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Israel is a ‘fragile state’ in war against time

January 5, 2024 at 10:08 am

Palestinian boys are seen in the rubble of a building destroyed by an Israeli attack while Israel’s attacks continue on Gaza Strip as Palestinians who took refuge in the city of Rafah are trying to continue their daily work even though the attacks continue in Rafah, Gaza on January 03, 2024 [Abed Zagout – Anadolu Agency]

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that Israel is a “fragile state.” The usual material indicators used to measure the strengths and weaknesses of a state would indicate that Israel is anything but a fragile state. Its population not only enjoys the living standards of countries in the developed world, militarily it is the most powerful state in the region and the only one to possess nuclear weapons.

Moreover, Israel has the backing of the US – the world’s only superpower – and as the latest aggression on Gaza suggests, Washington will go to any lengths to back its main ally in the Middle East, including defending genocide. Economically, despite suffering a slowdown since 7 October, Israel is a powerhouse, known for its sophisticated tech industry, not to mention the fact that weapons manufactured by the occupying state are the envy of every dictator and autocrat.

What is a black swan event?

It’s a high-impact event that is difficult to predict under normal circumstances but that in retrospect appears to have been inevitable.

Nevertheless, Israel’s apparent strength masks fatal weaknesses and, according to the author who foresaw the 2008 global financial crash, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, it is a “fragile state” in a battle against time. The former trader and acclaimed author discussed Israel’s fragile nature in a recent interview with professor of international relations, Karim Bitar. Often referred to as the “Prophet of Uncertainty,” Taleb, a Lebanese-American essayist and mathematical statistician, has made prescient predictions about major world events by focusing on unlikely but high-impact “black swan” events.

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Long before the 2008 financial collapse, Taleb saw the crisis coming. Through his books ‘Fooled by Randomness’ (2001) and ‘The Black Swan’ (2007), Taleb outlined his theory of fragility – how complex and unpredictable systems are vulnerable to extreme shocks. Some call Taleb a prophet for warning of 2008’s mayhem. He has popularised several concepts, the most well-known of which is “antifragility”, a term he coined to describe the property of becoming highly resilient and immune to rare black swan events. Today, his wisdom is perhaps more relevant than ever.

In his interview with Bitar, Taleb offered a unique perspective on the fragility of Israel. Drawing on his expertise in risk analysis and his knack for predicting global events, the 64-year-old outlined several interconnected factors contributing to what he perceives as Israel’s vulnerability in the contemporary world and its inevitable demise unless it makes peace with the Palestinians.

Taleb takes aim at the Zionist project to establish an ethno-nationalist state in Palestine as his starting point. According to Taleb, ethnic-based states may survive, especially if they are small and non-aggressive, but those built on settler nationalism are outdated and doomed to collapse. The settler nationalist vision of Israel, a mix of colonialism and nationalism, is out of sync with the modern world, he argues. Practices like apartheid and ethnic cleansing cannot be sustained in a post-colonial world. The younger generation, particularly those aged between 24-35, overwhelmingly support Palestinians. This reflects the changing perspectives on colonialism and global connections through education and social media. The underlying principle here is that Israel’s existence is fragile and anything fragile is bound to break eventually.

Another factor contributing to Israel’s fragility, as Taleb pointed out, is its heavy reliance on propaganda, shaping an image of victimhood in need of protection. Reflecting on the 7 October attack by Hamas, Taleb emphasised, “after what Hamas did, people are starting to take a closer interest in Israel.”

The more they learn about the issue, the more apparent the problem becomes. They see that Zionism, once perceived as a defence mechanism, has mutated into an aggressive, anachronistic, and murderous form of settler nationalism.

Israel exhibits another vulnerability in its significant dependence on the US, notably through entities like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Taleb drew a parallel, likening this reliance to that of a fragile company tethered to a solitary major customer. Consequently, any alteration in management or shifts in the political landscape of the primary client (the US) could introduce risks to Israel’s stability. AIPAC has, until now, effectively maintained alignment between US policy and Israel, boasting of its success in electing 95 per cent of the candidates it supported.

This system, says Taleb, “is fragile because the public will eventually find out, and Americans don’t like being manipulated and don’t like the feeling of coercion by the government.” AIPAC’s nefarious influence has become more apparent than at any time in the organisation’s history. Last month the pro-Israel group offered $20 million each to two separate candidates to challenge Palestinian American Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib. In the months since there has been an ongoing protest against AIPAC.

“People previously only knew about AIPAC within the system, among politicians and elected officials,” said Taleb. “Now it is in broad daylight: We know who the ones it supports are and it can turn into a black mark.” Nasser Beydoun and Hill Harper’s rejection of the $20 million they were offered by AIPAC is an obvious sign that lawmakers and potential candidates do not want to be tainted as AIPAC candidates.

Taleb emphasised Israel’s struggle to integrate into the region, attributing it to the robust unquestioning support it receives from the US. He argued that this inability to adapt hampers Israel’s resilience in the face of evolving global dynamics, rendering it susceptible to changes in public sentiment. Taleb contended that embracing a militaristic, Sparta-like approach is incongruent with the realities of globalisation. The notion of being “Sparta under globalisation” implies that a staunch, war-centric stance is impractical in the contemporary interconnected world.

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Despite having notable material advantages, Israel is deemed more fragile than nations with lower economic and military standings. Paradoxically, Taleb views Israel’s military dominance, often perceived as a strength, as a distinct sign of fragility. He posits that Israel’s primary struggle is not against Palestinians but against the inexorable march of time. “Israel is not at war with Palestinians. It is at war against time,” he asserts.

The absence of moral legitimacy and the challenge of integrating seamlessly into the region have resulted in a scenario where Israel’s survival heavily depends on its military control and a society structured in a manner reminiscent of Sparta. A similar argument has been made by Professor Illan Pappe who goes further to assert that Israel is the only state globally advocating not only for its policies and self-interest but also for its fundamental moral justification for existence.

“Today, Israel is fundamentally a fragile state,” Taleb concludes. “For its survival, Israel must radically change its model and accept equality with the Palestinians at all levels…The Israelis have wasted valuable time doing propaganda in America, not realising that it is the Palestinians they must try to convince. If they can succeed in convincing them, there would be some hope.”

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