The strategic challenges facing Israel are largely unchanged from the previous year. The Middle East remains volatile. The cornerstones of the old regional order are crumbling, and a new, more stable order has yet to take its place. The international arena, as it applies to the Middle East and to Israel’s strategic resilience, is also enduring shockwaves and is far from projecting stability.
Israel faces a geopolitical map filled with “moving parts” that mutually affect one another. These create a range of scenarios, each of which contains different, and at times conflicting, challenges for Israel. This includes the entrance of a new and significant actor with great influence over the geopolitical equation: U.S. President Donald Trump. The trends that led to his election are significant in and of themselves, but his personality and unpredictability add a unique dimension to the international arena’s already great uncertainty, especially in areas related to Israel’s resilience. Decisions made in Jerusalem, including not to decide, can influence a limited part of the total strategic picture, but could also be fateful for Israel and the Jewish people.
Key developments from the past year that stand against the backdrop of the main strategic challenges and dilemmas facing Israel include:
- The implications of Trump’s election for the international arena, particularly the Middle East.
- The possibility of cultivating and leveraging Israel’s relationship with a sympathetic American administration alongside the emerging threats to the vitality of the triangular relationship: Jerusalem – Washington – U.S. Jewry.
- The emerging strategic reality in the wake of the nuclear agreement with Iran (JCPOA), characterized by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a “mistake of historic proportions.”
- The implications of the efforts to reach an agreement on Syria and how they reflect on the standing of Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, the United States, Turkey, and others.
- The possibilities open to Israel to advance its relations with the region’s moderate Sunni states, who are, at this time, showing greater openness in light of the threat Iran and radical terror groups pose to them.
- The threat of a security deterioration – on the northern front (Hezbollah and possibly Iranian forces in the Golan and in Lebanon), and the southern front (Hamas and terror elements in the Sinai).
- The threat of escalating violence in the West Bank, due to a flare-up over religious issues (Temple Mount), or as a result of the continued “Lone Wolf Intifada.”
The Trump administration’s efforts to examine restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
- Efforts to harm Israel through BDS and de-legitimization measures.
- The emerging opportunities for Israel to further develop its relations with new rising powers like China and India alongside the potential to nurture relations with countries across Africa.
These challenges are growing across a number of strategic circles that interact with each other: a) the international system and the global standing of the United States, specifically in the Middle East, b) U.S.-Israel relations and the strength of the triangular relationship: Jerusalem – Washington – U.S. Jewry, c) the threats and opportunities the regional system places in front of Israel, d) the Palestinian system.
These circles exert a great influence on Israel’s strategic resilience, and the analysis that follows will explore them.