Israel’s danger will come only if a great power seeks to dominate the Mediterranean Basin or to occupy the region between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean. In the short period since the fall of the Soviet Union, this has been impossible. There has been no great power with the appetite and the will for such an adventure. But 15 years is not even a generation, and Israel must measure its history in centuries.
It is the nature of the international system to seek balance. The primary reality of the world today is the overwhelming power of the United States. The United States makes few demands on Israel that matter. However, it is the nature of things that the United States threatens the interests of other great powers who, individually weak, will try to form coalitions against it. Inevitably, such coalitions will arise. That will be the next point of danger for Israel.
In the event of a global rivalry, the United States might place onerous requirements on Israel. Alternatively, great powers might move into the Jordan River valley or ally with Syria, move into Lebanon or ally with Israel. The historical attraction of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean would focus the attention of such a power and lead to attempts to assert control over the Mediterranean or create a secure Middle Eastern empire. In either event, or some of the others discussed, it would create a circumstance in which Israel might face a Babylonian catastrophe or be forced into some variation of a Persian or Roman subjugation.
Israel’s danger is not a Palestinian rising. Palestinian agitation is an irritant that Israel can manage so long as it does not undermine Israeli unity. Whether it is managed by domination or by granting the Palestinians a vassal state matters little. Nor can Israel be threatened by its neighbors. Even a unified attack by Syria and Egypt would fail, for the reasons discussed. Israel’s real threat, as can be seen in history, lies in the event of internal division and/or a great power, coveting Israel’s geographical position, marshalling force that is beyond its capacity to resist. Even that can be managed if Israel has a patron whose interests involve denying the coast to another power.
Israel’s reality is this. It is a small country, yet must manage threats arising far outside of its region. It can survive only if it maneuvers with great powers commanding enormously greater resources. Israel cannot match the resources and, therefore, it must be constantly clever. There are periods when it is relatively safe because of great power alignments, but its normal condition is one of global unease. No nation can be clever forever, and Israel’s history shows that some form of subordination is inevitable. Indeed, it is to a very limited extent subordinate to the United States now.
For Israel, the retention of a Davidic independence is difficult. Israel’s strategy must be to manage its subordination effectively by dealing with its patron cleverly, as it did with Persia. But cleverness is not a geopolitical concept. It is not permanent, and it is not assured. And that is the perpetual crisis of Jerusalem.