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2017 Annual Assessment

It is clear that in recent years there has been a weakening of the cornerstones at the base of the world order as we have known it since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. This order was based on American dominance (even while the international system tilted toward multi-polarity), institutions of “global governance” (such as the UN, World Bank, IMF, IAEA and others), trans-Atlantic cooperation between the United States and Europe, expanding globalization and international trade and free markets based on liberal values.

In the framework of this world order, the United States was the dominant external actor in the Middle East, and Israel benefited from its close relationship with America. A number of elements led to the destabilizing of these cornerstones: American “exhaustion” from being the global policeman (including investing in expensive wars in the Middle East); the Obama Doctrine which limited the intervention of American forces while prioritizing dialogue and acting within multi-lateral frameworks; “the Putin Doctrine” which took advantage of the diminished U.S. role (seen as a show of American weakness) and strengthened Russia’s global position; China’s rising power; Europe’s weakening and the growing doubts over its collective identity and future; and the upsetting of the domestic-political order.

The Middle East provided an important contribution to this trend as the old order collapsed, turning Syria into a blood-soaked catastrophe, sending waves of terror and refugees to Europe, testing both the Obama and Putin Doctrines. This upset of the world order has created dangers for Israel and troubling fissures in its relationship with the United States on the one hand, while on the other hand Israel has managed to maintain working relations with Russia and China and to develop regional alliances.

In the emerging international reality, we are witnessing: rising nationalism and populism and a growing critique of globalization; the aggressive moves of Moscow in Eastern Europe and the Middle East; strategic Chinese assertiveness (South China Sea, penetrating deep into Africa, establishing a naval port in Djibouti, and its economic infrastructure initiative framed as its “One Belt One Road” policy” (a modern Silk Road)); cracks in the EU (Brexit) which is also under the heavy strain of terror and refugees; the strengthening of right-wing nationalist parties in Europe (despite their losses in France, The Netherlands and Austria); the rise of alternative regional institutions (the Chinese Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Shanghai Europe Asia Alliance); and the rise of Turkey and Iran’s weight as regional powers.

The ascendance of the Trump administration is the most conspicuous expression of how the domestic-political order is being upset and how it can dramatically influence the current world order. It is not yet clear how the United States will navigate between an isolationist trend and possible impulses for international aggression. The dozens of cruise missiles fired at a Syrian military base (April 2017) in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Idlib sent a clear message as to the new president’s intention to reestablish American deterrence that had deteriorated during the previous administration, and act as a leading power in the international arena. That said, it is difficult to assess at this time to what extent President Trump will persist with this policy. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord (June 1, 2017), and the reasoning he presented: “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”, can be interpreted that he is not rushing to shoulder the burden of global leadership.

It’s possible that Trump will try to reach a grand bargain with Putin to implement a new world order. This will not be a simple task given the many areas of contention between the two powers. The range of possibilities as to the future of Washington-Moscow relations is wide: tight cooperation at one end and a new Cold War on the other. As for the United States and China, there is the possibility of an escalation into a trade war. The Trump administration could also weaken the UN, NATO, and other American alliances. (That is, in the framework of a general American trend of moving away from a sense of American exceptionalism and responsibility for world peace and to maintaining it, which has characterized American foreign policy in the past.)

Possible Implications for Israel

The disruption of the established world order and the possibility that a new order will coalesce presents challenges but also opportunities for Israel:

  • In a world in which nationalist and isolationist tendencies seem to be on the rise, the inclination to intervene in Israel’s affairs could diminish. On the other hand, this development may also erode the inclination to come to Israel’s aid in times of need.
  • The growing influence of nationalism over cosmopolitanism could lead to greater acceptance in the West of Israel’s position: a state seeking to maintain and assert its Jewish national identity.
  • It is reasonable to assume that the relationship with the American administration will strengthen and maybe even become a force multiplier for improving relations between Israel and key countries in the Middle East.
  • If the United States begins to favor a realpolitik foreign policy of “American interests” over the current American commitment to a clear moral vision of the world, it could decide not to support Israel on issues that it deems to be in contradiction with its material interests.
  • The U.S. focus on domestic issues while neglecting its role as global leader, especially in the Middle East (continuing the Obama Doctrine), would harm Israel and even erode its deterrent force.
  • American-Russian understandings could limit Israel’s maneuvering room. At the same time, an American-Russian or American-Chinese conflict could generate new risks and dilemmas for Israel.
  • Presently, it is difficult to assess how the emerging international reality will influence the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At this stage, the U.S. continues to take a leading role in achieving a settlement; however, only time will tell if Washington will maintain its leadership role or relinquish it to other actors.
  • In a world that increasingly relies on scientific and technological innovation, Israel has the potential for significant achievements. In addition to the economic benefits, meeting this potential will strengthen Israel’s “soft power” in the West (and in the world generally) and strengthen Israel’s image as the “Start-up Nation.”
  • Cutting-edge technologies could help close the qualitative gap between Israel and its enemies, who could equip themselves with advanced arms that do not require a special infrastructure of quality education and training (which is required today to operate an advanced military force).

Possible Implications for Diaspora Jewry

  • Innovative technologies engender social atomization and could thus further imperil Jewish solidarity (“the end of the community campfire”). Alongside the erosion of the role of veteran organizations, closed virtual dialogue groups are developing that isolate them from society at large.
  • New technologies – those that make intercontinental travel more efficient and affordable as well as social networks – allow a strengthening of connections between Diaspora and Israeli Jews. Virtual Jewish dialogue communities are expanding. At the same time, individuals have greater exposure to alternative identities. The deepening of “leisure culture” reinforces the potential for such developments.
  • A dynamic world characterized by scientific and technological innovation tends to reward excellence. This opens new horizons for the Jewish people, which has a long record of achievement and excellence in these areas.