There are two types of strategic perspectives in Israel today. They aren’t
contradictory, but they have different priorities. These can be called the
“northern” and the “southern” views.
The “northern” approach is the more
traditional one, focusing on the situation in that direction. The key
longer-term concern is over Iran and its drive for nuclear weapons. More
closely, there are both concerns and hopes regarding Lebanon and
Regarding Iran, the new feature is the assumption that Israel will
not attack Iran to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons. This means Israel
will be constructing a multi-level defensive system that includes long-range
attack planes, the ability to subvert Iran’s nuclear force through covert
operations, possibly submarine platforms, and several types of anti-missile
missiles and defenses.
The goal here is fourfold:
• To delay as long as
possible Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and to minimize the size and
effectiveness of its arsenal through sanctions, international pressure, sabotage
and other means.
• To have the maximum ability to deter Iran from
launching a nuclear attack and demonstrating the ability to stop its missiles.
The aim is to discourage Iran from launching such an attack, given a
nearcertainty that it can be stopped and, as a result, it would suffer very
• Of course, ordinary deterrence is not a sufficient
safeguard against Iran, given the Islamic regime’s ideological extremism and
passionate hatred of Israel, the recklessness of some key elements there, and
the rulers’ shortcomings in assessing reality.
Consequently Israel must
put a high priority on stopping any Iranian attack from happening or
• To be able, if Israel determines there is a real danger of
an Iranian attack, to launch a first strike to inflict maximum damage on Iran’s
nuclear strike force. In other words, an Israeli attack would be premised not on
Iran getting nuclear weapons, but on Iran being likely to use them.
deterrence, early-warning, and anti-missile efforts would supplement this
system, but this strategy is not premised on any dependence on the US
BUT ISRAEL also knows that an equal or even greater danger is
the spread of Iranian influence, taking over Arab countries or turning them into
proxies. Here, the northern focus is on Syria and Lebanon.
surface, the news from these two countries is potentially bad. Lebanon is now
controlled by Hezbollah and other Syrian or Syrian-Iranian clients. Hezbollah
can thus use Lebanon as a virtual fiefdom for building its military power and
attacking Israel. This is much worse than the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, when
Lebanon as a government and army had a separate identity.
Syria itself is
faced with a serious internal upheaval that seems likely to bring down President
Bashar Assad. Here the “glass halfempty” analysis is that Assad might be
replaced by a regime even more hostile to Israel.
There is also a “glass
half-full” analysis. As long as Syria is in such turmoil, it cannot so
effectively threaten Israel. And if Assad is overthrown, a government that is
more preoccupied by internal affairs, and less eager to start a conflict, might
Iraq offers a good model here.
Between the interests
of the Kurds, the internal conflict, a greater focus on domestic development and
other factors, Iraq has dropped out of the conflict with
Hezbollah also suffers from this turmoil. Since it has sided with
the Assad regime, it has gone from being wildly popular to widely hated by the
Syrian people. Hamas, which has sided against the Syrian regime and in favor of
its Muslim Brotherhood comrades, has thus lost Syrian patronage. Finally,
Syria’s aggressive behavior has opened a rift between that country and Turkey’s
government, which has been increasingly acting like an ally of the Iranian and
CONSEQUENTLY, WHILE this is no ideal situation, Israel
can be considered to have benefitted from this aspect of the “Arab spring.” From
Israel’s standpoint, the relative stability in Jordan and Saudi Arabia is a
plus, since these countries are unlikely to be transformed into radical Islamist
states under a government linked to al-Qaida, Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood.
The turmoil in Bahrain, Yemen and Tunisia is of relatively little strategic
significance to Israel.
Generally there can be a hope that democracy and
domestic development will become a higher priority than fighting Israel, thus
easing the pressure on Israel, or at least preoccupying Arabs and Muslims for a
while. Clearly, merely calling dissidents Zionist agents and hoping to unite the
people around an anti-Israel platform no longer works for incumbent
In time, this strategy might work for replacing Islamist
governments, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Moreover, American weakness
and the Obama administration’s cooler view toward Israel is worrisome. So is the
possibility that things might be moving in a way to strengthen Iran.
ONE looks at the southern front, though, it is harder to find a silver lining.
Egypt is likely to elect a radical government more hostile than anything Israel
has faced there since about 1974. The future of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is
Peace between Israel and the Arab world’s most populous country
cannot be taken for granted.
There is also the problem of the Egypt-Hamas
relationship. Egypt is likely to see itself as Hamas’s ally and patron. In a
future Hamas-led conflict with Israel, Egypt could take the side of the
Palestinian Islamists, and will certainly help them. The long-quiet southern
front now has to be treated as a very possible war zone.
This is the
basic way things look for Israeli strategists.
One can stress better- or
worse-case scenarios and different parts of the challenge, but there is a
general consensus on the fundamental challenges – and on whether they will be
The writer is director of the Global Research in
International Affairs Center (www.gloriacenter.org) at the Interdisciplinary
Center, Herzliya and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs. He
blogs at http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin