religiously-identified new states emerged from the shards of the
British empire in the aftermath of World War II. Israel, of course, was
one; the other was Pakistan.
They make an interesting, if little-compared pair.
Pakistan's experience with widespread poverty, near-constant internal
turmoil, and external tensions, culminating in its current status as
near-rogue state, suggests the perils that Israel avoided, with its
stable, liberal political culture, dynamic economy, cutting-edge
high-tech sector, lively culture, and impressive social cohesion.
for all its achievements, the Jewish state lives under a curse that
Pakistan and most other polities never face: the threat of elimination.
Its remarkable progress over the decades has not liberated it from a
multi-pronged peril that includes nearly every means imaginable:
weapons of mass destruction, conventional military attack, terrorism,
internal subversion, economic blockade, demographic assault, and ideological undermining. No other contemporary state faces such an array of threats; indeed, probably none in history ever has.
The enemies of Israel
divide into two main camps: the Left and the Muslims, with the far
Right a minor third element. The Left includes a rabid edge
(International ANSWER, Noam Chomsky) and a more polite center (United
Nations General Assembly, left-liberal political parties, the
mainstream media, mainline churches, school textbooks). In the final
analysis, however, the Left serves less as a force in its own right
than as an auxiliary for the primary anti-Zionist actor, which is the
Muslim population. This latter, in turn, can be divided into three
First come the foreign
states: Five armed forces that invaded Israel on its independence in
May 1948, and then neighboring armies, air forces, and navies fought in
the wars of 1956, 1967, 1970, and 1973. While the conventional threat
has somewhat receded, Egypt's
U.S.-financed arms build-up presents one danger and the threats from
weapons of mass destruction (especially from Iran but also from Syria
and potentially from many other states) present an even greater one.
Second come the
external Palestinians, those living outside Israel. Sidelined by
governments from 1948 until 1967, Yasir Arafat and the Palestine
Liberation Organization got their opportunity with the defeat of three
states' armed forces in the Six-Day War. Subsequent developments, such
as the 1982 Lebanon war and the 1993 Oslo accords, confirmed the
centrality of external Palestinians. Today, they drive the conflict,
through violence (terrorism, missiles from Gaza) and even more
importantly by driving world opinion against Israel via a public
relations effort that resonates widely among Muslims and the Left.
Third come the Muslim citizens of Israel, the sleepers in the equation. They benefited from Israel's open ways
to grow in numbers and to evolve from a docile and ineffective
community into a assertive one that increasingly rejects the Jewish
nature of the Israeli state, with potentially profound consequences for
that the future identity of that state.
If this long list of
perils makes Israel different from all other Western countries, forcing
it to protect itself on a daily basis from the ranks of its many foes,
its predicament renders Israel oddly similar to other Middle Eastern
countries, which likewise face a threat of elimination.
Kuwait, conquered by
Iraq, actually disappeared from the face of the earth between August
1990 and February 1991. Lebanon, under Syria's control since 1976,
could be officially incorporated by Damascus at any time. Bahrain is
occasionally claimed by Tehran to be a part of Iran. Jordan's existence
as an independent state has always been precarious.
That Israel finds
itself in this company has several implications. It puts Israel's
existential dilemma into perspective: If no country risks elimination
outside of the Middle East, this is a nearly routine problem within the
region, suggesting that Israel's unsettled status will not be resolved
any time soon. This pattern also highlights the Middle East's uniquely
cruel, unstable, and fatal political life. The Middle East's deep and
wide political sickness points to the error of seeing the Arab-Israeli
conflict as the motor force behind its problems.
Israel having survived
countless threats to its existence over the past six decades, and it
having done so with its honor intact, offers a reason for its
population to celebrate. But the rejoicing cannot last long, for it's
right back to the barricades to defend against the next threat.