Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, falls this year on Wednesday, September 24. The year that just ended—5774 on the Jewish calendar—was not an easy one.
There was the war against Hamas in July and August, which Israel won overwhelmingly while losing 64 soldiers and seven civilians. In June there was Hamas’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenage boys. (The murderers have now met their just fate.) And Israel’s overall security environment in the Middle East seems more and more precarious. Among other things, jihadis are battling the Syrian army just across Israel’s Golan Heights border; Jordan’s moderate regime could be in danger; Islamic State has set up its “caliphate” of atrocity in Iraq and Syria; while Iran keeps being allowed to progress along the nuclear path by Western powers playing feckless diplomatic games. (Another update: Israel has shot down a Syrian plane over the Golan.)
Where, then, does a “bright future” come into all this? Looking ahead to 5775, Israel has a track record of overcoming security challenges, and in other ways keeps thriving.
1. Surviving the Obama administration.
The first five and a half years of Obama have, no doubt, been rough for Israel. There’s no one who seems to get the president’s goat like Israel’s thrice-elected prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Obama has given Netanyahu a churlish and unprecedented snub at the White House, publicly vilified him as a peace-wrecker, and lashed out at him viciously on the phone during the latest Gaza war.
Israel is very worried that the administration’s ceaseless courting of Iran belies any seriousness about stopping its nuke program. Against Israel’s warnings and advice, Obama backed Mohamed Morsi’s (fortunately short-lived) Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. After the 2012 Gaza war, the administration together with Morsi pushed Israel into a deal that allowed Hamas to rearm and set the stage for this year’s war.
And yet, with all that and more, the U.S.-Israeli alliance is today stronger than ever. On September 19 the Senate passed a bill declaring Israel a “major strategic partner” and boosting U.S. trade, energy, R&D, and military ties with Israel. Even Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, whose anti-Israeli track record alarmed many after he was nominated, is said to have an excellent working relationship with Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon.
As the Middle East descends into worse and worse turmoil and terror, Israel’s democratic stability, military preeminence in the region, and topnotch intelligence capabilities have to look better and better. Even the Obama administration isn’t totally blind to the reality.
2. Winning the war in Gaza.
In the month since this summer’s Gaza war ended, a total of one mortar has been fired at Israel, and Hamas claimed that it arrested the perpetrators. True, a month is not a very long time. But for Hamas, the road to rebuilding its military capabilities to anything near what they were before this war began is very long and rocky—if it exists.
This time international donors are not rushing to rehabilitate Gaza; they say they want guarantees that their funds won’t just be diverted to the Hamas war machine again. Egypt has already destroyed most of the smuggling tunnels from Sinai into Gaza, and is as determined as Israel to stop Hamas from rearming.
And while a poll right after the war showed a big surge in Hamas’s popularity both in Gaza and the West Bank, Gaza landlords are now refusing to rent apartments to Hamas members and their families for fear that these dwellings will eventually be targeted by Israel. Italian journalist Francesca Borri reports a mood of hatred for Hamas in Gaza, with residents telling her the war was “pointless.” Palestinian journalist Mudar Zahran paints a very similar picture.
Meanwhile the amazing performance during the war of Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system has Iran deeply concerned. Israel also displayed stunning offensive capabilities during the war, including unprecedented synchronization between the air force and the ground forces. Clearly, threats to Israel remain. Its enemies know, though, that tangling with it is a very risky proposition.
3. A regional energy superpower.
This month Jordan signed a historic deal with Israel whereby Israel will supply it with $15 billion of natural gas over the next 15 years.
And a similar deal between Israel and Egypt will likely be inked by the end of this year—possibly with as much as $60 billion of natural gas flowing from Israel to Egypt in the coming decade and a half.
When Israel’s offshore Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields were discovered in recent years, it was clear that Israel—already known for its economic and particularly hi-tech dynamism—had come upon a bonanza. Speculation on where Israel would export its energy, though, centered on Europe. Few expected that Israel’s clients would instead be its Arab neighbors.
Jordan’s and Egypt’s willingness to become energy-dependent on Israel for the long term reflects, of course, Jordan’s and Egypt’s difficult economic straits, but it also reflects how the region is changing. Yes, it still teems with jihadi groups, as well as a jihadi government in Tehran, who are sure God wants Israel wiped off the map. But Cairo, Amman, and other sane Sunni regimes in the region are realizing more and more that, when you have a military, hi-tech, and energy superpower for a neighbor, it makes more sense to benefit from what it has to offer than try to beat it.
Or as Netanyahu puts it: “there is a new recognition among major countries in the Middle East that Israel is not their mortal enemy, to say the least, but is a potential ally in addressing the common challenges.”
4. A demographic dynamo.
The statistics for 2013 are in, and they confirm that Israel’s amazing demographic trajectory continues. The population now stands at 8.25 million, up by well over a hundred thousand from the previous year, double what it was thirty years ago. And during the Jewish year that began last September, just about 25,000 immigrants came to the country—the highest total in five years. Meanwhile Israel’s birthrate remains by far the highest among Western countries.
Is there an overarching explanation for all this success—awesome economic achievements, dramatically outsize military power, attracting immigrants, an evident love for life despite the difficult environment?
There is—and it’s this: the Jewish people’s return to their land after two millennia, the revival of their language and culture, the concentration of so much talent, the memory of catastrophe and the unfathomable will to survive release huge energies. Israel will stay on this trajectory of success, which all the region’s dark hatred can’t stop.
image illustration via shutterstock / Boris-B