The Price Israel Pays for Having a Powerful Army

Israel excels at many things: Creating new and creative approaches to education, the housing crisis, public transportation or the war on poverty aren’t some of them.

Ilan Assayag

A friend just back from a short trip to London sounded frustrated as he told me how that huge city – with a population greater than that of Israel, not to mention many tourists – is able to transport everyone from place to place with enviable speed and efficiency. He described an extremely developed public transportation system, with a subway that never stops innovating, buses that arrive every two minutes and trains that go to all corners of the kingdom.

“Why can’t we have any of that?” he complained. “Why don’t we have decent public transportation? How is it that we still don’t have a subway? Why is our bus service so awful?”

It seems that every entity has a limited amount of energy: it’s impossible to be good at everything. If the bulk of our resources and efforts are directed at fighting terror and planning for the next war, we can’t devote enough to transportation, education, culture, housing and welfare. It’s just impossible.

For an example, let’s examine recent statements by two men who are determining our fate these days: Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last week, during a comprehensive public speech on strategy, Bennett said, “We must create an innovative, creative and clear security approach; we must refresh our way of thinking.” He was not talking about new and creative approaches to education, the housing crisis, public transportation or the war on poverty. He spoke solely of having to invest more on “the law and to raising awareness,” since we’ve invested enough on aircraft.

That’s how it is in Sparta. It’s “the best to the air force,” not “the best to education.” Effort, research, ingenuity, excellent human resources – all are directed at security and defense. The whole nation is an army, the whole country is the front, and there is no strength or means left to deal with civic affairs.

Earlier this week, after returning from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Netanyahu completed the picture outlined by Bennett. He told his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel’s international standing was actually excellent, contrary to “what’s being described in our media.” He reported meeting world leaders who want to cooperate with Israel “in the fight against terrorism” and in “everything we can offer regarding security.” Well, of course. Security is us. Indeed, during the budget talks, Netanyahu was always concerned about increasing the defense budget; the Social Affairs Ministry doesn’t interest him.

From Netanyahu’s perspective, there’s no price to be paid for turning us into Sparta. As far as he’s concerned, there’s no price for refusing to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; there are no boycotts of Israeli exports; there is no marking of settlement products by the European Union; no boycott of Israeli lecturers; no drastic drop in investment; no tourism crisis, low productivity, low growth and threatening large budget deficit for 2016. For him, the poverty rates here are not the highest in the developed world, there are no young people leaving for the United States because they can’t make ends meet here, and there has been no drop in the standard of living comparative to the West.

Netanyahu hasn’t even noticed that we’ve become a pariah state for international investors. Only huge Chinese conglomerates – which operate under a communist regime and which the world considers extremely problematic in terms of reliability and transparency – are willing to buy companies here. Western companies don’t want to invest here; they don’t want to buy our insurance companies, our banks, our industries or even Mega, which in other parts of the world would have been snapped up long ago.

Netanyahu doesn’t recognize the fact that his rejectionist policy has led the Palestinians to such deep despair that they are prepared to commit suicide in the latest wave of terror attacks. Nor does he acknowledge the fact that his refusal to advance the two-state solution leads, inevitably, to one state with a Muslim majority – i.e., to the end of the Zionist dream – which is the full and tragic price for being Sparta.