Is Israel Taking Sufficient Advantage of the Strategic Golden Era?

The current strategic reality is the best Israel has ever experienced, but there are questions marks on the horizon - particularly as regards the Palestinians - that need to be answered.

Obama and Netanyahu, at the White House
REUTERS/Jason Reed

When the Israel Defense Forces looks around, it sees a strategic reality that has not existed since the state was founded. The Iranian nuclear threat has been suspended, the Syrian military threat is gone, Hezbollah is mired in the Syrian civil war and the Lebanese political swamp and Hamas is isolated. There is no visible risk of a strong regional coalition attacking our borders. There is no comparison between our power and the power of those forces still hostile to us.

Furthermore, much of the Arab world is now friendly, to a degree that has yet to be internalized here. A new network of close relationships has been woven beneath the surface with most of our Sunni Muslim neighbors. So, with caution and restraint, one could say that our situation has never been so comfortable and so secure. Superior air power, intelligence, and technology have turned Israel into a bastion of stability in a crumbling Middle East.

A significant part of this success story is unrelated to anything Israel has done. United States President Barack Obama has given Israel time and breathing space from the existential Iranian threat (at a price worth arguing about). The Arab upheaval has dismantled the Syrian army and muffled most of the other threats to Israel from other countries. The Syrian civil war is causing Hezbollah organizational and political distress. Moderate Arab opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood has imposed a diplomatic siege on Hamas. The fear of common enemies (Iran, the Islamic State) and disappointment with a common ally (the United States) is what has turned many opponents into our friends.

So in effect, regional instability has created a certain kind of stability that well serves the interests of the State of Israel.

At the same time, part of the strategic success story is indeed related to Israeli actions. Most of the asymmetrical military campaigns conducted by the IDF over the past decade (2006, 2008/9, 2012, and 2014) were not brilliant, but their cumulative effect has been to create significant deterrence. Operation Protective Edge brought quiet to the Gaza border unlike any in 48 years.

The IDF operates between wars, too. This quiet campaign has far-reaching consequences. On the one hand, it limits the strengthening of Hezbollah and Hamas, and on the other hand it bolsters regional cooperation. The tranquility we’ve experienced on our borders this past Jewish year is not coincidental. It was due to the intense and ongoing actions of the IDF behind the scenes.

During the coming year there will be three question marks hovering over this relative quiet – what will happen in Iran after its presidential elections in May, what will happen in Judea and Samaria as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gradually leaves the stage and what will happen in Gaza, where hope is totally lacking. Iran is still the big shadow. If charismatic general Qassem Soleimani decides to run for president and defeats Iranian President Hassan Rohani, the window of time produced by Obama’s nuclear agreement will shrink considerably.

The Palestinians, however, are the clearer and more present danger. There could be unrest in the volatile West Bank and the Gaza Strip is a real ticking bomb. If something isn’t done about it in the near future, there could be a total systems collapse by 2020 that will lead to a humanitarian disaster.

The IDF has reason to be proud of the quiet and good years it has given the people of Israel. But there could be challenging years ahead. The insane regional arms race that has to date worked in Israel’s favor could in the future work against it. As we move from one Jewish year to the next, one must ask those introspective questions that the IDF cannot ask. Have we done enough to take full advantage of this strategic golden era? Are we doing all we can to assure that the current quiet isn’t a deceptive one?

The answer to those two questions is a decisive “No.”