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2018 Annual Assessment

Israel cannot expect a speedy positive change within its violent and turbulent region. Two-thirds of the Mideast’s inhabitants are aged 29 and under. The unemployment rate for those who are employable is 30 percent (double the global average). Economies are stagnating. Tribal and clan ties take priority over civic obligations, and central governments are floundering while political frameworks weaken, frequently to the point of collapse, adding to the region’s array of “failed states” with only partial control over the territories within their dominion (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and Yemen). Deep disappointment over the failure of the Arab Spring lingers. Unrest across the Middle East, and the weakness of the existing political frameworks, have created a space in which extreme, armed and violent nongovernmental entities are flourishing – local militias, terrorist organizations, and movements aligned with radical Islamist ideologies. The civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and the murderous terrorism of ISIS, have uprooted millions from their homes. Over 2.5 million people have taken refuge in Turkey, 1.4 million in Jordan, and a million in Lebanon (a quarter of the country’s population). There has been no improvement in the Mideast reality of social, economic, religious and political ills. Without a central government capable of imposing its authority over the territory for which it is responsible, a defeated ISIS may be succeeded by heirs who are no less bloodthirsty.

Israel is regarded by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Sunni nations as a supportive partner in facing the region’s major challenges, especially Iran and radical terrorism. Accordingly, these countries are increasing their security cooperation with Israel. At the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that the advanced weapons systems being purchased at huge expense by the Arab countries concerned about Iran, may come to threaten Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) or even be directed at Israel following regime or policy changes. Israel’s immediate security threats are from terrorist organizations with military capabilities and from Iran, which aspires to establish an effective military front against Israel in Syria and Lebanon and wishes to avenge the direct Israeli strike that destroyed a major portion of the military infrastructure it had established in Syria.

Assad’s army is exhausted from years of civil war, Hezbollah has suffered heavy losses fighting in Syria, and Hamas has been isolated and weakened –
yet an outbreak of violence could still occur between Israel and these enemies.