As the latest bombs rain down on Gaza, one has to wonder where the American foreign policy Establishment will see Israel in a few years time, especially as it gives unqualified financial and military support come what may. As an American journalist based in Doha, I frequently travel to Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, and most the regional countries. From my vantage, the "no state" outcome is just around the corner.
Judging by most of the trends, Israel has already become a "Green Zone." Can anyone who landed at Ben Gurion Airport or crossed the Allenby Bridge or egressed the separation Wall divide really claim otherwise? But this too is a fleeting stage. The most probable evolution is what can be figuratively called "Combat Outpost Israel." And even this characterization will be a momentary one. Just as most combat outposts are either abandoned following a war or overrun in conflict, given present circumstances I believe the same fate awaits what is today called the Israeli state.
Violent chaos and aspiring Caliphates, however viable, are springing up throughout the region. Sunni Arab fighters vie over land rendered ungovernable by ousted tyrants and their puppet replacements. Some bear names like ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra, while the alphabet soup of Al Qaeda franchises (AQIM, AQAP, Al Shabaab) grab most the headlines. There is additionally a vast majority of Sunni and Shiites alienated by their own political leadership, longing for a better way. It is true that, for the time being, they are focused on killing each other over their own deeply embedded religious differences. The US and Israel seem contented to let them have their go, perhaps believing it will divert or exhaust them.
While these Arab revolts have begun in their local areas, the necessary first step is to achieve freedom or independence. But along the way, they are upending or will topple those Western-hailed "moderates" who have perpetuated alliances in the region that are viewed as unjust, especially with Israel. Saudi and Jordanian monarchies are especially susceptible. Saudi, with its aging King, youth unemployment and unwillingness to distribute oil wealth equitably; Jordan, with its palpable lack of oil, presided over by its young and increasingly unpopular monarch, a man repeatedly bested by his closeness to the US and Israel and by the flood of refugees largely created by wars initiated by those same "friends"--the US and Israel. Egypt, under General Sisi's bid to revive the 1960's style cult of Arab authoritarianism, is similarly vulnerable to yet more coups.
So what will Combat Outpost Israel face when these chaos systems reach its doorstep?
Israel and its military would be mobilized in a state of emergency all year round. They'd be shooting frequently--and if history is an accurate guide, indiscriminately--in all directions. Their targets would not just be teenagers burning tires in the West Bank or those annoying amateur rockets coming from the Gaza Strip.
Instead the Israeli military would confront battle-hardened insurgents coming from lawless neighborhood sanctuaries. In the North, attacking from Syria to retake the Occupied Golan and the disputed border with Lebanon. From the East, attacking Israeli military installations along the West Bank border with Jordan and perhaps exposed illegal Jewish settlements. In the South, the barren desert stretch of the Sinai Peninsula would be flush with combatants from as far away as Algeria (who pass easily through Libya and Egypt to get there).
These fighters won't have uniforms or wear campaign ribbons, but will have been tried and tested in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Somalia, Libya, Syria and honed along the way in the dark arts of suicide attacks, improvised explosive device making, and insurgency tactics.
Think Israel would win? Before you answer, recall how they faired against a single insurgent group, Hezbollah, during the 34 days of conflict back in 2006.
How would the seemingly invincible "start up" nation respond? I'd imagine most of its youth and aspiring high-tech workers would bail for Europe, or much safer havens, such as the US, Canada, and Australia. No amount of foreign aid would prop up Israel's economy, and recent gas discoveries and its infrastructure would also be imperiled. Mostly Jewish volunteers would also come from the opposite direction, though they'd be of less use than Israelis already on the ground.
For Israel, their best arsenals (including nuclear weapons) and intelligence agencies would do little to win the physical war. True, Israel has a superior infantry to hold ground. But consider the superpower graveyards in Algeria, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan regarding what is necessary to win. It will inevitably come down to something admittedly unscientific: the warrior who wants the Holy land in the pit of their belly more.
The best Israel can hope for, which will be laughed off by the same Establishment guaranteeing this outcome, is the arrival of a third party force to serve as a buffer while Israel withdraws to the internationally mandated 1967 borders.
This very prospect was raised in 2008 when Marine General James Jones, later President Obama's National Security Advisor, floated the idea of deploying NATO to the West Bank. NATO could serve there as a buffer, it was argued, to not only guarantee Israel's security as it abandoned Palestinian land it had turned into settlements but presumably to also protect Palestinians from violent Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers.
There might be a fighting chance of the NATO option working now, but it won't for three reasons. First, Benjamin Netanyahu has little demonstrated intention of relinquishing Israel's occupation. Second, no Western power or coalition will impose a solution. Finally, given the Establishment's diehard opposition to Jones proposal then, no politician is likely to ever table it for discussion.
Many will say this is outlandish. But there has been a failure of imagination at all stages of this conflict, and what we're seeing today hardly can be considered fiction. It is a tragedy largely of Israel and America's own making, and when it comes, there should be no surprise.