Maybe it doesn’t make sense to remain a democracy

Is democracy good for Israel?
An acquaintance of mine used to be a senior Shabak operative. Obviously, he’s never spoken about his work. We bumped into each other the day after the reasonable test was banned, and I joked “So tell me… when are you guys gunna get out the cuffs and save us?” His response threw me: “Why do you think it’s so good for us to remain a democracy in a changing world?”

Has Bibi changed?
Love him or loathe him, Benjamin Netanyahu has a reputation for genius. His political longevity alone is testament to that fact. As such, I’ve been racking my brains to understand why a genius would bring Israel to this fractured moment. Is this the same man who proved that economic incentives can dramatically increase Haredi participation in the workforce? Is this the same man who stood up to – and outlived – Clinton and Obama? The same man who on Sky News after 2 suicide bombers killed Israeli civilians, started with condolences to the British on the passing of Elizabeth The Queen Mother noting that both Jews and the British have a shared sense of history and custom.

US-Israel relations
The world is changing. America is in trouble. Its political class is polarized, unable to even reach consensus on whether climate change exists, or whether their 2020 election was free and fair. Over the coming years, America will find out whether global counterparties have sufficient appetite for the bonds they must issue. This battle will increase question marks over the status of the dollar as the de facto global currency. That financial “war” will be played out with China, as for the first time since World War Two, the USA is facing a serious economic competitor. What’s more, this competitor does not share the same system of governance as the USA, and shares few of the same foreign policy goals.

The media keep asking “was he, or wasn’t he invited to the White House?” The opposition are concerned about our special relationship with America, which President Biden has emphasized is based on shared democratic values. Yet, given the prognosis for the USA – facing 3 extreme risks: internal divisions, a looming debt crisis, and an equitable foe – I wondered whether it is in our self interest to maintain such a relationship. Perhaps herein lies Bibi’s genius – later this year, he is off to meet President Xi of China, and Erdogan of Turkey. But, let’s first analyze some of Israel’s strategic strengths.

Israel’s strategic strengths
Rumor has it we are a nuclear power. We certainly have one of the most sophisticated surveillance and cyber capabilities on the planet. However, there are two specific things Israel now enjoys: natural gas, and microchip technology and manufacturing.

Israel is now an energy exporter. Long in the air, a planned pipeline from Israel to Italy via Greece may soon be given the green light. In 2020, the EU imported 42% of its energy from Russia – Europe must diversify its energy sources to ensure energy security. Money talks, and when the gas starts flowing, it is sure to change the power dynamic in EU-Israel relations. Turkey is also an energy importer, and a geographically close member of NATO – another little hint of that Bibi magic?

Israel is one of only 12 countries with major microchip manufacturing capabilities, and none of us need another explanation of the start up nation. One major US-China policy disagreement concerns the status of Taiwan, the second largest chip manufacturer globally. The USA is concerned about technological leaps from China (especially given improvements in artificial intelligence), and is increasingly restricting the supply of chip manufacturing equipment to China. The EU is gradually coming on board with the embargo, and Japan has signalled its readiness as well. One must remember that shortly before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the US froze Japanese assets – economic wars can lead to physical battles. Perhaps now you see a little more than a glimpse of that Bibi magic.

Israel in a new world order
China’s influence is growing in Moscow given Beijing’s economic support since the breakout of war in Ukraine. The relationship is complex, but they share an objective to weaken American power. A strategic China-Israel relationship, based on exporting our technology and microchips, increases the risk of China fermenting a coup in Taiwan. Israel’s prize is a seismic shift in power versus Iran and its proxies – an existential threat the USA appears impotent to control. China is well placed to pressure Russia to reduce its footprint and influence in the Middle East, leaving Iran weak and open to new alliances, especially as Saudi-US relations may soon be as cosy as those the US shares with other NATO members. Oh, and the cherry on the cake – Israeli desalination and water technology should help cement the Iranian regime. 21 June 2023 the New York Times reported:

“Sistan and Baluchistan, where Iranian lawmakers warn the water will run out altogether within three months, might sound like an extreme case. But other regions are not far behind. Drought is forcing water cuts in the capital, Tehran, shrinking Lake Urmia, the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, and the livelihoods that came with it, and stoking mass migration from Iran’s countryside to its cities.”

The same article spoke of water disputes on the Iran-Turkey border.

Finally, we turn to the Palestinians. An EU dependent on Israel for energy security will change its diplomatic tone. With Russia quiet, and China buying Israeli technology, Israel will no longer require an American veto at the UN, and with a Chinese market hungry for military upgrades, $3.6bn annual US military aid to Israel will no longer be required. Without laboring the point, Israel will face very little global push back when it comes to the West Bank and Gaza.

Netanyahu’s winning strategy
It seems Bibi is ushering us into this new world order like a chess master. Israel will have a brand new “sponsor” and massive trading partner in China, the Shia threat will vanish, we will gain the upper hand with the Palestinians, and potentially have warm relations with Istanbul.

Though any attempt to align Israel with autocratic states like China, Iran and Turkey, would require a re-wiring of Israel’s democratic DNA. As Netanyahu explains in his book ‘Israel’s place among the nations” – when two democracies make peace, it is a peace between two peoples. When one makes peace with a dictatorship, one is only making peace with one man or woman – as such its a peace that can’t really stand. A stategic alliance with the likes of Xi cannot work as long as Israel maintains an army of the people directed by democratically elected civilians. It cannot work if we maintain the same values as the USA. As such, the judicial overhaul looks necessary to protect Israel in a changing world.

It all sounds pretty genius. However, it simply won’t work.

There’s an apocryphal tale about Israel’s first president, Weizmann, visiting President Truman in the White House. Truman declares that he has the harder job: “I’m the president of 200 million people, you’re only the president of 2 million people!” Weizmann replies: “I have the harder job. You’re the president of 200 million people, but I’m the president of 2 million presidents!”

Yisrael Galili, chief of staff of the Haganah, expresses the same idea as follows:

“It is said that our men are somewhat deficient in the usual forms of discipline. But against that they have the virtues of responsibility and courage. Any loss due to lack of military discipline, is more than made up for by the self-reliance, the initiative and spirit of our men.”

And Yigal Alon on the formation of the IDF:

“Since it is the product of a popular movement in national liberation, directed by democratically elected civil institutions, it is not perhaps surprising that the new army should have inherited from the Haganah it democratic values”

The very foundation of our might is based on the democratic values that empower “responsibility and courage”. Our strength lies in the fact that Zionism is “a popular movement in national liberation” –  it requires the souls of men and women to be free on every level. Bibi’s attempt to rewire our values has created a schism at home – and as explained above regarding the USA – this is an extreme risk – it endangers the “spirit of our men”, a terribly destructive place to be!

So it would seem Netanyahu is clearly not a genius: he underestimated the spirit of the people. Israel should heed Bibi’s own words to the MEMRI conference in 2008:

“We must not make peace with a dictatorship, because it will be a peace we cannot protect

About the Author
Originally from London. Father to 3 teenagers. Investment Manager.
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