Lorna Fitzsimons: Israel faces a battle for credibility. But it's winnable

The truth is no one looks good in war. We all need to live to a higher standard
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The Independent Online

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you... My message to Israel and her friends is you may be right that they are out to get you but it does not and should not change your priorities.

The bottom line that all decent people want to know is not, "Are you perfect?". Instead, they need to know, "Are you sincere and can I believe you? Can we give you the benefit of doubt?" The public know there is no such thing as a perfect democracy. Just like Britain, Israel has and will make mistakes. It is what you do about your mistakes that defines you.

As scrappy and challenging as Israelis undoubtedly are, it takes a nanosecond to realise that their tough persona is all to protect a soft core. They care. They care deeply what people think about them. The "no one like us, we don't care" stance is a fraud. The truth is it does matter to Israel what the world thinks of it, and so it should.

It matters because of Jewish identity and values and for deeply strategic reasons about the ability of the state to defend itself. This is not about a smoke and mirrors PR operation.

It is a very serious new security front that faces us all in modern warfare. In this theatre, there is not a tank or a boot in sight. It is the diplomatic campaign being fought in international political arenas. Israel's enemies have worked out something that even the brightest general in Israel is only just getting. They have discovered that the way to stop Israel's undoubted military superiority is to limit their ability to use it and to force Israel to fight with her hands tied behind her back – levelling the playing field in what otherwise is a very asymmetrical situation.

Whether you like or loathe Israel it should give us all pause for thought that for a country like Britain, a key pillar of our international power and influence is our standing army – our deterrence or force projection.

If our enemies can convince us that it is simply unethical for us to use that deterrence, then in one fell swoop they get rid of our advantage. Some may think this is a good thing. But I disagree. The use of force is always undesirable, and we should all understand it is an admission of failure. But sometimes necessary and justified.

The truth is war has never been anything else other than horrific. Anyone who thinks there has been a clinically perfect war is naive and dangerous. They may be less ugly than they were in the past – and I say that with a family member who fought in the trenches in the First World War and became a conscientious objector in the Second, and a husband who has served in Iraq.

But through modern technology, empowered electorates, the internet and 24-hour TV, we see things we were shielded from before. In the past, if you did not have a family member with military experience you had nothing to counter the Hollywood-sanitised version of war where there is always a clear winner.

The truth is no one looks good in war, and when it comes to our record in independent judicial reviews of our military campaigns, we in Britain live in a glasshouse. We all need to live to a higher standard.

The grubby truth is we are all flawed, and Israel is no different. Any of her supporters trying to pretend otherwise just are not credible to the public. All people care about is credibility. They want to see that Israel is sincere and trying hard to make peace. Not who they are or what they are but what they do and how they treat others.

This is why the answer to Israel's strategic security challenges is to remember that the public are not daft. They know the share of the blame that the Palestinians shoulder, but the public think that is the Palestinians' problem. We have to remember that how we refer to the other defines us more than them. What Israel needs to concentrate on to establish her credibility is of its desire for peace.

It is a message that has the merit of being true. At Israel's premier defence and security conference at Herzliya, Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, set out unequivocally the overwhelming case for the creation of a Palestinian state as vital to Israel's national security interest. And Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister whom Israel had invited to attend, was treated like a rock star even when he was delivering a tough message to a cynical audience. This says much more about what is happening in Israel than others would have you believe.

Lorna Fitzsimons is CEO of Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM)