The first part of this article, dedicated to the strategic relevance of the so-called “Jewish nation-state law,” puts the law into a broader national security perspective underlining the potential utility of non-material factors and resources for a state’s defence strategy. Using the same hybrid (realist-constructivist) lenses, this sequel aims to further elucidate the importance of the law as a sophisticated, ideational means of national defence by
- looking at the Israeli national security context following the Arab Spring; and
- discussing the law’s legitimacy in what remains an essentially realist, Westphalian order.
Israel’s National Security after the Arab Spring
As already emphasized in Part I, the post-2009 Netanyahu government appears to have an in-depth understanding of not just the complex security situation in which Israel has found itself after 2011 but also—what’s more important—of the concept of national defence beyond conventional material determinants. Whether or not familiar with Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s implicit 18th-century prescriptions on how to preserve the state amid a state of war, and especially when facing special neocortical aggression, its foremost exponents (e.g. Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennet, Ayelet Shaked) have thus far displayed, similarly to Israeli military and intelligence leaders, a high level of strategic and situational awareness. Mindful, first and foremost, of the spiritual, moral and rational (rather than material) nature of any “public body”/”Body politic,” as well as of “the various means” and “ways of harming” it (as the real and legitimate object of war) and the possibility of destroying it “at a single stroke, without shedding one drop of blood” (Rousseau, C. E. Vaughan), they seem hell-bent to bolster Israel’s integrative core—including, as already seen, via legislative measures.
Consider, for instance, PM Netanyahu’s speech before the Knesset following the adoption of so-called “nation-state law.” While global and local media outlets promptly relayed Netanyahu’s core message on this occasion, stressing, in particular, the “defining” or “pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and [the history of] the State of Israel,” little if any analytical attention has since been paid by journalists and pundits alike to a crucial integral remark:
“In recent years there have been some who have attempted to put this [i.e. Israel’s existence as a Jewish nation-state] in doubt, to undercut the core of our being. Today we made it law: This is our nation, language and flag.”
These words are more than telling. Having come from the highest political office in the Holy Land, they are not to be taken lightly, especially given their deeper meaning: Israel’s political survival has lately been compromised by factors that go far beyond the Levant and the Shia world (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Yemen), depending on regional outcomes as far as Ukraine, Kosovo, and the Balkans.
|Israel’s survival has lately been compromised by factors that go far beyond the Levant and the Shia world, depending on regional outcomes as far as Ukraine, Kosovo, and the Balkans.|
- Global Intra-Judaic Schism: The Spiritual Being of Israel under Attack
First, against the backdrop of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as many other conflicts worldwide, a global cultural, ideological, or so to speak, ‘X-war’ is being waged. Having pitted the resurgent sovereignism and social conservatism against the hitherto predominant liberal internationalism, this hybrid war abounds with a plethora of local reflections and battlefields, one of which is inevitably Israel’s domestic political scene. If prolonged enough, the war can prove detrimental to many nation-states, including the State of Israel where the decennial gap between the progressive, leftist Zionism and its Revisionist counterpart (which comprises both secular and orthodox religious streams) is now only growing. In fact, Israel has already been affected domestically so severely in terms of stirring up intra-Jewish schism and damaging the widely renown Jewish egregor that a pioneer of Politology of Religion, a relatively new academic discipline in the field of political studies, has recently ventured to say (paraphrasing a member of the Serbian establishment) as follows:
“Were the Palestinians to disappear, the Jews would wage war among themselves – that’s how diverse they are.”
2. Great-Power Expedience and the Two-State Solution
Second, the recent surge in ideological divisions among the world Jewry and the resultant fragmentation of what is often stereotyped as a monolith Jewish worldview handicaps the present Israeli government in coping with external pressures—the most important of which is arguably the one related to implementing the so-called “two-state solution.” Albeit unfavourable to hard-core, patriotic Zionists, both within Israel and across the Jewish diaspora, this pressure has been renewed, most notably after 2012. To save itself from it and ensure developments that would more likely contribute to its long-term national security—say, by being more in accord with the traditional Jewish perception of Eretz Yisrael (the Promised Land)—Israel currently has no choice but to continue to aptly navigate its ambiguous dealings with the world’s greatest powers.
Now, disregarding for a moment Germany, France, and the EU, which have always been ardent promoters of “a viable two-state solution,” having it enshrined even in their most seminal strategic papers, Tel Aviv’s much vaunted “special ties” to Washington, London, and Moscow are all but challenge-free. The Obama/Clinton administration and its worldwide remnants are largely perceived as pro-Palestinian, however exaggerated this might sound. For their own part, British diplomacy and intelligence, despite being the main ‘culprits’ for the renewal of the Jewish state after 1948, are most likely to maintain a balancing approach to the Middle-East peace process. Simply, recalling its post-WWII troubles with the founding fathers of modern Israel and in keeping with its tradition of political wisdom, the UK would never give absolute support for the Zionist cause, let alone for the latter’s Revisionist, national-patriotic variant.
On the other hand, in a self-interested world such as ours Russia is unlikely to step in and play the role of Israel’s guardian angel as some might think (this, of course, does not include those Protestant fundamentalists, rightists, and Zionists in the West, who, having internalized The Scofield Reference Bible and thus Dispensationalist tenets, still believe that Russia is the true Gog and Magog whose troops will storm at some point into the Holy Land initiating Armageddon). This is important to highlight because nowadays many seem to be carried away by Tel Aviv’s recent rapprochement with Moscow and, particularly, PM Netanyahu’s personal ties with President Putin. One thing should be clear here: whatever Israel’s security needs, the Kremlin would not let down Iran and Russian-leaning Arabs in a way that would compromise its hard-earned geo-strategic position in the Middle East.
Quite the contrary, Russia’s ensuing strategy for the Middle East could possibly become a nightmare for Israel—of course, depending on the latter’s own conduct vis-à-vis Russian geo-economic and security interests in the region. Perhaps the best and most credible hint of this has come from Aleksandr Dugin, the main ideologue of Putin’s Russia and, for years, a key promoter of the centuries-old Eurasian concept. Having in mind the history of Russo/Soviet-Israeli relations as well as Israel’s complex and, to an extent, as the Kremlin sees it, anti-Russian role in the prolonged proxy war in Syria, Dugin sent a sobering message amid the newly found Russo-Israeli ‘love:’
“As for Israel, in the given constellation nothing positive can be offered to them. They have unequivocally taken the opposite position, so it’s up to us to take our own without getting into a direct confrontation – and that, in the current circumstances, automatically means assuming an anti-Israeli posture in all regards, bolstering our own influence in the Arab world. Specifically, while/by not recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli, we should be responding more forcefully to Israeli raids in both Syria and elsewhere.
In any project, there have to be “scapegoats.” In the present conditions Saudi Arabia and Israel may have to be sacrificed in favour of the pan-Islamic, non-Wahhabist, anti-Western project, unless they themselves try to find their place in Eurasian politics in the Middle East.”
This is, without a doubt, a warning typical of a grey eminence. In it, Dugin, who clearly harbours doubts over Israel’s establishment and their long-term Russia policy, goes as far as to grant ‘conditional amnesty’ to radical (Sunni) Islam with a view to converting it, if possible, into a future Russian ally:
“Having sided with the Islamic world as a whole, Russia can as well change its attitude towards radical Islamism, in so far as the latter, for its own sake, changes its own towards Christians and Sufis and starts taking into account the laws of geopolitics. As the situation continues to unfold, radical Islam, by changing its nature and receiving no further Western support, could even potentially, under certain conditions, become our ally. For today, every single anti-Western element starts playing into our hands.”
Hence, rather than focusing on what the Kremlin’s Middle-East policy currently offers and placing hopes in conducive circumstances—for instance, the nearly two million Russian/Soviet Jews and Halakhally non-Jews living in Israel, creating a socio–economic ‘bridge’ with their former patria, while also being significantly involved in Israeli diplomatic, security and intelligence services where they have reportedly been using Russian rather than Hebrew—Israeli top brass should remain cautious heeding (only) to some degree Moscow’s expectations.
- Alternative Scenarios for the Future of the Jewish State
Third and, perhaps, most important, the existence of alternative scenarios for Israel’s political and geographic future currently requires unprecedented vigilance on the part of the Israeli security and intelligence community. Ranging from progressive multiculturalism within a two-state solution to full destruction and/or relocation (!?!) of the existing Jewish state, some of these schemes are so horrifying, esoteric, and unhinged that they render Israeli patriots from all walks of life quite frantic. As a result, there have lately been signs—if not a tendency—of Jewish entrepreneurs and capital moving out of Israel, reviving contacts and exploring opportunities in perceived or historically proven safe heavens such as those in the Balkans.
Whether or not an emerging trend, these unfortunate developments speak for themselves. On the bright side, for instance, they largely debunk classical anti-Zionist (not necessarily anti-Semitic. though) claims purporting that, with Western support, official Tel Aviv/Jerusalem has been on a quest of creating a Greater Israel spanning from “the Wadi of Egypt [largely interpreted as the Nile river] to…the Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18-21). Perhaps the best and most popularized example of this type of generalized, anti-Western reasoning, which apparently clings on the very same ‘misinterpretation’ of the Bible for which it so vehemently blames the Judeo-Christian Zionists (namely the debatable ‘first’ and largest biblical definition of the Promised Land), can be found in the lectures of Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein. A controversial Islamic scholar, eschatologist, and philosopher, whose self-imposed earthly mission is, in fact, to help connect Traditional Islam and Orthodox Christianity with a view to forging, across Samuel Huntington’s civilizational gaps, a conservative, tradition-minded Russo-Islamic alliance against the Zionist West as the purportedly true Gog and Magog, Sheikh Hosein has been contending that even the Arab Spring was plotted and put into effect in favour of the ultimate Zionist cause.
On the dark side, however, what the world’s anti-Zionists and many unrelated others seem to overlook, whether deliberately or not, is one undeniable fact: Israel’s present security situation is so unenviable that any expansionist thoughts beyond the pro-settlement discourse are hardly affordable. Rather than colluding with NATO in the context of the Arab Spring (e.g. in ‘conquering’ Libya and putting Egypt, the central state in the Arab-Muslim world, into a strategic ‘sandwich’) so as to create the necessary premises for and facilitate the purported long-term realization of the Greater Israel plan, Israeli strategists have lately had far greater concerns to deal with — for example, how to preserve and strengthen their country within its current borders (plus the Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank) and right there where it is.
|Israel’s present security situation is so unenviable that any expansionist thoughts beyond the pro-settlement discourse are hardly affordable. Israeli strategists have lately had far greater concerns to deal with— for example, how to preserve and strengthen their country within its current borders and right there where it is.|
In the current Middle-East quagmire, key to Israel’s survival is ironically Jordan. Keeping the country that Netanyahu’s political predecessors once refused to recognize stable and preventing Islamist radicals and weapon supplies from eventually reaching—through the Syria-Jordan-Israel border triangle and other secret channels—Palestinian territories ought to be a top priority for Israeli intelligence and defence planners.
A Legitimate Contextual Defence by Other Means
In the light of the above, the Knesset’s controversial measure of July 19 gains a totally different meaning compared to what has been suggested by most critics. Yes, this meaning has basically nothing to do with democracy or human rights, but what has been at stake is the preservation of Israel as a Jewish state and right there where it is. Those who fail to understand this are either sufficiently ignorant of the strategic challenges facing Israel today or wish no good to the Israelis and Jews in general.
Speaking in more general terms, nowadays, many are at unease with the ongoing revival of the Westphalian order in a new multipolar context. Yet, so long as the fundamentals of that order exist, measures such as the “Jewish nation-state law,” however controversial, will remain a legitimate form of defence against indigenous, sovereign, and broader geo-political threats. Of course, legitimacy in this context is not to be confounded with pragmatism and efficiency. A reasonable debate over whether the nation-state law alleviates or additionally hurts Israel’s national security situation is always welcome, even though the basic rationale behind the law can hardly be disputed.
No doubt, the law’s content is ‘monistic’ and less democratic in the sense that it reflects a tendency towards implementing a predominantly mono-cultural and mono-religious state concept. But this, while being expectedly provocative to local Arabs and worldwide liberals and colliding with the trendy concepts of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, and institutionalist global governance, is nonetheless rooted in a firm strategic logic, representing nothing new from a perspective of political history.
There is a clear understanding in Tel Aviv/Jerusalem that some wars cannot be won by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Mossad, and other security agencies acting alone. The July 19 measure is proof of the fact that the current Israeli leadership do not let themselves be carried away by material advantages and favourable security assessments stating as follows:
“The national security situation of Israel is the best it has been in 70 years. Israel defense forces, intelligence community, military, is the strongest—only I would say and has no adversary in the—in the area.” (Ronen Bergman, panel discussion, Jan 29, 2018, CFR)
In the end, what is important to remember is that Tel Aviv/Jerusalem’s underlying pursuit for stability through greater homogeneity is not driven by an idea of harming Palestinians or other non-Jewish Israeli citizens. Rather, it reflects just another historical struggle of a numerically small and dispersed nation to survive its hostile surrounding and to prove and cement its state-building capacity once and for all and against all odds.
Hristijan Ivanovski is a Research Fellow at the University of Manitoba (UofM) Centre for Defence and Security Studies (CDSS), Associate Editor (Europe) of iAffairs Canada, and a former coordination officer with Macedonia’s Secretariat for European Affairs. Since 2016, he has been a Member of East-West Bridge (EWB) contributing to the Foundation’s Foreign Policy Task Force. Hristijan can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia