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Israel in a post-American world

Dec 26, 2023

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Israel and the United States have enjoyed a special relationship since the end of World War II and the formal establishment of the new nation. The U.S. has guaranteed Israeli security since that time and has continued to back it after the Hamas attack on Oct 7. But what happens to Israel once the U.S. is no longer willing or able to renew that guarantee?

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan looks at how Israeli society and demographics will shift over the coming decades and delves into the urgent security dilemma that Israel will confront in a post-American world.

Excerpted from Peter’s Dec. 26 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

We’re diving a little deeper into Israel for the next video in our ‘Post-American’ series. We’ll discuss their transition into a world without the U.S. around and what domestic and international challenges they might face.

Israel’s major domestic problem stems from the social support network offered to a chunk of their population; instead of working or serving in the military, they study the Torah and pop out kids. And as this group grows in size, it will drag the economy further down and limit the power that a future Israel ‘could’ have obtained. (The rising political power of this less-than-engaged portion of the Israeli population is a big piece of how Israel was so surprised by the Hamas assault in October 2023.)

Israel’s international problems are no cakewalk either. As the U.S. pulls out, Israel must beef up their security or find another guarantor. The most viable candidates are Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Turks could be a bit of a wild card, but the Saudis are already tightening relations. These new partnerships are a top priority as tensions rise between Iran and Israel.

As all this unfolds, the fight over the Persian Gulf is brewing in the background. The stage is set for this region of the world to get quite chaotic. The partnerships Israel is curating could prove critical in determining which of the major regional powers will emerge on top.

Access Peter’s other post-American world commentaries:

Everybody, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from my home trail network in Colorado. Today, we’re do the most recent in the post America series, what is the world look like, as the United States stops holding things up as trade breaks down, as countries are forced to look out for their own security and the needs, and today, we’re gonna talk about Israel. Now, Israel domestically has a bit of a challenge. They have provided a social support network for a chunk of their population that doesn’t serve in the military and doesn’t work. But the government pays for them to study the Torah. And as a result, they have more kids, you fast forward that a couple of generations, and we’re nearing the point where this group is going to be almost as populous as the rest of the country combined, in as little as 30 or 40 years. And it’s already a huge drag on the country, in terms of taxes and manpower. What this means is that the Israel of the future, leaving aside all of the drama, it’s going to come with local politics, is not going to be nearly as powerful as it has been, because if a third to half of their population is in the equivalent of on the dole, they just aren’t going to have the people necessary to research the technology, to me in the army and everything else. Who, why did I decide to do this on the uphill part anyway.

So whatever Israel has to do, it has to do with more punch, because it can’t rely on people or economic strength to get it to where it needs to go. Okay, so that’s the first thing to keep in mind. The second is in the United States that is broadly disinterested in the world and wildly disinterested. In the Middle East, Israel is going to have to look out for its own security, or find a different backer a different security guarantor, or take a much more active role in a way that doesn’t require troops. So who are the candidates? Well, the Russians are out because even if the Russians were the charitable sort the too far away, the Brits are a consideration. But ultimately, the Brits are going to have bigger problems further from home. The French are worthy of a conversation too. But they really have a hard time penetrating beyond the western Mediterranean because the Turks control the Eastern Mediterranean. And honestly, that gets us to where we need to go. The Turks are the local naval superior power, they have a significantly larger armor than the Israelis ever will have. It’s the second largest NATO and the proximate. Now, the Israelis and the Turks had a falling out over a decade ago over Gaza, with Turkish President Erdogan, specifically being the person who made a big issue out of everything that has died back significantly.

We’re not yet packed to cold level, Cold War levels of appreciation and backing and alliances. But the cooperation of the two and military issues and intelligence issues has steadily ratcheted up in the last several years.

I think it might be a little bit strong to say that Israel will ever be under the Turkish wing. But Israel has to cut a deal with whoever the local military power happens to be. And with the Americans out of the equation, that is unequivocally Turkey.

But that’s not enough. Israel feels threats from multiple sides. Now, if the Turks can handle the Syrian and the Lebanese issue, or at least in co-dominion with the Israelis, that’s great, that solves a lot of problems. You go to the southwest, or the immediate east, you’ve gotten Jordan and Israel and Egypt, to countries that with the United States have basically been forced into a degree of co-dominion with the Israelis, basically, the United States has been paying both of them for the last 30-40 years, well, 30-40 years in the case of Egypt, and 15-20 years in the case of Jordan, to not cause a problem for the Israelis that may go away. But at this point, both of those governments are so stilted and unstable, that the greater risk is that they would fall apart, as opposed to cause Israel any problems. Now, other than the Israeli problems is further east to the east, Iraq, and especially Iran. And in this actually, the Israelis have already found a new partner, and that’s Saudi Arabia. Now, the Saudis have a lot of things that the Israelis need good intelligence on the Shia world, proximity in case direct military strikes become an issue and you need basing and at least nominally control over the religion of Sunni Muslim because they control the shrines in Mecca and Medina. That gives them a lot of credibility. And as we’ve seen relations between the two warm, we’ve seen a lot less transnational tax on all things Israeli, not simply physically. But diplomatically. It used to be the Arab League would have like the ceremonial condemn Israel for everything right solution right off in every meeting that’s been pretty quiet.

We haven’t had formal recognition between the two yet. But that’s probably not too far away, we’re just waiting for the old king who’s relatively pro-Palestinian to die. And Mohammed bin Salman, his son to take over the alliance between them is actually pretty robust already. They already share intelligence on all things Iran, they already already collaborate in third countries. And most importantly, from the Saudi point of view, the Israelis are more reliable than the Americans. So during the Cold War, the United States had to keep the Persian Gulf open and the Saudis in the game in order for oil to flow, not to us, but to our allies. And that was, you know, Germany, Japan, France, United Kingdom, even China. But now that we don’t really care about energy, we don’t really care about the broader alliance structure in the same way, we’ve been backing away in a way in a way, and the Saudis aren’t as important to us anymore, which means other issues have crowded into the agenda. So for example, Saudi Arabia has a less than stellar human rights record. And we’re not exactly thrilled with what’s going on with their war in Yemen. So over the last decade, bit by bit different aspects of the technical military aid that we’ve been providing to the Saudis have faded away, we’re doing very little training, we’re not supporting their past equipment purchases, that sort of thing.

So Israel has stepped in to fill the American gap, and in many cases, buy the stuff directly from the Americans out there a little bit know how to it and then passing it on to Riyadh, this is already a strong, multi vectored relationship. The only question is in a post American world, is if will they get overrun by Iran? And that is the open question. There are three major military conflicts that I see happening this decade, they’re going to be regional in origin, but their impacts will be felt globally. The first one, the Ukraine war has already begun. The second war that I call the China wars, will be about China, either lashing out or being the target of something in the east pacific that ends them as a nation.

It has something to do demographics, don’t kill them first. And the third one will be a fight to see who’s ultimately in charge in the Persian Gulf. And that’ll between the Iranians on one side, the Saudis on the other, with the Israelis, absolutely backing the Saudis and the Turks maybe being a bit of a wild card. So this is a part of the world that in a post American environment is likely to get very blam. Ian, very dramatic for a good period of time. This isn’t going to be like the China War, where as soon as the energy and the food connections are cut that the country collapses. These are countries that have the financial capacity and the geographic installation to duke it out for a good long time. And Israel is going to be critical in determining just how successful Saudi Arabia is in that conflict. Okay, that’s it for me. See you guys next time.

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