Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said recently that Israel needs to rethink its
overall security needs in the wake of the (clearly mislabeled) “Arab Spring.” He
noted that Islamists were on the march, and that Israel retains the right to act
to interdict the transfer of strategic weapons to radical forces in the
Indeed, the times call for new strategic thinking. Consistently
ahead of the curve has been the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (the
BESA Center, where I direct public affairs).
Time and again, its experts
have looked over-the-horizon and produced out-of-the-box policy recommendations,
even when their conclusions were not always politically correct or well received
by mainstream pundits. Netanyahu has definitely noticed, and it’s no accident
that he chose the BESA Center as the venue for his major foreign policy speech
back in June 2009.
Consider, for example, the peace process with the
There is definitely a need today for new diplomatic
paradigms, since the near-term likelihood of a comprehensive peace deal that
neatly divides the West Bank and ends all claims is minimal.
ago, BESA Center director Prof. Efraim Inbar bucked conventional wisdom and
penned the first full-length and full-throated study declaring the two-state
His “Rise and Demise of the Two- State Solution” was
followed-up by another provocative BESA Center study by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora
Eiland (former IDF Planning Directorate chief and national security adviser to
prime minister Ariel Sharon) titled “Regional Alternatives to the Two-State
Eiland creatively looks at diplomatic alternatives that could
transform the deadlock from a zero-sum situation to a win-win scenario. He
suggests three- or four-way land swaps involving Egypt and Jordan; shared
sovereignty in the West Bank; renewed consideration of a Palestinian-Jordanian
federation; and perhaps a combination of all these approaches.
and policy-makers are now going back to bone up on these path-breaking
publications in search of new thinking that can move beyond the stalemate in
Palestinian-Israeli relations to which Oslo has led.
As far back as 2005,
Inbar and colleagues warned that diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions alone
would fail to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Only a credible threat to use force,
or even the actual use of force, they predicted, would serve to deter the
Look where we are today.
Following up on this, the doyen
of Israeli strategists, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, argued in a comprehensive
Begin-Sadat Center study that “Israel must destroy Iranian nuclear facilities
and simultaneously launch a comprehensive Middle East peace initiative.” A
violent Iranian reaction is to be expected, he wrote, “but its maximum costs to
Israel, the US, and all of the Middle East are much smaller than those stemming
from Iranian possession of nuclear weapons.”
Back in 2006, Prof. Efraim
Karsh published a little-noticed Begin- Sadat Center study called “The Tragedy
of Arab Imperialism.” His prescient prediction was that Arab pan-nationalism and
nationalist dictatorship structures were paper-thin and bound to fail. He also
foresaw the radical Islamist menace lurking underneath.
the strongest identity framework in Egyptian society in particular, and in Arab
society generally,” Karsh warned.
“The Arab national dictatorships that
were layered over this basic Islamic identity for the past 80 years were but a
thin veneer of repression. With the fall of these dictatorships, what remains
are the core Islamic underpinnings of society, and these are now coming to the
fore. Consequently, no democratic structures, processes or values are likely to
emerge in the Arab world for many generations.”
Last month, eight BESA
Center experts published the first Israeli book evaluating the Arab earthquakes
rocking the Middle East.
They consider the implications for Israel and
its chances to live peacefully in the region, as well as the implications for
regional and global security. Arab Spring? Israel, the World and the Changing
Region (in Hebrew by Yediot Aharonot books and in English by Routledge) calls on
Israel to expand its standing army, increasing investment in military research
and development, establish defensible borders, develop new regional allies, and
intensify the special relationship with the US – in reaction to the tectonic
In 2009, Dr. Ehud Eilam published an almost-prophetic
study on instability in the Egypt-Israel relationship. He questioned Hosni
Mubarak’s plan to anoint his son Gamal as his successor, and surveyed a range of
scenarios that could result in the cancellation of the Egypt-Israel peace
Eilam suggested ways in which Israel needed to prepare for such a
possibility. At the time, the Egyptians howled about Israeli chutzpah in
publishing the study, and official Israel sought to bury it.
Just before he died in September 2010, Prof. Joseph Kostiner
published the only study I know questioning the security and stability of the
Gulf Cooperation Council states. Look at what has happened in Bahrain since
then, and the leadership vacuum now plaguing Saudi Arabia. Going all the way
back to 2007, Arrow missile project director Uzi Rubin published through the
BESA Center a series of in-depth studies analyzing Hamas and Hezbollah rocket
and missile capabilities and arguing for a significant Israeli anti-missile
defense regime for the Gaza perimeter and northern Israel.
the IDF and Defense Ministry got into this game very late with the rushed and
limited (albeit successful) development of the Iron Dome system. Rubin’s most
recent studies evaluate Iron Dome and clearly show how the defense establishment
and political echelon had to be dragged kicking and screaming into late
development of this important defensive system.
As for Hamas’s offensive
capabilities, Hudson Institute founder and BESA Center associate Dr. Max Singer
has more clearly than anybody else argued that Israel needs to send IDF ground
troops into Gaza to destroy the military capabilities of Hamas and other Islamic
terror groups. While Israel may pay a high diplomatic price for its actions, he
says that the longer Israel waits the greater the political obstacles to such a
necessary operation will become.
Professors Inbar and Amikam Nachmani
were the first to warn in 2003 about the hostile Islamist machinations of
Turkey’s AKP leaders Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu, and they continue
to write prodigiously on this issue.
The Golan Heights have high
strategic and moral value for Israel, but Israel has been afraid to say this for
years, instead holding out the possibility of a Golan withdrawal in the context
of peace with Syria. Given what is happening in Syria right now, what a folly
that might have been. To put the notion of Israeli abandonment of the Golan to
rest once and for all, the BESA Center recently published a full-length study by
Inbar which details the strategic, legal, moral and historic justifications for
permanent Israeli sovereignty on the Golan.
A BESA Center study published
last year draws attention to the Islamization of the eastern Mediterranean
basin, which could threaten Israel’s new mid-sea gas fields. “The access of Iran
to Mediterranean waters, the disruptive potential of failed states, and the
competition across countries for energy resources is destabilizing the region,”
Inbar writes in introducing the study.
“But it is not clear that Western
powers, particularly the US, are aware of the possibility of losing the eastern
part of the Mediterranean Sea to radical Islam or are preparing in any way to
forestall such a scenario. Foolishly, they seem to believe that the so-called
Arab Spring heralds an improved political environment and that Turkey represents
‘moderate Islam.’ American naiveté and European gullibility could become
extremely costly in strategic terms.”
Beyond all the above troubles and
dangers, BESA Center experts are, in the end, optimistic. In the center’s most
recent study, they argue that, despite perceptions to the contrary, Israel is
not isolated in the international community.
Attempts to harm Israel
through the BDS (boycotts, divestments, sanctions) campaign have
And Israel’s strategic relationship with the United States is
strong and can yet be further developed to ensure Israel’s standing in the
international community, the center concludes.