The Politics and National Security of Israel

Module de rattachement : géopolitique.

  • Cours en une session de deux heures et quatre sessions de trois heures.
  • Second semestre.
  • Langue d’enseignement : anglais.
  • Intervenant: Corinne MELLUL.
  • Contact :

Course Presentation

No modern state has been more consistently preoccupied with its national security than Israel since it was created in 1948. This comes as little surprise from a country that, from its birth in the midst of war to the current Iranian nuclear threat, has had to face constant challenges to its very survival. However, Israel’s national security doctrine has been shaped by a number of factors whose scope extends far beyond the need to respond to perceived latent, impending or declared threats. The Jewish history of diasporic persecution and the memory of the Holocaust, in particular, have been key determinants of Israeli security policies.

Therefore, Israel’s patterns of responses to external sources of danger, from full-blown wars to terror attacks and border infiltrations as well as to the prospect of durable peace with a neighboring independent Palestinian state cannot be understood without an extensive inquiry into its history, its national identity and the decision making processes in its centers of power – government, the defense and intelligence establishment, the Knesset. An assessment of future possible scenarios regarding regional security developments must also take into account the political and demographic transformations under way in Israeli society.

The resolution of the over sixty-years-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been widely viewed as the lynchpin of stabilization for the entire Middle East. While the emerging changes in the Arab world combined with the current changes inside Israel may well challenge this assumption in ways that still need to be gauged, it is undeniable that Israel will remain a central actor of regional geostrategic and geopolitical developments in the Middle East and therefore in global security.


Understanding the Israeli perspective and what it is grounded in is therefore an indispensable step for those wishing to gain a comprehensive knowledge of regional security issues affecting the Middle East. It is what this course proposes to engage students in, through an examination of:

  • Israel’s history;
  • The Israeli political system;
  • The Israeli defense and intelligence establishment;
  • Israel’s national identity, collective narrative and society;
  • Israel and Palestine;
  • Israel vs. Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Course objectives

Students should come out of this course with a comprehensive general grasp of the Israeli perspective on Middle East security issues and how it may affect security in the region in years to come. The research and analysis that they will be required to do should also provide them with an opportunity to acquire in-depth knowledge about at least two specific dimensions of the Israeli side of the Middle East security situation.

 Course requirements

Students enrolled in this course will be asked to fulfill three requirements:

  1. Participate in a group oral presentation on one dimension of the issues listed above;
  2. Produce a 12-page paper on the subject of their choice after validation by the professor;
  3. Join in class discussions on the basis of assigned readings that they will have done in preparation of each session.

Course language

 The course will be dispensed in English, with French as a secondary, optional language whenever necessary.

 Preliminary bibliography

  • Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths.
  • Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East.
  • Neve Gordon, Israel’s Occupation.
  • Gershon Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977.
  • Jeroen Gunning, Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence.
  • Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood.
  • Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 1881-2001.
  • Aaron David Miller, The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace.
  • Benny Morris, 1948:  A History of the First Arab-Israeli War.
  • Sari Nusseibeh, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life.
  • Michael Oren, Six Days of War; June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.
  • William Quandt, Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967.
  • Michael Sorkin (ed), Against the Wall: Israel’s Barrier to Peace.
  • David Shipler, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land.
  • Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East.
  • Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.
  • Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace.
  • Azzam Tamimi, Hamas: A History from Within.

Note: a more exhaustive bibliography as well as a compilation of internet resources will be supplied to the students at the beginning of the course.