5771 and beyond

This coming year our leaders will have to make decisions on the Iranian threat and chances for peace with the Palestinians.

Obama Netanyahu Abbas 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama Netanyahu Abbas 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
We are at a crossroads. The nuclearization of Iran has been progressing since the mid 1980s, when it was always something that was “far away.” There were always other, more pressing problems, and each government passed it to the next. Intelligence experts are saying that it doesn’t matter anymore whether Iran is able to assemble a bomb by the end of 2010, 2011 or 2012. What is important is that Iran now has everything it needs to make that bomb.
Should they be left to their own devices, the Iranians could have operational nuclear facilities anywhere between a year and 18 months, if they don’t slow down due to political considerations. At this point in time the Iranians are not taking big provocative leaps that incriminate them and are, as always, playing for time.
As there is currently no prospect of regime change in Iran, if the mullahs are allowed to obtain a military nuclear capability, others in the region won’t hesitate for a minute to go that route too. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, which all see themselves as central actors in the Middle East, would not tolerate a situation in which they are left behind in the nuclear race. US President Barack Obama’s vision of a nuclear-free world would be dealt a death blow.
If Iran gets the bomb, every third-rate dictator and radical terrorist group will either try to obtain nuclear power or feel emboldened to act more aggressively. Terrorists have been trying for years to get their hands on nuclear material, and some of the more radical groups will not hesitate to send an armed nuclear device to a Western port. The Cold War concept of mutually assured destruction thus won’t deter terrorists, and it won’t work in a multipolar nuclear system where a nuclear attack might not have a clear address to which a state can respond.
While the bipolar world of two superpowers has receded, the global map has now coalesced into two opposing camps: call them the moderates and radicals.
The center of gravity of the moderate camp is America, while the radicals are centered on Iran. Their battle is being waged over emerging and failed states in the middle: the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan.
Terror groups will see in a nuclear Iran an incentive to become bolder, and Iran may provide a nuclear umbrella to whom it chooses. Nobody, for instance, will dare disarm Hizbullah, and it will continue to deepen its control of Lebanon with Iran’s help.
Officials in Jerusalem say that there is an increased understanding among key world powers that sanctions, no matter how tough, are not going to stop Iran from its nuclear march. The question then is what they are willing to do to stop Iran. The moment of truth is approaching and strategic decisions are becoming impossible to put off anymore.
ISRAEL’S STRATEGY continues to be one centering on the maintenance of good relations with the US. It is the source of our military platforms, arms and spare parts. It has weapons and ammunition storage sites here that we can use in times of emergency. It invests heavily in maintaining our qualitative military edge. We go to it when we need diplomatic support. A big part of how our power projection is seen around the world is directly related to how our relation with America is perceived. When there’s friction between us, we are perceived to be weaker.
When America looks weaker, we look weaker.
Increasingly, our enemies’ rockets are becoming more accurate and deadly. In the next round, they won’t fire them just at civilian populations as they have in the past.
They are expected to target our military and strategic infrastructure with highly accurate missiles carrying heavy payloads. To counter this, we need a sophisticated, multilayered anti-missile system in place, and for this we need American support.
In the coming year, we continue to face threats on five fronts: Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and the global jihad. The state’s weaknesses are well known: long borders, population concentrated in the center, no strategic depth, one central airport and proximity to threats from Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. Despite this, we are still the strongest power within a 1,500 km. radius, and to maintain this, we need American support.
While an outbreak of war is not foreseen in the coming year, defense officials believe that the decisions taken and processes embarked upon this year will determine the direction the Middle East will take in the coming years.
In the meantime, Jerusalem can benefit from opportunities of unprecedented cooperation with America, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others against the joint threat from Iran. The price for this cooperation will be progress on the Palestinian track.
PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas has been involved in all negotiations with Israel since the Wye Plantation accord, but the question remains about whether he really wants, and is able to provide, a deal to end the conflict and all future claims. The Palestinians feel that time is on their side, and even a cursory look at their official media and education material shows that they are not preparing their people for peace. However, there are now different voices within the Palestinian camp than there were 30 years ago, and things on the ground have changed significantly. In Gaza, Hamas’s hold on power is secure unless it is forcibly removed or is drawn into a power-sharing deal with the PA. In the West Bank, increasing prosperity, law enforcement and state building are contributing to optimistic assessments of a peace deal, even if at the first stages Gaza is left out of the equation.
However, the feeling in Israel is that there is no Anwar Sadat on the Palestinian side, nobody who is willing and able to end the conflict. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said he is willing to break old paradigms and pay a heavy price to end the conflict, but his moment of truth will come when he has to choose between his right-wing coalition and an American president determined to achieve a historic accord. What Bibi chooses will set the tone for relations with America, and will bring the Palestinians to their own historic reckoning.
Netanyahu’s security plan is basically the same one drawn up by the army during Ariel Sharon’s term and approved by every defense minister since, with minor adjustments. According to this plan, Israel will not allow a south Lebanon model to materialize in the West Bank, in which terrorists fill the power vacuum left by an Israeli withdrawal with an arsenal of rockets and suicide bombers, which draws Israeli forces back in.
Within the security plan, Israel is demanding, mostly from America, an understanding of the shifting and unpredictable nature of the Middle East, and its strategic depth concerns. Israel and Iran were once friends, so too were Jerusalem and Ankara. Israel is conscious of the signs showing the resurgence of the eastern front. As one top defense official put it this week, “You can’t defend Tel Aviv from Latrun.”
The challenge for our peace negotiators in the coming year is not to let the country’s security red lines be portrayed as an unwillingness to move toward a deal with the Palestinians. Thus, the more America provides security guarantees, the more we can compromise.
Politically, the extreme Left and messianic Right have not managed to create momentum for their binational or one-state solutions. Polls continue to show a solid majority within the Jewish Israeli public for a two-state solution with credible security guarantees. The simple truth is that there are 3.5 million Palestinians and 7.5 million Israelis between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. In any configuration other than a twostate solution, Israel cannot remain both Jewish and democratic.
Already, Israel’s delegitimization in the world is reaching alarming proportions. Without a peace agreement, the country’s isolation will deepen, with real security, diplomatic and economic consequences. If Netanyahu, with his current coalition, is unable to forge a brave peace with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with an American administration hungry for such a deal, he has the option of widening his government by bringing in all or some of Kadima. The longer he waits, and the closer we get to elections, the less likely Kadima will be interested in joining his government.
Netanyahu does not want to scuttle any of his current coalition partners, but he will have a hard time keeping the more right-wing elements from bolting the further along the process he gets with the Palestinians. With the settlement freeze, he has already taken unprecedented steps towards satisfying the Americans and enticing the Palestinians. Israeli negotiators are trying to convince the Palestinians and Americans that the question of settlement construction should not be a central focus of the peace talks. What does it matter if a house is built on the Israeli or Palestinian side of the border once the border issue is settled, they ask.
Furthermore, if a building is planned today, it will only be completed, at the earliest, in 18 months. And since the two sides are hoping to reach a framework agreement within a year, including borders, why walk away from the talks over the construction issue? And lastly, how many buildings can go up in a year? A thousand, perhaps? And if they are built in the large settlement blocs, will that really scuttle the talks? Israeli and Palestinian leaders have to ask themselves what their real interest is: achieve a lasting peace or find an elegant and convincing way to blame the other side for the failure of the talks. As 5771 rolls in, it seems that Obama desperately wants a deal, Abbas doesn’t really want one, and Bibi doesn’t know what he wants yet.