This gauge has not changed from last year
The past year, as in previous years, was characterized by a dual geopolitical reality that impacted Israel and the entire Jewish people. On the one hand: Israel is militarily strong and free of threat from regular armies at its borders; relations with the White House are at an all-time high; it has a close working relationship with Russia; it is expanding its economic ties with China, enhancing its network of regional and international ties; it is an economic and technological power; and its natural gas resources in the Mediterranean Sea have enabled new strategic regional connections. On the other hand, there are shadows on Israel’s strategic horizon cast by: Iran’s strategic aspirations against Israel, its military strength in the region, and its development of non-conventional means; and the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, which also feeds the de-legitimization of Israel. These shadows could portend a violent decline in one area or another – vis-à-vis Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, and in Judea and Samaria. Alongside the Middle East’s chronic instability, Israel is also affected by changes in the international sphere. The United States does not appear to be interested in playing the role of the “strategic cop” that is present and militarily engaged all over the world – including the Middle East. This reality leaves Russia and China a larger playing field than in the past in which to expand their influence. Below is a description of some key spheres that impact the geopolitical situation of the Jewish people.
The United States: During the past year we have witnessed the deep strategic pact between Israel and the United States on several occasions. First and foremost, moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Sweeping expressions of sympathy for Israel have been heard, especially from Republican Party. However, the Democratic camp has seen a decline in the level of its support, and all told, there has been a deepening erosion in the traditional bi-partisan support of Israel. At the same time, American Jews are, by and large, distancing themselves from the American administration and its close relationship with Israel. At this point in time it is difficult to accurately assess the impact that anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and the increased public debate on the subject will have on the power and influence of American Jewry.
The Middle East: Israel is situated in a violent and tumultuous region – wars, waves of refugees, humanitarian crises, struggling economy, unemployment, failing authoritarian central governments, flourishing terrorist organizations, and movements that promote a radical Islamic ideology (the defeat of ISIS this year does not guarantee the destruction of the social and religious basis upon which it grew, and its ability to carry out serious terror attacks worldwide such as the one in Sri Lanka). The threat posed by Iran and Islamic terror have created a common interest between Israel and Sunni Arab countries, the result of which is unprecedented security cooperation. Here and there the relations bubble up to the surface. The paralysis in the political process with the Palestinians has not prevented, at this point, the development of these relationships although it makes public normalization more difficult.
Iran: Israel’s effort to stop Iran from gaining a military stronghold in Syria and preventing the transfer of strategic weapons to Hezbollah carries the risk that the situation could turn violent. American sanctions have exacerbated Iran’s economic crisis and has awakened agitation against the regime. The question is still open as to whether sanctions will lead to regime change or will force Iran to accept demands in addition to those it accepted in the JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear agreement (curtailing its ballistic missile program and stopping its regional destabilization). The question still remains: Will Iran decide at some point to deviate from the treaty’s boundaries and thereby cause a greater risk of escalation?
The Palestinian arena: The humanitarian crisis in Gaza increases the chances that temporary rounds of violence, several of which broke out during the past year, will deteriorate into a comprehensive military confrontation. Nevertheless, we cannot rule out the possibility that the isolation of Hamas, the desperate economic situation in Gaza, and pressure from Egypt will push the Hamas leadership to a long-term ceasefire with Israel. At the same time, the past year saw developments indicating the shaky status of the Palestinian Authority – a decline in its relations with the United States, a difficult economic situation in light of cuts to the American aid budget and a drop in Israeli tax transfers, a deep internal Palestinian split and internal rumblings ahead of possible change in leadership. The American peace plan was rejected by the Palestinians before it was even officially presented.
Concomitant with meaningful accomplishments, this past year did not mark a turning point that would promise a solution to the basic strategic issues facing Israel: security threats (Iran’s nuclear program, Hezbollah, and Hamas) and the challenges – political, security, demographic, and moral –the lack of a resolution of the Palestinian issue bring. Against this background we leave the gauge as it was last year.