Israel is a nation fraught with geopolitical tensions, boasting more adversaries than allies. It is a relatively small country, encircled by formidable and hostile neighbours.
Following its declaration of independence on May 14, 1948, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was established, comprising three branches: the Israeli Ground Forces, Israeli Air Force, and Israeli Navy. This military entity became the linchpin of Israel’s security apparatus, overseen by the Chief of the General Staff.
This declaration of statehood marked a pivotal moment in history, setting the stage for a series of wars and conflicts in the region. Surrounding Arab nations, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, vehemently opposed Israel’s establishment and initiated military operations to thwart its existence.
These hostilities ushered in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the War of Independence, a protracted struggle marked by battles and ceasefires. Arab states sought to prevent Israel’s creation, while Israel defended its newfound sovereignty. The conflict concluded in 1949 with armistice agreements defining the borders between Israel and its neighbouring Arab nations.
Throughout this period, a significant number of Palestinian Arabs were displaced from their homes, giving rise to an enduring refugee crisis known as the Palestinian Nakba, or “catastrophe.” Armistice agreements created temporary ceasefire lines.
Since its inception, the IDF has been operating on three major fronts, safeguarding Israel against threats from Lebanon and Syria in the north, Jordan and Iraq in the east, and Egypt in the south.
Subsequent conflicts, such as the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Six-Day War of 1967, continued to shape the Arab-Israeli conflict and redefine the boundaries of the modern Middle East. Despite decades of peace efforts and negotiations, a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict remains elusive.
The IDF has been involved in numerous operations and conflicts over the years, including:
Suez Crisis (1956): In collaboration with the UK and France, Israel launched an operation to regain control of the Suez Canal, and captured the Sinai Peninsula, but withdrew under international pressure.
Six-Day War (1967): Israel preempted a full-scale invasion by Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq, capturing territories like the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights, reshaping the Middle East dynamics.
War of Attrition (1967-1970): Post-Six-Day War, sporadic conflicts along borders with Egypt and Jordan, characterized by artillery duels, air battles, and limited ground operations.
Yom Kippur War (1973): Israel repelled a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, incurring heavy casualties.
First Lebanon War (1982): IDF invaded Lebanon to counter the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), leading to the establishment of a security zone in southern Lebanon.
First Intifada (1987-1993): Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, marked by mass protests, civil disobedience, and clashes with Israeli forces.
Second Intifada (2000-2005): Renewed Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians and security forces, leading to military operations in response.
Second Lebanon War (2006): Erupted when Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers, resulting in a major military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Gaza Conflicts: IDF conducted multiple operations in response to rocket attacks and hostilities from Hamas and other Palestinian groups. Notable operations include Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), and Operation Protective Edge (2014).
Today, Israel’s population has grown significantly, standing at 8.5 million, with approximately 75% being Jewish. Israel is a nation of immigrants who arrived with little in hand. Among the Middle Eastern states, only Egypt and Jordan have signed peace agreements with Israel.
Israel’s contentious relationships with its neighbours can be attributed to several factors:
Land Displacement: Israel’s establishment in 1948 led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, an event known as the Nakba. This issue remains at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, complicated by regional involvement.
Occupation of Palestinian Territories: Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967 has led to accusations of human rights abuses against Palestinians.
U.S. Support: Israel’s close alliance with the United States and the substantial military and financial aid it receives generates resentment among many Arab and Muslim nations.
Nuclear Weapons Program: Concerns over Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons program unsettle Arab and Muslim countries.
Support for Authoritarian Regimes: Israel’s perceived support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, raises apprehension.
The repercussions of having more adversaries than allies are profound:
- Israel remains vulnerable to attack due to its encirclement by hostile nations.
- Achieving peace with its neighbours becomes increasingly challenging.
- Israel faces threats from Iran, Hezbollah, and the Syrian civil war, while also dealing with terrorism from various groups.
- Israel is seen as an aggressor by some nations, hindering its diplomatic endeavours.
In the face of these challenges, Israel has built-up a formidable defence apparatus, including a technologically advanced military and renowned intelligence agencies like Mossad. They continually adapt to counter security threats, which include not only traditional military concerns but also emerging issues such as cyberattacks, missile proliferation, and climate change.
Despite the persistent challenges, Israelis and Palestinians have engaged in peace talks in the past, offering hope for a future peace agreement that addresses the core issues of the conflict, such as the right of return for Palestinians and the status of Jerusalem. Israel’s resilience, advanced security infrastructure, and alliances with like-minded nations position it to confront its security challenges proactively.