From an historical perspective, Israel is something of a strategic miracle. At its founding, 650,000 Jews lived in Israel; today there are ten times that number. Israel is ranked 11th on the World Happiness Index, its birth rate is the highest among developed countries, and life expectancy is the fifth highest in the world for men and ninth highest for women. Israel’s per capita GDP ($37,000 a year) is higher than those of Italy and Spain. Israeli hi-tech is world class and several multinational corporations maintain R&D centers in Israel. The natural gas fields discovered off Israel’s shores promise energy security for years to come and have turned Israel into an energy exporter. Exports to Asia have grown significantly. Moreover, the peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt are stable despite the regional turmoil. As a result of Iran’s regional subversion, jihadi terror, and the rise of ISIS, the mutual interests between Israel and the moderate Sunni countries in the region have grown and security cooperation with Egypt is better than ever. Given the collapse of Syria and Iraq, there is no longer a conventional military threat to Israel. Iran’s attempts to produce a nuclear weapon have been pushed back, at least for the near future.
Despite such encouraging statistics, it is possible to draw contradictory assessments when examining Israel’s strategic power. This is due to the strategic uncertainty that characterizes much of the world, and certainly the region. The Middle East remains turbulent. The cornerstones of the old regional order are crumbling, and a new reality has yet to emerge that can promise stability of any sort. The international arena relevant to the Middle East and to Israel’s strategic resilience is undergoing significant shifts as well and is far from radiating stability.
Meanwhile, Israel faces significant strategic challenges: the nuclear agreement achieved between Iran and the international community, described by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu as a “mistake of historic proportions”; the danger of a security escalation in the north (Hezbollah, ISIS, and other radical Islamist actors in Syria) and in the south (Hamas or terror cells in Sinai); the danger the “Lone Wolf Intifada” continues to pose; the uncertainty regarding continued U.S. willingness to maintain a presence and leadership role in the Middle East; the impulse to transform the model for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (from direct negotiations under American leadership to a coercive solution pushed on Israel by the UN and led by a multi-national coalition); the attempt to harm Israel through boycotts and de-legitimization efforts.
Alongside these various challenges, which hold considerable risk, there are also considerable opportunities for Israel: opening a “new page” in relations with the United States following the election of President Trump; deepening relationships with the Sunni moderates who are showing increased openness to Israel given the Iranian threat and radical terrorist groups: implementing a strategic plan that would stymie the threat of losing Israel’s Jewish character as Israel may head toward a bi-national reality.
Implications for how the West Relates to Israel and the Jewish People
- If Israel’s strategic stature is seen in the West as strong and it remains a close ally of the U.S., it diminishes the West’s appetite for forcing diplomatic solutions on Israel that it opposes (an agreement with the Palestinians and other strategic issues).
- Moving away from a two-state solution could drag Israel into a diplomatic and violent escalation with the Palestinians and negatively influences Israel’s international standing as well as its relationships with Arab states.