Strategic Survey for Israel 2018-2019: A Collection of Articles

Anat Kurz, Shlomo Brom, January 2019

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Strategic Survey for Israel 2018-2019, the latest volume in the annual series published by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), reviews a period marked by distinct changes in Israel’s close strategic environment as well as events in its more distant circle that likewise have had a direct impact on the challenges and opportunities before it. The unfolding dynamics and trends that derive from these developments bring with them threats to Israel’s national security, which could spell military escalation or a standstill fraught with risks. At the same time, this state of affairs includes opportunities for action and policy change that could help Israel face its security challenges and improve its regional and global strategic standing.

The articles in this volume explore the primary significance of the changes in the Middle East over the past year, and focus on the areas of intensifying friction in the region and their international context. Contrary to previous volumes in the Strategic Survey for Israel series, which raised many diverse issues, even those without immediate ramifications for Israel, this volume covers domestic and external events that have a clear and immediate impact on the country’s national security. Yet while this volume thus contains a smaller number of chapters than other books in the series, there is nevertheless a strong reference to previous volumes, reflecting the complexity of the combined challenges Israel will be forced to confront over the next year and probably beyond.

The first chapter looks at challenges stemming from Iran’s efforts to expand its influence in the Middle East, and focuses particularly on the implications of Tehran’s policies along Israel’s northern border. The analysis also deals with internal Iranian trends and their impact on Iran’s foreign policy. The second chapter presents an in-depth discussion about Israel’s northern border and the consequences of the involvement in Syria by regional powers and global superpowers. It covers moves designed to bring stability to the country and activity undertaken by Hezbollah, which involves its buildup in Syria and in Lebanon and the associated risk of escalation. Analysis of the northern theater includes emphasis on the role played by Russia in shaping the trends affecting Syria, and in turn, on Israel’s ability to combat, if not roll back, Iran’s increasing involvement in the country. Russian policy figures prominently among the political activity of the international elements that shape the challenges to Israel in its immediate vicinity, and thus the third chapter discusses the impact of global and superpower dynamics on the Middle East, and in particular, the military and political interests of Israel in its northern theater and its relationship with the Palestinians. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, covered in the following chapter, is shaped significantly by the profound rift between the principal parties in the Palestinian sphere. The ensuing current reality should propel Israel to a series of moves that will create an improved political-military reality vis-à-vis the conflict arena. The fifth chapter, which focuses on Israel’s internal situation, maps different assessments of the impact that recent Israeli policies have on Israeli democracy, as the basis for a discussion about how to preserve Israel’s essence as a Jewish and democratic state.

Israel’s strategic environment has always been complex and involved multiple state and non-state actors. Therefore, identifying practical and implementable operational channels that could advance Israel’s vital interests and lead to clear and indisputable achievements has never been a simple task. The past year was no exception. Furthermore, as we approach 2019 it becomes evident that the past year has seen an increase in trends that will continue to involve threats to Israel’s vital interests, unless counter measures are employed. This demands rethinking the situation in a way that will reduce the impact of these negative trends.

The final chapter in this volume, written by INSS Director Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin, is dedicated to policy recommendations regarding processes that Israel can address in order to best meet political and security challenges or to preserve and fortify strategic advantages. Among the military recommendations: preparation, in coordination with the United States, for a situation in which Iran ceases to comply with vital clauses of the nuclear agreement or moves to break out to a nuclear weapon; continued efforts to prevent the transfer of effective weaponry to Hezbollah while the window of opportunity to do so in Syria remains open; vigilance in monitoring the signs that this window is closing, which will force a re-examination of the ways to combat the organization’s buildup; continued limited military action in Syria aimed at preventing further Iranian entrenchment there; and preparation for a military escalation in Gaza, alongside willingness to explore an agreement with Hamas that guarantees that this theater remains calm. Among the political recommendations: maximal use of the window of opportunity for independent and coordinated efforts in the Palestinian arena, while stopping the movement toward the reality of one state; proactive measures to strengthen ties with various elements of American Jewry; and continued dialogue with American groups that oppose US policies in a way that does not jeopardize Israel’s relationship with the US administration.

Special thanks to the authors of the chapters, members of the INSS research staff. As with previous volumes, significant contributions to the writing and publication of the volume were made by Moshe Grundman, INSS Director of Publications, and Judith Rosen, editor of INSS English publications. To them we extend our gratitude and appreciation.

Anat Kurz and Shlomo Brom

December 2018

February 6, 2019