Think of the average beleaguered Israeli as he contemplates his environment during any period in recent times. On the north, south and east he is confronted by blood thirsty enemies (Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran) who make no secret of their intense desire to kill him, his family and his countrymen. Other neighbors (Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq) harbor the same thoughts but are more circumspect about expressing them. And of course there are the two neighbors (Egypt, Jordan) with whom he is “at peace”; but it is a frigid peace, not supported by those country’s citizens whose attitude, he believes, could easily blossom into hostility and belligerence.
When he casts his eye further abroad, he finds a European continent that – a mere 70 years after the Holocaust – has reverted to virulent anti-Semitism, now expressed openly as anti-Israel opinion and policy. He takes some solace that his country has established successful economic and political connections with distant, but important nations like India, Japan, Australia and even China. But these nations are unlikely to provide significant aid in any forthcoming conflagration. Worst of all, he is tortured by the thought that his long-time friend, benefactor and protector, the United States of America, is now led by a man and an administration that is hostile to his country and its interests. He senses that the people of the US are still with him, but it is the treacherous, Moslem-praising leader who will make the critical decision on any day that the Israeli Prime Minister has to call for help – God forbid!
Most demoralizing of all is the weak nature of his country’s leadership. Barak, Livni, Olmert and all the other left-wingers act as if they are ready to surrender and move to New Jersey. Even Netanyahu continues to disappoint. He talks the talk, but repeatedly fails to walk the walk. How he allowed himself and his nation to be completely humiliated by Obama was disgraceful. And Bibi seems to have bought into the Oslo delusion that has wreaked political havoc on his nation for 18 years. Where is King David? Israel needs him desperately.
Now, on top of all the above, the region has been racked by political convulsions whose origins are unclear, whose leadership is mysterious, whose meaning is uncertain and whose outcome for relations between Israel and its neighbors is unpredictable. Given the history of the Middle East, what little we know of what is transpiring and who is driving, it and with the proclivities of the Arab street as measured in recent polls, it is virtually impossible to be optimistic that any of these upheavals will prove beneficial to Israeli-Arab relations.
Furthermore, the situation is so confusing that it is difficult for Israel to prepare contingency plans. Will Egypt revert to a frontline state of military confrontation? Will Abdullah survive? If Assad falls, could what replaces him be even worse? How shall Israel deal with simultaneous attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah and perhaps Syria or Iran? Might Egypt or Jordan or even Saudi Arabia join the fray? What to do about nascent Iranian nuclear weapons? Can Israel hang on until the back-stabbing Obama administration is dismissed; and will a new US administration restore formerly friendly relations?
In light of all this, it would not be surprising if the state of apprehension of our beleaguered Israeli were indeed very high. And yet, Israel and its citizens appear to go about their affairs seemingly almost oblivious to the sea of troubles that engulfs them. Business is humming – especially in the technology sector. The arts are flourishing. Social life is vibrant. The IDF exudes confidence. Immigration continues at a modest, but steady pace. Morale has not plunged. Are their heads up their derrieres? Or is there some reasonable explanation?
I believe that there is, and I will attempt to provide it – although in the end, the reader may wonder about its reasonableness. Yes, there are grave causes for concern. The threats are real, exigent and existential. The ability to meet them demands wisdom and courage – qualities that have not always been present in sufficient quantities among Israel’s leaders. The consequences of a failure to deal with any of the threats that might materialize could be cataclysmic.
So what! What’s new! Our average Israeli responds: “We’ll deal with it. Ain Breira!” In short, the more things change, the more they stay the same. From before its birth, Israel has constantly faced overwhelmingly negative odds and insurmountable obstacles:
- In the 30s and 40s, while millions of its potential citizens were slaughtered in Europe, a rag-tag bunch of settlers had to cope with murderous Arab raids and pogroms, a hostile British administration, a fragile economy, severe internal political schisms and a lack of international support. Yet the State was created.
- In the 50s, the young nation faced marauding fedayeen, the absorbtion of more than a million extremely poor and unsophisticated immigrants, a socialist economy and the extreme enmity of its neighbors. Yet the foundation of the State was laid, the Army was formed and the desert began to bloom.
- In the 60s, the crises were Pan-Arab nationalism, betrayal by their French benefactor, an indifferent world grown Holocaust weary, Nasser and another betrayal – this time by Lyndon Johnson. Yet Israel triumphed in the Six Day War and emerged a regional power.
- The 70s brought the devastating Yom Kippur War, a UN resolution declaring Israel to be a racist entity, an even more socialist economy and hyperinflation. Yet Israel underwent its first peaceful transition of power to a political party other than Labor and the Sephardic community was nearly completely integrated into society.
- In the 80s and 90s, Israel had the misfortune of the first intifada, the first Lebanon debacle and the Oslo calamity. Yet Netanyahu (as Prime Minister and later as Finance Minister) broke the socialist yoke and opened Israel to free markets and entrepreneurial activity befitting its populace, and the results have been spectacular.
Now the 00s and 10s bring all that was mentioned earlier. But in fact throughout the entire 80-year scenario: the enmity of the Arab/Moslem world has been constant; the support of the rest of the world has been tepid at best and totally absent at worst; and existential threats have been ever present. Yet Israel and its people have survived – even prospered. As if to highlight that assessment, after a century of Jews bemoaning the fact that Moses selected the one parcel of land in the Middle East devoid of oil, Israel has recently discovered abundant quantities of natural gas in its offshore environs.