PROFESSOR JONATHAN ADELMAN
In November the world will remember the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration issued by the Lloyd George British government. As British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote to Lord Walter Rothschild,
“His Majesty’s Government view(s) with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this objective.”
The declaration was vague on whether this meant a state or a home, what happened to the Arabs already there and where the borders were to be. Like Theodore Herzl’s First Zionist Congress in Switzerland 20 years earlier, the Balfour Declaration had a great impact.
Established 31 years later in May, 1948, Israel was a tiny state of 8,000 square miles with a small population of 800,000 Jews and Arabs that suffered 6,400 deaths fighting five Arab states with almost 50 million people.
Since 1948, much has changed. Israel’s population has soared from 800,000 in 1948 to 8.6 million today. With barely $3,000 GNP/capita in 1948 the Israeli economy rocketed to $38,000 GNP/capita today. It has not lost any of its 11 wars. Projected life spans are one of the highest in the world.
In often hostile environment Israel, together with India, are the only two new democracies to still be democratic today as in the late 1940s. It also has the rule of law which has put a former President (Moshe Katsav) and former Prime Minister (Ehud Olmert) into jail, from which Olmert was just released.
Israel is a top five Hi Tech power with 300 foreign firms setting up research and development companies there. Three Israeli tech companies this year have been sold for over a billion dollars each, one for 15 billion dollars. Israel’s high tech has a global reach working with Russia in Skolkovo, with the United States in the the Cornell-Technion school in Manhattan and with China at the Guangdong-Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Shantou.
It’s desalinization work is #1 in the world. Its economic growth rate of 4% this year is near the highest in the world. Even though 3.6 million Jews have moved to Israel since 1948 aliyah (immigration) continues at over 25,000 year, mainly from Russia, Ukraine, France and the United States.
Israel continues to face serious threats to its existence. The new Shiite crescent near Israel led by Iran has reached into Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Nearly 60% of Israel is the Negev desert, leaving the 92% of Israelis who don’t live there only 3,400 square miles, less than one thousandth the area of the United States.
The small size of Israel and nearness of Iran (700 miles away) enhances the danger. The Iranian nuclear program, underway since the mid 1980s, seems with help from North Korea to be nearing fruition despite the Iran deal. Also threatening are the 100,000-150,000 Iranian missiles controlled by Hizbollah in Lebanon and 10,000 missiles controlled by Hamas in Gaza. The growing anti-Israel sentiment of Turkey under increasingly radical Tayip Erdogyan furthers the sense of encirclement. Russia, which is historically anti-Semitic but under Putin friendly to Israel, seems to be allied with Turkey and Iran in nearby Syria. Further away, but potentially significant, is growing anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in the United States and Europe,
Yet, Israel has the strongest military in the Middle East. The United States has agreed to sell Israel 38 billion dollars of weapons over the next ten years. Israel, with Aman (military) Shin Beth (internal) and Mossad (foreign), has one of the best intelligence services in the world. The advanced Arrow 3 anti-missile missiles, Israel’s 100+nuclear weapons, highly capable air force of 700 planes and second-strike nuclear capability of six German built Dolphin submarines make the military formidable. The formerly hostile Sunni Arab states, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, are now friendly and cooperating with Israel out of fear of radical Islamic Shiite Iran.
Israel, recognized by over 160 countries, is developing new relationships with key future powers such as India, whose Prime Minister Nerendra Modi just visited Israel, with 4 billion dollars of trade. It has nearly 10 billion dollars of trade with China. Israel also get along reasonably well with key European countries and developing new relations with a number of African countries.
In short, Israel has made tremendous progress in multiple areas while facing serious threats from Iran and its allies. What the future will hold only time will tell but Israel is strong enough to likely survive the Iranian threat..