ANALYSIS: Preparing for upheaval during the election period

During this sensitive period, it would be wise to assume that our enemies will make special attempts to challenge us.

Fifth Hezbollah tunnel located and destroyed by IDF. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Fifth Hezbollah tunnel located and destroyed by IDF.
As happens at the beginning of every secular New Year, all Israeli governmental bodies – including the security establishment – assess the events of the past year and set goals for the future.
In order to accomplish this, the Israeli intelligence community must conduct a comprehensive process of summarizing events that took place over the last 12 months, considering the current situation with respect to national security, recognizing trends, and making policy and strategy decisions for the near future. This is especially important for intelligence agencies since it enables them to pause in their regular activity and instead focus on planning for the future. Based on these assessments, the political echelon can then make decisions regarding IDF and government activity in the security, economic and political arenas.
This process is much more important and complex this year for a number of reasons: The IDF chief of staff and his deputy are being replaced; Knesset elections will be taking place in a few months; and the geo-strategic security situation is still quite precarious. From what is known of incoming Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and his deputy Eyal Zamir, there is no doubt that during their training period they will delve into the assessments made by the various intelligence agencies and their implications vis-à-vis readying Israel’s armed forces.
Be that as it may, these intelligence assessments will now be examined from a political point of view as well, and all political opinions will affect decisions made by the security establishment. Moreover, the potential for leaks to the media will rise exponentially, along with the difficulty of translating intel into action, which would undermine politicians’ ability to make decisions regarding military operations.
During this sensitive period, it would be wise to assume that our enemies will make special attempts to challenge us as Israel endeavors to form a new government. Regardless of the election results, the intelligence agencies will have to carry out additional evaluations immediately following the elections, with emphasis on how Israel’s new political map will impact our friends and enemies around the globe.
The following are some of subjects that will be presented to the political echelon and which will have the greatest influence on the security situation in Israel in the coming months:
First is the IDF’s freedom of movement in Syria, which is strengthening militarily and politically under Assad’s rule; second is a de facto mutual deterrent balance has recently come to exist in the Gaza Strip, which will most likely be challenged by Hamas in the upcoming months (in an effort to influence Israeli elections, as happened in 1996) and by other Iranian-backed organizations operating out of Gaza; and third is IDF freedom of movement in Lebanon, with extra attention on efforts by Iran and Hezbollah as they scramble to militarize and build specialized machinery in Lebanon.
FURTHERMORE, WE must also take into consideration what kind of influence the struggle between the US, Russia and China has on Israel. It appears that the our main ally in the West has weakened as a result of its domestic conflicts and political polarization, and that once again the US has decided to take a more passive role in Middle Eastern affairs. As a result, its status in the Sunni world has weakened, and it has once again delayed publicizing the details of its latest solution for the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
On the one hand, Russia is gaining power both in the Crimea as well as in Syria, and is increasingly causing friction in its relationship with Israel. On the other hand, we need to take into account the US-China trade war, which will affect the former’s economic involvement in the Middle East and especially with Israel.
It appears the regional upheaval that has taken place in the Middle East over the past few years is finally coming to an end. An era of new beginnings is upon us as countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt and even Yemen are settling down.
It’s unlikely that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come to an end in the upcoming year considering the violent rocket attacks that have come out of Gaza in the last few months and the potential for escalation or unrest. With the weakening of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the power struggle among contenders vying for Mahmoud Abbas’s seat, Israeli authorities are hoping to stabilize cooperation with the PA and Palestinian security forces and to maintain Egyptian involvement in the Gaza Strip.
Israel is still, of course, also contending with the Iranian threat. In the upcoming months we will continue to deal with conflict with Iran and its satellite states that border Israel, which could even swell to greater proportions. We must continue to observe Iran’s military efforts to bolster Hezbollah’s precision-missile factories in Syria, which is continuing despite US sanctions.
And last, Israel must continue to contend with fake news sites and cyberattacks. As a highly advanced technological and democratic country, Israel is even more exposed than in the past to cyberthreats made by terrorist organizations. We must also prepare ourselves for additional attempts to influence Israeli public consciousness on social networks and in the media.
Many challenges lay ahead of us in 2019, which will be intensified by the upcoming election period. However, if we analyze the situations properly and take the necessary precautions, we should be able to withstand any potential upheaval that occurs as a result.

The writer is a veteran Israeli intelligence officer who served as head of the Military Intelligence’s Research Division.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.