"Israel is the most threatened country in the world; it is threatened by missiles and rockets,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, describing Israel’s “strategic achievement.” Netanyahu’s syntax makes it difficult to understand whether Israel won this title due to the missiles pointed at it, or whether the missiles pushed it to the top spot from its previous status of only being “very, very threatened.” But let’s not get into the semantics; the threat narrative and the culture of fear it stems from are the main issue.
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Israel can’t be allowed to rest on its laurels – not when several countries are competing for the same title. Iran, for example, can claim to be the world's most threatened country. To its east are India and Pakistan, which both have nuclear weapons. To its west is Israel, a country that also – according to foreign sources – has nuclear weapons. American ships carrying nuclear weapons sail down the Persian Gulf. And from afar, cruise missiles are trained on Iran.
Syria also has a claim to the crown. Its problem may not be the number of missiles aimed at it, but neighboring countries' planes that can do a fair bit of damage themselves. Still, a threat is a threat. If we delve into the definition of this word, we find that many countries in the region area are under an internal or external threat of some sort. But amazingly, none of them claim to be the most threatened.
It’s interesting how the tables have turned. For generations the Arab countries empowered the Zionist enemy. Education systems, films, plays, songs and books helped spread the Israeli threat. Arab intellectuals explained with great seriousness that Arabic books should not be translated into Hebrew, as this would let the Zionists understand the weaknesses of the Arab soul and harm it. The War of Independence and later the Six-Day War not only fed the deep hatred of the Jewish state, they established awareness of the invincible Zionist threat, which was undermined only after the Yom Kippur War. Israel then became the most threatening country, maybe not in the whole world, but in the Middle East.
It’s hard to relinquish this status. Israel strengthened its threatening image further when it attacked Iraq's nuclear reactor, invaded Lebanon, bombed weapons convoys in Sudan's deserts, assassinated terrorists in Syria, Lebanon and Dubai, and when it – according to foreign sources – targeted Iranian scientists and reactors.In the two years since, it has been conducting a deliberate public discussion over a possible attack on Iran. It's the only Western country still occupying territories. It doesn’t hesitate to threaten to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
But to preserve its status as the most threatening country it needs a moral infrastructure – whether real or imagined. This week, Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn wrote that being conscious of the Holocaust has become an essential component of Israeli foreign and defense policies since the political upheaval in 1977, when Likud was voted into power. But this isn't enough. There also needs to be a culture of tangible terror that rests on a threat comparable to the Holocaust.
Of course, the threats Israel faces are not imaginary. But we shouldn't bundle them together – from the Qassam rockets to Iran's nuclear bomb – in one tight package labeled “existential threat” without examining and classifying them; without setting priorities and risk levels. That's an ideological construct designed to cement Israel’s position as the most threatening country.
This ideology shapes Israel as a country that's not even allowed to ponder the political processes that could minimize this threat. Any peace agreement is likely to erode this threat. Here lies the real existential threat – and the government is well prepared for it.