It is said that death and taxes are the only certainties in life. This is true of individuals, underlining how the world is in a constant flux, and to some extent it is true of nations too. Attempting to accurately foresee future events is something of a challenge. However, to the discerning eye trends are always clear, whether economic, political or social. As economic and geo-political power continues to seep towards the East from the West, there is even greater global uncertainty.
This is a particularly pertinent trend for Israel, long fighting almost alone against terrorism and facing a rising tide of anti-Semitism and Islamisation in the old power centres of the West, particularly Europe. How should Israel respond to these changes to face the security challenges of the future? One answer is to shift its’ national strategic outlook from focusing on the relatively declining and economically stagnant West and think of itself more in terms of engaging the great Asian powers of the East.
This is a topic which I have touched on in the past, highlighting how the burgeoning relationship between India and Israel is full of interesting strategic possibilities. This is certainly one aspect of how a renewed Israeli engagement with Asia can be strategically rewarding, as well as reduce the dependence that the Jewish state has on a West that is increasingly sceptical of Israel’s utility to their strategic interests. Engaging powers like China, Japan and India will enable Israel to continue to deal bilaterally with economic superpowers, to continue to punch above its’ weight in the world, without necessarily needing to feel isolated from the Western powers. This will enable Israel to achieve greater strategic balance and possibly even leverage in dealing with, say, a United States which does not appear to be receptive to Israeli concerns about the recent nuclear deal with Iran.
The vital security partnership with the US appears to be increasingly exhausted. Even taking into account that Netanyahu and Obama do not appear to have a strong functional relationship, this does not detract from the reality that what is the most pivotal partnership that Tel Aviv has is not fully taking Israeli concerns about Iran and terrorism fully into account. If this paradigm continues, then it is not implausible that Israel will have to start looking at alternative partners. Nations such as China and India have their own large technological bases and manpower, in addition to burgeoning economies with young talent that can be skilfully exploited in tandem with Israeli technical and business acumen, contributing to a new generation of businesses from military technology to Internet start ups.
The record of fierce hostility towards the Jewish people that has marked the cultures of many European powers for a long time, is appearing to make a return to that continent under the guise of concern over Israeli actions in Gaza over the past few years. Under pressure from an increasingly large Islamic demographic, Western European politicians are reluctant to approach the tensions of the Middle East/West Asia from a balanced perspective, often condemning Israel for its’ actions of self defence. By contrast countries such as India, under its’ newly elected Likud-type Hindu nationalist government understand what Israel is actually dealing with in terms of security threats. In a big boost to the Jewish state, India’s powerful and charismatic Prime Minister Narendra Modi has agreed to visit Israel early next year. It is unlikely that he will seek to lecture Israel on human rights and restraint, as his country is also a victim of terrorism. The rising Asian powers do not have a record of the scourge of anti-Semitism, and are likely to be empathetic to Israeli concerns about rising Sunni extremism and militancy, thus providing ample opportunity for exchanges of technology and ideas.
As one of the world’s most ancient nations, Israel has long seen much tumult and change. Its’ rise again from the ashes of the Holocaust is one of the most endearing stories of the 20th century.
It may be time for it to consider whether it is better placed looking towards the West or the East in an age of tumult where the powers that be are uncertain and in flux. The character of the Middle East itself can be influenced by Israel’s choice of strategic partners for the 21st century. Israel is a Western power that is no longer in favour with the West. Let us see what the powers of the East hold for it in the not too distant future.