The new Jewish state in the Levant: A fanatics-led nuclear power
Israel is about to get the most extreme government in the country’s history. But there are limits to what it can do.
Israel’s colonial democracy has given birth to a potentially more extreme type of ‘Jewish state’ akin to a more sophisticated and modern version of the ‘Islamic state’. But unlike ISIL which was conceived in and defeated by war, Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East today.
The fanatics, fascists, and far-right fantasists, who won this week’s elections in Israel, are about to form the most openly extreme government in the country’s history. It is sure to include the Jewish state’s new rising star Itamar Ben-Gvir — a violence-spewing, Palestinian-hating radical on whose support the government will stand.
A majority of religious nationalists and ultraorthodox parties in government, the first in Israel’s history, would want to transform the Jewish state towards a theocracy that lives by the Halacha (Jewish law) and finish colonising the entirety of Palestine, come what may.
But could they? What can they do in reality that their predecessors have not done already, in terms of exacting death and destruction, and further expanding the illegal Jewish settlement in Palestine?
Benjamin Netanyahu, who will likely form and lead the new coalition government, knows from his experience as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister that there is a limit on how far Israel can go before it starts to meet fierce Palestinian and Arab resistance. Any further, and Israel could also lose support in Europe and the United States; support that is indispensable to its security and regional standing.
He has previously preferred incremental steps to radical measures that could alienate Israel’s main backers and its new regional partners. Netanyahu may therefore try to curb his partners’ eagerness to annex the occupied West Bank and ethnically cleanse it of its Palestinian inhabitants.
But then again, it is doubtful whether he will be able to tame these religious fanatics, knowing all too well they have a hold over the survival of his premiership; his only guarantee to stay out of prison, after having been indicted for serious corruption charges.
I think the genie is finally out of the bottle.
The elections have opened a Pandora’s box that may well take Israelis to the dark side. They have exposed the fragility of Israel’s peculiar liberality as a colonial state, and unmasked the pervasive fanaticism among the majority of the electorate after decades of unfettered military occupation.
The unruly pronouncements of Netanyahu’s scandalous new partners reflect the prevailing beliefs among the majority of Israel’s right-wing parties, including his own Likud, that have ruled the country for the past few decades. But now that they are boasting of Jewish supremacy out in the open, it is harder for Netanyahu’s hasbara to conceal their — or his — racism from the rest of the world.
After all, it was Bibi, as Netanyahu is known, who back in August midwifed the union of two or three small fanatic parties, to ensure they maximise the number of their seats and join his future coalition government. They did exceedingly well: The Religious Zionist Party won 14 seats. Its legislators include Ben-Gvir.
Netanyahu’s two other coalition partners, the ultraorthodox Jewish parties, Shas and UJT, which are as socially regressive and politically fanatic, won 18 seats. Together with the 32 far-right Likud members, they command a comfortable like-minded majority of 64 seats in the 120-member Knesset.
Emboldened by the new mandate, the ever-smug Netanyahu could skip the incremental strategy that he embraced thus far, in favour of a maximalist agenda. Domestically, that could include him trying to control the judiciary and other levers of the state, and further marginalising Israel’s Palestinian minority. Regionally, it could involve annexing occupied territories and bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, at the risk of facing international backlash and a war.
But will he?
Perhaps the answer lies in his recently published autobiography, written with re-election in mind. In this 733-page monstrosity, Bibi: My Story, Netanyahu repeatedly underlines the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel’s security and the need to take it out once and for all, and insists on the marginality of Palestine for normalising relations with the Arab world.
Like a broken record, he repetitively dismisses the “centrality of Palestine” to resolving the Arab-Israel conflict, and condemns all forms of nuclear diplomacy and any type of normalisation of relations with Iran as naïve and reckless.
He makes it clear that he is unabashed Machiavellian; that he worships power — hard power — and believes superior military power is the only way to achieve peace or security. A cruel narcissist, he is ready to do anything and everything to stay in office, including betraying his closest allies and partners.
Like all populists, he is rather delusional and conspiratorial. Although he is the longest-serving prime minister in the history of the state, Netanyahu claims in the book that throughout his career, the elites, the press, the judiciary, and the deep state — even American presidents — have been out to get him.
Bibi, the book, is all about chutzpah: Where Netanyahu — the victim of countless conspiracies — tells tantalising tales about Bibi the victor and vanquisher of all living enemies, real and imagined. But since the book is rife with lies, exaggerations and other mischaracterisations, it is a sure bet he is lying about himself and his family too, leaving the reader to read between and beyond the lines.
In that way, one may deduce what this tenaciously ambitious political animal stands for, but it is difficult to discern who he is; the real from the fictitious, the hallow from the hollow. It is as if there is nothing really there; nothing beyond the carefully packaged character and cliches.
Lacking all empathy, he will not let anyone or anything get in his way. Experience does not humble Netanyahu. On the contrary: With each chapter, he becomes cockier and more confident, talking about himself walking among the greats, shuttling between Washington and Moscow, as if he is the prophet of Israel, leader of a superpower — as if he is invincible.
That state of mind, coupled with his new victory, may well entice Netanyahu to act ever more aggressively in Palestine, and towards Iran and the region, in order to get Israel to reign supreme in the Middle East. As he sees it, the United States is stupid and President Joe Biden is amenable and weak; the Arabs are divided and their leaders are cynical; the European Union is preoccupied with Ukraine and Russia at war; and China is busy with, well, China.
But I have got news for Bibi and his “baboons” – as the opposition referred to his supporters. Any such overreach is an assured blunder that risks a major blowback militarily, politically and on other fronts. Palestine will always remain a sacred symbol of injustice to the Arabs and central to resolving their conflict with Israel, despite the fact that a few leaders have turned their back on Palestinians to appease Washington. And last but not least, hubris invites disaster; any bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities will only strengthen its regime and lead to a regional war with incalculable repercussions for Israel, the US and the Middle East.
Always remember: The higher the rise the harder the fall.