Oct 20th 2010

Israel’s False Sense of Invincibility

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

The military and economic prowess currently enjoyed by Israel has led to a false sense of invincibility and a belief that the status quo between Israelis and Palestinians is sustainable-yet it is not. While Israel's economy is robust and public confidence in its military remains high, Israel's national aspiration for a safe, secure and prosperous homeland for the Jews has yet to be achieved. Obtaining this goal is inextricably linked to the establishment of a lasting two-state solution; relinquishing occupied Arab land while abandoning the perilous notion held by many Israelis that their country can maintain this false sense of invincibility. Perhaps this attitude explains the Netanyahu government's unwillingness to extend the settlement freeze for a mere two more months, because the Israeli public has become complacent and does not care if the negotiations break down completely.

Israelis are currently enjoying life in a mirage. To drive through Israel's state-of-the-art highways and to walk along the Tel Aviv beachfront with carefree Israelis enjoying the sand and sun along the Mediterranean is to witness this illusion in action. With a strong economy and violence significantly reduced, Israelis today have a chilling sense of security. On the one hand they continue to feel victimized and isolated by the international community, yet on the other hand feel assured in their ability to defend the state against enemy attacks. Meanwhile, Israelis have begun to lose compassion and empathy for those who are suffering so that they may enjoy this false sense of security.

I remember recently having a breakfast in one of Tel Aviv's beach-front hotels with a colleague who said to me in the midst of our heated discussion about the peace process: "Alon, you keep talking about the need for peace and ending the occupation, why should we do that? Look at what we have created, look at the array of food and splendor; we live in a de-facto peace and enormous prosperity-why should we give anything back?" Against this backdrop, in a poll last March only 8 percent of Israeli cited a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians as Israel's most urgent problem. With an alarming short-sightedness, Israelis have come to believe that the status quo can be preserved indefinitely. But can this really last? This mirage could be undermined in a single day by a few deadly attacks. Protecting Israel against such a potential catastrophe requires diligent and concerted efforts to end the conflict with the Palestinians, while the whole world is urging for an equitable solution.

Israel's perceived invincibility stems from its military power, economic prosperity and technological might. Israel's military is among the strongest-and most expertly trained and experienced-in the world, with defense spending per capita consistently among the highest in the world. Even as Israel was criticized by the international community for using disproportionate force in wars in Lebanon and Gaza (and in the flotilla affair), the Israeli public has remained fully supportive and confident in the use of the IDF's military power. Meanwhile, despite a sluggish global economy, Israel is experiencing rapid economic growth. In the second quarter of 2010, Israel's economy grew 4.7 percent, the fastest pace in two years. Consumer confidence is high, with spending increasing nearly 9 percent in that same period. Meanwhile, Israel has rebounded from the global financial crises due to the strength of its global exports, which constitute nearly half of Israel's gross domestic product. Finally, Israel's technological might and entrepreneurial spirit are unmatched. Today, Israel enjoys more start-ups per capita than any country in the world, and has more companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange than all European nations combined. Its reputation as a leader in the high-tech sector has led many to call Israel the "Silicon Valley of the Middle East."

Are all of these achievements sustainable without peace with the Palestinians? The short answer is no. Without a viable peace process, the Palestinians will have nothing to lose, while Israel has everything to lose. This is a formula for disaster which must be upended before Israel's dream of invincibility devolves into a nightmare. Ten years ago, the situation was quite similar to what we are seeing today. The West Bank was calm and economic growth in the area considerable. Israel was enjoying advances in its economy and a general sense of confidence that despite the failed Oslo process, the status quo could be sustained. The complete breakdown of peace talks and the Palestinians' violent second intifada revealed that this was indeed an illusion. It would be tragic if history were to repeat itself.

Winning wars has become expensive for Israel, both in dollars and diplomacy. Israel's defense spending has exponentially grown to over 50 billion NIS in 2010. But Israel cannot spend enough to overcome the international scrutiny and isolation it will receive as a result of "winning" another war. If there is no progress in peace talks, it could become only a question of time as to when a new violent eruption will occur that could make the second intifada pale in comparison. Even if the Palestinian Authority seeks to prevent such an escalation, its security forces may not be able to control a widespread popular uprising, which could be fueled by extremists. The strengthened weapons capabilities of Hamas and Hezbollah are well documented-each have thousands of rockets capable of reaching Ashkelon and Tel Aviv. Israel could win another war-even one that would occur on all fronts-but at what cost in lives and property and to the prospects for achieving long-term peace and security?

If the current peacemaking efforts cannot be salvaged, and the situation dangerously devolves, the costs to Israel would be shattering. As Israel refrains from a settlement freeze that would keep peace talks afloat, the international community is of the consensus that Israel's inaction demonstrates that it does not want peace. In addition to the increased isolation of Israel in the international community, the Arab states could abandon their Peace Initiative, giving Islamic extremists the opportunity and justification to undermine Israel in any way they can. Meanwhile, the campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel is likely to intensify and gain greater support. While for the time being the United States is likely to remain at Israel's side, it is unlikely that it can fend off Israel's growing isolation in the face of little evidence that Israel is willing to continue peace efforts, and in doing so help the United States to advance its own goals in the region. Israel's economic growth may indeed suffer as one country after another seeks to distance itself from a country that is viewed not only as an obstacle to peace, but one that undermines their strategic interests in the Middle East. Israel could become a liability even to the United States, which would have the direst consequences imaginable.

Opponents argue that the status quo is indeed sustainable and that peace efforts are useless. They argue that no matter what Israel does, the Palestinians will never deliver peace with security, and that the international community-especially the Arab states-will criticize and isolate it. They argue that the withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza, and the subsequent rocket attacks and wars that followed, prove that the concept of land-for-peace is no longer valid. In short, they now argue, "we made a land of milk and honey"-as my friend said-"why should we give it away when we have means to sustain it?" This is a fallacy. Genuine peace, security and prosperity can only come with a negotiated agreement established between the parties in good faith, with the assistance and support of the United States, Arab states and the international community. Prime Minister Netanyahu is in a unique position to lead efforts to achieve this goal, but today he must show the determination and political will for it to succeed.

Israel is therefore facing a pivotal cross-road-continue dreaming that Israel can maintain the mirage of invincibility and potentially lead itself to a national nightmare, or make Israel's dream a reality by pursuing a two-state solution and do so from a position of strength. As the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, famously once said, "If you will it, it is no dream." Prime Minister Netanyahu is capable of steering Israel in either direction. To move toward peace, he must now follow Herzl's dream of a Jewish state living in peace and harmony with its neighbors.

*A version of this article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post on October 15th, and can be accessed at http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=191354

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should come as no surprise that Trump has abused his power in orchestrating the federal response to the pandemic. For example, he made sure that Colorado received 100 much-needed ventilators, and made sure that Colorado voters knew it, in order to help re-elect troubled incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.  More alarming, Trump effectively threatened to wage germ warfare against US Postal Service workers by denying them congressionally approved virus-mitigation aid unless the USPS quadrupled rates on packages. Trump’s actual target was Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post."
Apr 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "These ten risks, already looming large before COVID-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimize many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression."
Apr 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal Reserve will buy unlimited quantities of Treasury bonds, the Bank of England will purchase £200 billion ($250 billion) of gilts, and the European Central Bank up to €750 billion ($815 billion) of eurozone bonds. Almost certainly, central banks will end up providing monetary finance to fund fiscal deficits. The only question is whether they should make that explicit."