With US-Israel relations at the worst they’ve been in decades, relations appeared to go even further downhill when Israeli commandos stormed an “aid flotilla” sailing from Turkey towards the Gaza blockade, resulting in the deaths of several pro-Palestinian activists. The immediate consequences are unsurprising–international condemnation has been loud, particularly from Europe; there has been a collapse in Turkish-Israeli relations, a blow for Israel as Turkey has long been Israel’s silent ally in the region; and US relations have worsened further still. The Arab press and political leaders are as shrill as ever, and Iran is once again promising to wipe the nation from the map.
The major media outlets would have you believe that Israel will suffer major consequences from the flotilla fiasco. But they are missing the point — Israel today is more secure from outside threat than it has ever been in its history. Its enemies are divided, unable and unwilling to form any coalition that could actually threaten Israel.
Missing the point.
The Palestinians: The Palestinians are fiercely divided–geographically and ideologically–between Fatah and Hamas, such that Fatah is essentially allied with Israel against Hamas in the present circumstances. Fatah has publicly said that it is opposed to lifting the blockade of Gaza, and this isn’t the first time it’s been targeting Hamas — indeed, Fatah may well have been involved in the assassination of the Hamas operative in Dubai earlier this year.
Jordan: Jordan has a tense relationship with Israel–yet maintains a highly functional bilateral relationship where there is heavy trade activity across the long and open border between the two states. And Jordan is strongly suspicious of both Fatah and Hamas. Arafat’s Fatah was involved in a coup attempt against King Hussein in the 1970s that resulted in the massacre of thousands of Palestinians, while Hamas is an Islamist organization that Jordan opposes ideologically. Jordan also quietly opposes the establishment of any independent Palestinian state, which could threaten its very existence, as so many Jordanians are themselves Palestinian — and despite neighboring so much of the West Bank, Jordan has relations with Israel, not the PLO, in managing this border.
Syria & Lebanon: In 1973, Syria was a major military threat to Israel. Today, despite being a vocal opponent of Israel and often on the brink of conflict with its southern neighbor, Damascus is ultimately focused on maintaining its influence in Lebanon, and does that primarily through the Shia organization Hezbollah. Hezbollah is an anti-Israeli force, but it is not Palestinian (Palestinians are overwhelmingly Sunni), and Hezbollah is yet another world apart from Hamas and Fatah. Syria maintains ties with both Palestinian organizations, but is not interested in intervening on their behalf.
Egypt: It is not by chance that Israel can maintain its blockade of Gaza, and storm a non-military vessel approaching the blockade, without having to worry about a conflict with Egypt. Egypt has a border with Gaza that it keeps closed. Secular Egypt can claim the Fatah movement as a child, and therefore an ally, and has always opposed Hamas, which has its roots in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the main domestic threat of Egypt’s current government.
Saudi Arabia and the GCC: Saudi Arabia has tried to be a peacemaker in the region, seeking to act as a go-between for a unity Hamas-Fatah government. But despite noisy public condemnation, the Saudis, along with the rest of the Emirs of the Persian Gulf, are in no position to do anything beyond words. There is no appetite to interupt their place in the global economy with anything militarily, and and have little room to implement sanctions or hurt Israel financially because they are already half-hearted parties to the Israeli boycott and don’t trade with Israel to begin with. It is also reported that Saudi Arabia may be cooperating with Israel to allow them to attack Iran — a possible story, although the publication of this scoop makes it less likely to happen, and there would never be a public quid pro quo about this.
Turkey: Turkey has recently been more active in the Arab world — it is a major investor in post-war Iraq — and may be trying to use this event to increase its political capital in the Arab world. But this can only go so far — and for those who appreciate irony, there is much hypocrisy in Turkey’s stance if we wonder how the PM who recently threatened to expel all Armenians from Turkey would feel if “freedom flotillas” were sent to Turkish-occupied Cyprus or Kurdistan.
What should we expect from this? At the end of the day, Israel faces surprisingly few external threats. Ominously, Israel’s biggest dangers are enemies from within — a shrinking Jewish population when matched to the high Palestinian birth rate, and an increasingly powerful fringe extremist minority.