| The Rose Report |

How Israel Can Regain Independence

The Israeli government’s failure to act independently and forcefully is not confined to security issues and international relations.

Photo: AP Images

When Israel commemorates Yom Ha’atzmaut on Tuesday, it will be difficult to distinguish the celebrations from the prior day’s somber observance of Yom Hazikaron for the nation’s fallen soldiers.

Weeks ago, the government canceled the traditional Yom Ha’atzmaut fireworks displays out of respect for the families in mourning over the October 7 massacre or apprehensive over the plight of the hostages held in dark, dank tunnels.

The Israel Air Force also scrapped the traditional flyovers of fighter jets. Israel’s fleet of military aircraft is on call for more urgent missions.

Cutting back on the Independence Day fanfare is appropriate, considering that the government has declared Israel is currently fighting a second war of independence. But Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut will last 48 hours, and toning down the traditional ceremonies is mainly cosmetic.

The most pressing issue facing Israel after 76 years of statehood is a reckoning of how the country lost its independence and how to set priorities to regain it.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu often asserts that Israel has become one of the world’s superpowers. It certainly isn’t acting like one. The last seven months have poked not just holes but craters into Bibi’s boast.

Israel’s dependence on the US for military aid, resupplies, and support in a wide array of hostile international forums has handed the Biden administration leverage to micromanage Israel’s war on Iran’s proxies, mainly Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Biden administration dictates the weaponry Israel can deploy, whom they can attack and when, and how much safe passage and free food Israel must furnish to sworn enemies.

That’s not the hallmark of a superpower or independent state.

When Iran quit hiding behind its proxies and initiated a barrage of 300 drones and ballistic missiles against Israel in the middle of the night, the US forced Israel to adopt a passive, defensive posture, relying on the Americans and whatever “goodwill” they could muster from Israel’s Arab neighbors to intercept the volley.

That’s not the hallmark of a superpower or independent state.

When the International Criminal Court (ICC) threatened to issue arrest warrants accusing top Israeli leadership of war crimes, instead of laughing it off as Russia’s Vladimir Putin did when the ICC charged him, the Israeli government retreated defensively, lobbying the Biden administration to pressure the ICC, a tactic the US leverages to extract further Israeli concessions.

That’s not the hallmark of a superpower or independent state.

Declaration of Dependence

The Israeli government’s failure to act independently and forcefully is not confined to security issues and international relations.

The failure of a majority right-wing government to pass a comprehensive package of sorely needed judicial reforms in 2023 obstructed Israel’s efforts to escape the jaws of an activist left-wing court for years to come. An independent country does not allow its elected government to be straightjacketed by a holdover attorney general from a previous government whose main interest is protecting her power. Here, it should be duly noted that Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara not only won’t argue on behalf of the Netanyahu government when the High Court of Justice holds hearings on a new chareidi draft law; she also places severe limitations on the outside counsel the government hires to represent it.

Israel’s lack of independence starts at ground level. When low-cost Arab labor became available after the June 1967 Six Day War, Jewish employment in construction plummeted. Contractors who became overly reliant on Arab or foreign labor, mainly for the initial stages of construction, are paying the price now that West Bank and Gaza Arabs are banned from entering Israel and many foreign workers have fled for safer shores. Many of the skilled Jewish construction workers are on reserve duty and unavailable for work. As a result, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported last month that new housing starts declined by almost 24% in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Despite Israel being on war footing, the Bank of Israel projects that the country’s economy will grow by 2% in 2024 and return to 5% growth in 2025, but that forecast assumes the war will gradually wind down by the end of this year.

The Trek toward Independence

Israel has its work cut out for it. It has lost a good deal of its independence — military, political, and economic — but there are ways in which the state can claw that back as it begins its 77th year.

Israel must wean itself from its near-total military dependence on the United States. Israel will soon face a renegotiation of its Memorandum of Understanding with the US. The current ten-year package that provides $3.8 billion in military aid and missile defense expires in October 2028. While that deal first took effect in October 2018, it had been signed two years earlier in 2016, which means that talks on the next package will likely begin in 2026, or the second year of the next administration.

Negotiations will be tough, whether Israel deals with a Biden-Harris administration or with Donald Trump. Biden would be certain to slap tougher conditions on Israel to satisfy Democratic progressives, but Trump has also made it clear that the US isn’t giving away free money and will attach his own set of strings to any new deal.

Israel has a couple of years in which to take the initiative. While no one expects Israel to take the Lavie out of mothballs and starting producing jet fighters, it must manufacture whatever it needs to fight enemies entrenched underground and to counter the enemy’s aerial capabilities to target essential infrastructure as well as civilians. That includes ramping up the manufacture of artillery, ammunition, and spare parts. Israel may also need to produce the types of bunker-busting bombs or cyber-weapons that will penetrate underground fortresses and destroy Iran’s nuclear installations.

Domestically, the government must act decisively and with far more self-confidence. Right-wing voters might have to mobilize and demonstrate with the same resolve that left-wing protestors have shown. Not that we want Israel to deteriorate into rounds of never-ending demonstrations and counterdemonstrations, but if 100,000 protestors in Tel Aviv can intimidate a government of 64 MKs, a like number of supporters can stiffen their backbones.

Two weeks ago, the presidents of Israel’s universities signed a letter offering US university students a safe-haven education in Israel, far from the rabid anti-Semitic demonstrations that have roiled US college campuses. So far, their call has been met with polite silence. The government needs to hop on this and fund far-reaching scholarship programs to lure exchange students and subsequently train them so they can earn a living in Israel. Such a move could also address our manpower shortages in various industries.

The work is hard but the day is long, and plenty of opportunities exist for established Jewish professionals to participate in the next phase of building our G-d-given land.

The Jews of today have far greater resources than the few Jews who populated the pre-state Yishuv, who nonetheless plied their connections with Diaspora Jewry to help build a state and its economy.

If the same spirit of entrepreneurship and independence can be renewed today, Israel can overcome its many challenges and thrive as it never has before.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1010)

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