Israel: past, present and future

Some elements of the future are clear. Israeli Jews are growing by a high birth rate (3.2 children per family).

THE SKYLINE of Tel Aviv as seen from Dolev, southern Samaria.  (photo credit: MICHAL GILADI)
THE SKYLINE of Tel Aviv as seen from Dolev, southern Samaria.
(photo credit: MICHAL GILADI)
In just over 70 years, Israel has come close to impressive accomplishments in critical areas such as diplomacy, politics, economics, armed forces and demography.
The past and present
Diplomatically, in 1948 Israel was recognized by 31 nations, but none of them Arab ones. Instead, five Arab countries futilely tried to destroy Israel. Today, Arab states – led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt – work with Israel to oppose the Iranian move to dominate the Middle East. This reflects the ancient Indian saying: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Israel, dealing with more than 160 nations, is developing relations with countries such as Russia, China, India, France and Brazil.
Politically, from among more than 100 new nations created after World War II, Israel is one of only two countries that has remained democratic (the other being India, established in 1947). Israel held its first election at birth in 1949. The 1.7 million Israeli Arabs have 10% of Knesset seats, a seat on the Supreme Court, full voting rights and membership in the Foreign Ministry.
Economically, in the late 1940s Israel was a poor Third World country, with $2,500-$3,000 GDP per capita and few exports. Now it is a First World country, with $40,000 GDP per capita – equal to England and France, and four times that of Brazil and Russia. Its exports top $100 billion per year. Israel has emerged as a top-five state in global high-technology, with over 300 foreign companies making it their center for international technology. And it’s #1 in the world in agriculture.
In armed forces, Israel in 1948, like most new nations, lacked modern planes, tanks and weapons. Russia was the only country that sold some weapons to the new state. The United States and Great Britain refused to sell it any weapons, with Britain selling weapons to the Arabs instead. Israel now is rated the #8 military power in the world with an excellent air force and army and first-rate Israeli anti-ballistic missiles (Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow 2 and 3).
Demographically, Israel had 650,000 Jews in 1947 and now is home to 6.6 million Jews. No other nation has had their population grow tenfold in 70 years.
The future
Some elements of the future are clear. Israeli Jews are growing by a high birth rate (3.2 children per family). Growing antisemitism in countries with significant Jewish populations, like Russia, France and Great Britain – combined with a strong economy in Israel – will attract more immigration. Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens will be more productive, as the state has reserved 50,000 spaces for them in Israeli universities.
Another element is Israel’s 900,000 haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, only 14% of whom serve in the army, which has contributed to a 50% poverty rate. However, 40% of teenage haredim want to serve in the army, and this will lead to a more productive economy and hi-tech zone. Given their average five children per family, this means that in several decades, some three million ultra-Orthodox Jews will provide a major economic kick for Israel.
Then there are the existential threats. The biggest by far is Iran, still driving to obtain nuclear weapons to use against Israel. Then there are other, lesser Arab threats: Hezbollah, Islamic State, Hamas and other Arab terrorist organizations.
While there are still significant threats to Israel’s very existence, the positives significantly outnumber the negatives. There is great hope for the future. And nothing symbolizes this more than if the Israeli SpaceIL Beresheet lunar craft lands successfully on the Moon in April. If that happens, then the sky and the universe are the limit for Israel.
The writer is a full professor at the Korbel School of International Studies of the University of Denver, in Colorado, and has taught at two Israeli universities.