Israel's borders are oddly quiet, all the conflict is within - analysis

Are Israel's biggest threats internal, or do we still need to worry about conflicts with neighbors?

 Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, gather as they carry flags, marking the commemoration of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, in Adaisseh village near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, May 25, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/AZIZ TAHER)
Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, gather as they carry flags, marking the commemoration of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, in Adaisseh village near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, May 25, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AZIZ TAHER)

Judging by the items dominating the print and broadcast news, Israel’s enemies have disappeared. 

When was the last time you heard the name of Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar? When was the last time Iran’s nuclear program led the evening news? When was the last time a politician took to the airwaves to warn about developments in Syria? 

Four weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was sworn in, all those issues -- as well as other security issues that generally make up the bulk of what people worry about in this country -- have seemingly gone by the wayside. 

Why? What happened? Why is the country not preoccupied -- as it is so often -- with national security issues? 

There are several possible explanations.

Right wing crowds and politicians rally in Jerusalem after Yamina MK Idit Silman withdraws from the coalition.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Right wing crowds and politicians rally in Jerusalem after Yamina MK Idit Silman withdraws from the coalition. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The first is that when there is not much to discuss, the media and politicians talk about Iran and other external threats. It’s the country’s evergreen. Politicians make hay by raising concerns about it, and journalists fill endless news holes by writing and talking about it. 

But now the news hole is being filled by something else: judicial reform. There is no reason to look abroad for things to write and talk about, because there is so much going on right here under our noses.  

Who are Israel's real enemies today?

Iran's nuclear development, concern about the US re-entering the Iranian nuclear agreement, and Iran’s arming of its proxies have not disappeared. All that is still there, still a significant threat. But we’re paying less attention, because the whole judicial reform issue is just taking up all the space. 

Coalition politicians looking to elbow their way into the headlines do not need to blame the former government for “dropping the ball” on Iran to be interviewed; all they have to do is talk about the government’s judicial reform plan. And opposition MKs  looking for a tool to club the government need not look to its position on Iran; they have plenty of material on hand with their cries of an “end to democracy.’

The “end of democracy” forecast, at least in the news, has for weeks overshadowed the Iranian nuclear threat, or any other of the country’s security challenges. 

Israel’s enemies haven’t disappeared; it is just that the media and the politicians are paying them much less attention these days, dealing instead with the burning issue of whether Israel is turning into a political dictatorship or a state ruled by judicial tyranny. The threats haven’t passed, the country’s focus has just shifted.

A second explanation for the relative security quiet we are currently experiencing is that the country’s external enemies are just watching with glee as the country appears to be falling apart from within.

“The prevailing feeling among our adversaries is that our historic comparative advantage, the one that helped us for thousands of years -- our national resilience --is dissipating. This insight should disturb us more than anything else.”

Shin Bet Head Ronen Bar

Al Mayadeen, the pro-Hezbollah, pro-Syrian government pan-Arabic media outlet based in Beirut, posted on Twitter a video Sunday of the massive protest in Tel Aviv the night before. The video was accompanied by ominous music, and the mood it conveyed was one of a country -- the “Zionist entity” -- crumbling from within. 

The tweet read, “According to Israeli media, approximately 100,000 Israeli settlers gathered Saturday for a demonstration against the Netanyahu government on ‘Kaplan’ Street in ‘Tel Aviv’.”

For Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah, the demonstration -- and the current Israeli internal divide -- is useful to prove the theory he expounded some 23 years ago when Israel withdrew from Lebanon:  that Israel is a weak country, a spider web, that can be blown away with one strong exhale.

“Our brothers and beloved Palestinians, I tell you: Israel, which owns nuclear weapons and the strongest war aircraft in the region, is feebler than a spider’s web - I swear to God,” he said at the time.  

For enemies like Hezbollah, internal dissent of the variety Al Mayadeen highlighted on Twitter is an example of Israel’s feebleness.

 A veiled Palestinian Hamas supporter talks on her mobile phone during student council elections at Palestine Polytechnic University in the West Bank city of Hebron March 19, 2007 (credit: NAYEF HASHLAMOUN/REUTERS) A veiled Palestinian Hamas supporter talks on her mobile phone during student council elections at Palestine Polytechnic University in the West Bank city of Hebron March 19, 2007 (credit: NAYEF HASHLAMOUN/REUTERS)
Enemy states and their interpretations of Israel's current political state

Last September, just prior to the country's fifth election in under four years, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Ronen Bar warned of how Israel’s enemies are interpreting the Jewish state’s rifts. 

“From the intelligence that we read, and the interrogations with attackers that we see, and many years of knowledge of our enemies wherever they are, it is possible to say today without any doubt: the political instability, the growing internal division, the breaking up of the historical common denominators, and the radicalized discourse — all these are a shot of encouragement to the countries of the axis of evil, to terrorist organizations, and to lone attackers.

“The prevailing feeling among our adversaries is that our historic comparative advantage, the one that helped us for thousands of years -- our national resilience --is dissipating,” Bar said. “This insight should disturb us more than anything else.”

And Bar’s comments came before the acerbic rhetoric and threats of civil disobedience and civil war that have accompanied the unveiling of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s judicial reform. 

Bar’s message was clear. Israel’s enemies are watching the developments inside the country closely and concluding that the country is weak, divided and falling apart.

The current quiet, therefore, may be the calm before the storm; the quiet before the country’s enemies decide that the internal divisions have sufficiently weakened Israel’s solidarity and resolve, and that the time is right to pounce.

The third possible explanation for the relative quiet may be that Israel’s enemies don’t know precisely how to read this government, are unsure of how it will react, and don’t want to test it -- at least not yet.  

Given all that has been written here and abroad, in Hebrew, Arabic and English, about the “extremism” and “fanaticism” of those in the government, there may be a reluctance to test how a government with Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in the security cabinet will respond to provocations. 

Police spokesman Eli Levy said in a Kan Bet interview last week, "One thing I can say, speaking as someone who’s out there on the ground, is that Itamar Ben-Gvir’s appointment has had a huge deterrent effect, primarily in the Arab sector. There’s a certain sense of caution, of tense wariness, since he arrived in the government.”

This may be a narrative that Ben-Gvir is trying to spin, using the police spokesman to do it. On the other hand, it might be true: that he is viewed as so “crazy,” that no one wants to test him. The responses to his visit to the Temple Mount earlier this month were telling. Despite warnings that this visit would unleash a wave of violence, the visit passed in relative quiet -- apocalypse deferred.  

What might be true of local Arabs not wanting to test Ben-Gvir, may also be true of Israel’s enemies outside the country’s borders. At least for now. 

Whatever the reason, Israel is enjoying a welcome period of relative quiet. And how is it using that time? By fighting internally.