Israel celebrates costly victory as it turns 70

Israel benefits from a strong military and even stronger allies, but analysts warn the state faces major challenges

Israel celebrates costly victory as it turns 70

Israel benefits from a strong military and even stronger allies, but analysts warn the state faces major challenges

17 April 2018 Tuesday 13:48
Israel celebrates costly victory as it turns 70

Israelis, it appears, have every reason to be in such a festive mood this week as they mark 70 years of their state’s founding.

This "Independence Day", which Israel marks according to the Hebrew calendar, on April 19, the regional, security and diplomatic environment looks to be the most favorable Israel has faced in its short history.

The Palestinians have been crushed and Israel faces no international pressure to concede a two-state solution.

The Arab states are in disarray, with growing signs that Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states may be ready to normalize relations.

The Trump administration is little more than a cheerleader for Israel and has pre-empted Palestinian ambitions for statehood by moving its embassy to Jerusalem next month.

And Israel has one of the few economies that is thriving despite the global recession sparked by the financial meltdown a decade ago.

Nonetheless, analysts warn, the picture over the coming decades may prove to be far less rosy than it appears now. The relatively free hand Israel currently enjoys comes with new costs and dangers, they argue.

"This is more like a pyrrhic victory," Amal Jamal, a politics professor at Tel Aviv University, told Al Jazeera.

"Israel has won this round of the battle, but at a price it probably can't afford in the coming rounds."

'The end of the Jewish state'

That sentiment is shared in unlikely places. Last month, Israel's popular Yedioth Aharonoth daily published the assessments of six former heads of Israel's spy agency Mossad, headlined: "The country is in grave condition."

One, Dani Yatom, went so far as to predict "the end of the Jewish state". Another, Nahum Admoni, warned that the rift within the Israeli Jewish public was "greater than at any other time" in Israel's history.

Michal Warschawski, an Israeli analyst and founder of the Alternative Information Centre, argued that Israel was suffering from "classic hubris".

"Israel is strong, rich and has powerful allies. That explains its extreme arrogance at the moment," he told Al Jazeera.

"We are now in a strange situation in which the security apparatus has more insight into Israel's problems than the politicians."

An indication of Israel's troubles ahead are the popular, unarmed protests that have exploded on to the Palestinian political scene along Gaza's perimeter fence.

For decades Israel's internal security has been carefully built on an intricate system of containing, isolating and repressing Palestinians with walls, checkpoints and blockades.

But the Gaza protests suggest to some observers that Israel's complex fortifications could quickly turn into a house of cards if unarmed resistance by Palestinians grows or spreads.

Israeli military commanders have repeatedly warned that they have no strategy for countering a mass popular revolt. The use of snipers to terrify away protesters was a sign of Israel's desperation, say analysts.

Veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery observed in a column at the weekend: "Like the British in India and the white racists in the US, the Israeli government does not know how to deal with an unarmed protest."

Assad Ghanem, a political scientist at Haifa University, told Al Jazeera: "What happens to Israel will depend in part on what Palestinians choose to do, and Palestinians aren't going to accept third or fourth-class status forever."

He noted that historically Palestinians had looked to the wider Arab world for support, including military assistance.

"For the first time, the Palestinians are on their own. They have slowly internalised the fact that Israel cannot be defeated with arms, and they must move towards a non-armed struggle."

Israel would be in "serious difficulty" if the protests in Gaza spread, unifying Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, Israel and the refugee camps of Lebanon and Syria.

"Israel cannot repress all these fronts at the same time," he said.

Jamal, of Tel Aviv University, observed that the Palestinian struggle would be influenced by changing international circumstances.

"The Israeli right is behaving as if the shift to the right in the west will last forever. It won't - there will be a backlash," he argued.

Shift to the right

The dramatic shift in Israel towards the far right in recent years, with a series of ever more ultranationalist governments under Benjamin Netanyahu, has provoked growing polarisation among Israeli Jews and mounting alienation from liberal Jews overseas.

Traditionally, the latter have been vocal advocates for Israel abroad, especially in the US.

In the run-up to the 70th-anniversary celebrations, there has been an outpouring of fears from liberal commentators about the future.

Bradley Burston observed that Israel was now led by "a government of the racist, by the racist, for the racist", while Chemi Shalev warned that it was time for liberal Jews in Israel and the US to "circle their wagons" against the Israeli leadership.

Emilie Moatti argued that the "thuggery" of the current government would soon seem moderate in comparison to the "nightmarish circus up the road".

Meanwhile, analyst Yossi Klein argued: "A clerical fascist state will rise here much faster than you think." He added that Israel was rapidly becoming a country that "you have to get out of, and fast".

Such fears have been exacerbated by a raft of discriminatory and racist legislation and relentless efforts to delegitimise the Israeli Supreme Court and human rights groups.

"It is not just the illusion of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that is crumbling, Israel is actively abandoning any pretence of being democratic. It is more interested in its Jewishness," Warschawski said.


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