‘Existential Crisis’ – Israel Backs Itself into a Corner

Israel is now facing an existential crisis. (Design: Palestine Chronicle)

By Jeremy Salt

The condemnation by the ‘west’ of an Iranian attack that killed no one and its refusal to condemn an attack that has killed more than 30,000 people in Gaza is stand-alone testimony to its hypocrisy and refusal to live by any rules other than its own.

After 75 years Israel has wedged itself so tightly into a corner there seems no way out. This was not accidental but deliberate; wanting to corner the Palestinians, the Israelis have ended up cornering themselves.

It was the Palestinians who would eventually be forced to accept the inevitable: the complete loss of Palestine. Force would decide everything. By themselves the Palestinians had no hope of dislodging the Israelis and any state that intervened would be dealt such crushing blows it would not dare raise its head again. Instead, Israel now faces the inevitable, a genuine ‘existential crisis’ this time, unlike the theatricals used in the past to justify its wars.

Its military superiority has been waning for years. It has now failed to defeat Hamas and has no answer to the war of attrition being waged against it from various vectors of the ‘axis of resistance.’ Even its air superiority is being successfully challenged, as shown recently by Hezbollah’s shooting down of a high altitude ‘killer’ drone over Lebanon.

Amidst the flurry of drone decoys launched in the retaliation for the bombing of Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Iranian ballistic missiles broke through Israel’s defenses and hit their intended targets. Iran and Hezbollah alone have tens of thousands of missiles ready to be launched against targets long since drawn up. For all its boasting, Israel has no answer to them.

Israel’s own military commanders have warned that the state is not capable even of fighting a two-front war, against Hamas and Hezbollah, let alone the other fronts from which the war of resistance is being waged. Unless it resorts to nuclear weapons, a balance of power has now been achieved. Israel can devastate Iran only at the cost of its own devastation. That is the future it now faces.

Israel’s defeat of Egypt and Syria fed the delusions of military invincibility that were exposed in 1973 when in the first week of the war that year the Israeli army in Sinai was routed. In a prelude to the destruction of Gaza, Israel massacred close to 20,000 civilians in Lebanon in 1982.

In the name of driving the PLO out of Beirut this also – like Gaza – was a war on the civilian population yet within two decades it was Israel that was being driven out of Lebanon, by a movement that had learned how to outthink and outfight it. As the further humiliation of Israel by Hezbollah in 2006 showed, these triumphs were the result of decades of planning by a sophisticated and resourceful political and military leadership.

Now we have Gaza and an attack that was supposed to end in a victory for Israel within a few months. Like Hezbollah, Hamas learned from occupation, planning and then eventually launching an attack that took the enemy by surprise. It is still fighting on from every corner of Gaza and it is Israel that is withdrawing its troops and suffering what even its own military commanders describe as a strategic defeat.

Such an outcome would have been unthinkable in Israel even a few years again, highlighting the long-term qualitative decline in its capacity to deal with its enemies by military means alone.

Furthermore, Iran is now fully in the picture. Provoked by Israel for decades, through threats of war, the assassination of its scientists, the sabotage of its computer network and the killing of its cadres in Syria, the bombing of the consulate in Damascus was finally a step too far. Iran struck back with a restrained drone and missile attack designed as a warning of what it could do and would do if Israel attacked its sovereign territory again.

Along with all of this, relations with the US are quickly corroding. The White House has had enough of Netanyahu, the State Department is experiencing an internal revolt against the arming of Israel and the refusal to take a principled stand against the daily horrors coming out of Gaza and public opinion is turning against Israel in a way never seen before.

The damage done is so severe that not even a Trump victory in November will be able to turn it around. The hand that has fed Israel so generously for so long is now being bitten, but the prospect of the ‘special relationship’ breaking down still seems so remote that Netanyahu thinks he can take with one hand and slap the US in the face with the other and get away with it.

So, where does Israel go from here? After Gaza it has gone much too far to be able to retreat. Having thrown away all possibilities of a peaceful settlement, it has nowhere to retreat to anyway.

The hubris now gripping the political and military command is the evidence of what Senator J William Fulbright long ago called ‘the arrogance of power.’ Born in fire and sword, and living by both up to the present day, Israel is left with nothing but the force that has led it to this dead end and is not going to save it anyway.

The outlook therefore has to be most foreboding. Netanyahu expresses confidence that Israel can deal with all its enemies, against the conclusions of its own senior military commanders that it cannot. Americans’ awareness of how much Israel has cost their country over decades, in political capital as well as the hundreds of billions of dollars in economic and military aid, has grown exponentially since Gaza. The ‘special relationship’ is being tested as never before.

In the meantime, public fury across the Middle East is at boiling point, against not just Israel and the ‘western’ enablers of genocide but complicit Arab regimes. Jordan is at least 70 per cent Palestinian. There was already fury in the streets as thousands of Palestinians tried to break through police lines to get at the Israeli embassy and now they have had to put up with the spectacle of Jordanian warplanes shooting down Iranian missiles aimed at their enemy. Economically weak and ultimately dependent on the ‘west’ for its survival, the last of the Hashemite kingdoms, against the mounting fury of its own population, is now facing its own existential crisis.

Israel says it will retaliate against Iran. It has to regain the momentum, to appear to have the upper hand. This implies an attack that would do more than notional damage. The US, appearing to shy away from a large-scale war in the Middle East, is seeking a commitment that Israel will not go too far but Netanyahu is not to be trusted. The Iranian fixation has dominated his thinking for decades and in the Iranian response to the destruction of its consulate he thinks he has the pretext he has long sought for a large-scale military/cyber attack on Iran. He will calculate that the US will be forced to come in behind him whether it likes it or not.

This state of mind is not just Netanyahu’s and of the ‘extremists’ in his cabinet but the military command and the great majority of the Israeli Jewish population. Demonstrating for months against Netanyahu’s attempt to exert political control over the judiciary, and demonstrating also against the government’s failure to secure the release of the Gaza hostages, Jewish Israelis, except for a tiny moral minority, have not raised their voices against the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza, including (so far) about 14,000 children. This is the dark place where propaganda and the ideology of Zionism have led them.

They cannot say they do not know because the genocide has been live streamed every day. The crimes, sadism and cruelty of the Israeli soldiers fill social media, many of them filmed by the soldiers themselves, these uniformed specialists in killing civilians, sniping at children, and destroying hospitals. They take such pleasure in what they are doing that they want to show everyone.

The condemnation by the ‘west’ of an Iranian attack that killed no one and its refusal to condemn an attack that has killed more than 30,000 people in Gaza is stand-alone testimony to its hypocrisy and refusal to live by any rules other than its own.

Similarly, it refused to condemn the missile attack on the Iranian consulate, the most flagrant violation of diplomatic protocol in modern history. It was Iran that ‘western’ governments chose to condemn, for committing the ‘crime’ of striking back under the right of self-defence in the UN Charter.

Their support only encourages Israel to continue on its destructive path until it reaches the bitter end. Israel will not be able to destroy its enemies. There will be an Iran after the next war but there might not be a state of Israel. Even if not destroyed by swarms of missiles, much of the state of Israel will be left a smoking ruin, no place for anyone to want to live and raise their children any more.

This pending disaster could have been averted decades ago. All Israel had to do was share a small percentage of the land it had stolen but it could not do even that. There will certainly be a lot to regret in the years to come.

– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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