The return of "tohu va vohu".


The American hyper power and its twin sibling Pax Americana are leaving the world stage. The last three Presidential elections have shown beyond reasonable doubt the majority of Americans, both on the left and on the right, have no desire to pay and invest in supremacy of the country’s values. Barack Obama with his hollow declarations and total absence of any meaningful actions to back them up and Donald Trump with his well enunciated isolationist policy have left no doubt the American sacrifices for the democracy and the humanistic world order are in the days of the past. The United States is not saying farewell to arms. The military is still strong and its budget is growing. However, the utter reluctance to use the strong power compromises its threat to potential direct adversaries and emboldens secondary actors threatening its peripheral interests and its allies.

The void created by the US departure from the world stage is being filled by many regional and non state players with constantly changing alliances leading to chaos as a leitmotif of this century. Israel, a country historically strongly aligned with the US and tied directly to Washington’s power projection needs to recalibrate its strategy for the new world where the former combative big brother is becoming an aloof friend.

Zionism from its early days has relied on a strongest world power of the day to pursue and sustain the goals of the movement. Originally that power was The Ottoman Turkey, then the British Empire and finally (with some momentous flirtations with the French and the Soviets) the US. Israel, understanding the political and financial support does not arise from good intentions, has presented itself as a conduit of ideas represented by the great power and its reliable remote forpost. This quid pro quo has served it well. Now Israel, a tiny country with zero strategic depth, has to figure out how to live with geopolitical earthquakes and hurricanes without a reliable insurance policy. This new situation requires multilayered strategic thinking. The strategy as such becomes the ability to react quickly to rapidly changing circumstances, foresee change, make contradictions among big players work to Israel’s advantage and create alliances with as many countries as possible for mutual benefit.

The new situation is reminiscent of the first few decades after the establishment of the state. Then the US viewed a young Jewish State with a bit of apprehension and suspicion. Israel had to survive the rough water of the early Cold War by tirelessly working with other emerging non Arab regional powers near and far. The tight alignment with the great superpower has destroyed or weakened those connection. Fortunately, to rebuild them now Israel does not have to start from zero. Smaller Asian, African and Latin American countries constitute that cohort. Israel has a lot to offer in terms of technology and military equipment and expertise. In return Israel wants a tacit support in various international forums. To expect an outright friendship is a sheer fantasy, but if properly cultivated these relationships all together may produce a tangible support long term as many of these countries find themselves in similar circumstances.

Russia, long thought to cease being a consequential participant in world affairs, has re emerged as a formidable player on the world stage and the Middle East in particular. Israel’s approach to this new entity has been containment through engagement. Currently, Russia is able to establish facts on the ground and dictate its policy to regional players. Long term, the country (whether under Putin or not) is not going to be able to leave a lasting footprint. Its economy and internal centrifugal forces will not allow Russia to maintain presence in the region required to pursue its strategic goals. It will be forced to retreat from the region much sooner than its older self the USSR. Israel’s goal is to keep this momentous, but extremely flammable zeal of the new Russia in check until it, like a birthday balloon blown by an overexcited five year old, explodes in his and the face of everyone standing nearby.

China is the second most important (after the US) and the most delicate aspect of Israel’s strategic thinking. There is a general consensus that barring any catastrophic events China will become a superpower on par with the US by the second half of this century. Hence, Israeli pivot to Asia must start now to lay the groundwork in preparation for more aggressive and assertive Chinese involvement in world affairs. Admittedly, the engagement of China has already begun and has been relatively successful. The complexity of this developing link is derived from omnipresent and omni important Israel’s relationship with the US. The inescapable friction between the established superpower and the rising one will result in pressures on Israel and will force it to perform a tango for three (if such number is possible at all). China’s economy and its vast market are not less important. China will also become a major trading partner and the source of investment. This will allow Israel’s export markets diversify away from EU.

Finally, EU suffering from a weak centralized voice, insistence on soft power and preoccupation with the threat from Russia will lose much of what is left of its influence in the Middle East. Though, for Israel it will remain one of the major trading partner. Maintaining and nurturing good stable relationships with EU members will be of critical importance both from political and economic angles. Cultivation of strong pro Israel voices inside EU is of paramount importance for Israel’s standing in the world forums where every vote counts. However, like a good German car this link will prove to be robust, but will require pricey periodic maintenance and repair.

The Bible in one of its first sentences describes the state of the world right before the creation of the light as “tohu va vohu” (not to be found again in the text). A few commentators of the Torah offered their interpretations of the phrase which is commonly understood as chaos. It seems like the world order downing slowly upon us is in many ways “tohu va vohu”: a world order never seen before or well understood. The light will shine upon Israel, but not without painstaking work and thorough thinking.