Should Israel Become a Maritime Power?

September 6, 2016 | Haviv Rettig Gur
About the author: Haviv Rettig Gur is the senior analyst for the Times of Israel.

While Israel’s navy tends to be quite good at what it does, its activity is limited to preventing arms shipments from reaching Gaza, patrolling the country’s Mediterranean coastline, and defending against attack from the sea. Now a group of American and Israeli experts has argued that Israel should develop a true maritime strategy to insure the security of the global shipping routes on which its economy depends. Haviv Rettig Gur explains the importance of the issue in light of the changing U.S.-Israel relationship as well as the American retreat from world leadership in general and from the Middle East in particular:

For a country like Israel, the U.S. is not just an ally, it is a world order. Its navy serves as the de-facto global coordinating and enforcement institution that ensures the security and safety of maritime commerce—a fact of overwhelming significance to a country like Israel, which carries on almost no trade across its land borders and transports 99 percent of its foreign trade by volume via the sea. . . .

[I]t is this America, . . . as it reassesses its capacity and desire to bear so many of the world’s burdens, that is increasingly turning to Israel as an anchor of stability and prosperity that can help mitigate, at least in the limited scope of its regional reach, the fallout from U.S. disentanglement. Can Israel shoulder a larger share of the burden of upholding the global order on which its own safety and prosperity rely? . . .

An upgraded Israeli maritime presence would act as a force multiplier for [the U.S. navy], and vice versa. And that means the two navies must learn to work together far better than they have in the past. . . . The benefits of [greater cooperation] for Israel are obvious. For one thing, ensuring the security of gas fields [off Israel’s coast] gives Israel unprecedented energy independence.

China and India, [meanwhile], may seem out of reach of Israel’s current navy, but these two eastern powers are quickly becoming vital to Israel’s future prosperity. . . . Yet maritime routes eastward pass within striking distance of an increasingly assertive Iran, not to mention Somali pirates and other potential pitfalls for Israeli shipping. If Israel’s economy comes to depend on eastward commerce, it does not stretch the imagination very much to believe that Israel could find itself deploying a meaningful naval force . . . to the Indian Ocean. . . .

Meanwhile, the permanent U.S. naval presence in the Mediterranean, the report notes, has shrunk drastically since the end of the cold war. . . . In other words, there is more at stake here for Israel than mere strategic clarity. The world is changing, and [Israel’s] ability to secure the sea is becoming increasingly vital.

Read more on Times of Israel:

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register Already a subscriber? Sign in now