Can Israel Last?


October 24, 2006

I wonder what is going to happen to Israel. Its existence depends entirely on its only ally, the United States. American support depends on the Israeli Lobby. Independent of the Lobby, a lot of Americans support Israel for many reasons, yes: Varieties of Christians for reasons of religion, people who see the Moslem world as a national enemy, those who think that Israel should be left alone to live in peace, and those who don’t precisely support Israel but don’t want to see what would happen if it were overrun. Together, these are not a contemptible constituency.

But most of this is soft support. As long as the price of backing Israel is a few billions a year, the supply of weaponry, and vetoes in the United Nations, few will object. But the world is changing. America appears to be on the verge of becoming a greatly reduced power. Where will that leave Israel?

Even now, neither the Israeli nor the US military is convincingly dominant. The American forces are enormous but designed for wars they are not going to fight. Carrier task forces, armored divisions, and nuclear submarines would excel against the Imperial Japanese Navy or the Red Army in the Fulda Gap. They lose to ragtag guerrillas. The ragtag guerrillas have noticed this. America hasn’t won a war since 1945.

The Israeli military is similar, relying on aircraft and tanks. Israel cannot successfully invade Lebanon against the wishes of irregulars, nor the United States defeat a small force of insurgents. As long as Israel is supported by the US, no Arab power will have any hope of invading it, but Israel’s capacity to intimidate neighboring powers has diminished. Times have changed.

Which brings us to nuclear weapons. These, as long as Israel has them and her enemies do not, serve as a trump card. Should Syria attack and begin to win, it would simply disappear, and knows it. But if Moslem nations have the Bomb, then Israel risks nuclear retaliation if it uses its own. This (I suspect), not the danger of an unprovoked attack by Iran, is the importance of a Moslem Bomb. Perhaps Iran can be prevented from building nuclear weapons, but it hasn’t been yet.

Mr. Bush seems to be losing his wars. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, which would probably be a good thing. But if I’m right, when the United States is forced out of Iraq, American influence in the region will decline precipitately. For at least a decade, and perhaps forever, the US will not send troops to the region. The Moslem world will regard itself, correctly, as having defeated the Great Satan, and will no longer fear Washington. American control of Pakistan will probably vanish and, bingo, there’s the Islamic Bomb. Presumably the American puppets, such as Saudi Arabia, will blow with the prevailing winds.

The rub is that the industrial world lives on oil. Much of it lies in nations that now detest the United States or, as in the case of Russia, see themselves as being in competition with the United States. Mr. Bush has also made a policy of antagonizing, well, everybody, but in particular Venezuela, which is visibly looking to change markets eastward. Crucially, the emerging Asian giants offer the oil producers other buyers for their oil.

If those with oil loathe America, no longer fear it, and have other markets, they are likely to say, “Choose: Israel or oil.” Then what? In the long run there are solar power, oil shale, and so on. But we live in the short run.

How does American domestic politics play into this? If the consequences of declining American power are slight, if the price of gasoline goes up a bit and the shift of economic dominance to China runs gradually, little will happen domestically. Let us hope. But if the effects are more drastic, people will look for someone to blame. Israel is an obvious designated villain and, by extension, Jews. There is a lot of this, sotto voce, on the web.

It isn’t particularly rational. Of the chief advocates of the Moslem wars, who could stop them tomorrow—Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld—none is Jewish. Bush and his faithful dog Blair are clinical Christians. Many non-Jewish interests favor the war: the Religious Right, military industry (after all, when you spend hundreds of billions on a war it goes into somebody’s pockets), Big Oil, barking patriots, and those multitudinous Americans who like the idea of empire but won’t quite say so.

However, a vaguely Christian country isn’t going to blame its disasters on Christianity. The military industry will cover itself in patriotism and say, “We were only filling orders.” Big Oil is awfully abstract, and anyway we all like gasoline. The imperialists will say they weren’t really. Etc. Who does that leave?

I don’t suggest that some deep well of Polish-style anti-Semitism exists in the US waiting to erupt. It doesn’t. Serious hostility to Jews, if not dead, is at least on a respirator in America. Yet there is enough suspicion that The Lobby had something to do with getting the US into war that, should the affright in the Mid-East lead to serious domestic hardship, blaming Israel will be tempting. A high proportion of the neoconservatives who push the wars are Jewish, as is widely noted on the internet, and the wars can easily be packaged as being fought in the service of Israel. Whether this is true matters little. (I argue that the wars, threatening to drive America out of the Mideast, will prove catastrophic for Israel.) Lobbying for the country would then become politically more difficult.

Bear in mind that Israel is susceptible to all manner of emotionally appealing criticism for such things as brutality toward the Palestinians. Actually of course Israel has done nothing to Palestinians that the US isn’t doing to Iraqis, or didn’t do to the Vietnamese, on a far larger scale and with far less justification. But this won’t matter. Countries seldom look at their own defects. Always one sees warts on those one wishes to have warts, while ignoring one’s own. (Observe that Mr. Bush, operating a Latin Lubyanka in Guantanamo, criticizes Cuba for violations of human rights.)

The foregoing contains a lot of ifs. Bush hasn’t withdrawn from Iraq, Iran doesn’t have the Bomb, and no American domestic consequences have occurred. They may not. If Bush wins, Israel will be safe for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, we will have a small, nuclear-armed country that won’t roll over and die, has nowhere to go, and at this point probably can’t make peace with its enemies. The latter will regard themselves as being on the march and see no reason to compromise. The Moslems will control their own oil, and America will have to suck up to them. Where will that leave Israel? What resolution would be possible?

By way of PS, an internet columnist has more of a window than most people, though a skewed window, on such things as anti-Semitism. Over the years, I’ve written several columns suggesting that Jews aren’t terrible people, or at least no more terrible than the rest of humanity, which I grant to be faint praise. The response, while not a statistically valid sample, has always been markedly more favorable than hostile. However, I do get a regular smattering of anti-Jewish mail, as for example the following, from one who signs himself only

You are a whore.
A jew-media whore, charlatan and race traitor.
To hell with you Fred, and to hell you are undoubtedly bound.

Actually I am a Presbyterian media whore, though probably hell-bound, where I expect to meet Calvin. I confess myself intimidated by the crystalline clarity of Mr. Hengist73’s intellect, by his weighty erudition and sparkling logic, all embedded in the lucent amber of elevated thought. But such people are out there.