Opinion

Wars of the Jewish state

Facing existential threats, Israelis can’t resist fighting one another.

Israelis protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul, outside the British embassy in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israelis protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul, outside the British embassy in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
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Clifford D. May
Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), as well as a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

How many simultaneous conflicts can a small country handle? Israel—whose land area is smaller than that of Djibouti, and whose population is smaller than that of Cairo—may soon find out.

The most serious threat is posed by Iran’s rulers. They continue to progress towards the development of nuclear weapons that would give them the means to achieve their openly stated goal: the extermination of Israel and Israelis.

On a visit to Germany last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “Israel will do what Israel needs to do” to defend itself, as it has for the past 75 years.

Because no other state in the region has both the will and the means to stand up to Tehran, a growing number of Arab nations have come to see that Israel’s existence serves their interests. Saudi Arabia, the most important Arab nation, has not formalized this recognition, but its relations with Israelis have grown closer.

Earlier this month, however, there was an unexpected announcement: Diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran will be re-established. The deal was brokered by China’s rulers, who plan to replace the United States as the most influential power in the Middle East—and, over time, in every corner of the world.

That doesn’t mean the Saudis now trust their jihadi neighbors. It does mean they are hedging their bets, uncertain about who will prove to be the strong horse over the years ahead.

One source of strength for Tehran is its proxy Hezbollah, which, for all intents and purposes, controls the dysfunctional state of Lebanon.

In clear violation of agreements ending its 2006 conflict with Israel, Hezbollah has installed—in Lebanese schools, hospitals, mosques and homes—as many as 150,000 missiles, a growing number of them precision-guided and therefore more lethal.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad would likely join any new conflict between Israel and Iran or Hezbollah, as would Hamas which rules Gaza and has no higher priority than killing Israeli Jews. Both groups have now established cells in the northern West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority is meant to be governing under the Oslo Accords.

Smaller Islamist terrorist organizations in this area, for example, the Lions’ Den, also have been regularly carrying out attacks—1,352 since March of last year, according to FDD research.

Though most of those attacks were thwarted, at least 31 Israelis were murdered in 2022. Earlier this year, seven Israelis were shot and killed outside a synagogue in Jerusalem.

The P.A.’s response? According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, it “praises the terrorist operatives and gives their families special treatment, including financial support.”

Nevertheless, the Biden administration, as my FDD colleague Tony Badran recently wrote, is in the process of “standing up a potential 5,000-man Palestinian terror army that would ostensibly fight terrorism in the West Bank in place of the IDF,” the Israel Defense Forces. Tony is betting the Palestinian army will end up aiding and abetting terrorists and fighting the IDF.

The current round of Palestinian-Israeli violence was accelerated on Feb. 26 when two Israeli brothers were killed as they sat in their car in traffic on the main road through the West Bank village of Huwara. Village residents celebrated the murders, passing out sweets.

Israelis from nearby communities responded by going on a rampage in the streets of Huwara, burning homes and cars, and reportedly leaving one Palestinian dead.

Netanyahu issued a statement both lamenting the killing of the brothers and calling on Israelis to refrain from revenge attacks. No one will be surprised if the conflict escalates over the days ahead.

Israel also is fighting a “war between the wars” in Syria, bombing military bases Iran’s rulers are attempting to establish. The Tehran regime is expelling Syrian Sunnis from their villages, replacing them with Shi’ite colonies. U.N. officials have shown little interest in this modern variant of colonialism.

What interests U.N. officials more? Obsessively and relentlessly demonizing and delegitimizing the only state in the Middle East where Jews, Arabs and a long list of minorities enjoy freedom of religion and speech.

With so many enemies warring against them, you might expect Israelis to be more united than ever. Instead, they are furiously quarreling over proposals by the current government to limit what has been the growing powers of judges.

Opponents of reform have been staging demonstrations, blocking highways and insisting that any curbs on the judiciary will end democracy.

I’ve heard persuasive arguments on both sides of the debate. For example, proponents of reform object to unelected judges blocking both laws and policies simply because they find them “unreasonable.” Opponents counter that without wide-ranging judicial review, there would be neither checks nor balances on the Knesset and the prime minister.

While a compromise solution is not hard to envision, an agreement does not seem imminent.

That may be because the roots of this conflict go deeper, feeding on resentments between the far left and the far right, between secular Israelis and the ultra-religious, and between Jews of European descent and those from Middle Eastern countries.

Israel is a small country, but its multiple enemies loom large. That’s the main thing. Israelis of all persuasions and backgrounds would be wise to keep the main thing the main thing.

Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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