Official name: State of Israel
Population: 5.9 million
Currency: new shekel
Climate: summers are hot and dry. The wet season is between November and March, when then weather is mild
Summers are hot and dry. The wet season is between November and March, when then weather is mild
Large numbers of Jewish immigrants settled in Palestine before Israel was founded in 1948. Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and Mediterranean are in the majority, but Ashkenazi Jews, mostly of central European origin, dominate business, politics and social life. Israel's Palestinian population totals some 800 thousand. While many take part in the democratic process, they remain sidelined in Israeli life.
Hosts a multi-party democracy elected by proportional representation. Israeli parties tend to depend on minor parties for survival. The prime minister and his cabinet wield executive power under the president. Political tensions are increased by friction between orthodox Jews and secular Jews, and settlers and Arabs in the West Bank.
Israel is the world's largest exporter of bromine. Deposits of potash and other salts are mined near the Dead Sea. It also has reserves of copper ore and gold that were discovered in 1988.
Water shortages have forced the purchase of water, transported in plastic bags, from Turkey. On the coastal plain, vineyards and citrus groves are plentiful.
Foreign journalists are monitored. The media is constrained by extensive military and security censorship. There are 22 daily newspapers. The leading papers are the Hebrew Ha'aretz and Davar and the English Jerusalem Post. Centrist to left-wing elements of press have been at the forefront of support for the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Income per head is high, but taxation is heavy. Some Israelis live in communes and eschew personal material wealth.
Israel is the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear deterrent. It has a small regular defence force which can be boosted by nearly 600,000 reservists.
Jerusalem is the major tourist destination. Eilat and the Dead Sea have been developed as beach resorts. Twenty-three per cent of overseas visitors arrive from the USA.
GNP: $90.3 billion World GNP ranking: 36 GNP per capita: $15,870 Balance of payments: $4billion Strengths: commitment to economic reform. Huge potential of agriculture, manufacturing and industrial products. Important banking sector. The country benefits from Massive military and economic aid from the US and international Jewish organisations. Weaknesses: High unemployment and inflation. Large defence budget. History of regional and internal instability inhibits foreign investment.
Terrorism by Arab, Islamic and Jewish extremists is the major problem. The army has been accused of abuses.