IDF soldiers walk together after leaving Lebanon near the Israel-Lebanon border in August 2006.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Despite the chaos and warfare raging across the Middle East, the security situation in and around Israel is largely stable, thanks to the effective policies pursued by Israel’s defense establishment.
In this unpredictable volatile region, a number of states collapsed and have been replaced with a myriad of sub-state radical actors. No one can know if and when war will break out, but as time goes by, it appears clear that a number of dangers will begin to appear on the horizon, with the most immediate threats being the least severe, and the later expected threats growing in severity as time goes by.
The IDF currently has some breathing space to focus on its number one goal set by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot: training and being prepared for the outbreak of sudden war. The fact that the borders are quiet and that the situation in the West Bank and Gaza is under control provides a good opportunity for the defense establishment to focus on upgrading the military’s war readiness.
As time goes by, it seems that the West Bank’s relative quiet, achieved months after a wave of unorganized terrorism, is the most likely collapse.
When the time comes for the Palestinian Authority to name a successor to President Mahmoud Abbas, trouble could arrive, with various groups in the PA vying for power. The PA’s security forces may not immediately know who is in charge.
Militias – such as Fatah’s Tanzim – that have been restrained by Abbas may feel they have a freer hand to send gunmen into the streets if the transition does not go smoothly. Ongoing incitement to violence, combined with the lack of a diplomatic horizon, could trigger more unorganized violence, although Israel’s steps to facilitate work visas for many Palestinians acts as a stabilizing force countering these agents of violence and chaos.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is intrinsically linked to events in the West Bank. Hamas is continuously trying to orchestrate terrorist cells in the West Bank while arming itself in Gaza for the next round of hostilities.
Gaza’s poor economic state – a result of the decision to channel significant resources to the next stage of conflict with Israel – has created a pressure cooker type of situation on the crowded Islamist enclave. This could explode, despite the fact that Hamas is deeply deterred by Israel at this time.
To the north and south, in Syria and Sinai, radical Sunni Islamic State elements pose a threat, particularly in the failed ex-state of Syria. The Syrian front has remained surprisingly quiet over the past four years, but there is no good reason to expect this to continue; ISIS or the al-Nusra Front could attack Israel at any time.
Stretched between its positions in southern Lebanon and its costly, bloody intervention in Syria’s civil war, Hezbollah has no desire to launch a war against Israel any time soon, so conflict with this most potent of enemies seems unlikely in the near future. Further down the line, however, any possibility of Hezbollah down-scaling its involvement in Syria’s war or consolidating its presence in the Syrian Golan, would mean that it would turn its sights firmly on Israel again.
Hezbollah’s sponsor, Iran, poses a double challenge. In the short term, Tehran has frozen its nuclear program, but focuses on building up its conventional military and trafficking weapons to Hezbollah, while supporting Hamas where it can. Iran’s weapons industries are mass-producing accurate, GPS-guided rockets and missiles, and Tehran is trafficking these to Hezbollah, which could use them to threaten Israel’s strategic sites.
Iran has long-term plans to restart its nuclear program after the sunset clause in the nuclear agreement with the P5+1 expires, a development that could, about a decade from now, place the Iranians on a fresh collision course with Israel and Sunni powers.
The Sunni Arab states that have remained standing, meanwhile, led by pragmatic, rational governments, are engaged in an unprecedented arms race with Iran, purchasing billions of dollars of Western military equipment. If those governments should fall victim to the instability rocking the region, those weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
Despite all of the above, Israel remains the strongest regional power by far. The IDF will seek to take advantage of the current calm to train, stockpile munitions, and integrate new platforms, such as the F-35 fighter jets, Merkava 4 tanks, and a new generation of armored personnel carriers capable of defending themselves against shoulder-fired missiles.
The IDF is constructing a digital military combat network that will see the air force, ground forces, and navy integrate with one another and with military intelligence in ways not seen in any other fighting force in the world.
It is following orders from the chief of staff to use the current respite wisely, for no one can truly know how long the calm will last.
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