According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, writing in The New York Times today, Israel is facing now an existential threat, akin to the one it confronted on the eve of the 1967/Six-Day War. No one denies that Israel is facing many threats as do most members of the United Nations. But the notion that Israelis feel or should feel that “the walls — and history — are closing in on their 60-year-old state,” Israel, with its educated population, advanced economy, powerful military, nuclear weapons, etc. is just nonsense.
Morris lists problems and dilemmas that Israel will have to deal with, including a large Arab minority inside its borders.
What is common to these specific threats is their unconventionality. Between 1948 and 1982 Israel coped relatively well with the threat from conventional Arab armies. Indeed, it repeatedly trounced them. But Iran’s nuclear threat, the rise of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah that operate from across international borders and from the midst of dense civilian populations, and Israeli Arabs’ growing disaffection with the state and their identification with its enemies, offer a completely different set of challenges. And they are challenges that Israel’s leaders and public, bound by Western democratic and liberal norms of behavior, appear to find particularly difficult to counter.
What is common to all these “threats” (Israeli Arabs are citizens of the state and not “a threat”) is that they don’t have a concrete military solution and may force Israel to make difficult political compromises. And if one examines the historical analogy that Morris applies in his commentary, the Six-Day War, the swift Israeli military victory in 1967 demonstrated that the Israelis’ apocalyptic fear of destruction at that time was unwaranted. It also made it clear that military “solutions” don’t necessarily resolve problems. In fact, the 1967 War ended-up creating even more problems, including the control by Israel of the Palestinian population in Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Hence, most Israelis will be delighted if Egypt decided to retake control of the Gaza Strip…
In any case, after reading Morris today I recalled the advice that the late Israeli PM Levi Eshkol (who headed the Israeli government in 1967) had given to Israeli diplomats then: “Present yourself as Poor Samson” (or pitiful Samson), make powerful Israel look weak in order to justify Israeli military action. Indeed, that is exactly what Morris does in his ominous sounding finale:
Israel’s sense of the walls closing in on it has this past week led to one violent reaction. Given the new realities, it would not be surprising if more powerful explosions were to follow.