Map of Middle East.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Naïve Israelis who watch TV programs and news broadcasts or tourists who happen to hear politics being discussed might think the Israeli people live day by day with the existential threat of immediate annihilation. Newspaper headlines focus on these subjects and the prime minister and his cabinet spend a significant portion of their time dealing with this topic.
Hezbollah is getting stronger; Islamic State is moving closer to Israel’s northern border; radical Muslims are overtaking Sinai; Hamas in Gaza is rearming and preparing to take over the West Bank; the Iranian nuclear threat looms above us, the Turkish “Sultan” Erdogan is spouting more demagoguery; and more recently events in Yemen are making us nervous.
But what’s really happening around us? How bad is our situation really? And if it isn’t, then why are people trying to stress us out so much? I will begin with concluding right off that the State of Israel is not at present under any form of existential security threat from within or from outside its borders. Paradoxically, and despite the intensification of radical Islamist activity in the region, Israel’s military situation is actually quite calm.
Lebanon and Syria have not been functioning as sovereign nations for some time already.
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Lebanon lost its independence many years ago. It is functioning without any real government or leadership, with Hezbollah running the country and turning it into one of the largest missile bases in the Middle East. Granted, this threat has caused serious damage to the Israeli economy over the years and has lowered our quality of life, and yet Hezbollah is not capable of and has no plans to conquer Israel or parts of it.
Hezbollah is cognizant of the fact that it has absolutely no chance of wiping us out.
Islamic State’s murderous gangs control eastern Lebanon and Nusra Front thugs rule in Syria, which has been weakened beyond recognition.
As a result, the main threat from Syria is that the fighting between these groups will spill over into Israeli territory.
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The Jordanian monarchy is stable for the time being, but the country is isolated from the rest of the Arab world and relies on a relatively weak military.
The main threat Jordan needs to worry about is an uprising by its Palestinian population, which constitutes a majority in the country. Another concern is that Islamic State forces will cross over into Jordanian territory.
Saudi Arabia is still sitting on the fence. It does not possess a strong military and has been cooperating recently with the US Army, and even began pulling its weight in the struggle against Hamas and Iran-backed forces in Yemen and Syria.
Saudi Arabia is much more concerned about containing the Shi’ite threat and a Hamas-controlled Gaza than fighting against Israel.
Egypt, the strongest Arab country in the region, is enjoying a period of relative stability following Gen. Sisi’s military takeover in 2013. The Egyptian government is actively working to suppress Islamic terrorism inside its borders, to put a stop to the flow of goods to Hamas through tunnels that lead to Gaza, and to rid Sinai Peninsula of al-Qaida and Islamic State forces. Egypt has neither the intention nor the ability to attack Israel and is completely dependent on the US for military support.
The Palestinian arena is no less complex. Hamas is currently ruling the Gaza Strip, but is becoming less and less popular as the residents of Gaza are living in atrocious conditions and many are poverty-stricken.
In addition, Egyptian forces have almost completely put a halt to the smuggling of weapons through underground tunnels from Egypt into Gaza.
Although Hamas’s financial situation is dire, it has recuperated from last summer’s Operation Protective Edge and is ready for the next military engagement.
Israel may not be threatened by immediate violence coming out of Gaza, but the situation is complicated and needs to be dealt with properly.
Hamas is actively trying to take control of the West Bank, but is finding this task difficult due to the successful cooperation between the Shin Bet and Palestinian Authority security forces. In short, neither Hamas nor the completely dysfunctional Palestinian Authority currently poses an existential threat to the State of Israel, but this fact has not prevented the government from allocating an outrageously large amount of money to the security establishment.
The issues that do actually pose a serious threat to Israel are domestic social concerns, such as a debilitating educational system, which does not provide enough classrooms and teachers for our children, and a health system that has been faltering for years now as patients lay on beds in the hallways of overcrowded hospitals where there are never enough nurses or doctors.
It’s convenient for policy- makers to portray Israel as living under constant threat in order to unite the nation around one idea – a common enemy. But what Israel needs now is a strong and courageous leadership that can fix the rifts within Israeli society, get rid of the corruption and create a long-term strategy. Without such a leadership, nothing will change.The writer is a former brigadier- general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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