A new Likud-led government will take office in Jerusalem in the coming weeks. The mantras of the election campaign are over and the new government will have to face the security challenges emanating from the strategic environment.
The most important issue for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is of course Iran. As the U.S. races toward an agreement that will legitimize the nuclear breakout status of Iran, the regional powers signal their displeasure, as well as their desire to develop uranium enrichment capabilities on par with Iran. The American attempt to offer a nuclear umbrella to forestall nuclear proliferation, a strategic nightmare, is doomed to failure. No Arab leader trusts President Barack Obama. Only a military strike to destroy the Iranian capability to produce fissionable material needed for nuclear bombs can stop nuclear proliferation in the region.
The only country with enough guts that can do so is Israel. This decision must be taken by the next Israeli government. The timetable for such a strike is not to be determined by additional Iranian progress on the nuclear path, but by the perceptions of regional leaders of Iranian ambitions and power. The expansion of Iranian influence to Iraq and Yemen, in addition to the grip over Syria and Lebanon, heightened threat perceptions. American willingness to accept a greater Iranian regional role undermines American credibility and underscores the need for Israeli action in the near future.
An Israeli strike is needed to prevent nuclear proliferation and to prevent imperial and Islamist Iran acquiring hegemony in the Middle East. History indicates that such Israeli actions will not be welcomed by American administrations, but will be highly appreciated later. It is Israel that will save the Americans from themselves.
Israel’s main challenge is to maintain its freedom of action, while on a collision course with the current American policy designed to make Iran a partner for achieving stability in the Middle East. This is not an easy endeavor, but Israel has large reservoirs of good will in the U.S. to allow it to pursue its cardinal security interests against the will of an unpopular American president.
Despite the fact that some of the Arab armies that posed a threat to Israel have largely disintegrated and the power differential between Israel and its Arab neighbors grows constantly, the Jewish state still faces great hostility from Islamist sub-state armed groups. Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad cannot conquer Israel, but have acquired impressive capabilities to cause massive damage. Large armored formations are still needed to tackle those challenges. Moreover, the active defense missile capability must be augmented.
Unfortunately, the IDF is underfunded, leading to cuts in ground forces and in training for the regular army and its reserves. Whoever will be the new defense minister, it is his task to secure a much larger military budget. Moreover, the unbearable situation that the IDF does not operate for a long period in accordance with a securely funded multiyear plan must end. Israel’s strong economy can definitely sustain larger defense layouts.
Another area that needs attention is the navy. Over 90% of Israel exports go via the East Mediterranean. Moreover, this area is rich in energy resources that are vital for Israel’s future prosperity. Yet, the eastern Mediterranean is increasingly becoming an Islamic lake. Turkey under Erdogan is gradually more hostile. Syria is an Iranian ally, and its civil war brings about the rise of Islamist militias of all kinds. Lebanon is largely ruled by Hezbollah, a Shiite radical organization aligned with Iran. It occasionally perpetrates attacks against Israel and threatened to hit Israel’s rigs in the sea. Hamas, a radical Sunni terrorist group linked to Iran, has taken over Gaza. It launches thousands of rockets to Israel and staged attacks on Israeli gas installations in the Mediterranean. In Sinai, a plethora of Islamist armed groups are challenging the sovereignty of Egypt and even attacked the targets along the Suez Canal. Libya is no longer a real state and the Islamist militias are fighting to carve areas of influence. We may see soon piracy in the East Mediterranean.
Israel’s responses must include a larger and stronger navy. This is an expensive project that has been started already. Hopefully, all budgetary problems will be overcome. Fortunately, some of the vessels needed are procured in Germany (not the U.S.), while others can be built in Israel if enough money is allocated.
The Middle East strategic landscape fosters new leaders and new ruling elites. Israel’s intelligence agencies face a difficult job of identifying the important players and their modus operandi. Many of the devils we knew are no longer in power. This means greater uncertainty and higher chances for surprises. Since Israel cannot prevent all surprises (that is their nature), it must prepare for worst-case scenarios rather than be tempted by rosy dreams.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel Hayom