The past year, as in recent years, was characterized by a geopolitical duality that affects Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. On the one hand, Israel is militarily robust and unthreatened by regular armies along its borders; its relations with the White House are stronger than ever; it has a close working relationship with Russia; it is furthering its economic relations with China and expanding its network of regional and international ties; it is economically strong and technologically sophisticated; and it has natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea that allow it to form strategic regional alliances. They also provide Israel future leverage vis-à-vis Europe and others. (According to World Bank data for 2018, Israel’s nominal GDP per capita is higher than that of Japan or France.) On the other hand, Israel’s strategic horizon is clouded by the aspirations of Iran, the fragility of the Israeli-Palestinian arena, and contradictions within the strategic Jerusalem-Washington-US Jewry triangle.
Israel is engaged in direct military confrontation with Iran, which aspires to a sphere of influence that extends to the Mediterranean Sea. It assisted by Hezbollah in Lebanon and makes use of Syrian and Iraqi territories to consolidate a menacing military front against Israel. The now-unraveling nuclear deal (JCPOA) left Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in place, along with the infrastructure to advance them; thus, the Iranian nuclear threat could once again pose a challenge, and with little advance warning. The failure to resolve the Palestinian problem fuels hostility toward Israel and delegitimization efforts against it; it also constitutes a future threat to the Jewish character of the state. There is also the danger of a descent into violence on one or more fronts – vis-à-vis Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, and/or the West Bank.
These destabilizing factors are exacerbated by changes in the prevailing world order: an erosion of the liberal-democratic ethos; the growing relative power of autocratic China and Russia; and dwindling US interest in world leadership or Mideast involvement. Cultivating the special Israel-US relationship, which is a major component of Israeli strength and deterrence, is becoming more complicated, due to the difficulty of maintaining bipartisan sympathy for Israel, and tensions between the Israeli government and broad swathes of the American Jewish public. These tensions are undermining the strategic triangular relationship: Jerusalem-Washington-US Jewry.
Israel’s strategic balance includes challenges in several interacting spheres: A. The international arena (with an emphasis on US status and conduct); B. The threats and opportunities that the regional system, as a whole, presents to Israel; C. The Palestinian arena; D. The strategic Jerusalem-Washington-US Jewry triangle.
These spheres have a major impact on the resilience of Israel and the Jewish people, and constitute the focus of this review.