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For Sale! A Villa in the Jungle

In Micah Goodman's new book "The Eighth Day: Israel After October 7," he correctly identifies that Israel's war with Hamas and Hezbollah is actually a war against the Iranian-Jihadist axis, supported by Russia and China. He also correctly recognizes that "against all these, Israel cannot stand alone." The good news, he continues, is that Israel is not alone. Israel is also part of an axis. However, Goodman fails to correctly identify the set of characteristics of the axis to which Israel belongs. For him, Israel belongs to the democratic axis, which includes European nation states, certain Asian countries, and led by the United States. Israel's connection to this axis lies in Israel's liberal, democratic and pluralistic values. Goodman further claims that Israel does not share the character of "the neighborhood in which it is built". In other words, it is a "democratic country in a region of dictators, a liberal country in an area crammed with fundamentalism. A prosperous country in an environment of poverty." According to him, the deep contrast between the nature of the country and its location is captured by the image of a "villa in the jungle", an image that expresses the cultural, political, and economic gap between Israel and its neighbors. This gap, Goodman believes, "is one of the great advantages and also one of the great disadvantages of the Zionist project."

Indeed, Israel cannot stand alone. Israel's democratic character and its commitment to liberal and pluralistic values, as well as its respect for international law and norms accepted among developed countries, allows it to secure the necessary support of Western developed countries. And this support is not automatic and should not be taken for granted. It is conditional on Israel continuing to uphold the shared democratic and liberal values and to act against those who undermine them from within.

However, clinging  to the image of Israel as a "villa in the jungle" is misguided. Israel is not a villa, if by this we imply a protected and guarded place, and our Middle East environment is not a jungle. There is a great deal of condescension even in this image.

Although Israel's immediate neighborhood is not democratic, we do share many values with our neighboring countries and their peoples. Among them, the commitment to tradition, the connection to religion, moderation and the way of compromise, aspiration for stability, a historical and close connection to the land, tribalism and pious communalism, and more. When the Patriarch Abraham “breathed his last and died at a good old age and was gathered to his people”, it is written in the book of Genesis that "Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the Cave of Machpelah." This is our tradition, both Jews and Muslims are children of Abraham.

Our neighborhood is indeed ours. The concept of traditional inclusion and hospitality is shared by us and by our neighbors in the Middle East - the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Bahrainis, the Emiratis, the Omanis, and also other peoples and countries that are currently under Iranian influence, Lebanese, Syrian, and Iraqi. And yes, this concept is also shared by our Palestinian neighbors, and we must ensure their distance from Iranian influence by connecting them to the moderate axis.

Israel cannot and should not stand alone against Iranian-Jihadist fundamentalism. This extremist ideology is foreign to Middle Eastern culture and poses a threat to its moderate countries no less than it threatens us.

Therefore, it is time to get rid of the wrong and distorted image of a villa in the jungle. It's time to replace it. The time has come to establish a regional security alliance of the moderates in the Middle East, who will stand together firmly against the jihadists. Such an alliance is the key to Israel’s security for future generations and the stability of the entire region. Beyond the aspects of joint air defense we saw a week ago, this regional alliance needs to deepen and expand, both in security and in many other aspects.

In recent weeks, Israel has lost the international legitimacy to continue fighting in Gaza, and has been ostracized by many countries as an obstacle to the region’s stability. Iran's attack changed that perception, and Israel must take advantage of the widespread understanding that Iran is an agent of chaos and death, to lead a geopolitical change in the Middle East that will strengthen the moderate regional axis and establish Israel’s place in it. There is now a possibility of reaching an overall agreement on the core issues: normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia; a temporary government in the Gaza Strip that will handle its rehabilitation, de-radicalization and  demilitarization; a political process to guarantee an independent and moderate horizon for the Palestinians; and implementation of Resolution 1701 in Lebanon. This agreement could ensure the fulfillment of Israeli interests: release of the hostages; return of the residents of the Western Negev and Northern Israel to their homes; non-Israeli control of a demilitarized and moderate Gaza Strip; connecting the Palestinians to the moderate axis; and eradicating the Jihadi idea that it is possible to destroy the State of Israel.

“Together we will win” means - together with the moderates and the democrats. A regional security alliance is now in Israel's interest.


The author is a faculty member of the Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University, and co-founder of the "The Day After the War Forum." She is also a contributor to USA for Israeli Democracy.


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April 28, 2024

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