According to the latest Global Militarisation Index by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion, Israel tops the list of the world’s most militarised states. The Index is based on a number of weighted variables, such as the comparison of a country’s military budget with its GDP and the percentage of the GDP the country spends on development (notably on health care). The Index also uses other variables, for instance the personnel in the paramilitary and military forces (but not the police) and the number of heavy weapons to the total population.
Unsurprisingly, six of the top ten states are located in the Middle East. That includes, besides Israel, Syria (number 4), Jordan (number 5), Kuwait (number 7), Bahrain (number 9, a first for the kingdom, notably “thanks to” last year’s repression), and Saudi Arabia (number 10). Moreover, Oman (11), the UAE (13), Lebanon (17), Iraq (26) and Egypt (28) stand out as highly militarised states, too. Contrary to what some might expect, Iran is however far behind (number 34). It has to be stressed that Israel has topped the list for almost all of the last 20 years.
Is anyone surprised by this classification? I can assume not in the least (even though North Korea seems not to be included, probably because of lack of data). In fact, Israel in undoubtedly a highly militarised state: that’s one of the things that strikes you the most when you walk around any of the countries’ cities and, even worse, above all when you discover Palestine, and you see smiley teenagers wearing the official uniform and carrying deadly weapons. As you all know, military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18 (however, Arab citizens are evidently exempted, as well as haredim/ultra-orthodox Jews). Men serve three years in the Israel’s Defence Forces, while women serve two.
The saddest thing is that this is not going to change any time soon: Israelis seem to be, ever since the 1948 war, more and more swept with a patriotic zeal and a renewed passion for militaristic response to what they consider “aggressions” from their neighbours. This morning, a friend was telling me how an Israeli friend of her, a 40 year old businessman based in Tel Aviv, had been mobilized and ordered to go to Gaza, and that fact was not driving him crazy. Apparently, he finds it entirely normal that an entire population is composed of reservists that have to be ready to go to war anytime.
Indeed, compulsory military service is a very powerful mechanism that helps legitimizing a hegemonic militarized society. In elementary school, children study Israel’s wars and take field trips “in the footsteps of warriors” to learn the legacy of important battles. But it’s the passage into high school that marks the start of children’s actual preparation for military service: pupils are sent to a “Gadna camp” (where they have to dress in military uniforms and are subjected to military discipline) and have to meet (well, receive speeches from) combat soldiers motivating them to enlist in combat units. Moreover, nearly all High Schools in Israel organize a subsidized tour to “Holocaust sites” in Europe (notably to Auschwitz), thus ensuring “the Holocaust shall never happen again” if they rightfully defend their country. If you teach a kid war is a random event (notably if it means fighting against his neighbours) and force him to serve in the army for three years, during which he will have to learn Israeli (conveniently adapted) history, he will have to identify the “enemies”, he will have to chant nationalist songs, he will beyond doubt become a pawn. Most Israelis don’t realise (or don’t want to realize, for I would never justify their shortsightedness) what is really going on few miles away. They have been taught their country is constantly under threat, they live under the impression their Arab neighbours will strike again, and their shared unifying motto is something like “everything we do falls under the umbrella of self-defence and deterrence”. Can you imagine the effects of more than 60 years of brainwashing? Yes, you can, you see it everyday on the Internet, TV and newspapers.