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Israel at 71: Reading its strategic positioning

June 19, 2019 at 1:19 pm

Israeli youths march through the Old City of Jerusalem holding the Israeli flag on 16 May 2007 [MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images]

Israel has marked the 71st anniversary of its creation in Palestine with an overwhelming feeling of pride and power; it believes that it has reached the peak of its strategic status. However, there remain challenges and risks which may increase in the future to hit the bases of its continued survival, notably its security, economy and settlement blocs. This article offers a review of Israel’s strategic positioning, in terms of its achievements and potential risks.

Strategic achievements

Israel has been able to become the largest congregation of world Jewry, which was always a key Zionist objective. On its 71st anniversary, it announced that its population has reached 6.74 million Jews, constituting 46.5 per cent of all Jews in the world.

Its military superiority means that Israel has won most of its wars with the Arabs, and has taken over most of Palestine as well as the Syrian Golan Heights. The Israeli army is ranked among the top in the world, employing the most advanced weapons with full US support and cooperation. There is also a thriving arms industry in Israel, and a nuclear arsenal of an estimated 200+ warheads, giving it strategic superiority in the region.

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Israeli political parties are many and have various leanings — right wing, left wing and religious — but they generally agree on the basics and general structure of the Zionist project. They have been able to manage their differences within an effective political system which keeps Zionist Israel on track to achieve its ultimate aims and objectives. Most parties maintain secular approaches acceptable to the West, with a staunchly nationalist and religious core capable of excessive aggression against the Palestinian people.

With an advanced economy, Israel has achieved advanced economic conditions similar to those in European countries, and created an attractive environment for Jewish settlements. In 2018, Israel’s Gross National Product was $369 billion, with a GDP per capita of $41,560.

Construction workers build illegal settlements in Jerusalem [Sliman Khader/Apaimages]

Construction workers build illegal settlements in occupied Jerusalem [Sliman Khader/Apaimages, File photo]

Industrial, scientific and technological advancement has seen Israel becoming significantly superior in the hi-tech sectors, wherein it is considered to be among the global leaders. Such exports grew to a total of $50.5 billion in 2018, including, inter alia, electronic components, computing services and software, telecommunication services, aircraft, medical and surgical equipment, and artificial intelligence.

With international support and unprecedented global influence, Israel has managed to impose itself on the international scene. It has reinforced its “legitimacy” and political relationships, especially since the Oslo Accords and the nominal peace process. It has also maintained its position as a state apparently above the law, acting with impunity in its military occupation, oppression and siege of Palestine and the Palestinian people. Its main ally is the US, which has used its veto at the UN Security Council to block any attempts to make Israel accountable for its actions. Other Western states fall into line behind the US in this support. It has thus been able to avoid and ignore scores of international resolutions supporting Palestinian rights. Moreover, many countries now regard good relations with Israel as the key to keeping Washington happy and benefiting from US largesse.

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Israel has succeeded in investing in the peace process agreements in its favour, especially the Oslo Accords. Dozens of states have forged political links with Israel, which has thus been able to neutralise major Arab forces and take many Palestinian factions out of the picture. At the same time, it has continued to impose its Judaisation and settlement projects in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and Jerusalem. In doing so, it has emptied the “two-state solution” of any real meaning and is attempting to close the Palestinian file and inflict on the Palestinians what is known as the “deal of the century” in cooperation with the US.

The Zionist state has been able to minimise the Palestinian national project and transform the Oslo-created Palestinian Authority into a tool of the occupation. Palestinians have always hoped that the PA would one day become the government of an independent Palestinian state within the borders of 4 June 1967, but it is now an entity that serves the Israeli occupation more than the aspirations of the people of Palestine. It spends large sums of money on its security forces which coordinate their work with the Israeli army and police, and move against resistance groups. What is more, the PA’s budget and economy is linked directly to that of the occupation itself.

Thanks in large part to its overt and covert relations with Arab and Muslim countries, Israel has been able to penetrate the surrounding Arab and Islamic milieu. Indeed, regional governments are now falling over themselves to normalise relations with Israel, developing links and responding positively to the “deal of the century” even before the Zionist state has fulfilled any of its obligations under Oslo and the peace process.

Challenges and risks

Israel faces a number of challenges and risks, which may develop in the medium to long term into a “serious threat”, not least the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and the rise in the population across historic Palestine. There are now more Palestinians than Jews in Israel and the occupied territories; it is predicted that there will be 300,000 more Palestinians than Jews there within the next five years. This “demographic time bomb” poses a great challenge to the Zionist project and the future identity of the occupied land.

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Despite the commitment of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the PA to the now moribund peace process, the resistance groups have maintained their popular support in opposing negotiations which lead nowhere, as well as the deception of the Oslo Accords. As the resistance capabilities of the groups in the Gaza Strip have developed, the people have been steadfast in the face of the 12-year Israeli-led siege. With an estimated 60,000 armed personnel based in the enclave, it is now considered to be a resistance base and global inspiration for freedom fighters everywhere. Moreover, resistance efforts continue in the occupied West Bank, despite enormous difficulties, not least the active collaboration of the PA security forces with their Israeli counterparts.

The continuation of anti-Israel feelings amongst the people of the Middle East, coupled with Israel’s failure to become a natural entity in the region, means that most normalisation efforts remain within official circles rather than at a popular level. Thus, any regional political changes reflecting the aspirations of the people will take Israel back to square one, surrounded by hostile entities with the potential to become a serious threat to the Zionist state.

A protest against Zionism [File photo]

A protest against Zionism [File photo]

Israel has succeeded in managing the peace process to its benefit, but the arrogance and greed of successive governments have blocked the way for any “reasonable” agreement to be reached, even with the pro-peace Palestinian and Arab parties. As such, the failure of the peace process could open the door for the Palestinian people to reunite around the resistance and cancel out any Israeli gains.

Real and perceived foreign threats to the Zionist state remain in place, including the “Iranian threat” and resistance forces in the countries surrounding Palestine, as well as the possibility of another wave of revolutions across the region. In addition, the pro-resistance popular environment is said to be strong in the countries around Israel, and in other Arab and Muslim states further afield.

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Israeli society has been able to absorb immigrants from more than one hundred countries, speaking dozens of languages; it has been relatively successful in managing their linguistic and cultural differences. However, there are some differences that may widen, especially when security and economic conditions deteriorate, with a resultant and growing desire to leave the “Promised Land” to return to the migrants’ homelands. Furthermore, there are real differences between the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews with regard to the sense of belonging to Israel, as well as religious and secular affiliations. Manifestations of corruption and the breakdown of society are widespread, as is the desire for a life of luxury and pleasure. The “founding generation” of Israel has largely passed away, and their legendary fighting qualities have died with them; increasing numbers of Israelis are registering as conscientious objectors to military service in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Palestinians living in the diaspora have succeeded in preserving their national identity, and more than three-quarters of them live in the strategic environment surrounding Israel. They have rejected various forms of naturalisation in their host countries and developed institutions and societies that affirm their right of return and the liberation of Palestine.

What’s more, despite Israel’s influence in the international arena, there is an increasing trend for people around the world to sympathise with and support the call for Palestinian rights. Negative perceptions about Israel are growing even in the heartlands of its support like the US and Europe. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is on the rise. This is a major concern for Israel, whose government is spending millions of dollars on trying to counter it.

In general, the power of the Zionist project remains unprecedented, but the challenges and risks that it faces are large and real. They may even tip the balance in favour of the Palestinians in the not too distant future.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.