Israel Unbounded

The most recent Israeli news items to attract widespread attention are the Israel trade/technology transfer/and security agreement with the UAE, followed by Bahrain, and soon Saudi Arabia. For the past five years, contacts between Israel and the Gulf states have expanded with trade now estimated at about $1 billion a year. Hardly reported in the media are Israel’s latest bombing of Gaza. The image of Israel as the sole island of democracy and morality in the Middle East is quickly fading with global public awareness of how Israel’s military strategies and technologies play a part in police violence worldwide.

Jeff Halper’s War against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification [1] is a thorough study of Israel’s advanced military weapons. It’s been over ten years since Halper recommended reframing Israel as a major military power, not an endangered state that is a light onto nations. Israel is integral to a buying spree of its military technologies and strategies by similar authoritarian, amoral, neoliberal states and institutions. Internationally renowned legal expert Richard Falk describes the emergent global constellation as “gangster geopolitics.”

SIPRI data between 2015 and 2019 shows that Israel was the 8th largest arms exporter and that its global sales increased by 77% (U.S. +23%, Russia -18%, Canada -33%). Halper writes that Israel “gets away with it” because of its specialized indispensability in global arms, strategy, and surveillance. Also, profits are internationalized through private and public investments (such as pension funds) and because manufacturing weapon system components is dispersed to many countries. In 2019 Israel opened a new government relations office in Washington D.C. to secure more U.S. contracts; it already had partnerships with Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell, Gulfstream and General Dynamics. Halper describes “net-centric warfare” and the range of electronic systems and devices. The Israel Export Institute lists 14 companies specializing in avionics – the design and manufacture of the electronic systems used on aircraft, satellites and spacecraft. Forward-looking infrared sensor (FLIR) weapons are laser-guided munitions with automatic target trackers to provide fully automatic tracking at altitudes, airspeeds and slant ranges consistent with tactical weapon delivery.

Since the dismantling of the Berlin wall at the end of the Cold War, walled borders have increased from 15 to 77. Many of these recent walled borders are armed with technology for security and pacification purchased from Israel: UAVs (drones) for surveillance, perimeter defense and access controls, threat detection systems for cargoes, sensors, ‘biometric borders’ for airports, smart-card IDs, credit card and passport monitoring by NICE Systems. It is increasingly common for refugees to be monitored and stopped, through this technology, long before they get to border crossings [2]. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Urban Warfare Training Center in the Negev where both countries train for assaults on densely populated areas, and Israel’s perimeter defenses are applied to financial cores, government districts and meeting centers, embassies, and fuel depots.

Conflating Zionism and Judaism is a political sleight of hand aiming to define criticism of Israel as a hate crime. Judaism is a religion and a culture of diverse people from many parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Zionism refers to a secular modern settler colonial state rooted in the nationalist ideologies of the late nineteenth century. Zionism created foundational myths, a new culture and a new language [modern Hebrew] and aimed to erase traditional Jewish cultures and languages. It is disingenuous to believe that Israel’s crimes and lies can be concealed from the public by charging antisemitism: worth a thousand words are photos of white phosphorus shot onto a Gaza school, or Israelis on lawn chairs overlooking the spectacle of massacre.

The “Zionist” character emerged from the imagination of Theodore Herzl at the end of the 19th century. In his diaries and letters, Herzl wrote in detail about his ideal heroes being the old Prussian nobility and “agile, courageous” American cowboys. Herzl envisioned life governed by a code of behaviour “patterned on the ethos of honor, courage, and nobility of the European aristocracy… direct, stalwart, unafraid of its own aggression.” [3]

Ilan Pappe documents with archival evidence Israel’s systematic, intentional ethnic cleansing and “incremental genocide” of Palestinians. Dating Zionist militarization from the 1930s, the political leadership, economic directorship, even social and cultural management are all won through a military background or a career in the security “octopus” that runs Israel. The budget and the economy as a whole, the socialisation process, the educational system and even the media are all geared to service the State. Palestinian children are tried and tortured in Israel’s military court system instead of in civil courts. He describes Israel as “an Army with a State, and each new generation will only be able to view reality through the perspective of an armed conflict, military values and wars.”[4]

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, here, professor of education, and documentary filmmaker Avi Mograbi, show how Israeli children are taught heroic stories about “Samson the hero” who intentionally killed thousands of Philistines through his vengeful suicide. In schoolbooks “massacres confer dignity and pride on the military. From kindergarten to grade 12, the military is the idol, role model and god of the Israel youth. Jews are depicted as superior and emblematic of universal values whereas a ‘Palestinian life does not count as life.’” ”Israeli tech students prepare drones for competitions, “underscoring the vast world of student and even youth programs behind today’s global homeland security systems.”[5]

Haim Bresheeth-Zabner, in his 2020 history of the Zionist project as military violence, writes that the “pretence of an equality of claims between a militarized settler-colonial illegal administration and the indigenous population has been the mainstay of liberal Zionism, providing cover for every war crime in the book.” The claim of “enlightened occupation” is used to justify continued atrocities, allowing the perpetrators and their supporters to “smear as traitor anyone who voices the slightest criticism.”[6] He documents a genocidal intent against Palestinians from the outset and quotes the secret orders given by the political/military leadership.

Despite efforts to silence incriminatory facts, there is much information about Israel’s military systems and its Israel’s nuclear weapons (wars and here). Netanyahu’s lies about Iran’s nuclear weapons was instrumental in Trump’s quashing the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) in 2018. In 2015, Israel derailed the UN 5-year Non Proliferation Treaty Review (NPT). Though a non-signatory to the NPT, Israel attended the meeting and effectively shifted the focus to Iran when the original agenda was to take all nuclear weapons off high-alert status at the height of the Ukraine/Russia/US crisis. Mossad reported that there was not an Iran threat: “…Israel’s intelligence agency concluded that Iran was ‘not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.’” Iran as existential threat has been politically serviceable to Israeli leaders (Robert Fisk, see Richard Falk Christian Science Monitor Seymour Hersh)

Israel’s official nuclear policy has always been ambiguity and lies. In 2009, Obama when asked at his first news conference if he knew of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons, replied that he didn’t want to “speculate.” In 2014, the US and Canada were among five countries to oppose a UN Arab resolution criticizing Israel for refusing to join the NPT. And again, the UN and NGO’s will hold meetings with Middle East countries to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone without even a wink about Israel’s nuclear weapons. Current estimates (Janes, SIPRI) are that Israel possesses between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads, deployable by land, air, or sea. Israel’s Jericho I, II and III long-range surface-to-surface missiles are nuclear capable and have a range up to 7,800km (4,800 miles). Israel’s nuclear warheads can also be deployed by American-supplied F-16 jets.[7]

Israel gained access to nuclear weapons production in 1957 through French socialist governments. Ben-Gurion was passionately committed to nuclear weaponization and he had total control over his party “like that of a Mafia don”(Hersh p.33). Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, and Shimon Peres waged “what amounted to a constant war – all in secret – to keep the Israeli bomb project alive.” (Hersh p 59) The Committee of Thirty made up of Jewish millionaires [8] secured funding, and the U.S. ensured the secrecy of Israel’s nuclear program through gag orders making its disclosure punishable by imprisonment. [9] Israel refused to be pressured by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, thereby blocking inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the agency that found Iraq and Iran in compliance with international regulations. Senator Stuart Symington, a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Peres “Don’t be a bunch of fools. Don’t stop making atomic bombs. And don’t listen to the administration. Do whatever you think best” and When J.F. Kennedy directly challenged Shimon Peres about Israel’s nuclear program, “Peres’s answer was a fabrication that would become the official Israeli response for years to come: ‘I can tell you forthrightly that we will not introduce atomic weapons into the region. We certainly won’t be the first to do so. We have no interest in that. On the contrary, our interest is in de-escalating the armament tension, even in total disarmament.’” [10]

By 1968 Israel had completed its Dimona reprocessing plant and was in full-scale production. Its uranium ore had been purchased from the Argentina dictatorship and apartheid South Africa, and Israel proposed to help South Africa develop a bomb. In 1986, the London Sunday Times printed Mordecai Vanunu’s detailed evidence and photographs of Israel’s nuclear facilities at Dimona.

The role of international law is fraught with uneven enforcement and hypocritical rationalizations of illegality. Navi Pillay, former Chair of the UN Human Rights Council, sharply criticized the UN for lack of enforcement: “I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” and she cited Gaza as an example of a predicted crisis “that hammer home the full cost of the international community’s failure to prevent conflict.” In July 1996 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.” [11] G.W. Bush, Obama, Netanyahu, Trump have all used the words “All options are on the table”, a coded threat to use nuclear weapons. In Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’ documentary “The Law in These Parts” , Israeli judges explain frankly how they bend laws to justify whatever the Israeli state chooses to do. At present, Israel and the U.S. are imposing sanctions on the International Criminal Court to stop investigations of their war crimes. Law professor Alan Dershowitz and human rights expert Michael Ignatieff are infamous for giving the okay to Israeli and US torture and wars by claiming that they prevent an even greater evil [12].

Leo Kuper, in his work on genocide, writes that the U.N.’s protective stance in relation to states’ sovereign rights has taken precedence over “intolerable human suffering and threats to peace and security. The “emasculation of the enforcement procedures” is “deeply embedded in the structure and performance of the UN as a whole…. The aim has been not to protect the victims but the oppressors”.[13] He categorizes Hiroshima and Nagasaki as genocides. Decolonized nations and states across the political spectrum successfully prevent interventions regarding their own genocidal practices.

Richard Falk writes that Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza’s entrapped civilian population with nowhere to flee a terrifying danger “reveals a serious gap in international humanitarian law.” About the 2009 war on Gaza, Richard Falk accuses Israel of perpetrating a crime against peace which is “the supreme crime” encompassing all others. He points out that nations (Israel in Gaza, U.S. in Vietnam, USSR in Afghanistan) lost the public legitimacy war which may be much more significant than the law courts.

On a panel “Dismantling the System”, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor spoke of different kinds of organizing, that what works in the midst of an uprising might not work two months later when other tactics are needed requiring organizational and leadership accountability and coordination, flexibility, and knowledge. Regarding global genocidal threats, one huge divide is between realism and deception, knowledge and ignorance. There are opposite trends of growing dissent versus cultish identification with power. Regarding Israel, Ha’aretz reports that “The American Jewish community and Israeli Jewish community are going in opposite directions right now…. Israelis see Trump understanding their existential dread; American Jews see Trump as their existential dread”. Ali Abunimah, American-Palestinian founder of the Electronic Intifada, writes that American Zionist Peter Beinart’s “defection and embrace of some form of one-state solution” is a sign that “liberal Zionism as it has existed for decades is in total collapse.” The global reaction to the killing of George Floyd suggests a tipping point of rage against racism. Protests in Israel connected George Floyd with the police killing of an Ethiopian-Israeli teenager by an off-duty policeman. The ominous turn to tyranny and the obvious extinction threats are complex emergencies, but there are many points of entry. Political power is in great flux and is unpredictable, and while there is no quick fix, things must be fixed quickly.


[1]Jeff Halper, War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification, London: Pluto Press, 2015.

[2]Todd Miller, Empire of Borders: the expansion of the US border around the world, London: Verso, 2019.[3]Peter Loewenberg, Decoding the Past: the psychohistorical approach, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. P. 102.

[4]Ilan Pappe Out of the Frame: the struggle for academic freedom in Israel, London: Pluto Press, 2010. P. 184.

[5] Miller, p. 58-9.

[6] Haim Bresheeth-Zabner. The IDF – an army like no other. London, Verso, 2020. P. 35=6.

[7] Halper, p. 1 13.

[8] Seymour Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel, America and the Bomb, London: Faber and Faber, 1991. P. 66

[9] Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, New York, W.W. Norton, 2001. P. 66

[10]Hersh, p. 119

[11] Mohamed ElBaradei “Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe: where do we go from here?” in Richard Falk and David Krieger, At the Nuclear Precipice: catastrophe or transformation? NewYork: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. P. 213.

[12] . Eyal Weizman, The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian violence from Arendt to Gaza, London: Verso, 2011.

[13] Leo Kuper, Genocide: its political use in the twentieth century, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. P. 164, 175-7.

Judith Deutsch is a psychoanalyst in Toronto. She is former president of Science for Peace. She can be reached at