The rise of Israel in the world

When one assesses Israel’s position in the world today after 70 years of independence, there are areas that cause deep concern.

The biggest threat by far is Iran, which has expanded its power in the Shi’ite crescent near the Israeli border and develops its nuclear weapons program. Iran still calls weekly in Friday morning prayers to “destroy Israel” in the coming 20 to 25 years. If Third World countries such as North Korea obtain or come close to having nuclear weapons, this increases concern.

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On a lesser level, Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan is increasingly regarding Israel as its quasi-enemy. So, too, will be Great Britain if the antisemitic Jeremy Corbyn leads the Labour Party to victory in the next election.

In addition, one recent study found that there are over one billion antisemites in the world – more than 100 for every living Jew.

On the other hand, Israel has established good relations with the two leading powers in the world (United States and Russia), a tolerable relationship with the #3 power (China) and a strong relationship with a country that may become a major power (India). Historically, Israel had a weak to hostile relationship with all four of these powers. Until 1992, Israel had no diplomatic relations with China and India, and no relations with Russia from 1967 to 1991.

Only the United States has been different. The US recognized Israel in 1948; president Harry Truman doing so against the advice of all of his major advisors. In the 1950s, the Eisenhower Administration refused to send weapons to Israel, a ban that lasted until 1962 when Golda Meir secured helicopters from the Kennedy administration. Not until the late 1960s were there major weapon sales from the United States.

For the next 10 years, Israel will receive $38 billion of American military equipment. The American move toward trying to cancel the Iran deal and imposing serious sanctions on Iran has left Israel no longer feeling alone facing an Iran that is developing nuclear weapons within striking distance of Israel. Moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after 20 years of talk indicates that the United States really is on Israel’s side. All this is a sharp contrast with the Obama administration, which seemed significantly less certain to stand by Israel in showdowns.

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Furthermore, unlike the seesaw nature of Russian-Israeli relations from 1948 to 1991, Vladimir Putin has made several pro-Israeli moves. He has allowed a Jewish museum in Moscow, regularly met with the leading rabbi of Russia, had strong Jewish representation among Russian oligarchs and asked emigrant Russian Jews to return to Russia. He has met eight times in the last few years with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, helping Israel to establish a 50-kilometer strip to separate Israel from Iran in Syria. (Israel is led in negotiations by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an emigrant from Russia, and Israel’s population includes more than a million Russian emigrants who arrived in the 1990s. Apparently, even wealthy Jewish Russian oligarch Roman Abramovitch is moving to Tel Aviv.)

China refused to recognize Israel until 1992. Now, while not particularly warm, the relationship is cordial and Sino-Israeli trade is rising toward the $15 billion mark. China is even buying Israeli firms in key areas and Technion has opened a campus in China.

With water desalinization, strong hi-tech and a modern educational system, the Israelis provide a strong model for India, which has begun to ascend from its deep Third-World status ($1,600 GDP/capita). The visits of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel and Netanyahu to India evidenced a strong movement toward Israel becoming a key ally for a future major power. Both are coping with neighboring hostile Muslim powers either with nuclear weapons (Pakistan for India) or working hard to get there (Iran for Israel), as well as hostility based on religion (both countries have non-Muslim majorities).

While much could change in the years to come, Israel for now faces a possibly positive future if the Iranian threat can be mitigated. The prognosis is hopeful.

The writer is a professor at the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.

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