Ethnic conflicts often involve a delegitimation of the rival ethnic community and its national aspirations. This, I suggest, can impel the community in question to legitimate its politics through ethical principles, which in turn may affect its policies. An abiding non-recognition of the ethnonational movement from within and without may engender ethical transformation and policy reorientation. Empirically, I trace the emergence, evolvement and possible effects of the Zionist ‘Iron Wall’ ethics. The original concept comprised the horizon of Arab recognition and peace, the strategy of containment, and the moral pillars of reciprocal self-determination and the lesser injustice. Iron Wall ethics, while constantly challenged, predominated much of Zionism’s history, culminating in the 1990s peace process. However, in the wake of the Second Palestinian Intifada, a prevailing assertion that the Arabs would never accept Israel’s right to exist has undermined the Iron Wall’s original ideals, rewriting its strategic prescription.
Containment has been salient in intellectual and policy debates for 60 years. It informed US foreign policy towards the USSR and, later, the so-called rogue states. The endurance of containment beyond the Cold War suggests that it possesses the quality of transferability, the capacity of a grand strategy from the past to transcend the circumstances that gave rise to it, to suggest what should be emulated and what avoided in future policies. Drawing on the notion of transferability and on the method of structured, focused comparison, this article uses Israel’s foreign policy towards Hezbollah and Hamas to argue that containment is transferable from the state level to a state/territorial transnational actor (TNA) relationship, albeit with permutations. This argument is examined in relation to four issues: the circumstances under which containment arises; its applicability to territorial TNA; the objectives sought by implementing containment; and the role of legitimacy as a component of containment. In so doing the article seeks to make a contribution to the debate on containment. While there is a rich literature on state containment, research on containing territorial TNA has been extremely limited.