Israel’s overall security doctrine, established in the early days of the state, proved to be a big success. It stands on three legs: First, providing protection and safety by establishing a mighty military force: the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Two, prevention of potential existential crises by pre-empting the enemy (as was done successfully in 1967). Three, deterrence, by maintaining a clear military qualitative edge and the development of highly advanced weapon systems.
Due to this long-standing doctrine Israel was able to survive, and even thrive, in the face of tremendous regional hostility and dramatic military asymmetry. Two of Israel’s main detractors, Egypt and Jordan, made peace with Israel while unprecedented degree of intimacy is being developed with other Arab countries. The Arab Economic Boycott of 1945 is now a largely abandoned strategy while most regional actors realize that defeating Israel militarily is unrealistic. Moreover, the plight of the Palestinians has never been more marginalized, even within the Arab world. Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem remained unchallenged by top Arab leadership.
As a result, Israel’s remaining main Arab opposition, the Palestinians, adopted the “soft underbelly doctrine.” Attacking Israel, not necessarily in order to destroy the country, but to effectively diminish the value of its brand and its main civilian assets.
The Palestinian opposition to Israel almost entirely transitioned from targeting military to the targeting of civilians. In late 2000, after declining to accept Clinton’s proposal in Camp David, the Palestinian Authority, headed by Yasser Arafat, waged a five-year attack, known as the Second Intifada, on Israeli civilians and their institutions most notably the tourism industry (the country’s largest industry) and the economy. Over 70% of Israel’s nearly 1,500 fatalities were civilians.
Israel’s response was harsh. It contained three elements: a targeted campaign that was designed to eliminate the individuals that were responsible for the onslaught, the erection of a 475-kilometer-long hi-tech physical barrier to prevent infiltrations and the embrace of unilateralism and disengagement as demonstrated in Israel’s decision to pull out of Gaza in 2005. In the meantime, Yasser Arafat, the undisputed leader who never imposed national unity on the Islamist opposition, died and was replaced by the less dominant Mahmud Abbas. Hamas, the largest Islamist opposition group to the Palestinian Authority, took over Gaza in 2006 and along with Islamic Jihad, a smaller group of radical Islamists, forcefully continued with the implementation of the “soft belly doctrine.”
The Palestinians’ main goal is to depict Israel as a serial violator of human rights, a “pariah state” that has become a global burden rather than an asset. The impressive growth of Israel’s brand value in recent years, as demonstrated by seven consecutive record-breaking years in tourism, dramatic rise in direct foreign investment and global recognition in the country’s creative prowess — further encouraged the Palestinian to apply pressure on Israel as a brand.
A key element in the process is to identify Israel’s vulnerabilities, such as the upcoming iconic Eurovision song contest.
Established in the 1950’s by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the Eurovision attracts massive international attention as well as considerable ratings. It is estimated that this year’s contest will draw 250 million viewers worldwide. The Eurovision is the longest running international television contest in the world. As a three-time winner of the contest, Israel has attached great importance to the Eurovision. For many, it is seen as a pillar of the country’s international legitimacy, proof positive of Israel’s acceptance by the world. The event has become a magnate for foreign travelers, most notably members of the gay community that favored the event for decades.
No wonder, then, that Israel’s de-legitimizers identified the upcoming contest, to be held in Tel Aviv on May 14-18, as a golden opportunity to further taint Israel as a brand.
Last week’s inflammation along the Gaza-Israel border required both sides to exercise their ability to engage in a delicate dance: Hamas and Islamic Jihad shelled close to 700 (!) rockets on Israel’s southern region hoping for a massive Israeli response commonly referred to in western media as “disproportionate response.”
Such harsh response, they believed, could have resulted in several European participants pulling out of the contest embarrassing Israel and further boosting the efforts to de-legitimize the country.
Meanwhile, aware of its own national calendar (Memorial Day followed by Independence Day), Israel had to display maximum restraint to avoid military escalation in the face of growing internal push for harsher response.
If to judge by lack of global coverage of the most recent conflict in Gaza, Israel’s detractors failed, yet again, in provoking an international incident that would inflict damage on Israel the brand.
*The writer is an International Relations Professor at New York University, Member of APCO’s International Advisory Council and the founder of Brand Israel.
Ambassador Ido Aharoni serves as a global distinguished professor at New York University’s School of International Relations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Ambassador Aharoni is a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign service, a public diplomacy specialist, founder of the Brand Israel program and a well-known nation branding practitioner. He is the founder of Emerson Rigby Ltd., an Israel-based consultancy firm specializing in non-product branding and positioning. Ambassador Aharoni, who served as Israel's longest serving consul-general in New York and the tristate area for six years, oversaw the operations of Israel’s largest diplomatic mission worldwide. Ambassador Aharoni joined Israel’s Foreign Service in the summer of 1991 and held two other overseas positions in Los Angeles (1994-1998) and in New York (2001-2005). He is a graduate of Tel Aviv University (Film, TV, Sociology and Social Anthropology) and Emerson College (Master’s in Mass Communications and Media Studies). At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem he attended the special Foreign Service program in Government and Diplomacy. To reach more of his reports — Click Here Now.