Analysis: The future security challenges facing the next prime minister

Irrespective of whether diplomatic talks begin again, the IDF is preparing for Palestinian terrorism and rioting.

By
March 16, 2015 17:47
4 minute read.
Netanyahu and Herzog

Netanyahu and Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,REUTERS)

 
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Whoever forms the next ruling coalition following the election will quickly have to turn his attention to a list of security issues facing the country.

Behind closed doors, far from the public eye, the winner will hold cabinet meetings with defense and intelligence chiefs. During these critically important meetings, the prime minister and his cabinet hear about the latest developments, before listening to the IDF’s assessments. Defense chiefs then recommend courses of action.

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The first challenge that will appear before the next premier is the progressively deteriorating situation in the West Bank, where spontaneous, unplanned terrorist attacks and rioting are on the rise, and, according to security sources, are set to continue to rise into the spring and summer.

A sign of the army’s preparations for a rise in West Bank violence can be found in the large-scale exercise ordered by the newly appointed military chief of staff, Lt.-Gen.

Gadi Eisenkot, at the start of the month. Thousands of reservists were mobilized, without warning, to positions in the West Bank as part of the drill to test responses, showing how seriously the IDF is taking the possibility of a rapid escalation.

While the country’s intelligence services have been able to keep organized Palestinian terrorism under control, they cannot preempt unplanned attacks taken by those who aren’t members of established terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Despite the Palestinian Authority’s poor record of intransigence, and its unwillingness to respond positively to past Israeli peace offers, the IDF can be expected to ask the next prime minister to consider the option of attempting to restart diplomatic talks.

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Defense officials view such a step as having the potential of lowering tensions, and possibly preempting some of the expected mass violence that could be just around the corner.

Irrespective of whether diplomatic talks begin again or not, the army is preparing for plenty of more Palestinian terrorism and rioting.

In the Gaza Strip, the next prime minister will have few good options on the table.

Hamas and its allied terrorism entities are in the midst of an ambitious rocket rearmament and tunnel reconstruction program, and the IDF too is gearing up for the next clash there, which is seen by many defense officials as inevitable. The central question is when, not if, hostilities will break out again, and no clear answer can be given due to the many factors that shape Hamas’s decision-making process.

Hamas’s leadership is divided, with splits between the military and political wings in Gaza, and power struggles between the political wing and Hamas’s overseas branch headed by Khaled Mashaal.

Meanwhile, Hamas’s Gazan military wing, together with its Turkey-based terrorist headquarters led by senior operative Salah Aruri, will continue to plot mass-casualty terrorist attacks against Israeli targets.

But the threats developing in Gaza are dwarfed by the one posed by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

The good news is that Hezbollah, the most heavily armed terrorist entity in the world, in possession of a vast rocket arsenal, is not interested in a clash with Israel at this time. The bad news is that this Iranian proxy is moving from its main base in southern Lebanon into southern Syria, where it is fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, and at the same time seeking to establish a new front of Shi’ite Iranian-backed jihad against Israel.

The winner of the election will need to closely monitor developments in Lebanon and Syria, and keep an eye on Hezbollah activities in the Syrian Golan Heights.

Hezbollah could test Israel by building a new terrorism base in southern Syria, just as it tried to do in January.

Whoever is voted in as prime minister can be expected to be told by defense officials that the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the region means that Hezbollah and Israel could quickly find themselves at war, despite the fact that neither are seeking a head-on clash.

Hezbollah is keen to avoid Israel’s firepower, but its “under-the-radar” activities continue and could precipitate a new round of violence; its operatives, backed by Iran, have never ceased trying to carry out terrorist attacks on Israeli targets overseas.

In addition to Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian mass violence, the future Israeli premier will not be able to ignore the emergence of Islamic State as a murderous and influential regional entity. Islamic State could approach the Israeli border from Syria in the coming months, a development that would require firm decisions.

The biggest threat and the one that will demand the most amount of attention and resources from the next prime minister of Israel is of course the Iranian nuclear program.

By the time the results of the election in Israel are clear, and the next ruling coalition emerges, Washington and Tehran might complete a deal that will leave Iran in possession of a large chunk of its uranium enrichment assets, all of its missiles and all of its regional terrorist proxies and networks intact.

Whoever wins the election will soon have to formulate policy on how Israel will respond to this most serious development.

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