Thoughts for a New Year
Israel Update – Week of December 4, 2022
Thoughts for a New Year: The end of the year is always a good time to look back and assess our situation: where we are, how we got here, where we’re going and how to get there. As we stand on the precipice of 2023, let’s look back twenty years. In 2003, Israel was threatened by three existential issues:
Water: Israel is situated in one of the hottest climates in the world, where water is a critical asset. Israel has two primary sources of water. The largest source is the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee, which is actually a lake, is about 33 miles long and 13 miles wide at its widest part. It is about the size of Richland-Chambers Reservoir in Texas, the 81st largest lake in the U.S., and less than one hundredth the size of Lake Ontario, the smallest of the Great Lakes. The second source of freshwater in Israel is the Mountain Aquifer, an underground water basin in the Samarian foothills. Both the Sea of Galilee and the Mountain Aquifer store rain water: The level of the Sea of Galilee rises and falls as a function of the yearly rainfall. In 2003, Israel had suffered nearly ten dry seasons in a row. The Sea of Galilee was at a dangerously low level. Israelis were being asked to conserve water. Rationing was becoming a clear possibility.
Energy: In 2003, Israel was the only country in the Middle East without any meaningful energy deposits. Electricity was powered by coal imported from Russia and South Africa. Israel’s lack of energy resources was felt not only at the pump but in the world arena, as well: Her oil-rich neighbors regularly leveraged their wealth to their political advantage by influencing world opinion against Israel. One prime example was in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, when the OPEC countries initiated an oil embargo that targeted nations who were offering support to Israel. In five months, the price of oil skyrocketed by 300%.
Syria: In 2003, Syria had the most powerful military in the Middle East after Egypt. Syria and Israel had squared off in four wars since Israel’s 1948 independence and the next war was only a matter of time. Israel was seriously considering returning the high ground of the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a cold peace. Israel’s doomsday scenario was a river of Syrian tanks swarming into Israel through the Golan Heights. Her defense posture was built on defending against that swarm using precision guided munitions such as SPIKE NLOS. Israel was counting on the unproven concept of using small quantities of modern weapons to counter large quantities of tanks.
Fast forwarding ahead by only twenty years, incredibly not one of these threats is even relevant, let alone existential.
Water: Israel has perfected desalination technology to the point that today she produces 85% of her drinkable water via large-scale desalination of saltwater and brackish water. Most of Israel’s drinking water is extracted from the Mediterranean Sea. The Sea of Galilee is no longer dependent on rainwater. On the contrary: Plans are afoot to turn it into a reservoir of desalinated water.
Energy: About a decade ago, large natural gas deposits were discovered under the Mediterranean Sea in Israel’s Economic Exclusion Zone. Israel has constructed four gas rigs that are now extracting natural gas from the sea. Her electrical power plants are migrating from coal to natural gas, which is not only domestically produced but also much more environmentally friendly than coal. An underwater pipeline is now in the works through which Israel can export her natural gas to Europe.
Syria: The Syrian Civil War that began in 2011 has decimated the country. More than 350,000 people have been killed and half the population have become refugees. The Syrian military is but a shadow of its former self. The Assad regime now controls only a fraction of the country and without Russian and Iranian support, it is powerless to defend itself, let alone to project power. According to the internet, Israel regularly bombs Syrian targets with impunity.
While the problems of 2003 have dissipated, there is still no time to sit on our laurels. Old problems are being replaced by new problems in a seemingly never-ending cycle. The Lebanese Hezbollah now possess precision weapons that target Israeli desalination plants, power plants, and gas rigs at sea. It is a foregone conclusion that on Day One of the next war that Israelis will lose power and fresh water. At the same time, the Iranians are only months away from crossing the nuclear threshold. Soon they will possess nuclear weapons and the means with which to deliver them. Is Israel doomed to forever live under the Sword of Damocles?
The answer to this question, I suggest, lies in the name “Israel”. The origin of the name “Israel” lies in a biblical verse. Our forefather, Jacob, on his way home from a twenty-year sojourn with his father-in-Laban, stood ready to face his brother, Esau, a man who had vowed to kill him. The night before their meeting, Jacob is assaulted by a vicious assailant. Jacob is victorious but his thigh is injured in the attack. Jacob’s assailant tells him: “Your name is now Israel, because you struggled with G-d and with man, and prevailed.” This makes the name Israel surprising. If Jacob’s name is all about prevailing in his struggles, then why not call him “the one who prevails,” rather than “the one who struggles”? Isn’t the point that he won the battle? Why name him after the struggle and not after the victory?
Rabbi Aron Moss, a friend who lives in Sydney, offers an incredible insight: The name “Israel” is the essence of the Jewish People. We do believe that goodness prevails in the end. We know that the story has a happy ending. But the happy ending is not our focus. Our focus is the struggle to get there. Regardless of the result, the struggle itself is holy. If you are striving for goodness, even before you get there, you are in. If you are trying to be better, even if sometimes you fall, you are on the path. It is all about the struggle.
Rabbi Moss concludes: Some people seek serenity. Some spiritual paths promise peace. Others offer a place in heaven. Judaism embraces the struggle of the here-and-now. The happy ending will come. But for now, we are here to grapple with G-d, debate with our fellow man, and struggle with ourselves, never accepting that the world can’t change. Starting with me. This willingness to embrace struggle is what defines the People of Israel and is what defines the country of Israel.
Wishing you a quiet week,