Israel's lack of siege mentality, Africa's cornucopia of it

18Oct 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Israel's lack of siege mentality, Africa's cornucopia of it

THE state of Israel is arguably the world's only country where its four-star generals are subject to court marshal for overachievement. 


The reverse is true for most parts of the world. For example, the late Ariel Sharon, an army general and later a prime minister, was among the top brass from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) who has been mired in controversy. And yet, the merits for anyone in the armed forces of Israel, including the generals, is often weighed up against their flawless military acumen to maneuvers and keep Israel's enemies at bay.

Naturally, Israel does not choose its enemies. But it selects a strategy for when and how to defend itself with minimum collateral damage. In the armed forces of Israel, recruits are trained and prepared to achieve more. Under its law, neither less nor more achievement would go without being scrutinised for a penalty.

The nation takes a strict guide from its law both to restrain excess and avoid the shortfall. No such problem is approached with a simple solution to win one more day. No security threat lacks the full attention of people who are trained to counter it. This is a nation that perpetually educates itself to treat its adversaries lawfully.

This is a moral and strategic strength Israel always maintains over its enemies. Even so, Israel's civilian population remains the most targeted for direct attacks. They are often preyed upon without provocation. Even in such scenarios as the act of terror against unarmed civilians, a due process is the only path forward to determine the case.

Its hostile enemies, however, quite often mistake Israel's strength for weakness. The various radical elements, all with a shared objective, go by different names and behave along that fault line. Among these groups are al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Hezbollah and Hamas. The Islamic State (IS) is the latest addition to the list.

Attempts by Hamas, a militant group in the Gaza Strip, to draw Israel into a conflict where densely populated areas are purposefully targeted appears a common stratagem. Being a stable and democratic nation is not providing all the safety needed in a volatile region.In the Middle East, Israel is a constant target of attack for being strong. The state is mindful of that if its strength becomes a source of vulnerability to attack; a sign of weakness would almost warrant its demise.

So, where does Israel's strength as a nation lie to sustain its existence amid a multitude of hostility championed across its borders?The answer partly has to do with its willingness to make a difference in all aspects of life within its borders and far beyond. Unlike those nations whose ultimate goal is to destroy Israel, the Jewish country at the fringe of the Mediterranean Sea cherishes a place of its own among the nations.

From the get-go, Israel takes more than its fair share of challenges in various forms.

What may be considered a problem somewhere else is converted into an opportunity in Israel. A few instances worth mentioning here would suffice to speak for themselves.

Has Israel not turned a barren land into a site for lush commercial farmlands? Has Isreal not become a hub for technological innovation?With a population of a little more than eight and a half million, Israel has one of the strongest economies. The gross domestic product (GDP) is at par with those of developed nations. The World Bank's report in 2016 indicated that Israel's GDP stood at well over a quarter of a trillion dollars.

Its democratic institutions serve as the basis for separation of powers across the three branches of government. Most importantly, its ability to produce a world-class combat-hardened military brings its strength full circle.

Israel has proved itself, time and again, during coordinated attacks and, indeed, had the sympathy of many nations around the world. But there are not many who stand with Israel when it is targeted for Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS).In 'The Case for Israel', Alen Dershowitz questions the moral obligation of democratic nations who idly stand by when detractors of Israel regularly denounce the country to distort the reality.

He wrote, "From the chambers of the United Nations to the campuses of universities, Israel is singled out for condemnation, divestment, boycott and demonetisation. When the Jewish nation is the only one criticised for faults that are far worse among other nations, such criticism crosses the line from fair to foul, from acceptable to anti-Semitic."

Dershowitz is a Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School, who is one of the foremost appellate lawyers in the United States (US). And he could not be more right. The stark dichotomy between individuals who work hard to destroy and the others who are determined to defend themselves is too apparent to ignore.

The relationship between Arabs and Israelis on the one hand, and the Israelis and the Palestinians feud, on the other hand, is often characterised as a narrative of villain versus the underdog.

But it is wrong to paint the Israelis in that light. The Israelis take risky ventures to rescue lives buried under rubble following a natural disaster. The most recent example is the estimated more than 7.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Mexico where a team of Israeli experts in a rescue mission arrived to help.

There were also times when Israel had sent its rescue team to Africa when lives needed to be saved as a result of either manmade or natural disaster. Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda are the few among in the list of countries that Israel extended support to when help was most needed.

By and large, Africa, particularly the region in the south of the sub-Sahara, has maintained a friendly relationship with Israel. The birth of Africa-Israel Summit is part of the positive progress that has been designed to set the path for a new era of cooperation between the two sides.

The theme of the summit says it all, "Building bridges towards greater shared prosperity."

Originally scheduled to take place on the last days of October 2017, in Lome, Togo, the threat to boycott the course of the summit grew too intense. Nonetheless, the summit was designed to present a framework that will permit the leaders of the trade, security and diplomatic sectors of Africa and Israel to collaborate. It would also impact the continent's fast-growing medical tourism.

However, this summit has become a target for an ambush by the regional power players involved and those outside of Africa. The BDS activists in parts of Northern Africa and the Middle East, including the Palestinian Authority (PA), are against it.

When the power struggle looms outside the continent, the cause of Africa becomes the most undermined or the least attended. Given that, the attempt to derail the summit by those who are out to advance their purpose speaks volumes about the powerlessness of African nations either individually or in a union.

In one recent instance, after Ethiopia hosted Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahammud Abbas, cautioned Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn that the PA would see the relationship Ethiopia has with Israel in a particular way. Whatever it was that Abbas meant, it is a test of our strength if we can choose friends without the need for approval.If we cannot defend our cause and stay firm to protect our causes, is it not the textbook definition of lack of sovereignty?

At one time, the New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, had travelled to Beirut, the Lebanese capital.

In his own words, Friedman then described Beirut as "a city where suicide bombing and exploding cars became part of the background noise of daily life."

As he took a seat in one of the restaurants in uptown Beirut, a waitress came up to him and asked whether he would like to eat right away or wait for the ceasefire. He liked the mind game the waitress played and quoted her in one of his articles that appeared in the New York Times.

I took Friedman's quote from his op-ed piece titled 'Terrorism Game Theory' for my analogy of a siege mentality case that lets Africa down in many fronts. Perhaps, Africa too should put its act together now or wait for the ceasefire from the siege mentality entangled upon it for as old as its history.

Esayas B. Gebre-Meskel ([email protected]) Is a Behaviour Change Communication Adviser Who Has Spent More Than Seven Years At an NGO Working in the Same Capacity. His Brief Stint in Print Media Has Offered Him Ample Opportunity to Understand the Trends of Journalism.