By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
Israel's act of sabotage on Iran's central nuclear facility on April 11 raises several questions. Tel-Aviv seems to live in a climate of unusual impunity. It has so far managed to escape punitive consequences for its territorial occupation, displacement of indigenous people and repeated acts of political assassination and sabotage on foreign land. Why does the world community tend to look the other way when Israel breaks one universal norm after another?
Guilt over a history of Jewish suffering, largely at the hands of Europeans, may play a role in softening international attitudes toward the Jewish state. Israel is also viewed as a guardian of military and economic Western interests in a troubled, but resource-rich Middle East. For some, Israel's record of technological ascendency gives it the reputation of a "winner that can do no wrong".
With the clever twist of the sword and the word, Israel has defended itself remarkably well. But how long can Israel keep this layer of protection against a changing world, with tighter standards of human rights and evolving demographic and diplomatic realities?
Israel's closest friends now wonder if Israel is the same country they have known and admired for decades. There are limits to impunity; Tel-Aviv's record has become increasingly hard to ignore. Its current political leaders seem to have lost the capacity to safeguard its future. There is concern about the continuity of this state which looks strong on the surface but is fragile at the core.
Five issues threaten Israel's future: (i) Tel-Aviv's lopsided relationship with Washington, (ii) a mindset of exceptional entitlement - especially on matters of nuclear defense (iii) a disingenuous approach to war and peace, (iv)a hybrid social order of a democracy undermined by colonialism, (v) and a radical shift in ideology of governance from European socialism to an increasingly rigid religious paradigm.
A recent event illustrates the risk, if not the irony, of an ignored, lopsided relationship with Washington: Israel dictating policy to Uncle Sam. As the US began to make some progress in negotiating with Tehran on the nuclear deal last week, Israel attacked Iran's Natanz nuclear facility. This highly provocative act has escalated the chances of war between Iran and Israel; it could drag America to a spiraling conflict of devastating consequences. It should be noted that this is not the first time Tel-Aviv challenges Washington's approach to international relations. Two perturbing phenomena are at play here: While Israel's security is highly dependent on the US , the former has the upper hand in this partnership, particularly on Middle East issues. Also, the Jewish state receives the largest share of US foreign aid, yet on matters of foreign policy Israel acts as if it is the benefactor, with Washington the beneficiary.
The second threat to Israel's future is its self-serving double standard. For example, Israel accuses Iran of preparing to acquire an atomic bomb - allegedly to wipe Israel off the map, while Tel Aviv itself, enjoys the unique privilege of owning a formidable arsenal of atomic power. How safe is it for Israel to have this atomic privilege? World powers seem to assume that Israel should be trusted with the bomb, but not Iran. In fact, the Middle East would be much safer as a nuclear - weapon free zone.
The third threat poses a striking irony: making peace with one hand and launching war with another. As he attacks the Shiite-majority state, Iran, Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu brags about a shallow peace he has achieved with the Arab Gulf Sunnite states through the Abraham Accords. The peace Israel is orchestrating with the Arab Gulf states may very well lead to a regional war between Shiite Iran - and its allies, and the Arab Gulf States and their supporters.
The fourth relates to the question of democracy's fundamentals. In essence, democracy is a political system designed to integrate equality with freedom. For Israel, to claim to be the "only democracy in the region", and yet ignore its five-decade long occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Syria's Golan Heights and oil-rich Lebanese maritime border territories- to ignore all this load of injustice, gives democracy a bad reputation and presents a stark contradiction in terms. Moreover, Israel is morphing into an apartheid state: the Palestinian populations under Israeli rule - or control - have surpassed in number the Jewish population. This is not to mention that there are five million Palestinian refugees living in substandard conditions in the surrounding Arab states.
The fifth and last is in matters of ideology. Israel's approach to governance has radically changed over the years. Starting as a nation built on principles of European socialism, Israel has changed over the seven decades of its existence into a nation which is increasingly controlled by Haredi religious fundamentalism. Today in Israel, the majority is politically conservative, or leaning in this direction; whereas in the Diaspora the reverse may be the case. This serious gap has been growing.
As Israel adapts too easily to exceptional treatment by the world community, it has conveniently forgotten that unjustified privilege obeys the law of diminishing returns. Israel's clear-eyed friends need to be really worried; and they seem to be.