Superpower or small country? By R. Seliger

Superpower or small country? By R. Seliger

An ongoing tragedy of Israel is that so small a country (with no more than seven million citizens) must remain a major military power in order to survive. It pays a high price to do so, with most Israeli men spending three years of their youth as regular conscripts and then one month of each year until the age of 50 in active reserve units and subject to unlimited emergency call-up.

Anti-Israel critics like to minimize Israel’s urgent security needs by referring to it, rather abstractly and without real analysis, as the fourth greatest military power in the world. I’m guessing that the three countries thought of as more powerful are the United States, China and Russia. Does this mean that Britain, France and Germany (to name but the most obvious) are less powerful than Israel? Each have eight to ten times the population, comparable technological knowhow, greater economic capacity, as large or larger standing armed forces and with great military traditions that go back centuries.

And what about the two Koreas – with the South possessing about 700,000 and the North one million or more men, armed to the teeth? Or what of India, a vast country, also with about a million men under arms, veterans of as many wars and struggles against guerrillas/terrorists as Israel? Even Taiwan, the Nationalist Republic of China, has more than twice Israel’s population, is technologically advanced and has standing and well-equipped armed forces that are larger than Israel’s. And what of Japan? Getting closer to Israel’s neighborhood, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran each have larger military establishments than Israel.

Both Israel and its critics need to see Israel for what it is – a small country, forced into an unnatural situation of being the region’s most potent military power. The Jewish people have tried it the other way, with the defacto passivism of living as a defenseless minority. The Israeli habit of perhaps over-relying upon force is a reaction to those long centuries of oppression and humiliation.

Yet at bottom, Israel has limited military capacities. It must attempt innovative means – including diplomacy and international assistance – to augment its odds for security. This may involve, at times, swallowing instances of hurt pride, or even injustice – a lesson the Arab world would also do well to learn – in the interest of avoiding mutual escalations of violence.

It should not surprise us that a guerrilla enemy, fighting on its own soil and glorifying the “martyrdom” of its men, along with the civilians among whom they are embedded, has placed Israel in a strategic quagmire in Lebanon, for a second time. The Romans confronted an equally determined foe in the Jewish people of 2,000 years ago, who were equipped with some of the same advantages. But Rome had the will and capacity of the world’s greatest empire – immune from the pressures of a well-informed public and democratic opposition, and facing no simultaneous strategic threat elsewhere – to systematically crush the heroic Judean rebellions in the first and second centuries. As a small country, modern Israel almost certainly lacks the capability to do something similar to the Hezbollah.

It was the path of Yohanon Ben-Zakai, convincing the Romans to allow him to set up his yeshiva, that saved the Jewish people at that time. I’m not arguing pacifism versus self-defense, but as Kenny Rogers’ “Gambler” advises: “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run…..”

Still, the Western world seems to have gone too far in a pacifist direction. The enhanced UN international force is beginning to look stillborn – with France effectively wimping out and both Lebanon and the UN still uncommitted to a real effort to curtail Hezbollah as an armed threat.

By | 2006-08-21T13:59:00-04:00 August 21st, 2006|Blog|3 Comments


  1. Dorothy August 21, 2006 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,
    Would Israel’s leaders have cared more about the lives of their people and less about expansion and ethnic cleansing, the Jews could have lived here (in Israel-Palestine) in peace with Palestinians and neighbors, just as Jews had for 9 centuries prior to the onset of Zionism. Prior to Zionism, the Jewish ‘problem’ was with Christians mainly in eastern Europe not with Muslims. Even WWII was with Europeans not with Arabs. We could even today live here in peace, but Israel’s leaders have been from the start greedy, always wanting more land and fewer Palestinians. The only people who gain from wars, Ralph, are those who are greedy–either for money or for whatever other goals they have in mind (providing they ‘win’). The people always lose. Look at how many we buried just this past escapade–and how many we have buried since 1948. Nowhere else in the world have so many Jews been killed since WWII as in Israel. Who needs a country that eats its children?

    Unfortunately, I do not see any visionaries amongst Israelis who, as leaders, would agree to a single democratic state with Palestinians and others who love this land, and who would want peace with the country’s neighbors.

    Dorothy Naor

  2. Ralph Seliger August 22, 2006 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    I’m tempted to be sardonic in response, but Dorothy Naor, a profoundly dedicated activist for peace and coexistance with the Palestinian people, does not deserve this. I don’t doubt the oppression and cruelty that she sees in how the State of Israel has treated these people, but this is not a one-way street.

    Tragically, most of the Palestinian Arab leadership– particularly their most important leader, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Mufti– was emphatically closed to ANY kind of accomodation with the Jews. They did NOT want “a single democratic state.”

    Jews died during the Holocaust at an average rate of nearly 30,000 a week! (My calculation from the Nazi invasion of the USSR in June 1941, to the German surrender May 7-8, 1945, is 29,703.) Of course more Jews have died in Israel’s struggles than anywhere else since WW II (thank God). That total, however large and tragic is about 22,000 — slightly more than five days worth of murders during the Holocaust.

  3. Ami Isseroff August 23, 2006 at 7:08 am - Reply

    Dorothy wrote:

    Unfortunately, I do not see any visionaries amongst Israelis who, as leaders, would agree to a single democratic state with Palestinians and others who love this land, and who would want peace with the country’s neighbors.

    Ralph answerwed her graciously. I do not see any visionaries amongst the world leaders who are willing to commit national suicide, in any country. Let’s suppose that Palestinian Arabs are all wonderful and civilized people, like Finns or Danes, who love the Jews. Could we imagine a Jewish national revival that aims to make all the Jews part of a single national state in Finland, or Denmark or the USA? Hey, guess what? It already exists.

    Dorothy is not a Zionist. She is one of those who will criticize Israel no matter what it does, as long as it is a Jewish state. Therefore, here criticism does not have analytic validity – it is a criticism of what Israel IS rather than what Israel does.

    Dorothy wrote:

    The only people who gain from wars, Ralph, are those who are greedy–either for money or for whatever other goals they have in mind (providing they ‘win’).

    Unfortunately, Dorothy levels this criticism at Israel rather than at Hezbollah or Iran. We know war is bad Dorothy. But if you are attacked, you must defend yourself. The policy of saying “Oh it is ok for you to kill and kidnap our soldiers because we are Zionists and therefore evil” is not realistic.

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