Security and Securitization in Israel

  • Ori Wertman

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The State of Israel has faced many security challenges since its founding in 1948. Located in a hostile environment where there are no democratic regimes, and surrounded by Arab countries which immediately after its establishment were declared a war of annihilation, the State of Israel, which is the only democracy in the Middle East, has faced more existential threats than any other country across the globe (Freilich, 2019, p. 21). According to Michael (2009, p. 689), these kinds of threats "can be defined as a trend, processor development that substantially endangers the existence of the state of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people". Thus, for 73 years since its establishment, the State of Israel has participated in seven wars, conducted hundreds of military operations, and even destroyed two nuclear reactors of enemy states. It would be accurate to argue that the State of Israel, which is in a routine state of emergency, is a classic case of a state that regularly faces security threats, some even existential. This claim stems from the perception of Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, who claimed that if Israel was defeated once on the battlefield, it would be the sad end of the Jewish state that would be destroyed by its enemies (Ben-Israel, 2013, pp. 65-66). Therefore, the author of this thesis argues that the State of Israel is a classic case study to examine how a state deals with existential security threats, a process which is manifested theoretically with the help of Securitization Theory.

    In essence, Securitization Theory is one of the key contemporary International Relations (IR) and Security Studies theories as it describes the process of how normal policy issues are transformed into security issues. In adopting constructivist approach to the study of security that perceives threats subjectively, Securitization Theory was developed in a broader attempt to redefine the concept of security, as it introduces a wider security perception, which comprises not only military security but also political, societal, economic, and environmental security. Nevertheless, although the Copenhagen School's original approach has enhanced the theoretical understanding of the construction of security issues (Buzan, Waever and De-Wilde, 1998), there are still elements in the theory that require theoretical development. One of these elements is the audience component, which has an essential role for executing a securitization act (Buzan, Waever and De-Wilde, 1998; Balzacq, 2005; Roe, 2008; Leonard and Kaunert, 2011; Cote, 2016).In that sense, Balzacq, Leonard and Ruzicka (2015, p. 8) suggest that "as long as the criteria of the audience remains unspecified, it will be difficult for researchers to establish the merits of one explanation over another".

    By supporting the argument above, as Securitization Theory continues to develop, this thesis argues that the audience dimension deserves further attention, especially in relation to the question of how to identify who the relevant audiences are that need to be convinced for performing a successful securitization act. Hence, asserting that the CS' original framework must be ameliorated for being applied as an analytical framework, especially regarding audience component, the main goal of this thesis is to ameliorate the theoretical understanding of the audience component during the securitization process. Specifically, based on Balzacq's division to a formal audience and a moral audience (Balzacq, 2005), and Cote's recognition of the audience as an active factor in securitization (Cote, 2016), this thesis aims to elaborate this division for assisting scholars to identify which audiences the securitizing actor needs to persuade for conducting a successful securitization act, and more importantly, why some audiences are essential to be persuaded for securitization to occur, while others are not. In addition, in order to create such a new audience conceptualization, this thesis suggests a unique combination between elements from the field of Political Psychology, Perception and Misperception, and Securitization Theory. Thus, acknowledging that the phenomenon of perception and misperception has a prominent role in understanding world politics, as it would be a difficult task to explain international politics without understanding the decision-maker's political perception of the environment (Jervis, 2017, p.xviii), this thesis contends that this element has a prominent role in identifying the audience component during securitization process. In essence, the main argument of this thesis is that the audience's legitimacy to confirm a securitization move, and by thus transform it into a securitization act, stems from two sources: (1) each state's rules within a securitization occurs, which grants an entity the role of the Legal Audience; (2) the political perception of the securitizing actor and/or audience, which bestow an entity the role of the Political Audience. Assuming that the conceptual framework offered by this thesis is not perfect, this conceptualization will undoubtedly improve the theoretical understanding of the audience component during the securitization process, particularly assisting scholars to identify who the relevant audiences are that needs to be convinced in order to execute a successful securitization act.

    In order to verify this new audience conceptualization, this thesis applies it to four case studies that occurred in Israel, a country that deals with many security challenges since its establishment. Each case study represents a different type of securitization act and different kind of threat. Similar to Lupovici (2014), the author of this thesis also argues that Securitization Theory could be more easily implemented in the case of Israel. Furthermore, as other scholars who have already used Israeli case studies for exploring securitization (Abulof, 2014; Olesker, 2018, 2014a, 2014b; Lupovici, 2016), this thesis indicates two main reasons why focusing on the Israeli policies within the Arab-Israeli Conflict is an adequate case study for this research, which even strengthen the former argument. First, the Arab-Israeli Conflict comprises many kinds of securitization acts, e.g. wars, peace processes and military operations. Second, there is widespread literature and evidence about the Arab-Israeli Conflict, which include memories and scripts of those who were in the top decision-making positions during the process, e.g. leaders, ministers etc., which are necessary in order to explore the subject comprehensively. Thus, in addition to the theoretical contribution to the audience component in Securitization Theory, this thesis may shed light on how the State of Israel deals with existential security threats and which audiences are needed to be convinced in order to implement securitization policy in Israel. Consequently, the original contribution of this thesis is not just a reconceptualization of the audience component in Securitization Theory, but also to the study of Israeli security. Hence, this thesis conducts at the same time both theoretical and empirical contributions to the academic literature.

    The division of the chapters of the thesis will be as follows. Chapter 1 presents the literature review of Securitization Theory, focusing on the audience component and its relationship with the Securitizing Actor. Chapter 2 introduces the conceptual framework of the audience component developed by the thesis writer, which defines two types of audiences: Legal Audience, which according to the state's rules, has the legal authority to execute the relevant securitization act; and Political Audience, which its support (or lack of resistance) for securitization is both not required according to the state rules and is perceived by the securitizing actor and/or audience as an essential condition performing a securitization act. Chapter 3 presents the methodology of the thesis. Ontologically, this thesis adheres to a social constructivist approach in which social structures are "real" and "objective", yet their objectivity depends on shared knowledge. From an epistemological standpoint, this thesis adheres to scientific realism, which acknowledges that although social kinds are different from natural kinds, it is still possible to describe casual relations in the world. In addition, Chapter 3 introduces the main characteristics of case study research design that is adopted in this thesis, and also explains how qualitative methods are utilized to obtain the data for this thesis, as it relies on primary sources, secondary sources and interviews. Chapters 4-7 constitute the case studies discussed in the thesis, each is characterized by a different type of security threat that the State of Israel had to deal with. In each of the four cases, the relationship between the military and political echelons in Israel, and between the Israeli government and the American administration will be presented. Chapter 4, The Six-Day War: The Securitization of the Egyptian Army, explores how Israel coped with the concentration of Egyptian army forces on Israel's southern border on the eve of the Six Day War in 1967, which was perceived by Israeli decision-makers as an existential threat to the State of Israel. Chapter 5, The Oslo Accords 1993-1995: The Securitization of the bi-National State, discusses how Israel chose to sign the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)in order to create a separation between Israel and the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, thus ensuring a solid Jewish majority within Israel. Finally, Chapter 6, Operation "Defensive Shield": The Securitization of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, discusses how Israel dealt with Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada until Operation Defensive Shield. Chapter 7, Operation "Outside the Box": The Securitization of the Syrian Nuclear Reactor, discusses how the State of Israel dealt with the construction of a nuclear reactor in Syria, which was perceived by decision-makers in Israel as a first-rate existential threat to the Jewish State and its citizens.

    In conclusion, by developing a new conceptualization for the audience component that can assists scholars to identify who the relevant audiences are that need to be persuaded for conducting a successful securitization act, this thesis can contribute to the theoretical understanding of the role of the audience component in securitization theory, strengthen the fruitful combination between the fields of IR and Political Psychology, and enhance the theoretical knowledge in other IR theories concerning conflicts, peace processes, and world politics. In addition, this thesis may contribute to the field of Israeli Studies, especially concerning how the State of Israel copes with existential security threats and the extent to which the US administration influences Israel's decisions on national security matters.
    Date of AwardNov 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorChristian Kaunert (Supervisor), Joana Lopes De Deus Pereira (Supervisor) & James Gravelle (Supervisor)

    Cite this