There is no country in the world that frustrates me quite as much as Israel. I want to like it, I really do, but every time I find myself gaining a healthy respect for it, it finds a new way to disappoint. In a region that is potentially on the brink of chaos, Israel stands defiant time and time again.
There’s a lot to be admired about Israel, not the least of which is its resiliance in the face of innumerable foes. It is no surprise that many enemies of Zion are simply militant anti-Semites hellbent on killing all the Jews in the Promised Land (if not beyond), and no amount of restrained foreign policy will be able so appease many of these extremists. The Israeli Defense Force, and in particular their Air Defense Force, have proven equal to the task of protecting their homeland.
However, the problem isn’t with most of the Middle East; the problem is usually with Palestine, a geographic manifastation of moral and political ambiguity. While the United States and other Western allies are likely to stand up and protect Israel against attacks from the likes of Ahmadinejad’s Iran, more and more people and nations are being left cold by the Israeli strategy of development in contested Palestinian regions. (The New York Times recently featured a fantastic article here about a simulated US-Iran-Israel armed conflict, which I cannot recommend highly enough.)
Of course, nothing represents this changing mood quite so well as the US/UK response to Israel’s recent decision to pursue settlement construction in the contested East Jerusalem region. It was widely reported how insulted the Obama administration was when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the new settlements while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, but even this over-reported “slap in the face” was not enough to severely undermine the established alliance between America and Israel which has stood since the nation’s founding after World War II. What it did manage to do was severely piss off the West, to the point that the UK actually expelled Israeli diplomats (albeit for a separate incident), while simultaneously driving Palestinians away from the table over peace talks that were finally set to make some small improvements to the area.
Now, I understand that Israel and Palestine have a long and very complicated history with each other. I know that both sides have been in the wrong several times, and that for every Israeli checkpoint set up in Palestinian territory there are more than ten rockets fired at innocent Israeli civilians. But I’m absolutely amazed at oblivious the current Israeli leadership seems to be to the gravity of their situation. Netanyahu insists that the developments harm nobody, but can he seriously not grasp that for every new Israeli house built, some Palestinian family could lose their home or their land?
I know that the Hamas-sponsored terrorists plan and execute constant attacks against unarmed civilians, and that their failure to kill effectively is no defense against a justified counterattack. I also know that a nuclear Iran gives Israel good reason to fear extinction, but with so many real threats and problems to face, why is it that the Israeli government seems so set on creating new problems while scoffing at the very allies they expect will do the heavy lifting for them in any real war?
The Verdict: The Glass Is Half Full
I know this might seem unexpected, but ultimately, I really am optimistic about Israel, not just as an American strategic ally in the biggest war-zone of the decade, but as a legitimate national society that has earned its place in world affairs. The problem is that its political leaders are of the worst, unreliable kind, harvested from a hopelessly convoluted electoral system. In time, I truly believe that Israel can prosper peacefully with at least its nearest neighbors, and thrive even as other powers continue to threaten it for years. All Israel needs to do is to survive without so terribly alienating its Western allies that they overthrow the Israeli government themselves, and that seems like challenge enough for now.