The chiaroscuro that is Israel

Israel today is a duality – a bright star and a struggling candle in the wind.

Birthright Israel participants show their love for Israel (photo credit: SYLVIE ROSOKOFF)
Birthright Israel participants show their love for Israel
(photo credit: SYLVIE ROSOKOFF)
The position of Israel is a study of light and shadow. On the brink of 2019, it reflects the famous lines from Charles Dickens’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities,
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the season of despair.”
Israel today is a duality – a bright star and a struggling candle in the wind.
This can best be understood by looking at the position of that country for which Israel is often seen as a 51st state, the United States of America: 1. 227 years as a democracy; 2. The No. 1 economy in the world ($20 trillion), twice that of China; 3. The No. 1 military in the world; 4. 5,000 km. of Atlantic Ocean to the east and 8,000 km. of Pacific Ocean to the west; 5.The world’s unchallenged superpower since the end of World War II in 1945 until today.
And yes, Israel does have some of these factors and for those factors it is the “best of times.” First, it was one of only two new countries among over 100 countries created after World War II (the other being India) that have always been democracies, with the political arena always run by democratically elected leaders.
Second it has the best modern economy in the Middle East, which reaches nearly $40,000 GDP/capita, the level of Japan and much of Western Europe. This shows tremendous progress from 1948 when its economy was less than $3,000 GDP/capita. In agriculture some ratings put Israel even first in the world, and in the hi-tech industry in the top 5 in the world.
Third, it has the best military in the Middle East, despite the fact it had almost no modern air force or navy in 1948. Its military today is rated in the top 10 in the world.
But, Israel has some specific problems that are often beyond resolution. Most of all, the United States is 10 million while Israel is a mere 20,000 sq. km. miles. Almost 60% of Israeli territory is desert so 92% of Israel resides in a mere 9,000 sq. km.
Second, Israel does not have the protection of thousands of kilometers of ocean east or west so enjoyed by the US. Instead it has very little protection and abuts Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. It also has a number of terrorist groups nearby such as Hezbollah and Islamic State in Syria and the like.
Furthermore, even within Israel its 6.5 million Jews live next to 1.7 million Arabs and 0.3 million other non-Jewish factions. In the entire Middle East there are over 420 million Arabs, mostly Muslims, and 6.5 million Jews. Israelis then make up a miniscule 1.5% of the Middle East population.
The Palestinian Authority has now been voted for the coming year to lead the Group of 77 world group of developing countries. This does not bode well.
Even worst is the American abandonment this week of having all its troops withdrawn from Syria and some withdrawal of 7,600 men from Afghanistan. This will impact Israel more than other countries – and not for the good.
Finally, there is the beginning of a second Arab understanding (the first being Jordan and Egypt after a series of wars) of Israel in the region (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and others). Yet at the same time there is the powerful threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has 80 million people, is 1,100 km. from Israel and three months away from having nuclear weapons. Two atomic bombs could destroy over one million Jews in Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Overall, all this makes it simultaneously the best of times and, potentially, the worst of times since the 1973 war. Let us hope for the best.
The writer is a full professor at the University of Denver. He has written or edited twelve books. He has worked over times for the State Department and Defense Department. He has also taught at both Hebrew University and the University of Haifa.