Israel’s geopolitical reality is complicated by 4 factors that may be harnessed to the country’s advantage with careful statecraft
The bitter emotional miasma that has engulfed the Israeli public since October 7 is made even more pungent against the backdrop of worldwide animosity toward Israel. In this new dystopia of antisemitism we struggle to digest how the horrendous crimes of Hamas have been legitimized on the most prestigious campuses in the Western world. It is enraging to hear keffiyeh-draped protesters chant “From the river to the sea — Palestine will be free,” when they aren’t even able to identify which river and which sea when handed a map.
We feel the injustice wash over us when the defensive war imposed on us by a lethal terrorist organization is rebranded by bleeding hearts as anti-colonialist resistance. It is frustrating to discover that our just cause falls prey to the cynical and hostile rhetoric directed at us by Russia and China to score points in the geopolitical game of chess they are playing with the United States.
Israel’s frustration is understandable, but it cannot successfully navigate its way forward if it turns a blind eye to some unpleasant facts, content with its grumbling over the hypocrisy of the world.
Our fate has put us at a violent crossroads in a place that has attracted the lust of powerful rulers and the zealotry of believers for much of human history. And this geopolitical reality, by definition, offers no promise of stability. Several contemporary strategic facts of life further complicate the situation. While we cannot change them, with proper statecraft, we can mitigate their harm, and sometimes even harness them to our advantage.
1. Iran opposes Israel’s very existence, builds offensive capabilities, and consolidates a dangerous front against us. We cannot alter the ideological tenets of the ayatollahs, but we can be instrumental in forging a reinvigorated US-led international effort to halt Tehran’s quest for nuclear weapons. We also have the ability to assist in forming a strong regional coalition against the Iranian ambition of regional hegemony. Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, fear Iran and are willing to cooperate with us, and even sign peace agreements if a clear political endgame for resolving the Palestinian issue is outlined.
2. The US is our sole ally. We can’t jeopardize our deep security and diplomatic dependency on the US We cannot force our will on Washington; maneuvering between global powers would only, in the end, leave us with no one. But we must nurture our friendship with the US and take care not to disregard its interests and offer our assistance in their fulfillment. American Jews wield considerable influence in their country, and they have come through with abundant generosity in these terrible days, but to maintain their support, we must respect their values and bring them closer to our hearts.
3. Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, Jews and Arabs are of equal number. We cannot change the demographic reality, nor can we sustain Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state without a solid Jewish majority. However, we can strive for an arrangement that separates the two peoples through a recognized and secure border, thus preventing our slide into a violent binational reality.
4. The world insists that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the PLO are representatives of the Palestinian people, and there should be progress toward a political settlement with them. We cannot convince our global friends or the Arab states to act independently of the PA. But we can aid in rehabilitating the PA and rectifying its failures (weak governance, corruption, ineffective leadership). At the same time, we can bolster the PA’s positive attributes (recognition of Israel, cooperation with Israeli security forces). We can also promote an international post-war arrangement for the Gaza Strip that gradually integrates the PA, thus relieving us of the burden of Gaza’s rehabilitation and the care of its two million inhabitants.
It is tempting to blame Israel’s “hasbara” (public messaging) for not doing enough to make our case, but we should be under no illusions regarding its power: antisemitism will not vanish in the foreseeable future, and countries will act to advance their interests according to a cold calculus. Many find this frustrating truth hard to accept, but faced with the enormous challenges ahead, Israel mustn’t settle for being right, Israel must be wise.