Strategic Survey for Israel 2015|2016 – Shlomo Brom and Anat Kurz

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Amos Yadlin: Five Years Back and Five Years Forward: Israel’s Strategic Environment in 2011-2015 and Policy Recommendations for 2016-2020
[Chapter in  Strategic Survey for Israel 2015-2016 Shlomo Brom and Anat Kurz, Editors]

What follows are twelve recommendations (from the above linked document-185 pages), including one final statement regarding the overall policy that Israel would do well to adopt under the current circumstances.

1. The Iranian nuclear threat may no longer be on the immediate agenda, but it nonetheless constitutes a potential future existential threat to Israel.

Israel must prevent the nuclear arming of the extremist Iranian regime that calls for the destruction of Israel. The extended timeout, during which Iran’s nuclear program has been frozen to a point that takes it one year to produce a bomb, provides Israel with ample room to plan five, and perhaps even ten years into the future. Israel must have a plan that will enable it to contend with the different possible scenarios, including violation of the agreement, its annulment, or an overt or clandestine Iranian breakout toward a bomb. Israel must make preparations to ensure that it makes the best possible use of the “JCPOA timeout” by building new and reinforced capabilities for dealing with Iran and all dimensions of its activity.

2. Israel must initiate parallel agreements with the United States that will enable the two allies to remain coordinated on the Iranian issue.

Israel was not party to the nuclear agreement, and therefore should reach understandings and agreements with the United States on several relevant critical issues. It is important to agree on a common response to violations of the nuclear agreement; the improvement of intelligence coverage vis-àvis Iran; the manner of contending with the non-nuclear aspects of Iranian activity in the region, such as terrorism and subversion; an enhanced security package to Israel; and retention of its qualitative advantage. It is also important to establish a strategic review forum that will meet regularly to discuss developments regarding Iranian activity and coordinate activity vis-à-vis Iran.

Such a review committee would enable the countries to contend with the continuation of malevolent Iranian activity in the region and find a way to deal with the Iranian nuclear program, even after the lifting of many of the restrictions in 10-15 years. At the same time, it should be able to assess whether a process of internal reform is underway in Iran and whether there has been a positive change in its conduct.

3. The major strategy for weakening Iran lies in Syria.

Syria is Iran’s corridor to the Arab world and the channel through which it strengthens and maintains contact with Hezbollah and Palestinian extremist groups. The weakening and ousting of the Assad regime is a clear Israeli interest, as only this can level a severe blow to Iran and Hezbollah. Israel must determine how to support efforts that will end with the Assad regime not playing a dominant role in Syria, while at the same time refraining from strengthening extremist Sunni factions and, most prominently, the Islamic State. From Israel’s perspective, these two negative forces can be dealt with sequentially, with a continuous reexamination of their correct prioritization. To achieve these goals, Israel must develop more creative and active tools through cooperative efforts with strong global allies such as the United States and Europe, as well as with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are also interested in ejecting Iran from Syria and replacing the Assad regime.

4. Israel must prepare itself militarily and politically for the possibility that Syria will not resume functioning as a unitary state and that the civil war will continue for many years.

Israel must ensure that the forces of the radical axis are weakened as much as possible in the future Syria and are removed from the Golan Heights to the greatest extent possible. If Syria is divided, the Syrian elements with which Israel can cooperate include the more moderate Sunni organizations and the states supporting them, such as Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, Jordan, and Turkey. Israel must continuously assess whether the Saudis and the Turks are truly supporting moderate Sunni elements or whether they are repeating the mistakes of the past by supporting radical elements that will later join the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. In any event, Israel must try to design an updated security plan for the Golan Heights, whether as an extension of the already existing separation of forces agreement, or under different rules of operation and deterrence vis-à-vis the forces that will establish themselves in the Syrian Golan Heights.

5. Israel must prepare itself for a full scale military conflict with Hezbollah.

The JCPOA has frozen the Iranian nuclear threat for a number of years, and the armies currently on Israel’s borders are either at peace with Israel or enervated by exhausting civil wars. Israel’s primary military threat at the present time is posed by Hezbollah. This organization continues its buildup with offensive and defensive weaponry produced by Iran, Russia, and Syria. The range of the rockets and missiles at its disposal cover the full territory of Israel, and their precision and lethality continue to increase. Hezbollah is even developing an offensive capability to seize control of some Israeli territory. Israel must make sure that it possesses effective offensive and defensive responses that are both deterring and decisive against Hezbollah. In the event of such a conflict, Israel must relate to Hezbollah and Lebanon together, as a single state entity attacking Israel, and must strike at targets of national infrastructure in Lebanon as part of an overall campaign.

6. Israel must embark upon self-initiated, independent measures in the Palestinian arena.

Israel must present a comprehensive initiative aimed at moving forward toward its desired solution. Israel has four possible tracks, which should all be pursued in parallel to one another, or one after another in the event that the previous one fails: a) direct negotiations with the Palestinians with the aim of reaching a final status agreement; b) a regional settlement in cooperation with the moderate Arab states; and c) a series of interim arrangements with progress on issues that can be implemented in parallel. If none of these approaches are successful, Israel must take the fourth path of independent steps toward the proactive shaping of its future borders. The plan must include a suitable security plan and ensure international support, which will be garnered after Israel presents moderate positions regarding the framework for a two-state solution through bilateral and multilateral channels. These are all necessary conditions for a successful independent effort.

7. Following the lessons of Operation Protective Edge, Israel must prepare the IDF for another round of fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Israel cannot allow itself another round of hostilities that lasts 50 days and that ends in a strategic draw with its weakest enemy. Israel, which did not conclude the last confrontation in a manner that prevented Hamas from engaging in subsequent buildup, must make sure it possesses the operative tools necessary to conclude a confrontation with the group more quickly and with a better outcome than in the past. Most importantly, Israel must find a way to prevent Hamas from engaging in military buildup following the next round of fighting, in order to prevent another round shortly thereafter. At the same time, Israel must engage in non-military activities to prevent a confrontation or, at the very least, delay it. This must be done through Israeli contributions toward a better economic and political reality in the Gaza Strip, which will make it more difficult for Hamas to violate the ceasefire.

8. Israel must prepare for struggles, clashes, and warfare in nonkinetic dimensions.

Cyberspace, lawfare, the battle of wits and opinions on the social networks, and BDS require that new efforts be made and new organisation be created for the use of “soft power.” Soft power is a dimension of power whose influence in the twenty-first century is no less essential than the IDF’s traditional use of kinetic power. The Goldstein Report, the charges against Israelis in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the labeling of products, BDS, and the incitement on the social networks draw attention to a clear weak point in Israeli national security. It is important to analyze the attributes of the “soft battlefield” and adapt the traditional principles of warfare accordingly, but also to design and enhance fresh principles derived from the new dimensions, capabilities, and character of this warfare. It is also important to define the organizations that will operate against these threats and determine whether any specific new bodies should be created. Suitable strategies must be formulated, balances in the allocation of resources must be adjusted, and specially adapted activity must ensure a combination of “soft power” and traditional “hard power.”

9. Israel must deepen its alliance with the pragmatic Arab states.

Readiness to deal with mutual threats opens a window to cooperative efforts between Israel and Arab states. Current common interests constitute an unprecedented basis for the development of meaningful relations with the Sunni bloc that will serve Israel both in the short and long terms. The ability to work together to thwart Iranian subversion and Iran’s aspirations to acquire a nuclear bomb and achieve regional hegemony, and Israeli assistance in fighting the Islamic State, are important to both sides. However, forging such relations is dependent on progress on the Palestinian track.

10. Israel must improve relations with its allies, first and foremost the United States and Europe.

Relatively simple Israeli measures could change the atmosphere vis-à-vis the countries of the West. A building freeze in the isolated settlements located outside the settlement blocs, measures to stimulate the Palestinian economy, and in particular, a political initiative along the lines described above could go a long way in creating a dramatic change in the relations between Israel and its allies. Once the world is convinced that Israel is serious and sincere in its approach to the peace process and the two-state solution, Israel will benefit from political and economic dividends.

11. The State of Israel must renew and reestablish its moral superiority.

The State of Israel must operate from a strong moral position, which can be achieved by activity reflecting a sincere desire for peace, ceasing its rule over another people, and ensuring the continued role of enlightened democratic principles in the country.

12. The Overall Strategy
Israel has the ability to maneuver and seek opportunities to improve its political, security, and strategic status as a result of the stormy developments in the Middle East in recent years. Particularly salient are the timeout regarding the Iranian nuclear program, the threat posed by ISIS, and the broad understanding, in the world and the Middle East alike, that the Palestinian issue is not the major cause of problems in the region. These factors open a window to potential alliances with pragmatic elements in the Arab world and facilitate the formulation of an overall comprehensive and proactive strategy. This strategy is based squarely on moderation and flexibility in the Palestinian arena for the sake of strengthening Israel’s relations with the pragmatic Sunni states and improving Israel’s relations with Europe and the United States. Better coordination and cooperation with the United States will facilitate measures to prepare effective responses vis-à-vis an Iran that may achieve military nuclear capability in the long term and visà-vis the short-term threats already posed by Hezbollah and the Islamic State. The combination of strong and advanced military power, diplomatic and political wisdom, and international legitimacy will result in Israel’s significant strengthening, which will enable the country both to contend effectively with the future threat scenarios and to establish sustainable peace arrangements with its neighbors.

Strategic Survey for Israel 2015 – 2016 Shlomo Brom and Anat Kurz, Editors