Israel Future Lies In Regional Economic Integration


(MENAFN- Asia Times) Hubris begets nemesis, as the ancient Greeks opined. It is thus incredibly telling that in early October, a Jewish-American woman destroyed a statue of a griffin holding a wheel of fate, representing the Roman god Nemesis, on the basis that it was“idolatrous and contrary to the Torah.”

The very next day, Hamas launched its murderous incursion into Israel.

Israelis, having recently basked in a glow of technological prowess and presumed military dominance, have now been painfully reminded that pride cometh before the fall. But it is hard to say that this was unforeseen: Numerous high-level Israel Defense Force generals warned for years that a slaughter was coming.

Yitzhak Brick, the IDF's former ombudsman, has long argued that the Israeli army“is not ready for war,” declaring as recently as August that“the army is disintegrating. After the volunteering is stopped it will be crushed. Our enemies are waiting for the right moment, they will not wait much longer.” A few months ago, he ominously and specifically predicted that a massacre was practically inevitable.

Brick was not the only general who recognized Israel's faltering security apparatus, its unhealthy reliance on technology and even a certain arrogance. Yehuda Vach, commander of the IDF's Officer Training School, noted in 2019 that reliance on a high-tech border fence provided a false sense of security while handing Hamas the initiative.

Even Herzl Halev, the IDF's former military intelligence director and now commander in chief, warned in 2015 of Israel's declining technological prowess.

The failure of Israel's military and intelligence apparatus to foresee this attack is only a symptom of a deeper malaise. The uncomfortable reality is that the essential political, diplomatic, economic, demographic and cultural conditions that enabled the founding and maintenance of the Jewish state have weakened. The country's future is in doubt, and it is clear that a new national strategy is necessary.

An analysis of the situation leads to a troubling conclusion: For Israel to survive, it must pursue broader economic integration with its neighbors, carefully positioning itself as an essential node in the evolving trade corridors of the twenty-first century.

Three conditions

Israel has, since its inception in 1948, depended upon a trifecta of conditions to secure its survival. These are internal unity, external disunity and Western support.

The first is the most obvious: The bedrock of Israel's resilience has been its ability to maintain a semblance of domestic demographic cohesion coupled with a united political culture adept at adjusting to the fluid nature of geopolitical threats.

This unity has been pivotal for Israel to leverage its limited resources with maximum efficiency. However, the Israel of today reveals cracks in this foundation.

Demographic shifts, such as the growing numbers and influence of the ultra-Orthodox community, who often eschew secular education and military service (along with being wards of the state ), and the increasing assertiveness of Arab-Israeli political groups, have started to strain the fabric of national consensus.

Politically, the country is in a constant state of flux, as seen in the revolving door of general elections , each failing to produce a stable and decisive government. This constant political instability, worsened by the country's still-ongoing constitutional crisis over reforms to its Basic Law, undermines the nation's capacity for long-term strategic planning.

A state facing mass protests and even the prospect of civil war cannot survive a dangerous neighborhood, much less fight a multi-front war with full force.

This brings us to the second condition necessary for Israel's existence: the relative weakness and fragmentation of Israel's neighboring adversaries. This external disunity has historically provided the country with a buffer of security. Indeed, the Jewish state's military victories and diplomatic strategies often capitalized on inter-Arab rivalries and the lack of a cohesive threat.

Now, however, we are witnessing a regional realignment. Many Arab states, once embroiled in internal turmoil, are gradually stabilizing and becoming more assertive.

The Abraham Accords, which opened new diplomatic doors for Israel and signified the waning of Arab leaders' animosity towards Israel, means that Israel now has a significantly reduced ability to play its neighbors against one another, particularly if many of them are united as a bloc in engaging the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, the ascent of Shia Iran, with its nuclear ambitions and proxy networks across Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen , consolidates a new kind of threat that is far more unified in its enmity towards Israel than the fragmented Sunni Arab states of yesteryear.

Third, and most crucially of all, Israel's qualitative geopolitical and military edge has been underwritten significantly by Western, particularly American, support. The geopolitical dimension is based on diplomatic assistance either at the United Nations or in dealing with Arab states. America's longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia, for example, helped provide cover on more than one occasion over the years.

The military dimension is even more important : between 1951 and 2022, Israel received $225.2 billion in U.S. military aid, which is approximately 71 percent of its aid from all sources. Moreover, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Office , since 2000 around 86 percent of annual US aid to the Jewish state has funded military endeavors, funding about 16 percent of the Israel military budget.

This, along with various research & development collaborations, intelligence sharing, economic aid, and other measures has allowed Israel to field a military establishment that is disproportionate to its financial base and available natural resources.

Moreover, this doesn't include billions in non-governmental economic and political support from Jews in both Europe and the United States, particularly the latter.

However, there are increasing signs that this critical support is no longer a given. The inward-focused populist movements, the frustration with decades of wasteful nation-building engagements and wars abroad, the declining economic conditions – all have sapped Western leaders' political capital.

Calls for disengagement with the Middle East, including Israel, abound. The United States' ties with Saudi Arabia have been strained, especially in light of increasing Saudi engagement with China .

Likewise, the once ironclad support for Israel is weakening in the United States and the West. Demographically, younger generations (including Jews) in the United States are less attached to Israel .

Politicization is also having an effect, with significant voices on the left growing increasingly critical of Israeli policies , particularly over the Palestinian issue. Democratic administrations' engagement with Iran, culminating in the 2015 JCPOA , was perhaps the most apparent manifestation of this, up until October 7.

Regional conditional collapse

Hamas's attack and the now-ongoing Simchat Torah War have not only brought all three of these weakened conditions to the fore but also illustrate how these conditions seem likely to only worsen.

Domestically, though the conflict has temporarily weakened the Israeli left and united the country in confronting Hamas, underlying tensions and problems persist.

The constitutional crisis, the divide between conservative and liberal Jews, the matter of Arab participation in the political system, and other issues remain. Worse, Hamas' attack has shattered the sense of peace and stability upon which Israel's economy depended.

Tech workers and startups, already unnerved by the country's political and culture wars and besieged by the effects of rising interest rates , are increasingly considering relocation . Economist Adam Tooze lists some of the war's more onerous effects on the national economy:

These economic effects are producing political repercussions that may only further divide the country politically. In other words, Tooze says, the conflict over Gaza's future is

The world ought to expect further acrimony in Israeli politics over demographic changes, cultural attitudes, and budget allocations, all of which will hamper domestic unity in the face of mounting threats.

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