Structure and dynamics

Analyzing Israel’s lasting predicament

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Chad's President Idriss Deby in N'djamena, Chad in January 20, 2019 (photo credit: YANIR COZIN / MAARIV)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Chad's President Idriss Deby in N'djamena, Chad in January 20, 2019
(photo credit: YANIR COZIN / MAARIV)
The game of chess is an apt metaphor for the Israeli-Arab conflict: two armies wage war and peace across a global board, knights fall off, draws are arranged – yet the fighting proceeds until one contestant bloodies the other in the final scrimmage.
To the seasoned player, however, a second dimension comes to mind – statics and dynamics. The weakness offered by a bad pawn structure is easily mitigated by a blitz that delivers mate. However, should the attack fizzle, structural weaknesses of bad pawns become come into play as targets for constant pressure. Pieces must fall back to defend, and the position collapses.
For the entirety of its history, Israel has come to rely on dynamics to offset structural deficits. One may only look at the “constant recurrence” of the word “miracle” in Zionist historiography: the “miracle” of Balfour, the “miracle” of partition, the “miracle” of Arab flight & expulsion in 1948, the “miraculous” speedy victory of the Six-Day War, the “miracle” of the Soviet aliyah of the ‘90s. All dynamic factors (Finkelstein, Norman. Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict).
In essence, the structural weaknesses Israel has faced – an inhospitable region, a growing numerical demographic deficit, geographic inferiority (low-lands to mountains, low strategic depth vs. maneuverable deserts and vast hinterlands) – have remained largely the same, although multiplied in magnitude since its independence. Israel’s only strategic asset, for the present moment, might be its possession of nuclear arms. Save this, we might as well be living in 1950s Israel. This, too, explains the Israeli psyche.
The West often wonders why secular Israelis are paranoid of a Palestinian state. How can you worry if you have one of the strongest, best equipped armies in the world, peace treaties with two neighbors, and a proven track-record of military ingenuity and accomplishment? The answer lies in the hidden fact that structurally, Israel is an incredibly perilous situation.
BENNY MORRIS, in his latest interview with Ofer Aderet in Haaretz, notes, “The Palestinians look at everything from a broad, long-term perspective. They see that at the moment, there are five-six-seven million Jews here, surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs. They have no reason to give in, because the Jewish state can’t last.” What he is explicating – only without the usage of the phrase – is the idea of structural deficit.
For now, Israel has been able to achieve battlefield successes in all domains to such an extent, it seemed dynamics have themselves transformed into the very structure of the game. But this camouflage is a poor substitute for the achievement of actual structural change.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote, “[In the Middle East], the weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history, while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong.” To remain strong, the sole path forward is to switch emphasis to the structural – demographics, geography, and technology.
Either a unilateral separation that marks maintainable borders or a transfer of portions of the West Bank population toward defensible borders will accomplish structural change. It is clear, no actor should advocate the ethnic cleansing of a population in peacetime.
Yet, in war – especially one waged against the State of Israel – actions arise that are complicated by necessity and fear, and the very survival of the nation.
In the historical project of establishing truth and justice in the world, fateful decisions are needed to be made by those who take tough decisions. Until lately, Israel has had no shortage of such leaders. But in the present moment, the current leadership cadre of the right – be it Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, or Avigdor Liberman – refuse to acknowledge Israel’s structural deficits.
For all Netanyahu’s talk of deals with African nations and “diplomatic successes” at the UN, or with Oman and the UAE, he is totally blinded by fact that these largely inconsequential dynamic trumps cannot last forever.
And they fundamentally cannot overturn structural weaknesses. Only a just draw – a lasting regional pact that establishes mutual respect, borders, and settles claims, or a great military checkmate – can guarantee Israel’s survival. Both require great courage, and the clock is ticking for there to be a leader to realize them before it is too late.
The writer is an second-year student at Princeton University’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering Department. He is a United States Chess Federation expert-rated chess player.