The practical question regarding Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza is not “Who is right?” but “Can Israel last?”
As I write, Israel is using a military designed to fight hostile countries to fight a hostile population. In the modern world, this has seldom worked. To defeat a country you destroy its military and capture its territory. But Gaza has little military to destroy, no tanks or aircraft, and Israel already owns its territory. The IDF can invade but, afterward, the population will still be there, and still be hostile. Stabbing jello doesn’t buy you much.
Israel remains a small state in a region that intensely doesn’t want it. The rights and wrongs change nothing. Again and again, Israel lashes out, lashes out, against enemies that can be defeated but never decisively. And so the bombs fall on Gaza, on Syria, on Beirut, perhaps on Iran. Each war guarantees the next: 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2006, 2009, world without end.
Israel today is not the country once dreamed, in which Heidelberg professors escaped from Europe would work the soil with their hands on kibbutzim and play chess and the violin at night. It looks more like what the professors fled. Brutal conflicts breed brutal people. Atrocities engender counter-atrocities, extremists come to the fore, and military solutions seem the only solutions.
Where is this going? How long can it continue? Another fifty years? A hundred? Say I, either the country finds peace with its neighbors or it goes the way of the Crusader Kingdom. We can stipulate that the Israelis are the world’s best people, or the worst. It doesn’t matter. You can die in the right as easily as in the wrong.
The Israelis appear to be trapping themselves in their own policies. They continue their annexation of the West Bank. The settlements are now so numerous and so populous that dismantling them is probably politically impossible for any Israeli government, which rules out a two-state solution. To control a large hostile population, you need harsh methods, which keep the population hostile. Arabs outbreed the Israelis, so that a proportionately declining number of Israelis rule a slowly rising tide of Arabs. Think: South Africa. How is this going to work? For how long?
Israel also has a large internal minority of Arabs. These also outbreed the Jews. If this continues and the internal Arabs can vote, Israel will one day become an Islamic state. Sooner or later, the question will be: Democratic, or Jewish?
America killed its indigenous population, the Spanish married theirs, but Israel can do neither. Now what?
Since Israelis do not yearn to get in touch with their inner Moslem, the choices will be disenfranchisement or ethnic cleansing. Disenfranchisement would, again, leave a diminishing proportion of Jews ruling more and more Moslems. Think: Alabama in 1930.
Disenfranchisement apparently is starting. Israel just banned its Arab parties from voting in the upcoming elections, and then the courts unbanned them.
Ethnic cleansing? Rounding up a large minority and expelling it would require horrendous brutality. This is the least moral but perhaps most practical solution. It is barely possible that Congress would balk but, I suspect, not until it was too late to matter. If Israel nuked Chicago, Congress would approve.
The long-term indicators point downward. Israel’s military position is not as good as one might think. It has, or had when I last covered such things, a splendid air force, a good militia army, nuclear weapons, and inferior enemies. None of these is particularly useful against angry populations.
It seems probable that Islamic countries will eventually have nuclear weapons. The danger is not that a Moslem country would spontaneously launch them against Israel, as this would constitute national suicide. But you don’t have to use nuclear weapons for them to be effective.
Today, the Bomb is Israel’s trump card. If, say, Syria attacked and (improbably) began to win, its cities would turn to green glass, and Damascus knows it. Thus Israel is in exactly zero danger of conventional defeat. But if Arab countries had nuclear weapons, the trump card would lose its value. You have to be very careful about bombing countries that can vaporize your cities.
Further, Israel depends entirely on a foreign country, namely America, for its survival. The US provides the weaponry, the financial aid, the vetoes in the UN, and the last-resort military support that comes when Israel is in trouble (1973, for example). Without this support, Israel could not last. Small countries without oil cannot support massive militaries.
If I were an Israeli, I would be uneasy about this. American support depends crucially, if not entirely, on the Israeli lobbies. Should these falter, so will Israel. It is not that the US seethes with repressed anti-Semitism awaiting its chance. It doesn’t. But Americans don’t much care about the outside world, know little of history and less of geography. Congress is loyal only to itself.
Today one reads of the recent overwhelming vote in Congress in support of Israel, but the number is highly artificial. The rub is that today is today, but there is always tomorrow. Congress supports whoever pays it or intimidates it, and today the Lobby can exact a heavy price for opposition. If the winds blow another way, Congress will sway in another direction. What might constitute a sufficient wind? I don’t know. I note that Israel has no oil, its enemies do, and world demand is growing fast. Think: Taiwan.
Further, I doubt that public support for Israel is nearly as strong as we are told it is. Among conservatives, no small group, there is considerable mild hostility to Jews and a far stronger dislike of Israel. I’m not sure how serious the antagonism is. To be annoyed is one thing, but to want to see the country fall with the nearly assured hideous results is another. But people seldom think that far. Many, if they could, would shrug and say, “Whatever. It’s their problem.” A national shrug would end Israel.
Methinks a faint smell of doom hangs over Tel Aviv. American power appears to be on the decline, the outcome of its Islamic wars in doubt, its control over its Moslem client states uncertain. Nothing Israel is likely to do looks workable in the long run. The demographics are terrible, regional Arab hostility assured, the military balance only able to deteriorate, the whole enterprise hanging by a lobby. I remember thinking about the Soviet Union, “This can’t last.” I couldn’t see how it could stop lasting either. It did stop. Unless something changes, and I don’t have any bright ideas, I don’t see a happy ending.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. Visit his blog.