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Is the Outlook for Israel Getting Brighter or Darker?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Gali Tibbon/Pool via Reuters)

If, as it appears, support for Israel in the Democratic party is becoming much more tepid and conditional, then the outlook for Israel is grim, no matter how passionately and loudly President Trump touts his support for the world’s lone Jewish state.

Are things getting better for Israel or worse? Despite its tiny size and hostile neighbors, Israel has the world’s 30th to 32nd largest economy (depending upon who’s measuring) — way ahead of neighbors Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The unemployment rate is down to 3.2 percent, and workforce participation is steadily rising. It has roughly nine million people, with one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

It remains the military and intelligence powerhouse of the region. Ronen Bergman’s book, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, offers an extremely detailed history of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Mossad, and the Shin Bet, but ends on a downbeat note:

Throughout their successive histories, the Mossad, AMAN, and the Shin Bet – arguably the best intelligence agencies in the world – provided Israel’s leaders sooner or later with operational responses to every focused problem they were asked to solve. But the intelligence community’s very success fostered the illusion among most of the nation’s leaders that covert operations could be a strategic and not just a tactical tool – that they could be used in place of real diplomacy to end the geographic, ethnic, religious and national disputes in which Israelis mired. Because of the phenomenal successes of Israel’s covert operations, at this stage in its history the majority of its leaders have elevated and sanctified the tactical method of combating terror and existential threats at the expense of the true vision, statesmanship, and genuine desire to reach a political solution that is necessary for peace to be attained.

Maybe you find that passage persuasive, maybe you don’t. But the general gist, that amazing intelligence and military successes haven’t really changed the dynamic of Israel being surrounded by enemies and all kinds of threats, is correct. Think of everything Israel’s comparably tiny military and spy establishment has done: capturing Adolf Eichmann, the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, Operation Entebbe, bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, bombing the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, stealing 100,000 documents and computer files about Iran’s nuclear program out of Tehran last year.

As Bergman observes, “Since World War II, Israel has assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world.”

Israel is feared and respected, but not accepted. Most of the states around Israel are still hostile, with peace deals on paper with Egypt and Jordan, but still considerable animosity towards Israel in those countries’ populations. Endless defeats have not prompted many Palestinians to give up the idea of wiping Israel off the map — nor the Iranians, nor the Syrians, nor much of the rest of the Arab world.  Hamas still runs the Gaza Strip; Hezbollah still carries a lot of power in Lebanon. Israeli relations with Turkey have warmed up every now and then, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still regularly bashes the country. Some of the vehement fury towards Israel is lessening among Sunni Arab nations newly worried about a nuclear-powered Iran, but this is probably an alliance of convenience that will not last long past the day Iran is no longer perceived as such a threat.

The notorious Jeremy Corbyn leads the U.K. Labour Party. The political leaders of France and Germany heartily endorsed the Iran nuclear deal that Israel so strongly opposed. The news isn’t all grim; the German parliament did vote to condemn the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, and Merkel did say that the Palestinians need to recognize Israel’s right to remain a Jewish state.

And as noted yesterday, increasing numbers of American Jews see Israelis as “distant relatives” or “not part of the family.”

Sooner or later, Trump will leave office, and his successor may not be anywhere near as strong a supporter of Israel as he is. It is not difficult to imagine that by 2021, Labour and Corybyn could be running the United Kingdom, and the United States could have a Democratic president who finds Israel’s human rights record “problematic” (Pete Buttigieg) or who calls the current status “untenable” (Elizabeth Warren) or one eager to resuscitate the deal with Iran (Biden and the rest).

Who will have Israel’s back then?

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