Middle East — 08 August 2005

The conventional wisdom when looking at the Middle East is to assume that Israel because of its military might has the strongest hand in future negotiations. However in reality, Israel faces significant security challenges which go to the heart of the Jewish state’s viability. However the author believes these challenges are virtually insurmountable.

It has often been said about the Palestinians since 1948 that they have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Though this statement has merit especially when one evaluates the PLO’s lamentable strategy, its corrupt governance and the fact that currently Palestinians remain confined to humiliating servitude, it remains conventional wisdom amongst political commentators, that in any future settlement, it will be the Palestinians as the weaker negotiating partner who will have to make the necessary strategic concessions. However as a result of new political trends, counter intuitively it is the Israeli state that is now having to look over the edge of a strategic precipice. This is not to say that Israel faces immediate strategic existential danger, in many ways she is tactically much stronger as a result of recent events. The election of Mahmoud Abbas, an avowed moderate, the presence of US troops and bases in the region and the occupation of Iraq have significantly strengthened Israel’s security situation in the last few years. This coupled with a weak Syrian regime whose main challenge in the next few years will be merely to ‘survive’ means that for the first time since 1948 Israel faces no viable military threat from its eastern flank. If we add this to the peace agreement (albeit an unpopular and cold one) between Israel with Egypt and Jordan means that for the most part Israeli security planners have never had it so good. A situation that Ben Gurion, Golda Meir and Begin would have cut their right arms to have achieved has been given to today’s Israeli government. As Asher Susser the Director of the Moshe Dayan Centre for the Middle Eastern and African Studies stated

The US invasion of Iraq has had a dramatic and far reaching impact on the balance of power in the Arab East (Mashriq) or Fertile Crescent. It has created a power vacuum and left a leadership void in a region where until very recently, the Ba’thi regimes of Syria and Iraq once vied for hegemony. Now post-Saddam Iraq is in shambles and the Syria of Bashar Assad is no more than a caricature of the regional power led by his father Hafiz for a generation since 1970.

However despite this apparent benign security environment, in reality Israel faces significant strategic challenges over the near term, some which go to the heart and underlying rationale of the Jewish state. If Israel is going to survive in its current form, then all these challenges will have to be confronted successfully, a scenario this author believes to be unlikely. The four key challenges Israel faces are as follows

Demography within Israel will dilute the concept of a Jewish State. Continued opposition and violence on a significant scale from the Palestinian people coupled with a perception that Israel is unable to sustain her occupation evidenced by her experience in first Lebanon and now Gaza. Three transformational changes within the wider Arab and Muslim world; firstly a demographic shift towards younger populations who have increasing access to global media and communications; secondly increasing radicalisation resulting in a deeper animosity towards Israel and her western patrons resulting in the likelihood of some form of Caliphate (if we accept the CIA’s 2020 report produced by their National Intelligence Centre) and finally the growth in nuclear technology within the Muslim world and the associated empowerment of non Arab countries like Pakistan and Iran. Sustainable solutions being found for Israel’s water shortage.

Demography- Israel’s identity crisis

According to most commentators, about 10 million people live today in the Israeli-controlled area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. At present most people agree that there is an overall small Jewish majority, but this is quickly evaporating. Sergio Della Pergola, a Hebrew University demographer, predicts that the moment of parity may arrive in only five years time i.e. 2010. Even in the unlikely situation of birth rates falling within the Arabs or some sort of renewed immigration from the Jewish diaspora, the moment of reckoning will not be delayed significantly. For those of a western secular construct, the idea of analysing population statistics based on race or religion may seem baffling, however in the case of Israel it has always considered itself both Jewish and Democratic with the former being the underlying basis of the Israeli state, hence the importance for Jews of measures such as the Israeli Law of Return. David Ben-Gurion clearly articulated this when he said

We could have captured all of Palestine militarily, and then what? We’ll make it into one state. But the state would want to be democratic, and we will be a minority…. When we faced the completeness of the land without a Jewish state, or a Jewish state without the whole land, we chose a Jewish state without the completeness of the land.

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