Israel maintains its strategic advantage, says Jaffee Center
Israel's military capability continues to widen the qualitative gap between its strength and its neighbors'.
The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University has determined that the strategic balance in the Middle East clearly favors Israel, Jaffee officials said Tuesday at a press conference during which they presented the center's 2005 report.
"The strategic balance decidedly favors Israel, which has continued to widen the qualitative gap between its own military capability and deterrence powers and those of its neighbors," the center said in a statement.
The center's head, Dr. Zvi Shtauber, said these conclusions may well affect the buildup of the Israel Defense Forces and the defense budget.
The report says little has changed significantly over the past year in the conventional military picture. The conventional advantage highlights the prominent role Israel has played in the low-intensity conflict waged by its adversaries, according to the center, which warned that despite a weakened intifada, the terror infrastructures have yet to be dismantled.
"The second intifada lost strength in part because Israel devised better methods to counter Palestinian terrorist activity," the center said. "This does not, however, constitute the dismantlement of the terrorist infrastructures, and Israel's deterrence of the Palestinian organizations, particularly the extremist groups, is limited and does not preclude a renewal of terrorist activity."
The West Bank separation fence has "in effect created a two-state situation, and populations on both sides of the barrier are adjusting to this reality," the center said. It cited surveys finding that more than 80 percent of the Israeli public supports the barrier, with 57 percent of Israel's Jewish population prepared, under certain circumstances, to consider the barrier a permanent border.
The Jaffee Center expects the upcoming general elections to "sharpen the divisions within the political map vis-a-vis the public's idea on how to resolve the Palestinian issue" and said elections results "will chart the level of public support for [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's endorsement of limited measures, including unilateral moves."
"The disengagement testifies to a new dominant pattern of thinking in Israel, highlighting demography over geography," according to the center.
The writers of the report expect that Israel's improved strategic position will allow it to continue to be "the dominant party" as it attempts to reach limited agreements with the Palestinians. Until the government chosen in the next elections becomes stable, the coming period of Israeli-Palestinian relations is expected to be characterized by attempts at crisis management rather than conflict resolution.
In the Palestinian Authority, a government coalition including Fatah and Hamas is likely to strengthen the internal debate within Hamas and may encourage more moderate trends, according to the center.
However, Jaffee analysts said stagnation of the political process is apt to intensify the drive among the radical Palestinian organizations to accelerate attacks from Gaza and the West Bank, including rocket attacks. "Israeli responses, which presumably will be especially severe in the pre-elections period, will add to the risk of further deterioration and yet another cycle of violence," the center said.
Meanwhile, the issue of regime stability has regained prominence on the regional strategic agenda, according to the center. It said the Arab world is showing clear signs of internal pressure and the recognition of the need for change, and that Arab regimes are paying greater attention to international norms.
"Spearheaded by the United States, international intervention is increasing in the form of external pressure, be it ideologically motivated or an excuse for the use of force, to launch processes of democratization in the region," the center said.