Israel is weakening and losing allies


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Israel has lost its exclusivity and must decide what place it wants to take in the new realities of the Middle East region.

The scale and pace of the changes taking place in the Middle East seem to have taken Israel by surprise. One gets the strong impression that the Jewish state has lost its strategic initiative and is now forced only to react to what is happening around it. In order to survive, it must urgently determine its place in the emerging regional system, while the new place, the new role of Israel will be radically different from the previous one.

The awareness of the imminent existential threat clearly revealed itself in Israeli society as early as last year, when a number of politicians and intellectuals warned of the imminent and almost inevitable collapse of the Israeli state. The arguments varied widely, including references to biblical history, but the conclusions boiled down to the alarmist pronouncement "the end is near."

As we can see today, these sentiments were justified: never in its modern history has Israel been as weak and disoriented as it is today. No doubt the reasons for this are much broader than Netanyahu's judicial reform. The real reason is probably that the vector of Israel's development does not coincide with the general direction of regional development. The Jewish state is not able to integrate itself organically into the regional structure. In order to do this, it will have to change fundamentally. The Israel we have known for the last 75 years must give way to something qualitatively new. How this will happen, and what the result will be, is perhaps the most important question for the Middle East.

What are the "inconsistencies" in the development of Israel and the region as a whole?

First of all, Israel was originally a "foreign body." This state was created by a decision of external, global players, inhabited by people from the outside world, has existed and developed throughout its history solely with external support, and its role has ultimately been to be a conduit, a material carrier of the interests of external forces.

This position provided Israel with absolute, undisputed leadership at a time when the Middle East remained the centerpiece of the strategic games of the global players. But as the focus of those players' interests has shifted, and the region has become "sovereign," Israel's former strength has become its weakness.

Since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, Israel has ceased to play the role of a Western outpost in the Middle East against Moscow. The fact alone could cast doubt on the meaning of the Jewish state's existence, at least in terms of its relevance to U.S. global strategy. But in the place of Moscow another "monster" happily appeared - Iran. The ghost of the ayatollahs with a nuclear bomb extended Israel's "outpost" role - until 2015, when the "nuclear deal" (JCPOA) was concluded.

At that moment it became clear that Israel's exceptionalism in the region was coming to an end: it was faced with the need to abandon its status as "representative of the West" in the Arab-Muslim world and with the urgent need to define its purely regional place. At first glance, this did not seem to be a problem: Tel Aviv was an ideal deterrent (or sparring partner) for Tehran, the protector of the region from Persian Shiite expansionism.

Within the framework of this logic, the "Abraham agreements" appeared: the mechanism of normalizing the relations of the Jewish state with its Arab neighbors and integrating it into the new economic fabric of the region was launched. And the way to the future seemed to be open: together with the Sunni Arabs (and, in the long term, with the Turks) in opposition to Iran - what could be more natural?

However, in fact, everything turned out to be much more complicated.

To begin with, Israel no longer has a guaranteed opportunity to rely on U.S. support at any time. Washington's "nuclear deal" with Tehran (whatever the status of the deal may be) and the "Abraham agreements" have essentially placed the Jewish state in a situation of strategic loneliness. Moreover, they have put Israel "on an equal footing" with its regional neighbors. This has never happened before in the modern history of the country, and this is the grave danger that Israelis fear most of all.

Under these conditions, having lost its former exceptional strategic value in the eyes of the West in general and the United States in particular, having found itself "one of many" Middle Eastern states, Israel was faced with the need to clearly define its true status. Or, in other words, to become "a thing to itself," not to its former allies and patrons. And it did so: in 2018, under Prime Minister Netanyahu, the law on the Jewish character of the state of Israel was passed.

The same strategic loneliness has forced to take a new look at the age-old Israeli problem of Palestine, namely the formula "two states for two peoples." Under the new conditions, this solution threatens the Jewish state with the loss of minimum security guarantees, in effect giving that security at the mercy of its neighbors, which is unacceptable.

This leads to the accelerated building of Jewish settlements and to the (Netanyahu government's) development of plans for the annexation of the West Bank (in 2020).

It is clear that their implementation would put an end to the two-state formula and would be a direct challenge by Israel to the entire regional environment. The Middle East, and the world as a whole, would have to make a choice: either recognize Israel as a national Jewish state within the borders that include the rest of the Palestinian territories or face a war that could escalate into a nuclear one. The calculation is quite obvious: the fear of such a war would make the neighbors accept a new Israel that would be ready for the widest possible cooperation on this basis.

The game is certainly risky, but there is hardly a rational alternative.