In July of this year, 50 years will have passed since I made my aliyah to Israel. Fifty tumultuous years in the course of which I had the great privilege to serve my country in uniform for more than 23 years and to be chosen as the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s adviser on foreign policy in the critical phases that preceded and followed the Oslo Accords. Rabin used to boast to his foreign guests that his adviser was from Lebanon – which annoyed me at the time since I could not accept being singled out as a “Lebanese” instead of being appreciated for my capacities. With the perspective of years, I believe that there was something appropriate in Rabin’s attitude. Indeed, how many countries in the world offer tremendous opportunities for newcomers to choose their own paths and adapt to them?
In fact, my story is the story of all Israel and of all who decided one day to pack their personal belongings and make their aliyah to the Promised Land. Fifty years later, in Israel, I have found my true identity as have hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have flourished in this land.
I remember that when I landed at Lod Airport in July 1968 I felt I had missed something. I had missed a war, the Six-Day War! My friends calmed my concerns by saying that it wouldn’t be long before I myself became involved in a new war. Indeed, since then I have experienced the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War, the first Lebanese campaign, and subsequent mini-conflicts in Lebanon and Gaza. In between, I was lucky enough to be part of the peace negotiations with Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians.
In fact, we all share the story of the state of Israel, continuously under existential threat and continuously seeking peace with its neighbors. Seventy years after proclaiming its independence, Israel is still fighting for its right to be recognized as a Jewish state.
What can we expect for the next 70 years? More of the same? More wars? More peace efforts? Stagnation? Diplomatic breakthroughs? Reconstruction efforts in the Middle East? What is Israel’s future in the region? Will it have to contend with the implosion of states and the emergence of new regional powers?
History has taught us that states evolve, change, and sometimes redraw their borders. The so-called Arab Spring has shown the fragility and vulnerabilities of Arab regimes in the region. States that were thought to be stable have disintegrated, spawning new realities. Others, such as Libya, have dissolved into failed states. Superpowers and regional powers (such as Turkey and Iran) that were absent from the region have appeared in force and are trying to impose a new order. The military intervention of superpowers in the Middle East has created new checks and balances. By reshaping the power structure in Iraq (replacing the Sunni elite with the Shi’a as rulers), the U.S. intervention has sown havoc in the region; contributed to the rise of radical Islam, whose worst manifestation was the establishment of the Islamic State; and allowed the Russians to become Bashar Assad’s saviors. Iran has manipulated the Sunni-Shi’a schism in its favor and become a mini-superpower, threatening both Israel and “moderate” Sunni Arab regimes. Indeed, the first two decades of the 21st century have again proved that the deep rift between the two main schools of Islam (Sunni and Shi’a) has remained as severe as it was 14 centuries ago and underlies the structural changes that have occurred in the Middle East and beyond.
The Talmud says that “Since the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been given to fools!” One thing is sure, however: Israel will have to forge its identity and continue to fight for its survival as long as near and far neighbors keep rattling their sabers and menacing the very existence of the Jewish state. Looking back over 70 years, we should acknowledge that Israel has done very well in all fields and most important, despite existential threats, has managed to sign two peace treaties (with Egypt and Jordan), an interim agreement with the Palestinians, and (yes) a stillborn peace agreement with Lebanon. Despite huge expenditures for the defense of the Jewish state, Israel has become a beacon of innovation in almost every area of science, medicine, high tech, communications, education, literature, defense, and so many other fields, innovations that have made the world raise its eyes in admiration and in some envy of Israeli ingenuity. I firmly believe that Israel will continue to lead the scientific community and will remain at the forefront of innovation.
This is the place and time to thank Dr. Joel Fishman for his long, outstanding contribution to the publication of the Jewish Political Studies Review. I have replaced him in this task hoping to continue on his path and bring new approaches and perspectives to this review. The Jewish Political Studies Review will continue to serve as a forum for studies relating to the Jewish people and Israel. In this issue I am proud to present contributions by politicians, opinion makers, and researchers who have chosen to write on topics that may become the focus of our attention in the coming years.