Israel’s Make-believe Independence

Its citizens are in constant fear of the next war. The country is totally dependent on its main ally. Is Israel genuinely independent?

Nehemia Shtrasler
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People visit weapons displayed by the Israeli military as part of Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Givatayim, near Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018.
People visit weapons displayed by the Israeli military as part of Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state, April 19, 2018. Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP
Nehemia Shtrasler

It was impossible for anyone driving around Israel on Independence Day not to notice the buses that had been pressed into service as ad hoc roadblocks at celebration venues. Their purpose was to stop booby-trapped vehicles. In Tel Aviv, they were outside Rabin Square, at the Light Parade on Namir Road, on roads near the beaches where spectators gathered for the air force flyover and at neighborhood events.

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The number of soldiers, police officers, security guards, watchtowers, drones and helicopters was also unusual. Never have so many people and modes of protection been mobilized to prevent terror attacks. Even the gas station at Hayarkon Bridge was cordoned off and closed.

But that’s nothing compared to the celebrators’ worries about Iran’s blunt and specific threats to retaliate for Israel’s strike on an Iranian airbase in Syria, in which seven Revolutionary Guards died. While Israelis recognize that Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinians in the territories do not pose an existential threat to the state, they fear Iran. It has a large, well-trained army as well as planes and missiles that can hit anywhere in Israel. If we add Hezbollah’s thousands of missiles in Lebanon and the missiles of Syrian President Bashar Assad (who also has an account to settle), it’s no wonder that the joy of the holiday was tinged with a great deal of existential anxiety.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin said of the Iranian threats: “It is definitely capable of harming Israel, and I suggest that we don’t take that lightly.” And then he added: “There hasn’t been such a dangerous May since 1967.” Do we need more than that to keep us up at night?

Indeed, as I walked in Tel Aviv on Independence Day, I was approached by people who asked me, worried, “What will happen with Iran?” On one hand they joyously celebrated Israel’s 70th anniversary, on the other they were filled with anxiety. On one hand they believe we have a strong military with operational superiority, on the other they fear an all-out war, which would entail high civilian casualties. These opposites dwell together: euphoria and depression, elation and existential anxiety; national manic depression.

If so, are we genuinely independent? The fact is that Israel is the only country on earth that is being threatened with destruction, and is constantly in danger of war. Another truth is that we are incapable of standing alone against all the surrounding threats.

It’s the United States that provides us with military superiority. It’s the United States that gives us the most advanced aircraft, precision weapons, funding for the Arrow missile, engines for the Merkava tank and money for developing the Iron Dome missile interceptor.

Every year the United States provides us with $5.3 billion in advanced weapons systems, as well as intelligence and scientific cooperation. All this together creates a military advantage that enables us to survive.

We’re dependent on the United States economically as well. It would be enough for the president of the United States to declare that he is “reconsidering” the special relationship with Israel for the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange to collapse and the dollar-shekel exchange rate to soar. In such a situation, banks all over the world would stop giving us credit and the United Nations Security Council would impose paralyzing economic sanctions on us, and all the nice economic statistics would suddenly turn into a black picture of a crash. It would even be enough for them to impose a general boycott on Israeli products to bring down Israel’s economy.

We are after all an open market that is dependent on exports, and there is already damage from the boycott against products originating in the territories, and against universities. Israel was established as a safe haven for the Jewish people after the Holocaust, but its citizens are in constant fear of the next terror attack or the next war, and the country is totally dependent on its main ally.

In other words, despite our joyous celebrations of the 70th Independence Day, we have yet to achieve genuine independence. Israel is not a safe haven.