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By: Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay.
(Exclusively for al-Zaytouna Centre).

The Arab political literature on Israel seems more inclined to focus on its strength indicators. However, the maxim, “Know thy enemy,” shows the importance and necessity of knowing the holes in the walls of Israel, which has brought, for nearly a century, the most violent wave of instability to this region. In this article, we will refer only to the most important holes, perhaps they would be taken into consideration when setting up Arab strategic plans to confront future Israeli plans. Indeed, these holes affect each other, and according to their interaction pattern, some will widen the rupture caused by these holes, and others will narrow it.

The most important of these holes can be monitored particularly in the Israeli literature, or the international strategic studies, as follows:

First: Strategic Depth [1]

The strategic depth refers to the internal distance between the borders of the state on its four sides and the heartland, where the core population areas and the state’s strategic facilities are situated. The longer these distances are, the greater the state is able to hit, run and maneuver. Whereas when this depth is unavailable, any withdrawal is threatening to the core of the state. Israel has no strategic depth (the minimum distance from the border to the sea being just 14 kilometers and the maximum one is 137 kilometers). This makes maneuvering on the ground almost non-existent, thus forcing Israel to remain prepared in the future for wars against a numerically superior adversary. It also means from an Israeli strategic perspective, that the battle must always be on the opponent’s land, seizing any opportunity to expand its strategic depth. Hence, it is noted that occupying the West Bank (WB) and the Golan Heights, and preventing the Egyptian army from returning to the Sinai desert, are all policies that aim to expand the strategic depth, on one hand, and control the different strength resources that these regions contain on the other hand.

Second: The Demographic Imbalance [2]

Israel has major demographic concerns from several angles, most notably: The increase in the Arab population, which in the long-run may turn Israel into a binational state. The Israeli official numbers (The reports of the Israeli army and population statistics organizations) indicate that currently the number of Arabs in historic Palestine exceeds the number of Jews by about 300 thousand, while the increasing number of Bedouins in the Negev raises Israeli security concerns. This means that the Palestinian population increase remains in favor of the Palestinians, hence Israel faces two choices, either accept the binational state (which contradicts the Zionist plan, especially the Jewishness of the state), or the displacement of the Palestinians in various ways, which will restore the cycle of conflict again.

Third: Concerns That Major Powers Would Shift Their Attitudes Towards Israel, Especially the United States [3]

The partial US withdrawal from Syria, the resignation of the National Security Advisor John Bolton, and the prospects of withdrawal from Iraq or the reduction of obligations towards the region, especially after the US oil independence from the Middle East, have raised Israeli concerns about the permanence of the long-term US commitment to Israel. Not to mention that the US has given up its support of the Kurds in trade-offs with Turkey, which may indicate that there are new US trends that may emerge in the long or medium term.

The above concerns are supported by a Gallup poll, which indicate that in 2019, the support for Israel among Democrats dropped by 6%, and the Republican support declined by 13%. These declines are the biggest over a one-year period in the history of the poll, which began in 2001. Moreover, the European stances, which are somehow different from the US positions, also reinforce the above concerns, in addition to China’s calm creep and the Russian efforts to forge Middle Eastern alliances that Israel does not view that they are sufficiently in its favor.

Fourth: The Quiet Shift in International Public Opinion [4]

The Global opinion polls, especially western ones, indicate that Israel is extremely unpopular worldwide, including in the US, for since 2010, Israel is the fourth-most-disliked nations, and its popularity is still declining. This trend is accompanied by a corresponding decline in support for Israel at the United Nations and most of its agencies; This is noted in the voting on international resolutions concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Fifth: The Subcultures in Israel (Arabs, Ashkenaz, Sabra, Sephardim … secularists, religious, etc) [5]

Human rights records indicate that black Jews and Arab Jews occupy the lower rungs of the state’s bureaucracy. The western Jewish society treats them with cultural racism, not to mention ethnic segregation in employment, income scale, mixed marriages, etc. For example, Ethiopian Israelis comprise only 2% of Israeli citizens, but in 2018 as many as 18% of all minors imprisoned in the country. If subcultures are the source of political turmoil in most civil wars, this prompts questions about Israel’s case, where this “state” consists of an exploitable mixture, suffice to think of the following aspects:

1. The division of the Israeli society by color:

There are more than 140 thousand Ethiopian “Black” Jews living in Israel. Most of whom arrived in the period 1984–1991. Since their migration, they have faced racist practices, which led in the past two decades to the murder of 11 Ethiopians. The most prominent manifestations of discrimination against them are:

a. Ethiopians who study rabbinic law are not recognized as rabbis.
b. 90% of their youth are unemployed and 65% are illiterate.
c. Juvenile delinquency rate among them is three times the rate of the white Israeli youth.
d. According to Israeli surveys, 43% of Israelis would not marry an Ethiopian.
e. The party representing the Ethiopians, Atid Ekhad, could not reach the electoral threshold.
f. Some schoolchildren of “black” Ethiopian ancestry are still denied admission into Haredi schools.
g. Israeli blood banks do not accept donations from “black” Jews. This policy was revealed in 1996 and continued in 2006.

These conditions explain what the Haaretz newspaper reported, where Itay Ashatu (a “black” Jew and a relative of Solomon Teka, who was shot dead by an off-duty police) stated, “It’s hard to be black in Israel and walk around feeling secure.”

2. Jewish national backgrounds

The Russian Jews in Israel make up 20% of the total population, where most of them came after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Until 2018, they increased by 5%, while in the 1990–2018 period, the Jewish immigrants from the US decreased by 10%. A study has reported that 35% of Immigrants coming to Israel from the Soviet Union were non-Jews.

Furthermore, Israel has been suffering the instability of reverse immigration (leaving Israel), whose number was in some years more than that of those arriving.

According to the background of Jews, 68% are Sabra (Israeli-born), 22% from Europe and the US and 10% from Asia and Africa, where most of them are from Morocco, noting that Moroccan Jews constitute the second-largest Israeli Jewish community in Israel after the Russian Jews.

3. Division based on the position on religion:

Field studies and opinion polls that are approved in scientific circles indicate that the Jews in Israel are divided in their position on religion, as follows:

(Hilonim, whether believers or not, favor the separation of religion from public life in Israel)
Religious 30
Atheists 8
Agnostics 5

Based on this division, some problems emerge once in a while in the Israeli society, especially the tension over the attitude towards the Orthodox Jews (8% of the Jews), over their exemption from compulsory military service. The evident increase in the percentage of religious ultra-Orthodox is a matter of concern to the Israeli leaders, for the possibility of friction between them and the secular Jews, especially since the latter is still the largest group.

4. Distribution of leadership positions amongst the elite:

The post of prime minister is an example of this aspect, for since 1948, the government was headed by 12 individuals (some of whom more than once); none of them was an Eastern Jew.

5. Racism towards the 1948 Palestinians:

75% of Israeli Jews would not live in a building with Arabs, and 40% demand that Arabs be stripped of all their social, economic and political rights.

Sixth: The Impact of the Shifts of Regional Powers in the Middle East on Israeli Security [6]

Given the instability of the Arab countries, Israel is concerned that changes may occur in major Arab countries leading to the return of the conflict. Any change that would lead to the domination of Islamic, nationalist, or leftist movements—hostile to the Zionist project—carries a great risk of the return of the conflict at its first pace. For the historical experience in the region, whether with the Crusaders, Western colonialism or others, indicate that foreign powers were always expelled. Israel considers that some regional changes may change a regional state from being an opportunity to a challenge, for example Iran before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979; Lebanon, removing the PLO from Lebanon has produced the emergence of Hizbullah, which is a greater threat; and Gaza, when the withdrawal from it to get rid of the population burden has turned into a security burden ….

Seventh: The “Prevalence” of Technology May Enable Small Organizations to Produce Sophisticated or Unconventional Weapons: [7]

Many researchers have for a long time warned that the “prevalence” of technology, technical knowledge and the availability of electronic methods of communication may enable political organizations to arm themselves with unconventional military capabilities. This phenomenon would put the balance notion in great doubt, while Israel fears that it will extend to the Middle East in the future.

Eighth: Ending the Nuclear Monopoly in the Middle East [8]

Israel has shown great obsession for maintaining its monopoly of nuclear power in the Middle East, and has its concerns about later reaching an international consensus on the denuclearization of this region. Both issues are source of Israeli concerns. The former is due to Israeli fears of Iran and Egypt (at a later stage) or other Arab countries, especially with the possibility of external actors cooperating with them like North Korea. The latter—under certain circumstances-may lead to pressure for the denuclearization of the region, which would negatively affect Israel.

Ninth: The Fear From the Impact of Globalization and Secularism on the Jewish Identity of the Israeli Society: [9]

The Jewish state was founded on the basis of a religious myth, hence the religious dimension is an important pillar of the Zionist intellectualism. However, the growing secularism has found reactions in some sectors of the society, which the military considers them having negative effects on the society and the Israeli military, especially when strategic planning has to interact with international and scientific transformations. In January 2016, the Israeli army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot announced he would remove a 15-year-old unit dedicated to “Jewish Awareness” from the military rabbinate – the department in charge of providing religious services within the ranks. The Jewish Awareness Branch has periodically drawn criticism from both inside and outside the military for pushing an ideological, right-wing and religious agenda. Some secular Israelis worry that too much religion in the military may lead to soldiers questioning who they should obey: their officer or God?! A detailed study by the Defense Ministry journal Maarachot showed that by 2008, the percentage of national religious infantry officer cadets had increased ten-fold to 26% from 2.5% in 1990. An increase that worries the secular among them.

Tenth: Level Variations: [10]

Israel’s Gini coefficient, a widely used measure of income inequality, has reached 42.8, by which it ranked 104 out of 176 countries.

According to the numbers of Israeli centers, the World Bank and the CIA, the Israeli income is divided as follows:

1. Income share held by the highest 10% was at level 27.7%.
2. Income share held by the highest 20% was at level 44.2%.
3. Income share held by the lowest 10% was at level 1.9%.
4. Income share held by the lowest 20% was at level 5.2%.
5. Income share held by the middle class (60%) was at level 50.6%.

Among western countries, Israel comes second after the United States in income inequality. Since 2009 its coefficient is still declining, which means the middle class is eroding, noting that this class, according to all studies of political sociology, is very important to social balance.

Eleventh: An Occupying State, a Model That’s Becoming Extinct: [11]
Quantitative indicators of territories occupied by foreign powers worldwide, in the post-World War period, have been decreasing, as follows:

Year No of Occupied Territories
1959 77
1979 15
1999 10
2020 8

This means that Israel is diverging from the global trend tending toward gradual liberation from the occupation of others, which is considered an old phenomenon.

Twelfth: Increased Corruption Rate in Israeli Society [12]

Despite the fluctuation of corruption rates in Israel, it has been increasing, lately. It increased three points between 2011 and 2019, where Israel ranked 24 out of the 36 OECD countries, and 35 among the world’s countries. In this regard, it is noticed that senior Israeli officials are increasingly appearing on corruption lists (President, prime ministers, Knesset members, army, etc). According to a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Index (IDI), 82% of interviewees see their leadership as corrupt.

Thirteenth: Absence of Charismatic Leaders From Israeli Society: [13]

The repetition of Israeli elections in one year and the inability to form a government, reveal that the leader around whom crowds gather no longer exists. For historical charismatic leaders, such as Weizman, Ben-Gurion, Peres, or Sharon…, are no longer present with the same force. Some US studies show that Israel is increasingly seeing an uptick in illiberal populist politics, which would endanger political liberties in the Israeli society.

Fourteenth: Growing Urbanization: [14]

Israel is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, whose population density accounts for 416 persons per square kilometer, and is ranked 30th worldwide. Alon Tal, a professor at Ben-Gurion University considers “Israel is on the road to an ecological, social and quality of life disaster because as the population density rises it becomes more violent, congested and unpleasant to live in,” where, in 2018, 92.4% of Israel’s total population lived in urban areas. Israeli leaders consider that growing urbanization increases security risks, as it makes the largest human population vulnerable.

Fifteenth: War Casualty Intolerance: [15]

Israeli reactions toward its human losses indicate that they are unable to cope with high casualties. Major-General Elazar Stern said that the reluctant management of war against Hizbullah was due to the fear of human casualties, and that the Israeli army had displayed “over-sensitivity” to loss of lives during the 2006 war. Ehud Olmert said as much in the past, reflecting a sense of weariness at the leadership level. Decision makers in the Oslo process, particularly Yitzhak Rabin, were also motivated by such sentiments and by a similar misperception of Israeli society. The Four Mothers movement that advocated unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon was probably one of the factors that led to the government’s May 2000 decision to pull out. In November 2018, the Israel Democracy Institute conducted a poll in which 90% of those polled agreed that the lives of Israeli soldiers “must be protected even at the cost of increasing Palestinian casualties.”

Sixteenth: Arab Perception of the Israeli [16]

According to the 2017-2018 Arab Opinion Index, an overwhelming majority of 87% of Arabs would disapprove of recognition of Israel by their home countries, a rate that has been increasing since 2011 when it was 84%. Despite the official Arab policies, Israel still views that a very high percentage of the Arab public considers it the most dangerous to Arab security.

Seventeenth: The Religious Status of Palestine [17]

Most global indicators point out that religious movements in the world have expanded during 1970s. Socio-political studies have indicated that conflicts that have a religious dimension are more severe and more difficult in reaching a settlement. One study has showed that Judaism and Islam have three central and parallel elements of religious faith that represent conflicting values and are therefore used in specific contexts to reinforce the religious aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The first are the laws of war and peace, the second is related to the question of whether control over the holy land must be exclusive or may be shared with members of another nation and religion, and the third is related to the status of Jerusalem. Hence, Israeli experts believe that these obstacles make the growth of religious movements in the near future more dangerous than the acceptance of Arabs and Muslims of the current situation.

Eighteenth: Political Stability: [18]

According to global studies, the political stability index of Israel is still negative, for according to the 2018 Kauffman’s political stability index (-2.5 weak; 2.5 strong), Israel was -0.93, thus ranking 163rd among 195 countries, whereas in another index it ranked 146 out of 163 countries. As for civil liberties, Israel scores only 5.88 by which it ranked 101 out of 167. As for the Civil Unrest Index, Israel has scored 4 out of 7 (7 being the extreme score).


All the above indicators prove that there are many holes in the “spider’s web,” waiting for someone to exploit. They must be included when an integrated strategic vision is developed concerning the conflict with Israel.

[1] Site of Russian International Affairs Council,
[2] Ian S. Lustick, The Red Thread of Israel’s “Demographic Problem”, site of Online Library, 25/3/2019,; and Yotam Berger, Figures Presented by Army Show More Arabs Than Jews Live in Israel, West Bank and Gaza, Haaretz newspaper, 26/3/2018,
[3] Neri Zilber, What Bolton’s Departure Means for Israel, site of Foreign Policy, 12/9/2019,; David M. Halbfinger, Israelis Watch U.S. Abandon Kurds, and Worry: Who’s Next?, site of The New York Times, 8/10/2019,; Eric Cortellessa, New poll: Americans’ support for Israel falls to lowest point in a decade, site of Times of Israel, 6/3/2019,; and Shibley Telhami, Americans are increasingly critical of Israel, site of Brookings, 12/12/2018,
[4] BBC poll: Germany most popular country in the world, 23/5/2013,; and Zack Beauchamp, How does the world feel about Israel/Palestine?, 14/5/2018,
[5] Mustafa Deveci, Ethiopian Jews suffer racism in Israel, 9/7/2019,; and Rachel Shenhav, How ‘cultural racism’ helps Israelis rationalize inequality, discrimination, 29/7/2019,
[6] Itamar Rabinovich, Israel and The Changing Middle East, Middle East Memo, no. 34, Jan. 2015.
[7] O. Ike Okoro and Nduka Lucas, “Weapons of Mass Destruction and Modern Terrorism: Implications for Global Security,” Asian Social Science Journal, Canadian Center of Science and Education, vol. 15, no. 3, 2019, Oluka; Gary Ackerman and Michelle Jacome, “WMD Terrorism: The Once and Future Threat,” Prism Journal, National Defence University, Washington, D. C., vol. 7, no. 3, 2018,; and J. P. Caves and W. Seth Carus, “The Future of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Their Nature and Role in 2030,” Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction Occasional, National Defence University Press, Washington, D. C., paper no. 10, 2014,
[8] Thalif Deen, Israel’s Obsession for Monopoly on Middle East Nuclear Power, Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency, 2015,; and Drew Christiansen and Ra’fat Al-Dajani, Will there be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East?, site of National Catholic Reporter, 22/2/2016,
[9] Maayan Lubell, Israeli military struggles with rising influence of Religious-Zionists, Reuters News Agency, 15/4/2016,
[10] Avi Waksman, Israeli Income Inequality Lowest in 20 Years, Haaretz, 13/12/2018,
[11] Eyal Benvenisti, The International Law of Occupation, 2nd ed. (UK: Oxford University Press, 2012).
[12] Raoul Wootliff, Israel seen as slightly more corrupt in latest global index, Times of Israel, 22/2/2018,; Israel Corruption Index,; Gil Hoffman, Yonah Jeremy Bob, and Greer Fay Cashman, Israelis think their leadership is corrupt – IDI survey, The Jerusalem Post newspaper,, 7/1/2020,; and Akiva Eldar, Israel plagued with political corruption, site of Al- Monitor, 22/2/2018,
[13] Jonathan Freedland, It will take a leader of extraordinary charisma to deliver a Labour victory, The Guardian newspaper, 20/12/2019,; Aluf Benn, Has Netanyahu’s End Finally Come?, site of Foreign Affairs, 18/12/2019,; and Tamara Cofman Wittes and Yaël Mizrahi-Arnaud, “Is Israel in democratic decline?,” The Brookings Institution Center For Middle East Policy, 2019,
[14] Israel Population 2020, site of World Population Review,; Tova Cohen, Steven Scheer, Israel’s soaring population: Promised Land running out of room?. Reuters, 25/9/2015,; Urbanization in Israel 2018, site of Statista,; and Gadi Eisenkot and Gabi Siboni, “Guidelines for Israel’s National Security Strategy,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2019, passim
[15] Efraim Inbar, Casualty Intolerance, The Jerusalem Post, 19/11/2006; Martin Sherman, Defending Israel: Civilian casualties and common sense, site of Jewish News Syindicate, 25/11/2018,
[16] “2017-2018 Arab Opinion Index: Executive Summary,” Arab Center Washington DC, 10/7/2018,
[17] Muslim nations urge recognition of East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital, BBC, 13/12/2017,; and Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov (ed.), Barriers to Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 2010), chap. 6.
[18] Institute for Economics & Peace, Global Peace Index 2018: Measuring Peace in a Complex World, Sydney, June 2018,; and Democracy Index 2018: Me too?, Political participation, protest and democracy, site of The Economist,

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 17/2/2020

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