Israel emerges as a player on the world stage

With over 250 foreign companies creating research facilities in Israel, its strong high-tech capability has been rated by the University of Lausanne as one of the top five world powers in this key area.

July 24, 2016 20:04
3 minute read.
Netanyahu and Putin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (photo credit: GPO)


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The emergence of Israel as a small but significant player on the world stage is one of the remarkable developments at the end of the post-Cold War era. The slow economic growth of the United States (2.5 percent/ capita) and Europe (1.5% GDP/capita) has shown the weakness of the status quo powers. The American semi-withdrawal from the Middle East and the British withdrawal from the European Union have opened the door to new powers.

The chaos in the Middle East and the rise of revisionist authoritarian states such as Russia, China and Iran and democratic states like India raise the possibility of a new world order. This would be partly dominated by hardline conservative nationalism, charismatic leadership, slow economic growth and hostility to the old globalist order.

With eight million people Israel can only play on the fringes of a new global order, but it has a flourishing economy of $300 billion and nearly $40,000 GDP/ capita. Its democratic, liberal politics and growing economy make it able to play both sides of the street.

Its military was rated by the Institute for the Study of War as “pilot to pilot and airframe to airframe” having “the best air force in the world” and the best army in the Middle East. Israel’s extensive work on air defenses (Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow 2 and soon Arrow 3), carried out with the United States, makes it a serious military power. Its alleged nuclear arsenal puts it in a rarified club of nine states in the world. Its intelligence capabilities are formidable.

With over 250 foreign companies creating research facilities in Israel, its strong high-tech capability has been rated by the University of Lausanne as one of the top five world powers in this key area.

While foreigners in 2015 invested $4 billion in Israel, Apple alone has invested over a billion dollars in creating a hardware development center with 800 Israeli employees. The Israelis, who created drip agriculture, are exporting $2b. a year in water technology and recently hosted the leading international water conference.

Three of the world’s most powerful countries have invited Israeli companies to work with them in high-tech. The Americans have paired the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology with Cornell University in the new hightech university in Roosevelt Island in Manhattan. The Russians have asked Israeli high-tech to help develop their new Silicon Valley in Skolkovo in the suburbs of Moscow. The Chinese have asked the Technion to work with them to create a Shantou-Technion School of Technology in Guangdong Province.

Israel has, despite its poor past relationship with the country, developed excellent relations with Russia. There are over a million Russian immigrants in Israel and all seven of Israel’s early long-serving prime ministers before 2005 were either from Russia or spoke Russian. Israel’s kibbutzim, moshavim and Histadrut owe their creation to Russian socialist ideas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visited Moscow four times in the past year; Putin has visited Israel twice. While the two countries differ over Moscow’s support for Iran, including selling it the S-300 anti-missile defense system, Israel has sold $1b. of drones to Russia over the years. It has $3b. in trade and shares a desire for peace in the region.

The Israelis, who also did not have diplomatic relations with China until 1992, have seen their relationship expand strongly. Today their trade is expanding to $10b. a year. Chinese investors have been looking to invest billions of dollars in Israel. Israel is looking to export water technology to a country with 400 million people living in arid regions.

Israel is also developing a strong relationship with India. It has $5b. in trade with India which could multiply to $15b. if the two sides decide to create a free trade zone. Israel is the second greatest exporter of arms to India, preceded only by Russia. India’s Foreign Minister visited Israel in January and proclaimed that there was a “very high importance” to their new relationship.

Prime Minister Narenda Modi is also scheduled to visit Israel.

For the tiny and poor 1948 Israel to be able less than 70 years later to play a role among the great powers of the world seems amazing. And, yet, in the 21st century, everything is possible.

The author is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

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