Israel in a nutshell: Summarizing 2016

Despite the challenges emerging on the horizon, Israel is well positioned to welcome 2017.

By STEPHANE COHEN
December 26, 2016 21:22
Jewish youths wave flag

Jewish Youths in Israel wave flags and stand atop a hill. The author recalls his own young days in Zionist youth groups.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In September 1990, the scholar Bernard Lewis was quoted saying that “we must strive to achieve a better appreciation of other religious and political cultures through the study of their history, their literature and their achievements” while discussing the Middle East. If we focus on Israel’s achievements, despite internal tension and regional turmoil, 2016 was yet another remarkable year in many fields.

In the defense field, 2016 will be concluded with many accomplishments – first and foremost that no conflict broke out on any of Israel’s borders. While Israel lost the Amos 6 communication satellite when the Falcon 9 launch vehicle exploded on September 1, it successfully launched Ofek 11 on September 13. Officials described the Ofek 11 satellite as the country’s most sophisticated spy satellite and it will likely be used to closely watch Iran and other regional adversaries. The IDF continues its force building, adding to its arsenal new systems such as the F-35 and the David’s Sling missile defense system. Outside of the US, Israel will be the first country to have an operational squadron of F-35s, despite not being part of the consortium of countries that participated in the development and financing of the expensive plane.

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Furthermore, Israel signed the most generous ever defense memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the USA, with hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent in missile defense and anti-tunnel technology, emphasizing the solid alliance with the United States.

On the diplomatic front, Israel’s strategic ties with its neighbors are strengthening, asserting itself as an anchor of stability and prosperity in the eastern Mediterranean basin. The flourishing relations with Greece, Cyprus and Italy are common interests. This rise in ties with regional partners is opening new possibilities with others in the East, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and strengthening strategic ties with Egypt and Jordan. Israel is also pushing to renew ties with many African countries; back in the summer, PM Netanyahu led a 70-strong delegation of businessmen on a tour of Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, where he mixed events of emotional importance, visiting the Rwandan genocide memorial in Kigali and the site of his brother’s death in Entebbe’s famous raid – along with practical discussions on how to expand business and counter-terrorism ties.

Israel renewed diplomatic ties with Turkey and exchanged ambassadors with a country known to be a bridge between the West and the Arab world, thus closing a bad six-year period.

Contrary to common beliefs, Israel is not isolated at all.

The assistance it received during the recent wildfires from France, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Romania, the USA and many more is a testimony to this wide acceptance internationally.

On the economic front, Israeli trade and cooperation with Asia is growing. We witnessed deepening ties with Australia, China, India, Japan and Vietnam. Technology is an important driver.

The Israel Export Institute stated at the Israel HLS & Cyber Conference that investment in cyber-security startups climbed more than threefold and exports increased 15% in the first half of the year, compared with the same time in 2015. That made Israel the No. 2 destination for cyber-security investment globally after the United States.

Exports for cyber-security reached about $2 billion.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signed a significant contract with a customer in Asia worth $15 million for a cyber-intelligence system. The contract is for an advanced, national-level strategic cyber solution that combines cellular systems and cyber and includes establishing an intelligence center and infrastructure, and providing unique sensors.

However, many advances in 2016 were made in terms of bettering human life, especially in the medical fields: IceCure’s cryoablation technology using below-freezing temperatures and liquid nitrogen to fight cancer tumors, hearing technologies and new medicines. Technologies for making driving safer and preventing car accidents are on the rise, such as at Jerusalem-based Mobileye systems.

Arts and culture are known to be at the center of inspiration and development of nations and Israel’s arts and culture scene is a vibrant one.

In cinema, the seventh realm of art, many movies and TV series were produced. The Israeli movie “Sand Storm,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year in the World Cinema Dramatic category, is a drama on the Bedouin world and is also nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign-language film.

Among the many archeological discoveries this year, many quality exhibitions were first revealed in Jerusalem.

Some of the most interesting in my view that expose the richness of this land’s history were “Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story”, “Hadrian: An Emperor Cast in Bronze” at the Israel Museum, and “By the Rivers of Babylon” at the Bible Lands Museum.

December 26, 2016 marks 80 years since the inception of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, a first-class musical institution that has received international recognition.

Our athletes comforted us with two medals during the Rio Olympic games. Yarden Gerbi and Or Sasson both claimed bronze medals in judo. Two bronzes may seem a small achievement, but commentators highlight the fact that it marks a 28% jump in Israel’s Olympic total, from seven medals since Israel began competing in the Olympics in 1952, to nine.

Last but not least, and more important than the previous indicators, the different societal barometers appear to be in good shape. It is true that a report released in March by the PEW Research Center found divisions and referred to many challenges and inequalities within the modern State of Israel - yet the general Jewish population remains united behind the idea that Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people.

Looking at OECD reports, indeed Israel is below average in income and wealth, housing, education and skills, but performs well in terms of well-being in the Better Life Index. Israel ranks above the average in health status and subjective well-being. In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Israel is almost 82 years, two years higher than the OECD average. In general, Israelis are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average.

Furthermore, the World Happiness Report of 2016, compiled by a group of independent experts, ranked Israel as the 11th happiest country in the world. When the publication first launched in 2012, Israel was ranked at number 14 out of 156 countries surveyed. Also, a recent family life index by the Expat Insider publication InterNations ranked Israel fourth among the best countries in which to raise a family. Israel was well ahead of Britain, Germany, the United States and other economic powers.

2016 will be remembered for the loss of Israel’s last founding father of modern Israel, Shimon Peres. The Nobel Peace Prize winner passed away with many unaccomplished goals, but the nation’s achievements for 2016 are noteworthy. With a population of about 8.5 million and an unemployment rate reaching an historical low of 4.5 %, more factors are uniting Israelis than the ones keeping them apart. There is still a long way to go, but we can assert that the Israeli society continues to be happy, resilient and optimistic.

Some hundred years ago, on January 25, 1918, the British Arabist Gertrude Bell said of the Balfour Declaration: “It’s my belief that it can’t be carried out; the country is wholly unsuited to the ends the Jews have in view; it is a poor land, incapable of great development… To my mind it’s a wholly artificial scheme divorced from all relation to facts and I wish it the ill-success it deserves – and will get, I fancy.”

Bell, perceived as one of the architects who created the now failed-state of Iraq, could not have been more wrong.

Despite the challenges emerging on the horizon, Israel is well positioned to welcome 2017.

The writer, a former IDF liaison officer to UN forces, is head of security analysis and director of diplomatic relations at The Israel Project.


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