2020 Annual Assessment

The geopolitical year to which this review refers ended with the dramatic public announcement (August,13, 2020) of Israel’s agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to normalize relations in exchange for the suspension of Israel’s plan to annex territories in Judea and Samaria. As more Arab countries follow the path paved by the Emirates, the positive impact of the agreement on Israel’s resilience and the geopolitical arena affecting the situation of Israel and the Jewish people will intensify. This arena was rife with challenges and uncertainty even before the COVID-19 crisis erupted. The pandemic carries multi-systemic impacts (spanning the health, economic, social, cultural, and security spheres), and has intensified pre-existing uncertainties. Due to the damage wrought by the coronavirus, Israel will have to contend with the challenges it poses with fewer resources than it once possessed.

Current geopolitical challenges arise from a number of flashpoints, and have the potential for violent escalation vis-à-vis Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Judea-Samaria. To this one may add a number of destabilizing global developments: the erosion of the liberal-democratic ethos, the relative rise in power of autocratic China and Russia, and dwindling American interest in world leadership and Mideast involvement. The special US-Israel relationship, a key element of Israel’s strength, is becoming a more intricate challenge to maintain, due to the difficulty of sustaining bipartisan support for Israel, and reservations on the part of broad swaths of American Jewry regarding major elements of Israeli policy. This tension is eroding the strategic Jerusalem-Washington-US Jewry triangular relationship.

Amid these dark clouds, and despite the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences (Israel’s GDP for 2020 is expected to contract by 7 percent), we can still see bright spots, chief among them is the historic agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE. Israel is militarily strong and free of the threat of regular armies stationed at its borders; its relations with the White House are robust; the fabric of its regional and international relationships is strengthening; it is economically and technologically strong and possesses gas reserves in the Mediterranean that have made it an energy exporter (this year Israel began exporting gas from the Leviathan field to Jordan and Egypt) have enabled Israel to become a party to strategic regional alliances; and is poised to improve its status vis-à-vis Europe and an array of other entities. In 2019 – before the coronavirus outbreak and the tourism freeze – Israel reached a peak of 4.55 million visitors. This level of tourism is economically and politically significant, and a testament to Israel’s potential for prosperity.

The geopolitical picture, as it relates to Israel, is made up of several interacting circles: A. The international system (with an emphasis on the status and performance of the US); B. Regional threats and opportunities; C. The Palestinian situation as a whole; D. The strategic Jerusalem-Washington-US Jewry triangle. These circles have a major impact on the resilience of Israel and the Jewish people, and are the focus of this survey.

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