Here in the Middle East, we have long since become accustomed to the status quo
being the good news – even the best news – and to any change in it bearing the
seeds of imminent catastrophe. The tectonic changes of the Arab Spring
revolutions thus portend the danger that fundamentalist Islam might sweep the
region, banishing any hint of Arab moderation, conciliation, or
Yet if recent events are ominous, they also constitute a
conjunction of rare opportunities with positive potential for Israel.
Regime change in Egypt.
The counter-revolution of the Egyptian military,
which overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime, has strengthened the interests
Egypt shares with Israel, leading to unprecedented cooperation between the two
countries on stabilizing security in the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, and on
fighting the Islamist fundamentalists who threaten the Egyptian government and
the fragile peace on Israel’s southern border.
The Egyptian military’s
actions in the Sinai Peninsula and its aggressive destruction of the underground
tunnels between the Sinai and the Gaza Strip are weakening Hamas, and may even
endanger its stability and continued rule in the Gaza Strip.
geopolitical situation of Hamas.
The destruction of the underground
tunnel system has choked Hamas’s “oxygen pipeline”; together with the collapse
of its strategic backbone – the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt – this has
brought Hamas to its lowest point since inception. Hamas’s geopolitical standing
began to deteriorate with the outbreak of civil war in Syria, when Hamas chose
to support the Islamist rebels and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in their
struggle against the Assad regime.
This was anathema to Assad and his
Shi’ite allies, Iran and Hezbollah, and seriously jeopardized their relationship
with Hamas. In turn, this led Hamas’s external leadership to depart Syria and
decamp to certain Gulf states. Concomitantly, Hamas’s relationship with Saudi
Arabia and other Gulf states weakened, leading to a severe economic crisis for
Hamas and a deterioration in the status of its external leadership, headed by
3. The geopolitical situation of Hezbollah.
the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah has been exposed to increasing criticism
within Lebanon, where its opponents present it as an offshoot of Iran rather
than as an authentic Lebanese movement.
Hezbollah, which was indeed
established by Iran to promote its interests in Lebanon, the Middle East and
worldwide, and which has for years been Iran’s “terrorism subcontractor,” has
been depicted as willing to sacrifice Lebanon’s interests to promote
In fact, Hezbollah’s response to Iranian demands that it send
military forces to Syria to save the Assad regime has only proven to Hezbollah’s
detractors that Hezbollah is indeed willing to risk Lebanese interests – to risk
civil war leaching into Lebanon, to sacrifice Lebanese fighters, and even to
endanger the safety Lebanon’s citizens – to satisfy the ayatollahs from
Given its sensitive position, and with many of its forces still
stationed in Syria, Hezbollah cannot now risk military involvement with Israel,
without invoking the most destructive implications for itself.
Syrian civil war and the neutralization of Syria’s chemical weapons
The US and the West remained largely indecisive in their
response to the Assad regime’s massacre of Syria’s citizens, even after Assad
used chemical weapons against civilians. Nevertheless, recent weeks have seen
the beginning of international surveillance of Syria’s use of chemical weapons,
with the ultimate aim of neutralizing a significant portion of its chemical
This positive development was until very recently only a pipe
dream for Israel.
Even if it does not lead to the elimination of Syria’s
entire chemical arsenal, it will significantly reduce the unconventional
capabilities, and even the conventional military capabilities, of Syria – to
date, the most dangerous of Israel’s enemies.
5. Political change in Iran
and non-nuclear armament talks. Even if Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s
“onslaught of smiles” is no more than a fraudulent ruse, a calculated ambush by
Iran’s new regime, it nevertheless bodes well for Israel on two
First, the regime change in Iran grew out of the real
dissatisfaction of the Iranian people with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s leadership.
Rohani knows this; he must consider it in his internal and international
Second, Rohani must consider that the dynamic set in motion by
the nascent talks with the West may lead to unwanted international surveillance,
which will make it difficult for Iran to arm itself with atomic
Thus, any act by the Iranian regime that would upset the fragile
stability of the Middle East is liable to lead to a military imbroglio, damaging
Iran’s strategic interests.
6. The opening of direct talks between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas’ internal situation.
The head of the PA knows that the sand in his
political hourglass is running out.
Arab Spring revolutions signal a
clear trend: traditional-secular regimes are being replaced by varieties of
Islamist regime, whose fulcrum is local branches of the Muslim Brotherhood. In
Palestine, as well, the writing is on the wall: Fatah, headed by Abbas, is the
traditional-secular regime; the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is
Abbas realizes that only an immediate strategic move vis à vis
Israel can affect his political and perhaps even personal fate.
Identity of interests between Israel and Sunni Arab states in the Middle
Never before has Israel shared so many interests with neighboring
Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, certain Gulf states, Iraq, Jordan and
Egypt. All of these countries are concerned lest Iran become armed with atomic
weapons; all of them are concerned about Shi’ite-Iranian hegemony in the Middle
East. They all hope that the stability of the existing regimes in Egypt, Jordan
and the Palestinian Authority will persist, and they all hope that Hezbollah’s
power in Lebanon will diminish.
Many Sunni Arab states have understood,
perhaps for the first time, that Israel does not threaten them or their
interests. Rather, the immediate, significant, real threat to their regimes
emanates from Shi’ite and Sunni Islamist- fundamentalist entities.
reduced danger of comprehensive war.
Since its establishment, Israel has
faced the existential threat of a combined, coordinated Arab attack that would
bring about its annihilation. The economic and political destruction wrought by
the Arab Spring in some Arab states has neutralized this threat, at least for
The above processes and events have temporarily opened a narrow
window of opportunity for Israel. It is not without dangers and risks, for any
one of these processes is liable to end in desolation and in an actual return of
the existential threat to Israel. Who is to say that the Egyptian military’s
counter- revolution won’t soon lead to yet another Islamist revolution, this
time with American-Western backing under the guise of support for
pseudo-democratic processes? Can anyone promise that Hezbollah, despite is
current vulnerability, won’t exploit the situation in Syria to funnel Syria’s
unconventional weapons into its own strongholds in Lebanon? Might Iran succeed
in its atomic fraud, and quietly continue arming itself with atomic weapons
while maintaining a veneer of moderation and willingness to compromise? Surely,
direct talks with the Palestinians could hit a snag; would this lead to the
demise of Abbas politically or even, heaven forefend, physically? What if Iran’s
attempts to pull itself out of the muck and murk of its relationship with Hamas
have dire consequences? And what if countries visited by Arab Spring revolutions
remain ungovernable, leaving them unable to control border skirmishes with
Israel or terrorism against Israel, even if they can’t engage in a comprehensive
war? Each of the situations described above exists along a continuum, which
ranges between a negative and a positive pole.
The future is not
deterministic. Israel can influence how many of these situations develop,
pulling them toward the positive rather than the negative end of the
Today more than ever, Israel needs an inspired, visionary
leadership. Leadership that knows the dangers and risks, but nevertheless sees
the positive potential of the historic processes now taking place in the Middle
East. Leadership that will take advantage of this positive potential to promote
Israel’s strategic interests.
Arriving at a political agreement with the
Palestinians is the primary and most effective tool available to Israeli
decision-makers. It can be a force multiplier for the positive processes now
beginning to take place. Israel’s leaders must recognize that for the first time
in its history, the status quo is not to Israel’s advantage.
is founder and executive director of The Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT),
and deputy dean of the Lauder School of Government, The Interdisciplinary Center