2021 Annual Assessment

Key Points

  • A double vulnerability: Following the change of US presidential administrations, Israel has become vulnerable to measures reflecting both change and continuity in American foreign policy.
  • The global chessboard: Growing tension between the superpowers (the US vis-à-vis China and Russia) sharpens Israel’s dilemmas and could turn Israel into a pawn in inter-power conflicts.
  • The Iran threat: Israel faces a diplomatic-security dilemma on the Iranian front: how to repel the nuclear threat without sliding into crisis with Washington?
  • The triangular relationship: Growing polarization and demands by the Democratic Party’s progressive wing for action against Israel pose challenges to American Jewry.
  • The Middle East: Economic and political crisis, driven in part by the coronavirus pandemic, is plunging many different countries into a vortex of instability, governance problems, and potential descent into violence.

Introduction


The new Israeli government took office in June 2021 under a looming question mark about its life expectancy. The two preceding years, during which four elections were held, were marked by political instability that undermined Israeli resilience and deterrence. Although we cannot know how long the Bennett-Lapid government, which rests on a tiny parliamentary majority, will last, there is much greater clarity regarding the seriousness of the tasks at hand. The still-present, still-threatening COVID-19 pandemic poses significant domestic economic, social, and health challenges. At the same time, the geopolitical arena – regional and international – poses equally difficult external challenges for Israel. A reminder of this was the recent round of fighting with Hamas (May 10-21, 2021), during which 4,360 rockets were fired at Israel, with the first barrage targeting Jerusalem. The bloody confrontation was accompanied by violent incidents between Jews and Arabs, which erupted first in Jerusalem but then spread to other mixed Israeli cities. The eventuality that Israel would be faced with a multi-front attack, with the possibility of civil unrest among Arab Israelis becoming more tangible than ever.

The security and diplomatic challenges faced by Israel stem from a number of interrelated hot spots: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony; the fragility of the Palestinian arena; the chronic instability of the Middle East, superpower competition. All of these challenges exist against the background of the change of US presidents, which may signal shifts in American foreign policy in areas that affect Israel’s resilience and the strength of the strategic triangle: Jerusalem-Washington-US-Jewry.

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