Obituary: Professor Yehoshafat Harkabi

Yehoshafat Harkabi, strategist: born Haifa 21 September 1921; served IDF 1948-59, Deputy and Chief of IDF Intelligence Branch 1950-59; Deputy Director General, Prime Minister's Office 1962; Head of Strategic Research, Ministry of Defence 1963-68; Senior Lecturer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem 1968-73, Associate Professor 1973-78, Professor of International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies 1978-89 (Emeritus), Director, Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations 1983-89; married (one son and one daughter); died Jerusalem 26 August 1994.

YEHOSHAFAT HARKABI was a distinguished strategist and one of the world's foremost authorities on the Arab-Israeli conflict. His career as a soldier and a scholar spanned the first four and a half decades in Israel's history and his writings illuminate the existential dilemma of Jewish survival in an uncommonly harsh and hostile regional environment.

Yehoshafat Harkabi was born in Haifa in 1921 and studied Philosophy, Arabic Literature and Modern History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As a student he was active in the Haganah, in 1943 he volunteered for the Jewish Brigade in the British Army, and during the 1948 war of independence he commanded a company of students in Jerusalem. After the war he served as a liaison officer between the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defence and as a young major he participated in the Rhodes armistice negotiations and in the secret talks with King Abdullah of Jordan.

For nearly a year Harkabi was private secretary to the Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharett, but the army claimed him back. He was appointed Deputy Director of Military Intelligence in charge of research in 1950 and in 1955 he became the Director and was promoted to the rank of major- general. In this capacity he helped to forge the alliance with France which culminated in the Suez war against Egypt. In 1959 Harkabi left the army in the wake of a mismanaged mobilisation exercise and went to Harvard University where he gained a Masters in public administration. On his return he was appointed deputy director of the Prime Minister's office and later given charge of strategic research in the Ministry of Defence. During this period he wrote his book Nuclear War and Nuclear Peace (1966) and submitted a doctoral thesis on the Arab position in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In 1968 Harkabi joined the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he climbed the academic ladder to become in 1978 Professor and head of the Department of International Relations and Director of the Leonard Davis Institute of International Relations. In 1975 he was seconded to serve as Assistant for Strategic Policy to the Minister of Defence and in 1977, after the Likud's rise to power, he became Intelligence Adviser to the Prime Minister, Menachem Begin. In his first memorandum to Begin, Harkabi wrote that Israeli control over the West Bank could not be maintained indefinitely. Not surprisingly, the association between the two men proved short-lived.

A prolific writer, Harkabi was also in great demand as a lecturer in Israel and abroad. He retired from the Hebrew University in 1989 but continued to teach a course on war and strategy in the National Defence College where he was widely regarded as the Israeli equivalent to Carl von Clausewitz. In 1993 Harkabi was awarded the highly prestigious Israel Prize in Political Science.

In the course of his distinguished academic career, Harkabi published over 20 books and pamphlets and countless articles in the field of strategic studies in general and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular. He made a significant contribution to teaching and research on strategic studies in Israel and published an important treatise on War and Strategy (1990) which was based on his lectures in the National Defence College. But his most original and most important contribution was to the study of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

On the Arab-Israeli conflict Harkabi's views underwent a remarkable transformation from the hawkish to the dovish end of the spectrum. The book that established his reputation as a leading hawk was Arab Attitudes to Israel (1971). In this book Harkabi explored the emotional, cultural, ideological and religious sources of Arab hatred for the Jews and Israel. Arab hostility towards Israel, he claimed, was implacable and unalterable, giving rise to two principal aims: genocide and the destruction of the Israeli polity. Since the Arab position in the conflict was totally intransigent, Israel had no choice but to stand up and fight. Harkabi's reputation as a hawk was buttressed by later publications such as Arab Strategies and Israel's Response (1977) and The Palestinian Covenant and its Meaning (1979).

Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1977 took Harkabi by complete surprise. But he had the intellectual honesty to admit that this manifestation of Arab flexibility could not be accounted for in terms of his earlier analysis. Moreover, since the Arab position in the conflict was beginning to soften, Israel had to respond in kind. Lest he be seen as going soft, the former general took to describing himself as a Machiavellian dove. In other words, he advocated territorial compromise not in order to appear reasonable but because such a position would best serve Israel's own interests.

Ironically, as Harkabi observed, just as the Arab position was becoming more moderate, the Israeli position under the right-wing Likud government was becoming more intransigent, at least as far as the West Bank was concerned. Viewing the Palestinian problem as the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he became increasingly frustrated with the Likud's refusal to concede any political rights to the other party. In Israel's Fateful Decisions (1988) Harkabi launched a blistering attack on the ideological mindset of the proponents of Greater Israel and on the expansionist policies of the Begin and Shamir governments. Instead of the policy of not yielding an inch, and waiting for the Palestinians to surrender, he advocated negotiations with the PLO to establish an independent Palestinian state. The book aroused considerable interest and made a modest contribution to the changing climate of opinion which culminated in Labour's victory over the Likud in the 1992 elections.

Yehoshafat Harkabi, affectionately known as 'Fati', was diminutive in physical stature but had a powerful and some found intimidating presence. He was an intensely serious man, with a lively and fertile mind, who grappled ceaselessly with big issues. But behind the forbidding exterior there was an unassuming, thoughtful and charming individual with many endearing qualities, including a dry sense of humour and the ability to laugh at himself.

The loss of a friend and colleague is always sad, but the loss of a scholar of Harkabi's stature has a further dimension. Scholars take many years to accumulate knowledge, to mature and to distil wisdom from their learning. Harkabi was an unusual scholar because he moved so freely and continuously between the world of action and the world of ideas, and because he had the courage to speak truth to power. His death thus represents a national loss to the country which he served with such dedication and unswerving loyalty both as a soldier and as a scholar.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas