The Ukrainians are learning today what the Czechs learned in 1938 and what the Jews vowed never to forget: Western democracies cannot be relied upon in the face of a military threat from an authoritarian regime. A country that cannot defend itself will be left to its own devices when it needs support the most.
Beginning with the 1930s, the Yishuv built a defensive force subject to its political leadership and strengthened it with a resistance movement even when Britain adopted an anti-Zionist policy.
As such, the Yishuv conflicted with the Palestinians since the end of 1947, due both to the military format it designed and the weapons and the tactics it used. Victory in the War of Independence was achieved only thanks to the mobilization of the nascent state’s full human potential and the massive arms smuggling that took place despite the U.S. embargo.
Amid the pan-Arab threat against Israel—shaped under Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s leadership—Israel was left to its fate for almost 20 years. First by the United States, then France, and finally by all of Europe.
In the 1950s, Israel faced a critical threat when the USSR supplied Egypt (and later other Arab countries) with massive quantities of weapons. Washington refused to stabilize the dramatic breach in the balance of power and supply Jerusalem with defensive weaponry.
When Israel went to war in 1956, it overcame U.S. pressure and provided Nasser and the Soviets with a resounding political victory. It established Nasser’s position in the region for another decade, culminating in the mobilization of the entire Arab world against Israel in 1967.
France, which in that decade helped Israel deal with these dangers, betrayed Jerusalem after the Six-Day War and supported its enemies.
When Arab countries declared war on Israel again in 1973, the rest of Europe turned its back on Jerusalem by refusing to allow American planes that carried supplies for the Israel Defense Forces to refuel in its territories.
In an area not as critical, but just as despicable and dangerous, Europe continues to support efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state in international organizations, and generously funds groups that undermine it.
Israel became a success story not only because of its freedom and innovation but also because it chose to base its national security on self-defense. Its survival, progress and prosperity were made possible by its strong military and determination to defend itself on its own, even though it has been abandoned by various allies along the way.
Israel receives assistance due to its determination to survive without it. It prevents war through deterrence, for it has learned that what triggers the aggression of authoritarian regimes is democracies’ hesitance to use their power even if the avenues of diplomacy and economic means have been exhausted.
From the beginning, Europe has accused Israel of over-reliance on its military and urged it to base its national security on the notion of an “international community” it invented. They, and the Biden administration, are illustrating now exactly why their advice should not be heeded.
Ukraine will have to make do with the world’s sympathy and come to terms with a severe violation of its sovereignty. Had Israel’s fate depended on the mobilization and determination of Western democracies, its fate would have already been sealed.
Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.