A team of experts in regional and international political and military affairs at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), which is affiliated with Tel Aviv University, has completed this year’s Strategic Assessment of Israel.
As the INSS is one of closest think tanks to decision making circles in Israel, it is not surprising that this important Strategic Assessment was submitted to Israeli President Isaac Herzog in a formal ceremony at his office.
During this event, the team of researchers led by INSS Executive Director Manuel Trajtenberg and INSS Managing Director Tamir Hayman presented a summary of the assessment, which is a comprehensive analysis of Israel’s strategic environment through the prism of the country’s national security. It identifies potential threats and opportunities and offers a number of recommendations for Israeli decision makers.
Following the presentation, Herzog observed that the assessment had made it very clear that the future of the Middle East was largely contingent on the future of various partnerships. He identified Iran as the greatest threat to Israel, yet one that was not limited to Israel alone. As such, he said, the threat of Iran should be prioritised as an area for cooperation with those he referred to as Israel’s friends in the Middle East.
Herzog said nothing new in this regard, since for years Israel has been insisting that Iran poses the gravest threat to regional security and has been urging Arab parties in the region to join it in a form of partnership to fend off the threat.
However, this claim is a reductionist one. The parties that Israel has been addressing in making this claim could also cite a list of threats as grave as the Iranian one, but Israel has never shown an interest in dealing with them or in working in the framework of the partnerships Herzog mentioned to devise a mechanism for exploring arrangements that would realise real stability.
Herzog was more consistent when he spoke about what he called the Strategic Assessment’s particularly disturbing findings on what he termed the “internal arena” and its implications for Israel’s national security.
Israeli society, Herzog said, was “in a period of crisis and particularly dangerous internal conflict” that was testing the state’s “national resilience.” “We have to be able to face and deal with the deepest differences of opinion, without giving up our belief in ourselves,” he said, adding that “bridging divides, including political ones, is perhaps the most important step in protecting Israel’s security, stability and growth.”
This accurately sums up the depth of the rifts that are now threatening to tear Israel apart following the rise of the most far-right government the country has ever seen. The INSS agrees, and its recent Strategic Assessment says that Israel’s national security has been stable and favourable with respect to its regional adversaries, but that there are now a host of new challenges that could upset this balance.
The assessment warns that the threat the agenda of the far-right in Israel is posing to the system of checks and balances underlying the country’s democracy and judicial system is aggravating the polarisation in Israeli society, thereby weakening the social resilience that it describes as “a critical component in Israel’s ability to cope with external threats.”
This internal conflict is also integrally related to what the Strategic Assessment regards as Israel’s greatest long term strategic threat, namely the deterioration in its relations with the Western nations and with the US in particular. This threat has grown more acute due to character of the current Israeli government, which is perceived to be actively undermining democracy, the judiciary, and the existing relationship with the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Hayman, a former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, has stressed what he has described as the grave threat to Israel’s strategic sphere arising from internal socio-political developments in the US. He has also underscored the intense political polarisation in the US, especially over the nature of the Israeli state, which has led to a gradual decline in US public support for Israel.
The INSS Assessment warns that the discourse and actions of the current far-right Israeli government are angering the US and the West, putting the security of Israel at risk. It notes that the problem extends beyond public opinion to the perceptions of government officials. According to the assessment, the shift has been due to the growing influence of the progressive youth movement in the US. This trend denies the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism, “which they see as expressions of white-colonialist supremacy,” as the authors of the assessment put it.
Although the INSS Assessment, like the Israeli president, rates Iran as the most “extreme” threat that Israel faces, it nevertheless also rates the “collapse of the Palestinian Authority” as the most “urgent”. It therefore says that “the continued existence of the Palestinian Authority, despite its drawbacks, is clearly in Israel’s interest.”
According to Hayman, against the backdrop of the lack of a viable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the approaching end of the era of Mahmoud Abbas as PA chairman, and the growing discontent and frustration among Palestinian young people, there is a risk of a surge in violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
This would aggravate the strategic threat of a slide into a “one-state” reality that would jeopardise Israel’s Jewish identity, Hayman says.
* The writer is the general director of the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).
* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly