Unlike its neighbours, Israel is not spoilt for options. The country occupies a tiny piece of land — far less than was promised to it a century ago. Since the moment of its creation in 1948, all of its neighbours have repeatedly tried to invade and eradicate it. Since the failure of the last attempt in 1973, they have realised that they cannot destroy the country by conventional military force. Some, notably Egypt, subsequently sought and gained peace agreements.
But led by the Islamists in Iran and their proxies, over recent years Israel’s enemies have chosen the tactic of terrorism rather than invasion to achieve their ends
This transformation of Israel into a conduit for the hopes and desires of both sides in the modern-day Culture Wars is a disaster for the Middle East, and for Israel in particular. It heaps on to Israel two profound, historic burdens that it cannot and should not have to bear: the burden of protecting Western Enlightenment from ‘barbarism’ and the burden of atoning for the historic sins of Western colonialism. And it inevitably imbues the local wars in the Middle East with an apocalyptic momentum, turning what are frequently just desperate wars of self-defence or opportunistic wars of self-assertion into End-of-Times conflicts between what Gilder describes as ‘barbarism, envy and death and civilisation, creativity and life’. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s description of Israel’s recent skirmishes as ‘great battles between the modern and medieval’ suggests that Western observers’ redefinition of the Middle East conflict as a battle over their values, their beliefs, their philosophical needs, has, worryingly, been taken to heart by the conflict’s protagonists.