Israel is currently in the midst of an uncertainty laden strategic environment, in both the global dimension relevant to Israel’s security and, perhaps more urgently, the regional dimension. The injection of President Trump as an influential actor into global and regional affairs only compounds the uncertainty.
Israel’s growing might does not solve the underlying lack of security stability in the Middle East. Regional stability could be disrupted at any time, even if the parties involved have no interest in a violent escalation in the foreseeable future. It is easy to imagine scenarios that lead to a new intifada in the territories, or another war with Hezbollah, or even war with Syrian and Iranian forces in the north, or against Hamas in the south. The threat of a rapid and violent escalation requires Israel to carefully consider each move it makes.
Alongside these troubling challenges, the past year offered evidence of Israel’s improved international standing. This is the result of Israel’s military, economic, and strategic prowess, as well as its “soft power.”
Israeli innovation (especially in hi-tech, cyber, hydro, and agricultural technologies) has garnered a world-class reputation. Based on this, Israel is fast developing relations with the rising powers of Asia and Africa. Headlining this trend was the first ever state visit of an Indian prime minister – Narendra Modi – to Israel (July 2017). Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to China (March 2017) reflected the same trend. These two giants, whose combined populations constitute a third of the world’s total population, recognize an interest in cultivating relations with Israel and have not been deterred by pressure from the Muslim world, as in the past. However, despite a certain decrease in efforts to wear away at Israel’s international standing with boycotts and de-legitimization campaigns, Israel is still vulnerable to the damage such efforts could inflict. A case in point are the recent UNESCO resolutions ignoring the historical Jewish connection to the Temple Mount (October 13, 2016), and which designated the Cave of the Patriarchs and Hebron’s Old City Palestinian as heritage sites in grave danger of being harmed (July 7, 2017).
Along with the challenges and threats, Israel has considerable opportunities ahead of it: to develop its relations with the United States; to deepen cooperation with the moderate Sunni states; and to make use of its assets to further develop its network of international connections (including in Asia, Africa, and the former Soviet Union). Israel’s strategic strength and the existence of a sympathetic president in Washington open a window for diplomatic activity that would block the danger of Israel moving toward a bi-national reality that would threaten Israel’s Jewish identity. Israel can act now, under relatively favorable conditions, to ensure its future as a strong and attractive Jewish and democratic state. Israel should not dally in taking advantage of this strategic window of opportunity; there is no guarantee it will remain open.