If we accept the analysis of the researchers at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, it appears Israel's strategic standing has never been better. The Middle East Strategic Balance report, published by the center last week, can engender a feeling of great satisfaction. The qualitative military gap between Israel and its neighbors has widened and Israel's deterrent power has grown. In fact, Israel is no longer in real danger. The threat of terror still exists, but it is not existential; the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service have managed to rein it in to a great extent. The future may contain an Iranian nuclear threat, but it will apparently be quite some time before it comes to the fore.
Syria has been weakened and is now isolated, center director Zvi Shtauber writes in the introduction to the report. Relations with Egypt have improved over the past year. A strategic agreement has been signed between the two countries under which Egypt will supply Israel with a respectable amount of natural gas. Egypt has also accepted a position of mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. The peace agreement with Jordan is very stable; Israel and Jordan have become strategic allies and security cooperation is important to both countries. The conquest of Iraq erased the long-time threat from the "eastern front."
The disengagement has ushered in a period of grace for Israel in its relations with Europe. "The European countries have begun over this year to show greater understanding of Israel's policies. They have begun to weigh more positively the role of the European Union in promoting an arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians," according to the report.
The strategic relations between Israel and the United States are better than ever; not only is the Bush administration not really pressuring Israel to move ahead with the agreement with the Palestinians, it has actually given Israel a free hand when it comes to fighting terror.
Developments in the Palestinian Authority have also contributed to the improvement in the security situation. The death of Yasser Arafat and the succession of Mahmoud Abbas symbolize the beginning of a new and better era.
In addition, the winds of progress, though moderate at this stage, are blowing in the Middle East, carrying the hope of continued democratization in the region. Democratic regimes are likely to push for the completion of the process of coming to terms with Israel's existence.
With regard to Iran, its declarations and acts show it is determined to obtain nuclear weapons. Israel has chosen at this point to keep a low profile, and has agreed to leave the matter to the Europeans, who are trying to reach an accord with the Iranian regime on the cessation of its nuclear program. However, even if these attempts fail, a rather long time will pass before the Iranians have nuclear weapons, and an even longer time will pass until it can develop a bomb that it can place on the head of a ballistic missile. If Iran does obtain nuclear weapons, a deterrent balance is likely to develop between it and Israel that will neutralize the treat.
So, if our situation is so good, why does Israel continue to invest so heavily in security - much more than any of its neighbors? The Jaffee Center does not ask this question, but it is begged by the data it presents. In absolute terms, Israel's spending on security is three times that of Egypt, more than six times that of Syria, more than 12 times that of Jordan and twice that of Iran. Not to mention security spending as part of the GDP, which is about five times that of Egypt and three times that of Iran.
The combination of clear military superiority, based among other things on preferable military equipment, both in quality and quantity, and a much-improved geostrategic status should lead to a decision to significantly cut security spending and create a new security concept that costs much less than the present one. Unfortunately, these two things are not happening. The defense minister should have a good look at the report so as to recall what he certainly knows well. There is quite a significant source of money that can solve a great many of the problems of poverty that are keeping us awake at night.
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