Israelis take part in a demonstration calling for lower living costs and social justice in Jerusalem September 3, 2011. Tens of thousands of Israelis marched for lower living costs on Saturday in what protest leaders called "a moment of truth" for a movement that has mounted pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take on sweeping economic reform.
Amir Cohen / Reuters

The lead package of the July/August 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, now available on ForeignAffairs.com, deals with Israel's domestic and foreign challenges. To complement the individual articles, we decided to ask a broad pool of experts for their take on the state of Israel. As with previous surveys, we approached dozens of authorities with deep specialized expertise relevant to the question at hand, together with a few leading generalists in the field. Participants were asked to state whether they agreed or disagreed with a proposition and to rate their confidence level in their opinion; the answers from those who responded are below:

Israel is richer, stronger, and more secure today than at any other point in its history.

Results:

Israel Poll Results

ELLIOTT ABRAMS is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former diplomat, lawyer, and political scientist who served in foreign policy positions for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Agree, Confidence Level 8

ALI ABUNIMAH is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He co-founded the Electronic Intifada and is a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 10
Israel is "secure" in a military sense; there is no competing army that can defeat it. But it is suffering from a crisis of regime legitimacy because of its total refusal to grant rights to the millions of Palestinians who live either under its military occupation or as second class citizens in the context of a so-called "Jewish state." This is manifest in the growing international boycott movement and the Israel lobby's loss of influence as demonstrated by its failure to halt the Iran deal.

YOSSI ALPHER is an Israeli consultant. He is a co-editor of bitterlemons.org and the author of Periphery: Israel’s Search for Middle East Allies.
Disagree, Confidence Level 9
Richer and stronger? Yes. More secure? We are on a slippery slope toward the loss of our core identity as a Jewish, democratic, Zionist state. That is hardly secure.

SHLOMO AVINERI is Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
Agree, Confidence Level 9
But individually, Israelis still feel threatened by being attacked by knives or bombs on the street—or worse, if the mayhem in Syria crosses the border. Countries can be both very strong and exteremly vulnerable at the same time.

BERNARD AVISHAI is Adjunct Professor of Business at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 10
Economic growth in Israel proper is manifestly slowing and cannot outpace growing inequality. Alienating the Western intelligentsia hurts an economy driven by science and technology; many of Israel's best are leaving. Further, security is no longer the preemption of invasion. The dangers of internal insurgency, including from Israel's own Arab citizens, are growing and can be tamped down only so much by comparative economic growth in the territories. Finally, strength includes the capacity to rally the diplomatic and financial support from the United States. A new generation of educated Americans will not rally to the Netanyahu government the way their parents did to the nascent state. None of the country's long term prospects seem improved by the status quo.

URI BAR-JOSEPH teaches at the University of Haifa.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 8
Although it is true that present-day Israel enjoys an unparalleled military superiority over its enemies, there is no correlation between its military status and its immediate and long-term security, for three reasons. First, militarily, the increasing ballistic capabilities of Hezbollah (and, to a lesser extent, of Hamas in Gaza) create a balance of terror. They enable the organization potentially to inflict heavy damage on Israel (for example, through the destruction of much of its electricity infrastructure). The IDF's military superiority has yet to produce an effective answer to this growing threat. Second, Netanyahu’s reluctance to enter into meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of international formulas (two-state solution, 1967 borders, and a minimal exchange of territory), has led to an erosion in international support in Israel. Combined with political changes in the United States and Europe, this process might ultimately leave Israel without the international support on which it has relied throughout its existence. Third, the continuation of the present status-quo means that instead of being a Jewish democratic state (with a non-Jewish minority of about 25 percent), demography will make Israel either a binational political entity with Arab majority or a non-democratic state. Both mean the end of the Zionist vision.

ROBERT M. DANIN is Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University’s Kennedy School.
Agree, Confidence Level 9
Israel is clearly richer and stronger than ever. The question of its security is tricky and should be viewed in a few separate ways. On the battlefield, it is better placed than ever to defend itself against any conventional military threat. Moreover, its relative strength with respect to its neighbors is greater than ever. Yet the irony is that Israelis don't feel particularly secure, given their vulnerability to asymmetric threats from terrorist groups based in Lebanon and Gaza. These threats do not pose a threat to Israel's existence, but they do possess the capacity to inflict significant pain and suffering on Israelis. Nor has Israel's future as a democratic AND Jewish state been secured, owing to the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians.

MICHELE DUNNE is Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8
Israel is doing relatively well economically and has greatly enhanced its defense capabilities (e.g., Iron Dome) compared to the past. Many in the Middle East are not focusing on Israel as a target right now due to other conflicts, and some of the Arab governments see themselves on the same side as Israel against Iran. But the unresolved conflict with Palestinians, the possibility of a collapse in security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, the existence of a hostile entity in Gaza, and the general regional turmoil mean that Israel's current state of relative security is tenuous at best.

ZEHAVA GALON is an Israeli politician and chairperson of Meretz.
Disagree, Confidence Level 10
Although Israel is richer, stronger and more secure than in the past, the Israeli population does not benefit from this due to government policy. Despite the growth figures and low unemployment, the public does not have job security and large parts of the population are in a state of poverty.

Furthermore, although the Israeli defense authorities hold more advanced systems today than ever before, and despite the Israeli military being the strongest in the region, the public is under continuous threats of terrorism. The government, in its refusal to promote a political process and resolution, does not provide a long-term solution to the public's need for security.

I predict that in the future we will see a decline on these parameters as a result of the extremist actions taken by the ultra right-wing government currently in power.

GALIA GOLAN is Darwin Professor of Soviet and East European Studies, emerita, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Disagree, Confidence Level 7
Richer and stronger, but not more secure because of the continued occupation which has a negative effect on Israeli society (in the direction of racism and extremism) and on Israel's standing in the world. The combination of rising extremism in the region (ISIS) and Palestinian frustration will also have a deleterious effect on Israel, prompting violence and greater insecurity.

RITA E. HAUSER, President of The Hauser Foundation, is an international lawyer and was a senior partner for more than 20 years at the New York City law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. She served on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board for George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Disagree, Confidence Level 7 

OREN KESSLER is Deputy Director for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Agree, Confidence Level 9
On one hand, Israel's economy is booming, its vaunted high-tech sector is a world leader, and recent natural gas discoveries could transform it into an energy exporter. In terms of security, Israel faces no significant threat from conventional Arab armies, has developed effective methods of countering the Hamas rocket threat, and is enjoying its closest-ever security cooperation with Egypt and the Gulf states. On the other hand, ISIS affiliates are operating on Israel's borders with Syria and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, while Iran's proxy Hezbollah is set to be one of the main beneficiaries of last summer's nuclear agreement. The deal also allows Tehran to continue enrichment and research and development towards a nuclear weapon—a threat that would be unprecedented in Israel's history. The Jewish state's current economic and strategic position are in many ways stronger than ever. Nonetheless, the collapse of neighboring Arab states and the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran mean that could change very quickly.

MICHAEL J. KOPLOW is the Policy Director of the Israel Policy Forum. He blogs at Ottomans and Zionists.
Agree, Confidence Level 9
Israel is certainly richer, stronger, and more secure today when it comes to its external foes than at any point in its history. The security establishment is largely satisfied that the Iran deal has kicked the nuclear can down the road for a decade at minimum, and there is no remaining conventional threat from surrounding states. Although Hezbollah's rockets pose the largest security threat, it is not an existential one. Where Israel is still on shaky ground when it comes to its strength and security is the Palestinian issue and how to resolve Israel's presence in the West Bank. This problem will not go away on its own, and will bedevil Israel and pose a greater level of instability the longer it continues. Israel's existence is not in danger as it was during the state's early decades, but full security will never be achieved without a viable two-state solution that works for both sides.

MARTIN KRAMER is President of Shalem College, in Jerusalem, and the author of the forthcoming book The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10
This statement would be accurate for almost any point in time over the past 68 years, and it is unquestionably true today. Israel’s present prosperity is without precedent in its history. Its military capabilities place it in the first line of military powers, and it has an answer to every real and potential threat posed by its enemies, including the nuclear one. Not only has its democracy not been eroded (a canard of critics) but has grown to maturity in circumstances that would drive most other electorates to extremes. All of this has evolved in the absence of a final Israeli-Palestinian agreement—obviously not a precondition for a thriving Israel. Does Israel have an Achilles’ heel that might leave it vulnerable in future? The Jewish state is overly dependent on an American ally that vacillates wildly in its approach to the Middle East. As the United States reduces its profile in the region, Israel will have to forge new alliances, both open and tacit—much as it did during its first two decades. To remain as strong as it is today, Israel needs a “Plan B” for a post-American Middle East.

RONALD KREBS is Beverly and Richard Fink Professor in the Liberal Arts and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Narrative and the Making of US National Security.
Neutral, Confidence Level 8
Israel is unquestionably richer than its neighbors, with brighter economic prospects and greater political stability, and its military is clearly stronger as well. Why then do I evaluate Israel as "neutral" with respect to the statement above? Because: (1) Israel has also not been this isolated politically and diplomatically since the 1970s; (2) it is less domestically unified today than it was 40 years ago; and (3) its domestic politics have turned darker and less liberal—in marked contrast to the liberalizing politics of the 1970s that paved the way for Israel's renewal in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, while Israel is richer and stronger than its neighbors today, I am not confident that it is secure and politically stable, with a positive trajectory. I worry for its future.

DANIEL KURTZER, a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel, is the S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10
Israel is without a doubt a very strong, economically sound, and remarkably stable society—more so than at any other time in its history. Israelis would be advised, however, to confront three challenges that threaten to alter the situation: some (thus far limited) threats to the democratic and liberal values that have characterized Israeli society; growing inequality between rich and poor; and the debilitating effects on both Israeli and Palestinian societies of occupation and settlement activities.

GAL LUFT is Co-Director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and Senior Adviser to the United States Energy Security Council. He is the co-author of Petropoly: The Collapse of America’s Energy Security Paradigm.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 7

DAVID MAKOVSKY is the Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute. He served on Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s negotiating team during the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Agree, Confidence Level 7
Of course, there are questions of definitions when such questions are asked. It is a mixed picture. On the whole yes, but major vulnerabilities remain.

On the favorable side, Israel is economically stronger per capita income than at any time in its history. Its high-tech sector is famously thriving and its links to Asian countries have grown. In terms of inter-state wars, it has not had to face threats from an Arab war coalition since the 1973 war. Due to concern of Iran's role in the region, it has drawn closer to Arab Gulf states even if it is below the radar. Concern about Hamas and ISIS in Sinai means it has drawn closer to Egypt. Concern about ISIS has meant it has drawn closer to Jordan. Although there has been a rockiness in policy disagreements with the United States, Washington's commitment to Israel's security is solid.

On the negative side of the ledger, however, Israel faces problems emanating from non-state actors on five of its six borders, where state control varies from weak to non-existent. Moreover, paralysis on the Palestinian issue could lead to greater radicalization and violence. It also impacts Israel's internal fabric, its relations with Europe and even its relationship with a new generation of the Jewish diaspora. A new assertiveness on the right-wing fringe wants to challenge Israel's commitment to democratic norms.

Moreover, the Iran issue is not completely resolved. In the short term, Iran's nuclear program has been defanged, but the price of this was that key nuclear limitations on Iran will be lifted over the next 10-15 years. How the anticipation of this shift impacts Iran's sense of itself, Israel and the region going forward is to be seen. Iran is clearly counting on a larger regional role and one cannot assume it will be benign.

On the whole, I am optimistic that Israel will face the challenges as its institutions like the courts and military among others are deeply committed to democratic norms. It is part of the societal resilience that has been at the core of Israel's strength during the 68 years of Israel's existence and should give it confidence to squarely address its vulnerabilities. 

AARON DAVID MILLER is Vice President for New Initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Agree, Confidence Level 6
Having so-called experts evaluate the security of a small, vulnerable country in which they don't reside is at best a fraught exercise. I guess I'd argue that Israel is indeed stronger, more secure, and better prepared to handle conventional and unconventional threats than at any time since its founding. But that judgment is eminently perishable given the uncertainties of the region, the unpredictable nature of the threats, and internal challenges Israel faces.

OREN PETRUSCHKA is a high-tech entrepreneur in Israel and a Principal of the Israeli nonpartisan organization Blue White Future.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8
Richness and strength can be characterized by objective measures, and I agree Israel is richer and stronger than at any other point in its history.

But the term "security" is less objective and cannot be measured. The threat to Israel's Jewish and democratic identity severely hinders its long-term security. It is primarily manifested by Israel's lack of determination to move towards a reality of two-states for two peoples (even short of a full agreement with the Palestinians).

ITAMAR RABINOVICH is the President of the Israel Institute. He is professor emeritus of Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University, distinguished global professor at New York University, and distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution. He served as Israeli Ambassador to the United States and Chief Negotiator with Syria from 1993 to 1996.
Agree, Confidence Level 10
This is a correct statement, but Israel's strength and prosperity are not guaranteed.

ADAM RASGON is an independent journalist based in Jerusalem.
Agree, Confidence Level 7
Israel’s economy is undoubtedly stronger today than it has been at any other point in its short history. Israel’s GDP stands at approximately $300 billion, making it one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East. But Israel still suffers from high rates of poverty and income inequality relative to other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states. According to a recent OECD report, 21 percent of Israelis live below the poverty line. Regarding strength and security, Israel no longer faces an imminent, existential threat and has built robust security alliances with some of its most powerful former foes such as Jordan and Egypt. Nevertheless, Israel is still confronting a number of looming threats including future conflict with Hezbollah (which now wields an arsenal of more than 100,000 missiles), Hamas, and lone wolf attackers. 

GRANT RUMLEY is a Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Agree, Confidence Level 7
By any measurement, Israel has the qualitative military edge to defeat its regional rivals. Yet this is not a permanent edge. With new weapons purchases by Israel’s rivals, the balance of power is changing. In the meantime, persistent crises loom closer to home. A fractious Hamas and weakened Palestinian Authority present Israel with the perennial threat of another war in Gaza and a possible collapse in the West Bank. Until some type of long-term solution is reached with the Palestinians, Israel will face the prospect of instability and turmoil at home.

NATAN SACHS is a Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy focusing on Israeli foreign policy, domestic politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and U.S.-Israeli relations.
Agree, Confidence Level 7
Israel is richer and stronger today than it ever was; it's likely more secure too, but that depends on how you define security. Israel’s wealth, technological and military prowess, and the lack of conventional competitors among its neighbors are partially offset by the extreme regional volatility and by the threat of non-conventional forces in the vacuum that remains. These are limited threats, but are real.

Furthermore, Israel’s external security masks threats to its constitutional well-being, especially with the dimming prospects for orderly separation from the Palestinians. The transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into something more akin to a civil war threatens Israel from within, not just in terms of personal security for Israelis but also in terms of societal and democratic norms and institutions.

BRENT SASLEY is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8
Israelis tend to define security differently than outside observers do. Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli history have converged to create a sense of security based not just on direct attacks from conventional armies but also on other forms of physical threat (rocket attacks, suicide bombings, stabbing attacks) and efforts to delegitimize the state's very existence. Although these cannot destroy the state itself, they are viewed through a prism of historical insecurity and therefore are considered as severe as any conventional threat.

YEZID SAYIGH is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. He was previously professor of Middle East studies at King’s College London and assistant director of studies at the Centre of International Studies, Cambridge.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 9 

NOAM SHEIZAF is an editor of and a contributor to the online magazine +972.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8
I grew up in an Israel that was still managing the trauma of the 1973 war, when security was an existential question, having to do with the survival of the entire nation. The 1980s saw hyper-inflation, followed by the deep recession of the early 1990s. In short, things couldn't have been more different than the current Israel, which truly feels like a regional super power—a country that controls its own destiny. The strange thing is that Israelis seemed more pragmatic back then, and the internal discourse was far more tolerant.

GILEAD SHER is a former Israeli Senior Negotiator and head of the Center for Applied Negotiations at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. He is a Principal of the Israeli nonpartisan organization Blue White Future.
Agree, Confidence Level 8
The national security of Israel, its richness and its strength, are dependent on having its borders encompass a Jewish-democratic state based on fundamental values as stipulated in the 1948 Declaration of Independence. The two-states-for two-people reality is indispensable in order to secure these values.

MARTIN VAN CREVELD is Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has been teaching in Tel Aviv University's Security Studies Program since 2007.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 9

EHUD YAARI is a Lafer International Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a Middle East commentator for Channel 2 news in Israel.
Agree, Confidence Level 8
This holds as long as Egypt and Jordan are relatively stable and Iran is not the ultimate winner in Syria.

 

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