The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

The Importance of Being Israel – Why We Even Care.

I recall promising a breakdown of Israel’s geopolitical situation but, as I was looking over some past notes and refreshing my memory, I realised that the geopolitics of anywhere is a crashingly boring subject. Unless you’re the sort of person who polishes the undersides of furniture and goes out on weekends to look at interesting rocks. Or an infantryman. I figure that the first kind of person doesn’t really need me to entertain them, and the second kind already knows all about it.

So, rather than a full-blown geopolitical analysis, what I’m going to give here is a quick and dirty summary of Israel in relation to her neighbours, and then attempt to answer the question that doesn’t get asked often enough: Why do we even give a crap what happens over there? Apart from ‘Family of Humanity” type considerations, I believe that our reasons for having a firm position on the Israeli conflict cannot possibly be clear without an understanding of the second and third order consequences of its existence/dissolution. And knowing these reasons makes it difficult to go along with the hysterical prejudice that so often afflicts the issue – which can only be a good thing.

Now, as I’m in a slightly Socratic mood, I shall now proceed to ask myself some questions and then answer them.

Israel is surrounded by more populous and hostile neighbours. Why has it not already been wiped off the map?

There are two main reasons for this. The first is geographic – Israel is surrounded by some formidable natural boundaries. To the East is the river Jordan – by no means an insuperable obstacle, but one which might as well be given the numbers and equipment status of any potential enemy to the East. To the South is the Sinai, a lawless tract of desert, which presents obvious problems for an invader, and equally obvious advantages for a defender. To the North is what might be considered open territory, but as vital trade passes through this region, we may consider this as an area that any regional aggressor would be seriously loth to disrupt. And to the West, of course, is the Med.

The other reason is the nature and ambitions of their immediate neighbours. Even if Egypt and Syria were not currently imploding shitfights, they are generally hampered by disunity and by the natural direction (in the case of Egypt) for any expansionism. Egypt’s wider interests generally lie in the opposite direction to Israel, and they have little interest in definitively taking the Sinai region. For Egypt to expand northwards, it would need to be purely motivated by the annihilation of Israel. Syria, on the other hand, has a strong requirement for access to the sea, and punching through or cutting off a part of Israel to do this would make perfect sense. It is this very need, however, that hampers Syria – its truncated form is such that it cannot viably act unilaterally as it would almost immediately face problems of supply and, you guessed it, access to the sea. For allies its prospects are Egypt, uninterested in advancing in  that direction, Lebanon, incapable of expanding in any direction at all, and Jordan, uninterested in pretty well anything outside its own borders.

So, as far as regional threats are concerned, Israel is actually very well covered. This is partly what we mean when we talk about a strong strategic position.

What about the Palestinians?

If you run your eye over the last post on Israel and have a look at the major players, it becomes apparent that there is not a Palestinian state or non-state actor that is capable of representing an existential threat. This is partially due to their own disunity, poverty and, in some cases, insanity, but mainly to a decades-long policy on Israel’s part of ruthlessly clamping down on these movements. Their infrastructure, materiel, support bases and leadership have been systematically and consistently destroyed over a long period of time. Internal, non-Jewish dissension, in reality, represents no more than an irritant to the state of Israel.

Why are the Yanks always glad-handing them, no matter what they do?

Now here, I think, we get to the nub, and this is really the meat of this whole issue.

We have seen that the region that we know as Israel is actually quite well placed, strategically, so why, for more than two millenia, has Israel been the pawn of empires? It is, in fact, this strategic placement that has made it so. Both the ancient and modern states of Israel have been exceptionally well placed to fend off regional threats. This, naturally, makes it a logical location for any Empire wishing to control the wider region. Couple this with the fact that Israel sits on a nexus of access to the East from the West and vice versa, and we can see that the territory is, in fact, irresistably attractive to global powers.

Israel is small and always has been. It is, and has always been, incapable of fending off threats from what we now term ‘superpowers’. Their highly attractive strategic placement makes them a necessary conquest for any state actor attempting to achieve hegemony in the Middle East – a necessary step to the achievement of global hegemony.

In the past, this has meant that Israel spent the major part of its history as a conquered or vassal nation. Since independence in the modern era, a clever and finely balanced ‘long game’ has been played out in its foreign policy, in order to assure its continued freedom from conquest. In short, Israel’s position is such that its best guarantee of remaining a free state actor is to seek alliance with and sponsorship from a power that is interested in regional and global hegemony. Initially, this was the USSR and then, more recently, the USA. Israel’s friendliness provides a high degree of East/West mobility for a global power, as well as a safe corridor for the transhipment of supplies and, in the event of war, materiel. At the time of writing, the dominant global power in the region is, in fact, the USA, and it is through facilitation of their regional goals and the provision of free access through their territory that Israel is able to wring co-operation, toleration and security guarantees from any and every US government. Throw out your tired old conspiracy theories – this is the very real reason why anybody in the West gives the slightest crap about Israel and its security – control and/or influence in Israel equals the capability to assert regional and therefore global hegemony. While this doesn’t look as good on a cardboard sign as ‘Blood for Oil’ or ‘Zionist Conspiracy’, it happens to be the truth.

So, that’s the very quick and dirty wrap-up of the Israel problem. My hope is that readers will come away from this with the idea that this conflict does not simply boil down to race, religion and unreasoning hatred. That it is a complex power game that is played for very tangible stakes and that it can, therefore be solved. It is all too easy to just say “everyone in that region is completely insane”, throw one’s hands up and deny the possibility of resolution. I sincerely hope that I have gone some way to showing that this is a cop out.

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