November 11, 2023 - 9:00 pm
The population of Israel is about 10 million. This represents about half of the world’s Jewish people.
The founding idea of modern Israel was to offer a sanctuary for Jews in their biblical home in the Middle East in the aftermath of Nazi Germany’s mass murder of 6 million Jews.
Yet currently, 78 years after the Holocaust, anti-Israel protesters throughout the Middle East, the great cities of the Western world and iconic American universities chant death threats and “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea.” Their signature slogan is shorthand for the erasure of the Jewish state and everyone in it.
There would currently be zero chance that Jews could live peaceably under any current Middle Eastern government. In the postwar era, nearly a million Jews were persecuted, ethnically cleansed and forcibly expelled from all the major Arab countries — Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen — despite hundreds of years of residence.
Anti-Israel hatred still remains a staple in most of the nearly 500-million-person Arab world and indeed is commonplace among the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and their countries at the United Nations.
And Israel is only one of a number of small, vulnerable states. Most of them are in the volatile eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. All are surrounded by hostile neighbors. The others have also suffered a long history of persecution and periodic genocide — catastrophes that are not necessarily permanently relegated to their ancient pasts.
Bitter proxy fighting between Armenian- and Azerbaijan-allied forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh corridor recently ended with the defeat of Armenian supported forces. As a result, shortly before the Hamas massacre of Jews on Oct. 7, some 120,000 Christian ethnic Armenians were expelled from the region by Muslim and Turkish-speaking Azerbaijan.
This current ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh comes a little more than a century after the Turkish genocide of Armenians that led to more than 1 million people being driven out of their ancestral homes and slaughtered.
Christian Armenia, with only 3 million inhabitants, is even smaller than Israel. And it is nearly surrounded by hostile Muslim states. As in the case of Israel, the world mostly either ignores the old, familiar brutal scenario, now recurring with the same aggressive players, or does not care.
Christian Greece — a NATO and European Union member — also is similar to Israel in being relatively small, with a population of 10.5 million. For more than 400 years, Greece was occupied by Ottoman Turkey. Roughly a century ago, Turkish forces ethnically cleansed Greeks from ancient Ionia and its capital of Smyrna — a homeland of Greek peoples for millennia.
Like Armenia, it shares a border with its historical aggressor Turkey. Greek islands off the coast of Asia minor are currently subject to constant overflights by Turkish military jets. To Greece’s north are the historically volatile Balkans. Across the Mediterranean lie a number of often violent and unstable North African nations, the frequent source of massive, destabilizing illegal immigration into Greece.
Tiny Cyprus is another equally vulnerable nation. Cypriot history is one of constant invasion and occupation. Most recently, Cyprus was forcibly divided into Greek and Turkish states in 1974, after Turkey invaded and expelled some 200,000 Greeks from their centuries-old homes in the north of the island.
And all these small nations’ vulnerabilities are neither abstract theory, nor ancient history. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example, has recently weighed in on the tensions currently buffeting them all. With apprehensions rising over Turkish violations of Greek airspace in the Aegean, Erdogan has threatened to send a shower of missiles into Athens: “We can come down suddenly one night when the time comes.”
Erdogan also recently bullied Israel with nearly the same warning of a pre-emptive nocturnal Turkish missile attack, bragging that Turkey could “come at any night unexpectedly.” He also has ominously weighed in on the Oct. 7 massacres and the Israeli response to it in Gaza: “We will tell the whole world that Israel is a war criminal. We are making preparations for this.”
Of the recent expulsion of the Armenians and the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Erdogan also boasted, “We will continue to fulfill this mission which our grandfathers have carried out for centuries in the Caucasus region.” Apparently, Erdogan was referring both to the Ottoman conquest of Armenia and to the later Turkish efforts in the early 20th century to ethnically cleanse Armenia of Armenians.
In all these cases, small and vulnerable countries hold transparent elections and ensure individual rights — in stark contrast to their larger and more aggressive neighbors. Their very continued existences hinge on Western alliances and support — from the European Union, from NATO and especially from the United States.
In the past, they all suffered catastrophes because they differed from their neighbors in ethnicity, religion, and history — and were seen as either expendable or irrelevant to their supposed allies and patrons in the West.
If we are not careful, what supposedly cannot happen again most surely will.
Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a classicist and historian at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.