intervention. 40 Moreover, Rabin said that "In the midst of fighting there is no place for public debate." 41 Nevertheless, he expressed deep reservations about the effectiveness of employing force to attain the government's goals in Lebanon. Indeed, when he again became an influential decision-maker (as defense minister in the National Unity Gov ernment of 1984), his opinion and efforts were central in the January 1995 decision to withdraw from Lebanon and to maintain the security zone.

The price for holding onto the security zone has gradually increased, but the Rabin government of 1992-95 limited its response to Hizballah attacks Lebanon. this, in order to prevent escalation that might interfere with the peace negotiations with Syr ia, and to prevent damage to Israeli villages along Israel's northern border. Only after many months of restraint, in July 1993, did Rabin use massive firepower, following repeated Katyusha attacks on Israeli settlements. At the same time Rabin emphasized his desire to avoid further any escalation. In December 1994, Rabin publicly criticized the new Northern Front Commander, Maj. Gen. Amiram Levine, for calling for a more offensive mind-set in dealing with stepped-up Hizballah attacks in southern Lebanon. Rabin's Lebanese policy reflected his risk aversion in military action, his growing sensitivity to casualties, and his belief in firm political control of military operations.

The Changing Strategic Equation

Over the past few years, one can discern the evolution of a new conception of Israel's strategic situation in Rabin's thinking. 42 Known for his realpolitik approach to regional and world politics, Rabin began to speak of an emerging "new world," and about the need "...to join the campaign of peace, reconciliation and international cooperation which spreads all over the globe..." 43 This terminology has been employed by Peres and other po litical leaders on the left, but was new for Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabin viewed the collapse of the Soviet Union as creating a new international atmosphere and he partly credited this for opening the door to Mideast peacemaking. Israel's adversaries had lost their "Soviet umbrella," a politico-military relationship t hat was an important factor in the Arab ability to confront Israel. Another international event, identified by Rabin as bringing positive security results for Israel, was the defeat of Iraq by the American-led coalition. 44 Concluding his overall assessment of the regional environment in 1992, Rabin said: "we live today in a period in which the threat to the very existence of Israel has been reduced." 45 The traditional existential fears were replaced by a lower threat perception.

Similarly new was Rabin's evaluation of Israel's international status. In the past, Rabin saw Israel as an isolated state which could rely only on itself. His "Jewish prism" to international affairs amplified this feeling. Recently, Rabin began to tak e notice of changing attitudes toward the Jewish state and he abandoned fears and suspicions of the gentile world. "Israel is no longer 'a people that dwells alone' ... and has to join the global journey toward peace, reconciliation and international coop eration." 46 In front of his preferred audience, a gathering of the most senior IDF officers, he emphasized that "the world is no longer against us." 47 He then added that "...we must think d ifferently, look at things in a different way. Peace requires a world of new concepts, new definitions..." 48 Such language was very new for Rabin and reflected his assessment of a much improved strategic situation.

Also new in Rabin's thinking was an emphasis on economic factors at the expense of military power. In his first address to the Knesset as Prime Minister in 1992, he said that national security was not only a function of the number of tanks, airplanes and missile boats, but of many components. In his midterm report (published in June 1994), Rabin, like his colleague Shimon Peres, 49 underscored the importance of economic factors. "Steps toward a rapprochement between Isr ael and the Arab states create a process that turns economics into the moving force that shapes the regional relations instead of nationalist interests that were dominant in the past." 50 Addressing the threat of Islamic fu ndamentalism, Rabin pointed out "that practically the only way to dry the swamp of radical Islam is through economic development and an improved standard of living." 51 The emphasis on economic factors in the strategic equa tion also contributed to a reduced threat perception, as Israel's economic situation was much better than of any of its neighbors.

Yet, despite Rabin's 1992 evaluation that the probability of war was low for the near future and that the existential threat had been reduced, he believed that Israel still faced serious military challenges. However, the nature and source of danger ha d shifted in his thinking. While, the peace process reduced threats from Israel's immediate neighbors, Israel was increasingly threatened by "second tier" countries such as Iraq and Iran. According to Rabin, the peace process had influenced the probabilit y of the use of Arab force against Israel, but not the Arab capability to harm Israel. The latter had actually been augmented. 52 Because of missiles, chemical and biological weapons, and because of efforts in the region to acquire nuclear weapons, Rabin warned that a future war could entail a large numbers of civilian casualties. 53 Similarly threatening was the growing appeal of Islamic radicalism. 54 Therefo re, the major enemy of Rabin's government became Iran. Iran was a distant country, but it sponsored Islamic terror and subversion, and was engaged in acquiring a nuclear bomb.

Consequently, Rabin's recent government assiduously attempted to conclude peace agreements with the "first tier" countries around Israel. In the process Rabin revised some of his views. He deviated from his past preferences on an important issue -- h is firm opposition to dealing with the PLO. Even after the PLO accepted a two-states solution (Israeli and Palestinian) at the end of 1988 Rabin still termed it as a "murderous terrorist organization." 55 In contrast to dia logue with the Palestinian inhabitants of the Israeli ruled territories, which might possibly lead to coexistence, Rabin said that talks with the PLO meant discussing the establishment of a Palestinian state, the division of Jerusalem and the "right of re turn" for Palestinian refugees. Rabin was adamantly opposed to even putting these issues on the Israeli agenda.

As late as March 1993, Rabin refused to accept an American suggestion to negotiate with the PLO, despite his growing realization that the Palestinians within the territories did not have the political leeway to reach an agreement without PLO approval. This, precisely because he did not want to meet the PLO requirement for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. 56 Nevertheless, a breakthrough Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO was signed in Washington in September late that year. Rabin agreed also to the September 1995 Oslo II agreement, which constitutes an important step toward a Palestinian state.

Furthermore, the agreements reached with the PLO treated all territories as an indivisible political unit, reducing the chances for revisions in Israel's eastern border along the lines of the Alon plan -- which Rabin had supported to past. Indeed, Rab in appeared to have changed his views on the strategic importance of territory, including the Golan Heights. In June 1992, he still claimed that "We will not leave the Golan Heights, not even in exchange for a peace treaty. We will be ready for a limited compromise and it does not have to be in territorial terms." 57 He was willing to consider only what he termed "cosmetic changes" in Israel's presence on the Golan.

In contrast to his past statements in favor of holding onto the Golan Heights, Rabin indicated during 1994 several times that he was considering withdrawal from the strategic plateau. In April 1994, at the TAKAM kibbutz movement convention (including representatives of the Golan kibbutzim) Rabin declared that "peace with Syria would provide more security than a few settlements on the Golan." 58 The devaluation in the "security contribution" of settlements in Rabin's thi nking is closely linked to the assessment, prevalent in dovish circles, that territories have diminished strategic value.

Rabin, as well as other political leaders, realized that Israeli society increasingly displayed signs of fatigue and was becoming clearly more reluctant to pay the price for protracted conflict with the Arabs. In a public address, Rabin compared the b ehavior of Israelis when bombed from the air by the Egyptians in 1948 to what happened during the missile attacks of 1991. In 1948, over 30 civilian casualties left no imprint on daily life in Tel Aviv. In 1991, the city and its suburbs were deserted by t ens of thousands. He concluded the comparison by saying: "We have changed." 59 Rabin's conclusion was that Israelis had lost some of their perseverance and determination. Rabin's assessment that Israeli society had "softene d" served as a catalyst, in his strategic evaluation, for speeding the peace negotiations.


Rabin was one of the chief architects of American-Israeli alliance. In his realpolitik outlook to international affairs, he was not averse to the use of military force. Yet, Rabin was cautious in the use of military force. He was cognizant of its limi ts and of its linkages to political goals. Towards the end of his illustrious career, Rabin led a shift in Israel's strategic thinking, which is predicated on a more optimistic evaluation of the regional environment and greater acceptance of the strategic argumentation of dovish circles in Israel. It remains to be seen whether the path chosen by Rabin for Israel will indeed correspond to the emergence of a more benign Middle East.

Rabin's views have had a strong impact on Israeli policies in the past and they are likely to remain also influential in the future. His thinking heavily permeated the political sphere. He also had been responsible for the promotion of many senior IDF officers who themselves have become important politicians. Many of them were deeply influenced by Rabin, whose authority on defense matters was hardly ever challenged. Indeed, Yitzhak Rabin's views had an impact on Israel's entire strategic culture -- an issue which is beyond this essay's focus -- because he was "Mr. Security" for much or most of the public.


* Efraim Inbar is Associate Professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and Director of its Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. At the University of Chicago, Prof. Inbar wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on national security policies during Yitzhak Rabin's first tenure as Prime Minister (1974-77). He is the author of War and Peace in Israeli Politics. Labor Party Positions on National Security (1991), and several articles analyzing Rabin's attitudes on nati onal security issues. The author gratefully acknowledges the useful comments made by Stuart A. Cohen, Shmuel Sandler and David Weinberg on an earlier draft.
1 Yitzhak Rabin with Dov Goldstein, Pinkas Sherut (Tel Aviv: Maariv, 1979) (Hebrew). Quoted here as Memoirs.
2 Aaron S. Klieman, "Israeli Diplomacy in the Thirtieth Year of Statehood: Some Constants and Discontinuities," in Asher Arian, ed., Israel - A Developing Society (Assen: Van Gorgum, 1990), pp. 43-49.
3 Rabin, Memoirs, pp. 108-9, 114; see also Moshe Zak, "A Bridge Across the Atlantic," Jerusalem Post, November 10, 1995 .
4 Other issues of dispute during this formative period in the relationship between the two, were: the role of the IDF in the weapon procurement policy versus the Ministry of Defense; the amount and type of weapons to be p urchased from Israeli military industries; and the role of nuclear weapons in Israel's national strategy. At that time, Peres served as deputy minister of defense under David Ben-Gurion.
5 Rabin, Memoirs, pp. 213-14.
6 Rabin, Memoirs, p. 14.
7 Slater, Rabin, p. 172.
8 Rabin, Memoirs, pp. 253-55, 261.
9 Rabin, Memoirs, p. 313.
10 Regarding Israel's isolation, see Efraim Inbar, Outcast Countries in the World Community, Monographs in International Affairs (Denver: Denver University Press, 1985).
11 Interview with Yitzhak Rabin, April 25, 1979.
12 Slater, Rabin, pp. 156-69.
13 Maariv, October 3, 1976.
14 Maariv, June 18, 1976.
15 Haaretz, December 3, 1974.
16 Haaretz, September 22, 1974.
17 Ibid., August 1, 1974.
18 Interview with Rabin, November 18, 1979.
19 Newsweek, Janaury 1, 1979; see also Dov Goldstein, "Interview of the Week with Yitzhak Rabin," Maariv, March 16, 1979.
20 Interview with Rabin, November 18, 1979. See also Chaim Izak, "Special Interview with Yitzhak Rabin," Davar, October 27, 1978.
21 For the text of the MOU, see Washington Post, September 16, 1975, and New York Times, September 18, 1975.
22 Interview with Rabin, April 25, 1979.
23 Davar, January 17, 1992, p. 18.
24 Haaretz, November 1, 1994, p. A4.
25 Yediot Aharonot, January 21, 1993.
26 Yediot Aharonot, November 16, 1993, p. A1.
27 Haaretz, September 13, 1994, p. A5.
28 In an address to both Houses of Congress (January 1976). See his Memoirs, p. 603.
29 Haaretz, December 3, 1995, p. A1.
30 See the Rabin lecture at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, June 10, 1991 (in this booklet), and Efraim Inbar, War and Peace in Israeli Politics. Labor Party Positions on National Security (Boulder: Lynne Rienner , 1991), chap. 6.
31 See the Rabin lecture at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, June 10, 1991 (in this booklet).
32 Ibid.
33 See Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), chap. 1.
34 For this incident and Rabin's role in it, see his Memoirs, pp. 121-25.
35 Dan Sagir, "Jordan will Return," Haaretz, Israel's 40th Year Magazine, May 1988, p.26. This section relies on Efraim Inbar, "Israel's Small War: The Military Response to the Intifada," Armed Forces and Society 18 (Fa ll 1991), pp. 29-39.
36 "Interview with Rabin," Spectrum 6 (March 1988), p.9.
37 Yitzhak Rabin, interview on the Israeli television, January 13, 1988, transcript, Journal of Palestine Studies 17 (Spring 1988), p. 151.
38 Rabin, Memoirs, p. 503.
39 Efraim Inbar, "The 'No-Choice War' Debate in Israel," Journal of Strategic Studies 12 (March 1989), pp. 29-30.
40 The U.S. supported Israeli goals such as expelling the PLO from Lebanon; establishing a a new Christian political order in Lebanon and ending the Syrian military presence. The U.S. even attempted to convince Israel t o refrain from withdrawing form the Beirut area in the fall of 1985.
41 "Interview with Rabin," Migvan 72 (August 1982), p. 8. His occasional offers of advice to defense minister Ariel Sharon were misconstrued as support for the war.
42 This section relies on Efraim Inbar, "Contours of Israeli New Strategic Thinking," Political Science Quarterly, forthcoming.
43 Rabin's inaugural address as Prime Minster t to the Knesset, Knesset Minutes, July 13, 1992.
44 "Address by Yitzhak Rabin," in Yehuda Mirsky and Ellen Rice, eds., Towards a New Era in U.S.-Israel Relations (Washington: The Washington Institute, September 1992), pp.1-2.
45 Ibid., p. 2.
46 Rabin's address to the Knesset when presenting his new government, Knesset Minutes, July 13, 1992.
47 Speech delivered by PM Yitzhak Rabin to graduates of the National Security College, August 12, 1993, Official Text, p. 3 (emphasis in the text).
48 Ibid.
49 For the views of Shimon Peres, see his The New Middle East (New York: Henry Colt & Co., 1993).
50 See Haaretz, June 29, 1994, p.B.3.
51 "Policy Statement By Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to the Knesset," October 3, 1994, Official Transcript.
52 See "Interview with PM Rabin," Bamachane, September 23, 1992, p. 9.
53 Ibid. See also enclosed lecture by Rabin.
54 "Interview with Rabin," Maariv, Shabat Supplement, June 24, 1994, pp. 2-3.
55 Dan Petreanu, "Labor's PLO Dilemma," Jerusalem Post, January 20, 1989.
56 Martin Indyk, " Current Assessment of the Middle East Peace Process," Official Test of speech delivered at Haifa University, November 16, 1995, p. 3.
57 Al Hamishmar, June 2, 1992, p. 1. For a collection of his statements on the future of Goaln Heights, see Haaretz, September 13, 1994, p. A4.
58 Yediot Aharonot, April 22, 1994, p. 3.
59 Haaretz, July 20, 1993, p. B1.