The developments of recent months have highlighted the strategic question marks hovering over Israel. There is much uncertainty in the violent and turbulent Mideast, where the past building blocks of the regional order are collapsing and no new stable order is in sight. Even the international arena, which is relevant to the Middle East and to Israel’s strategic resilience, is far from stable and significant change is underway. Israel faces a geopolitical reality filled with “moving parts” that influence one another. This creates a wide range of scenarios, each of which includes different, and at times contradictory, challenges for Israel. One expression of the strategic uncertainty in Israel’s midst is the sharp polarization among analysts and commentators about the effects of recent developments on Israel’s strategic stature. Just as one can find cogent assertions that Israel’s strategic situation is tough and worrying, one can also find equally rational arguments that Israel’s strategic situation has never been better.
Although decisions made in Jerusalem have only a limited influence on the general strategic environment, they can, from Israel’s and the Jewish people’s point of view, be fateful.
This report points out the past year’s key developments standing behind Israel’s most pressing strategic challenges:
- The nuclear agreement reached with Iran, which was described by Prime Minister Netanyahu as a “mistake of historic proportions.”
- The danger of security deterioration – on both the northern front (Hezbollah, ISIS, and radical Islamist elements in Syria), and the southern front (Hamas and terror groups operating in Sinai).
- Palestinian terror – the danger of the continuing “Lone-Wolf Intifada.”
- The continued tensions with the United States and the chance of a “new page” in the relationship after the U.S. presidential elections.
- Erosion of U.S. interest in playing a central role – to lead and to maintain a presence in the Middle East.
- The push to alter the model for achieving a diplomatic solution between Israel and the Palestinians from U.S.-led bilateral negotiations to multi-lateral ones, or to an enforced solution under UN auspices.
- Attempts to degrade Israel’s international standing through BDS and de-legitimization campaigns.
The threatened resilience of the triangular relationship: Jerusalem – Washington – the U.S. Jewish community, as Israel increasingly becomes a partisan issue in America.
Alongside the challenges Israel faces, with all their dangerous elements, Jerusalem also has considerable new opportunities to improve its relations with the moderate Sunni world, which is showing an increasing openness in light of the threats emanating from Iran and radical Islamic terror groups.
As the U.S. is Israel’s only significant ally, rebuilding this relationship should be Israel’s top priority. These relations were strained during President Obama’s tenure. Fixing them will not be simple as some of the key issues at the heart of the tensions – the nuclear agreement with Iran and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including its repercussions and implications – could widen the gaps between Jerusalem’s and Washington’s positions. Continued tensions threaten Israel’s strategic stature and could put further pressure on the American Jewish community, placing it between a “rock and a hard place.” This, in turn, could erode the resilience of the “triangular relationship”: Jerusalem – Washington – the U.S. Jewish community, a bedrock of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s strength.