The documented history of humanity encompasses a high number of conflicts and wars with millions of casualties. However, the post-colonial world, that is often considered “modern,” claims to have renounced the old ways of war and mass atrocities in favor of universal values like human rights, rule of law among others. In this context, the assumption that power struggles have become more peaceful can be accepted if one considered the power of example, but holistic studies are increasingly difficult to carry out due to complexity of conditions and outcomes of war, as well as potentially biased description of facts.

At the end of 2023, the abominable events from the Gaza Strip and Israel are shocking even for people that used to deal with wars like the one from Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam among others. United Nation Secretary General triggering UN Charter Article 99 and the United States (US) refusal to agree on an immediate humanitarian ceasefire appears to a science fiction story for billions of people, not a modern-day reality presumably founded on human rights and rule of law. Of course, there is respect for human rights, the rule of law is always applied and this can be proven with multiple examples.

In the context of Israel’s Western-backed expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which entails some pre-modern period elements, should the characteristic of modernity from above be considered, or Israel’s stone-throwers legal punishment, global audiences start to become more familiar with realities of Israelis and its neighbors or with concepts like Greater Israel, Theodor Herzl’s ideas. While these terms are still making headlines, and projects like the Ben Gurion Canal are presented as economic projects, one cannot ignore the fact that after Brexit, Covid pandemic, the bombing of Nord Stream pipelines and replacement of natural gas supplies with more expensive Liquified Natural Gas from the US and other remote places, Europe is being increasingly conditioned from a geopolitical perspective. This article will analyze regional and global implications of the looming Israeli expansion in the region, for the time being, and potentially beyond Occupied Palestinian Territories as it has been already coined in Oded Yinon plan among other contexts.

Israel’s foundation and geopolitical implications

Although Israel was founded in 1948, effective preparations began during the 19th century, when Israeli settlements were established in Palestine, back then under an Ottoman weakening rule. At the beginning of 20th century, Jewish migrants began to arrive in Palestine and land or property acquisition by Jews increased, but the plan to found the Israeli State became reality in 1948. This bold step, which was not necessarily based on the early modern principles of self-determination or population’s majority decision, has immediately triggered the Palestinian an-Nakba (the Catastrophe), when many Palestinians were expelled from their homeland.

On a relative scale, at the beginning of 20th century European colonial empires like the United Kingdom and France were stronger than Middle East future countries, in a global order in which the United States was emerging as a clear leader. The basis for geopolitical domination encompassed among others capitalism, trade capacity, industrial progress and oil exploitation. However, while the citizens of states backing Israel in its first decades were enjoying the benefits of advanced economies, the organization of Israel on Zionist principles was very strict and the economy was centralized, i.e., socialist/state-controlled. It was only in the 1970 – 1980’s when the Israeli economy began to open towards a free market, capitalist approach. From a geopolitical perspective, the fact that either Western states or Israel’s supporters from these states did not see Israel as an extension of their social, economic, or political culture, but as a new actor with a precise mission in the region and that was initially to survive. This distinction is important, given previous rivalries for presence and rule of this geographical region: the colony-based, militarized life of Israelis post-1948, aiming to ensure state’s survival, is considering from an ideological and political perspective risks like the medieval Arab conquests, the Crusades or Ottoman conquest of the region. Although absolute assumptions cannot be made on recent or ongoing historical events, the role of the United States in helping Israel to win recognition from its neighbors and improve its resilience cannot be overlooked. Without addressing the question whether Israel managed to develop itself or must acknowledge the vital support of foreign backers, the fact that its foundation encountered resistance among Middle Eastern countries is a historical fact.

This geopolitical consequence took many forms. Among these, the 1967 Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War and other direct confrontations. Additionally, it intertwined with other developments like the Cold War. However, it is important to assess the role of Israel as an outpost for the former European colonial powers and particularly the US. Historically, the Muslim takeover of Palestine can be associated to a defeat of the Crusaders and the limitation of Christian and Jewish religious and economic rights in the region. But a modern approach to the millennia-long issue of geopolitical domination in the region, be it Arab, Muslim, European or American, identifies Israel as the latest outpost of certain global actors’ interests in the Middle East and particularly the Levant. It can thus be assumed that Israel reunites the collective imaginary of Zionist Jews to have their homeland, the possible desire of further Jews to once emigrate to Israel and the historical tendency of Western power centers to exert influence in the Levant.

Before and after transitioning to a modern economy, Israel has been presented to the Jewish diaspora and global audiences as a “promised land,” with many opportunities and real incentives have been offered to move either in Israel or in West Bank settlements. Economic development appears to have blessed Israel and economic growth as well, while technological progress surged. However, the context of this development entails at least two factors: the genius of indigenous Israeli statesmen, entrepreneurs and foreign aid. While the first factor must consider the relativity of “indigenous”, as most Israelis are migrants from other countries or their successors, the scope and purpose of foreign support was and is very broad: Israel as a state received strong foreign support in order to emerge and thrive. This perspective assumes that Israel is an independent state, whether or not receiving aid, and other foreign entities supporting it are basically acting in accordance to their home countries’ policies.

In terms of legal and diplomatic support, the independent Israel has been supported and protected through the Balfour Declaration, its recognition without the recognition of a Palestinian state, veto votes in the Security Council like the latest US opposition to a humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, American support for the Abraham Accords and other normalization activities, etc. In terms of economic development, the first consideration is that after 1948, Israel itself was neither in the position to develop its economy independently nor to ensure its security by itself to achieve economic growth. As such, a US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from March 2023 (Sharp, 2023) mentions that the United States alone, as state – not including private donations – has provided Israel $ 158 bln. (current $, not adjusted to inflation) as bilateral and missile defense assistance. From this, $ 114.4 bln. amounts to military aid, $ 34.3 bln. to economic aid and $ 9.9 bln. to missile defense aid. Since it is not inflation adjusted, this amount cannot be precisely contextualized, but as reference, Israel’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP, current $) amounted to $ 4.57 bln. in 1969, $ 104.89 in 1995 and $ 522.03 bln. in 2022 (World Bank, 2023). While still receiving substantial US financial support, Israel is turning into a little United States in terms of arms exports: according to the CRS report cited above, over 70 % of output from Israeli defense companies Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Rafael, Elbit Systems is exported and country’s arms exports topped $ 11.3 bln. in 2021 (Sharp, 2023, pp. 2-3). While some Israeli exports represent a clear market share increase, the two ways support of the US for Israel is reflected by both financial (military) support and American purchase of Israeli weapons like the Iron Dome at the same time. And this commercial exchange takes place in the context in which “for nearly a decade, Raytheon Technologies (NYSE: RTX) has been assisting Israeli defense company Rafael with development and marketing of the latter’s Iron Dome missile defense system…” – as of 2020 (Smith, 2020).

As the level of US aid and the special relation that provides Israel with military financial, technological support and arms export opportunities is not matched by any other country, Israel’s development should be assessed through the lens of this special relation as well. And the special relation is not limited to defence, it encompasses support in the most relevant export of Israel’s export fields. According to the Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity (, 2023), Israel’s imports of Information Communication Technology (ICT) amounted to $ 20.6 bln. (16.46 % of its total $ 125 bln. imports). But Israel’s ICT exports for the same year amounted to $ 60.7 bln. and represented 43.84 % from its total exports ($ 139 bln). These key exports sector, which is by far Israel’s largest exports revenue source, should be assessed through the lens of US special relation with Israel. The US International Trade Administration mentions (US International Trade Administration, 2019) that as of 2019, American companies opened 300 research & development (R&D) centers in Israel, representing 55 % of all R&D centers from Israel. Among investors, companies like IBM, Google, Cisco, Motorola, Philips, Apple are mentioned. Additionally, semiconductor companies like Intel, Freescale Semiconductor, Infineon, Vishay, Texas Instruments, Marvel, SanDisk are mentioned among others.

Finally, the US is absorbing most of Israel’s exports with a ratio of 27.9 % in 2021 (, 2023), followed by China with 9.55% and Palestine with 6.41 %. Israel is an independent state, strongly connected to and supported by the US since its inception. From the geopolitical perspective of Israel as US outpost in the region, which is certainly not the only one but a potential perspective, and a rather important one, the question is how could the US benefit from this special relation.

The broader contexts of Israel’s geopolitical role

After 1948, the superpowers competition was well reflected by the Cold War and an essentially bipolar world. This oversimplified context saw the alignment of Western Europe being the US and the Soviet Union was dominating its vicinities. The Vietnam War, invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets are just two instances that demonstrate the fluidity of global security landscape, as well as the continuing struggle to expand power projection by superpowers. No victory is definitive and no empire, or union/alliance, lasted forever so far, but the US managed to see the Fall of Berlin Wall and quick conclusions designated the US as the winner of the Cold War. But while this victory was celebrated in various forms and US influence went eastwards, the global security situation was far from becoming more stable. The previously disputed territory from the Middle East, in which both the US and Soviet Union were competing, became at least theoretically more accessible for the US hegemonic influence. The US attempted to capitalize on this situation and went through the Afghan, Iraqi wars and, in a more conservative manner, the Syrian war. Libya was bombed by NATO, as was Yugoslavia previously. The combination of soft power and hard power was not designed to preserve any status quo, but to advance American expansion (to a certain extent in agreement with European allies) towards east. Soft-power tools like privatizations, trade agreements, loans, the support of coups d’état, various agreements, facilitated a more peaceful but clear expansionist tendency. From this perspective, Israel’s role in the US policy towards the Middle East was considered very important from the times when Saudi Arabia was still a strategic US partner.

In recent history, Israel was on allies’ side when Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal. The two partners, Israel and the US, are on the same page when it comes to the Syrian issue, a suggested Kurdish state, the historic Iranian – Saudi rivalry among other regional issues.

Now, two important regional projects are of raising the stakes for neighboring countries. The first one is the attempt of Israel to become a natural gas supplier and regional hub. Israel’s partial understanding with Egypt and Egypt’s own natural gas discoveries created the potential for this region to supply natural gas to Europe when the Nord Stream pipeline was sabotaged and the Russian Federation came under sanctions. However, it must be mentioned that in the context of US support for Israel and US supplies of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to Europe, the Egyptian-Israeli gas was insignificant for Europe’s imports according to second quarter of 2023 statistics (Eurostat, 2023). This does not imply that future situation will remain similar, and depending on outcome of the conflict from Ukraine and environmental agreements, a possible geopolitical control of significant gas supplies to Europe can represent an important asset for Israel and its allies. The second important project in this region is the previously announced Ben Gurion Canal who has been discussed since the 1960s but was not put into construction due to various factors. From the perspective of regional collaboration, this would require a better collaboration with Saudi Arabia. The economic justification of this project is as simple as it can be: the 2023 reported Suez Canal revenue reached $ 9.4 bln. (Reuters, 2023) and should a competing route come into play, this should attract at least half of this revenue. This simplified approach disregards the Northern Sea Route and its possible impact on global sea transport, but the geopolitical stakes of this project exceed by far its economic justification. Given Egypt’s previous blockades of sea traffic through the Suez Canal, which did not lead anyway to a definitive solution for the Palestinians, an alternative route will strongly deleverage Egypt’s geopolitical position and negotiation power with European trading powers. Furthermore, in case of a global conflict and difficulties to ship on the Suez Canal, allies like the US or European countries may agree with Israel to select who crosses the Canal or not. Finally, the strongest ally of Israel, i.e., the US, may seek to contain the development of Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as it did when asking Israel and Europe to renounce using Huawei equipment for 5G networks.

As the US sought expansion towards the East, Israel seeks expansion since its very creation. Of course, nowadays expansion cannot be tracked in terms of controlled territory only, as international relations have become very dependent on trade, markets, and the cyberspace among others. But from the perspective of classical control of territory, Theodor Herzl’s ideological proposition supported the creation of Israel and nowadays general perception is that Israel’s expansion might ultimately lead to the absorption of Palestinian Occupied Territories. Regional countries that signed the Abraham Accords appear to have improved relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia appears to be on the path to recognize Israel and move on with regional economic projects. There is an agreement related to the recognition of Israel, but an accurate and consequent description of Israel’s definitive territorial claims cannot be identified in literature.

The borders of Promised Land: a shifting view on the world

Irrespective of the Palestinian Question, religious arguments provided by Israeli leaders as arguments for reinforcing Israel’s rights and justifying the occupation refer to the Canaan. A 1760 map published in London by John Bowles (1701-1779) identifies the Land of Canaan as in the figure below.

Figure 1. The Land of Canaan or Holy Land as identified by John Bowles, London, 1760 (US Library of Congress, 2023).

In this map, the Promised Land stretches (approximately) from Sidon (North-West) in nowadays Lebanon to South of Be’er Sheva in South-West, to the Dead Sea in the South-East but not as south as its considered most southern point. The boundary point in the North-East is considered a region in the south of Mount Hermon. On the 1760 map from figure 1, this is assumed to be in the south of Damascus, but if one considers the geographical region from the south of Mount Hermon, this point could potentially be situated around Golan Heights. The map also indicates that the Philistines occupied a significant area on the coast from the north of Gaza (Strip) stretching south and then east to the southern part of the Dead Sea but not reaching its shores.

A less conservative geopolitical stance is described in the newer so-called Oded Yinon Plan (Yinon & Tr. Shahak, 2023). The translation is dated June 13, 1982 for an essay published in Kivunim (Directions) in February 1982, and contains, according to the translation, a plan to divide the region into “small” states and to carry out the dissolution of of “all” existing Arab states. The translator, Israel Shahak, expresses at the beginning his conclusions on the plan, among which (Yinon & Tr. Shahak, 2023):

  1. the division of Iraq into a Shi’ite state, a Sunni state, and a Kurdish “part”;
  2. maintain the strong connection with the Neo-Conservative US circles and simultaneously transforming Imperial Israel into a world power.

The translation of the plan itself identifies the Arab Muslim states as “not the major strategic problem”, as “the Moslem Arab World is built like a temporary house of cards put together by foreigners (France and Britain in the Nineteen Twenties), without the wishes and desires of the inhabitants having been taken into account” (Yinon & Tr. Shahak, 2023, p. 3). After mentioning the “…loss of the Suez Canal oil fields…”, the plan mentions that: “(Regaining) the Sinai Peninsula with its present and potential resources is therefore a political priority which is obstructed by the Camp David and the peace agreements” (Yinon & Tr. Shahak, 2023, p. 6). The vision of diving Egypt into smaller regions includes ideas like the foundation of a Christian Coptic State in Upper Egypt, whereas Syria and Lebanon should disintegrate upon dissolution of the military, with Syria, for example, being divided into an Alawi state, a Sunni state in Aleppo, another Sunni state in Damascus and a state for the Druzes. Other states, including the ones from the Persian Gulf, are also analyzed, from the perspective of their weaknesses.

Another rise in the stakes related to Israel’s geopolitical stance is connected to the “Clean BreakReport from 1996 (The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies Jerusalem, Washington, 2013). The report was prepared by the American political advisor Richard Perle (former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs under President Reagan) for back then Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu. This document, among others mentions already the idea of a “New Middle East,” that has become a relatively good business proposition of Israeli government for regional countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The plan includes striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon and in Syria itself in order to “roll back” Syria, removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and eventually supporting the “Hashemites in their efforts to redefine Iraq…”, expecting in exchange from the Hashemites to weaken the Shi’a South Iraq (The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies Jerusalem, Washington, 2013). The report insists on Israel working with Jordan and Türkiye towards achieving regional goals.

Rabbi Ari Enkin, the rabbinic director of “United with Israel” is one of more voices claiming that “The entire Promised Land encompasses the territory from “The River of Egypt” to the “Euphrates River”.”, although he continues by mentioning “These borders, however, will only be functional when the Messiah arrives” (Enkin, 2014). The territory described by such assessments, i.e., from the Nile to the Euphrates is well extended well beyond the 1760 map from figure 1, and is depicted differently in various sources. From these, two have been selected and presented in figure 2.

These representations raise the question whether a clearly defined Promised Land can be considered for the present or the future, or this concept represents a fluid collective imaginary of the Israelis, that evolves with the strength of the Israeli state in a strategic ambiguity. Hence the question whether regional peace is conditioned by an eventual peace with the Palestinians or stable borders for countries are in sight for the near future can become more complicated depending on the perspective.


Final remarks and conclusions

Amid the ongoing conflict from the Gaza Strip, many political analysts and even government representatives of various countries are striving for peace and an urgent solution to the Palestinian Question. Rightfully so, United Nation’s Secretary General is also suing for peace in a very tense global security environment marked by allies’ difficulties in Ukraine and a looming contestation of China’s rise by the US.

Israel represents among others a home for the Jewish immigrants that decided to settle on its territory and in the settlements from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but at the same time its geopolitical role exceeds by far small potential economic projects like the oil and gas exploitations from the Eastern Mediterranean, at least for the time being. The fundamental support Israel receives from the US includes security funding, technological, diplomatic, and financial support. The question whether Israel will manage to support itself one day is important and it is addressed by the Israelis on long term, but it appears to be a secondary one: the security and development of Israel are the foundation of the bilateral relations and the cost mitigation is subsequently assessed.

The strong American support and American R&D investment is helping Israel to emerge as a technological hub. But this may take more time until Israel will manage to deal with markets more independently on its own.

Given the geopolitical role Israel is supposed to play in the region for itself and its allies, at present and in the future, it may become difficult to identify what (peace) negotiations are expected to deliver vis-à-vis the Palestinian Question, and then Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and other conflicts. From this perspective, stopping the conflict from Gaza Strip becomes an immediate tactical problem, whereas the strategic developments in this region appear to follow more complex patterns.

Hence, what is the longer-term strategy and who will win what? The strategic victory or defeat in this conflict has many external links for both camps, but a violent continuation of the situation represents a historical defeat for the societies and governments that used peace as an argument and made the point on peace only when it suited business.

These is no doubt that Israel aims to grow, at least economically, in the region. But the question whether the fundamental aim of Israel’s efforts is to thrive economically becomes simplistic in the context analyzed in this article. Should this world have evolved, and its instruments having become stronger, neither Israel nor its neighbors should be forced to purse a policy of choosing the lesser evil, for this still means choosing evil.



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About the author:

Ecaterina MAȚOI

Program Director MEPEI

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