Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Articles in the Israeli media based on analysis of security in 2014 present a surprisingly optimistic assessment, though not from a U.S. perspective and still with some warnings.
Most of the work is by Ron Ben Yishai, and it poses a very different, and, I think, more accurate view than in the rest of the world.
Direct conventional threats to Israel decreased dramatically due to internal conflicts and conflict among hostile states.
Second, while there are a greater number of terror groups, they are more diffuse and divided (especially along Sunni-Shi'a lines). As Ben Yishai points out, "Sinai and Syria have at the moment–and will likely have next year too–good, existential reasons to try not to get entangled in a wide-scale conflict with Israel."
As for Syria, it isn't going to make big problems for Israel, as it has enough problems of its own already.
And that's also true of Lebanon: "Experts estimate [that Hizballah will] think twice before entering a conflict with the IDF. Hassan Nasrallah is maintaining his powers so that he can attack Israel if Iran’s nuclear facilities are attacked and in order to continue aiding the Assad regime in Syria. This aid– at Khamenei’s explicit order– put Nasrallah in a complicated situation against the other factions in Lebanon and weakened him."
Hizballah "hardly strengthened its military capabilities in the past year… at the cost of hundreds of casualties" and it "has not received a lot of strategic weapons from Syria or Iran." If Hizballah pushes Israel, it is estimated that it will suffer a very serious defeat.
Gaza and Hamas might pose a more serious problem. There is an effort by Hamas to build tunnels to launch rockets. But remember that here, out of self-interest, Egypt is cooperating to stop this, which takes us to our third point.
Third is Egypt. Israel and Egypt need each other to coordinate fighting Islamist terrorism in Sinai. And as for trust in the U.S. policy, Egypt is like a U.S. client that just got an Obamacare insurance cancellation in the mail. Egypt needs Russia, too.
"Not all of these positive opportunities and others will be realized in the coming year, but even if some of them yield a positive result–it’s good enough." Remember that, again, this is in no way due to U.S. policy.
Fourth, the Sunni bloc has been split by Egyptian anger toward Turkey (Turkey's support for the overthrown Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt recently kicking out the Turkish ambassador) and Saudis who suspect Turkey may be playing up to Iran (as well as distrust because they are Turks).
Fifth is the set of interests shared between Israel and Saudi Arabia, given Iran’s regional status and the threat hanging over them of Iranian hegemony as well as of radical political Islamism.
Sixth, it will weaken focus on the Palestinian issue and increase the divide between Hamas and Fatah, with Iran becoming Hamas's main patron.
"In general, Hamas is in a lousy situation and is trying to draw closer to Iran again in order to renew the financial aid." But this also infuriates Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Hamas has "been boosting [its] activity in Gaza and creating something we haven’t seen so far: Cells in the West Bank too. Yet intelligence experts note that the immediate level of danger is not high" and this is making Hamas and Fatah competitors. Remember the first and second intifada was based on Hamas-Fatah unity.
As for the Palestinian Authority, it too has a problem. It likes thinking about concessions–prisoner releases–but won't make any concessions. Thus, they may be drawn out, but talks will ultimately fail.
Seventh, of course, the fact that the Iranian bomb also threatens Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states is consistent, although it should not be overestimated.
And yet, here, too, there are several potential short-term advantages (no thanks to Obama and Kerry) for Israel–not that there would be any direct cooperation between Israel and the Gulf States.
First, by ending sanctions and making billions of dollars for Iran and Western companies, this at least delays Iranian nuclear weapons in the short-term.
"This is where the good news ends. The bad news is led by the estimate that Iran will likely not be willing, as part of the permanent agreement in six months, to completely abandon the abilities allowing the future production of a nuclear weapon. Simply put, Ali Khamenei’s Iran aspires to remain a threshold country even if it pays a heavy price for it."
Iran is going to get nuclear arms any way, as the West will not oppose Tehran and will not support an Israeli attack on Iran. Of course, despite any deal and short-term delay in Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, this will embolden Iran in the long-run. This is very serious.
But I would also suggest that this deal will fall apart sooner. Iran will never implement it, and once this becomes clear, it will only be a question of what the U.S. administration decides to do as a result.
Also, I would suggest that Iran never intended to use nuclear weapons but rather wished to have them as defensive weapons against Israel, so it could use them to pursue regional aggression by conventional means.
Iran's desire to obtain nuclear weapons is a move to guarantee the regime’s survival, a sort of insurance policy. Iranians may still agree to a settlement, pulling them several years away from the bomb.
Thus, ultimately, the plans are doing more harm to the United States than to Israel. The United States has empowered Russia and rebuilt the Russia-Egypt alliance after 50 years. It has also smashed the U.S.-Egypt and U.S.-Saudi alliance, deepened suspicion between Arabs and Turks, and empowered an Iran that will betray them. In addition, Syria may eventually be turned over to Iran.
"This agenda terrifies Arab rulers from Saudi Arabia to Egypt ….especially in light of Washington’s helplessness and unreliable policy. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are giving Egypt $100 million a month to buy food and so that it will not have to depend on Washington."
The goal of U.S. voters and politicians is to think there is a brilliant success in the Middle East, while, in fact, it is a disastrous failure. And this is much like the pattern prevailing elsewhere with the Obama administration policies.
Posted by Barry Rubin at 4:52 PM