Due to their preoccupation with the trivial and tasteless, our leaders have been blind to the development of Israel’s threat perception taking place right under their noses. Those with eyes in their heads and a basic understanding of historical processes, especially with regard to the Middle East, cannot help but be concerned about the smugness of our decision-makers.
The image of our region in its simplicity as I see it is described below.
The Middle East whose borders were determined by Sykes-Picot no longer exists. In its place is a dynamic new, historical, multi-player (local, regional and global) process, through which the new future borders of the Middle East will be determined. All of the global, regional and local players are active in this historical process in order to preserve each of their vital interests. Israel is the only player that does not fit into the historical process taking shape before our eyes. The declared policy of the Israeli government is not to get involved in what is taking place in the Middle East with the foolish thought that we will be able to survive the process of change unscathed. Indeed, there are even those who believe that we will emerge stronger from the process!
Who are the central players in the arena?
Russia: Was, is and probably will be hostile to Israel. The driving force behind Putin since his rise to power is to restore Russia to its status as a world power as it was recognized as such by the United States until 1990. In 1991, Yevgeny Primakov, then head of the foreign intelligence organization (KGB), said to me (quote): “Please convey to the political leaders of your country the following message – Russia was a superpower; Russia has the potential of a superpower and Russia will return to being a superpower” (end quote). In those days, the shelves in Moscow’s supermarkets were empty and the city’s residents sold their personal housewares and clothing on the street for money to buy bread. Since then, Russia has expanded its control over territories in the Caucasus, took over the Crimea, is slowly taking control of territory in Ukraine, and leased a maritime and air base for 49 years, including intelligence infrastructure and units subordinate to the Operations Directorate in Syria.
There is aerial coordination between Israel and the Russians but the practical significance of this coordination is that the Israeli Air Force lost its freedom of flight, and is exposed and threatened by the airspace of Syria and Lebanon.
Russia, which was historically hostile to Iran, has recently turned into its ally, at least with when it comes to the Middle East. The Russian rationale shaping its strategy says that as long as the United States refuses to recognize it as an equal superpower, Russia will do everything in order to achieve such a status on its own. Russia does not hesitate to use just any means to reach its goal.
Iran: Is not retreating from its goal of reaching military nuclear capability. It continues to develop every component of this capability that is not covered by its nuclear agreement with the superpowers. In my estimation, and based on my many years of familiarity with the Iranians from up close, even now they are secretly violating the agreement in everything that, in their opinion, does not exceed the threshold of the superpowers. A nuclear Iran is an existential threat to the State of Israel. Is it possible to live in the shadow of the “finger of God” on a nuclear trigger?
This Iran succeeded in transferring Iraq to its sphere of influence. Shi’ite Islam controls both of them, and Iran has a massive physical presence in Iraq militarily through the Revolutionary Guards and advisors. Hezbollah is only an Iranian division deployed along Israel's northern border, with quantitative and qualitative rocket and missile capabilities that threaten the entire State of Israel.
Iran and Russia today are allies in Syria and beyond. The significance of this is that we are now already living opposite the “Shi’ite Crescent”, which creates a ground sequence for Iran from its western border through to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Turkey: A hostile Muslim regime that cannot be trusted. President Erdogan’s vision is to restore Turkey to the glorious days of the Ottoman Empire. We are talking about a single ruler who has succeeded in turning the state regime into a presidential one and trampling on the political system of checks and balances that existed under the previous regime. He views Turkey as a regional power that does not fall from Iran and, in terms of numbers, the Sunni space in the Middle East is immeasurably greater than the Shi’ite space and, therefore, seniority must be with the former.
Europe: Despite its own many troubles, it does not change or let go of its hostile positions toward Israel regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation.
China: To summarize the relationship between China and Israel in one sentence: China views us as a high-tech enterprise that is up for sale, and it is fulfilling this quietly and gradually but confidently. Our decision makers, to the best of my knowledge, have not yet defined what it is they do not sell to the Chinese!
United States: The last but the most important. If I used to think that President Trump would fulfill his historical mission and save us from ourselves, this hope was dashed when I watched from afar his visit to Saudi Arabia and Europe. The key to understanding him (or at least one of them) is “the hole in the penny”. Europe, the European Union and NATO, the most important allies of the United States since the First World War, can be cast to the wind because they do not pay. Saudi Arabia, which is ready to sign arms contracts of unimaginable size with Trump, is the good kid in the neighborhood! The conclusion is that Trump cannot and must not be trusted. The statement that Israel and the United States are historic allies forever is impractical given a frenetic and unpredictable US President. The following is a question for a “student”: If Putin, given American restraints, would threaten to attack any Israeli aircraft whose purpose was to strike weapons shipments to Hezbollah, would the Israeli Air Force continue its attacks?
The conclusion to this point is that the threat perception to Israel is growing since we have no control or leverage to influence it, and it can be assumed that it will continue to increase. Political polarization in Israel accelerates the rise of the threat – a right that perpetuates the conflict and occupation, and a left that grows increasingly weak. If within Trump’s term, the English sentence – “all else will be equal” – will be realized, the unfolding threat will bring us back to the point of loss of the Six-Day War and the threat of using strategic weapons.
In order to illustrate this, we will very briefly present two scenarios, one of peace/order and the other a doomsday scenario. The first scenario will be based on the Arab League proposal from 2003 as a basis for negotiations. Israel and the United States, in secret talks, will reach understandings, agreements and gaps based on the Arab League proposal. The United States will “enlist” Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Straits (Morocco and Tunisia – an option) to the above. The “moderate bloc” led by Saudi Arabia explains, persuades or enforces these understandings on Abu Mazen (see Mubarak's rebuke to Arafat in a live broadcast to the world in 1994 – “Sign, you dog!” And Arafat did sign!). Given the doomsday alternative, the Prime Minister can replace a “diskette” and bring the Zionist camp and other supporters of the two-state solution into the coalition. In the next stage, Israel and the Palestinians will meet in secret, and not in front of the cameras, to process the details of the final agreement. The United States and the “moderate bloc” will accompany the negotiations as troubleshooters.
The second scenario is “doomsday”. The Israeli government continues its slide to the right. It continues to settle and apply creeping legislation in the West Bank on the path to annexation. The State of Israel is portrayed as an apartheid state and is on the path of boycotts and sanctions. The military threat is growing and terrorist activity from the territories and Gaza is worsening. There is an acceleration in the supply of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah. Russia is threatening to attack IAF planes when they fly over Syrian and Lebanese airspace as well as within the range of remote missile launches (standoff). Iran announces that it is renewing production of enriched uranium and secretly sending military advisors to Gaza to help Hamas. The Israeli government is urging the US government to intervene. President Trump informs the Prime Minister that he is treating the conflict as a real estate deal. His great deal of experience in real estate proves that there is no deal that cannot be completed. Trump conditions American involvement in stopping Russia and Iran on Israel’s immediate willingness to return to the 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state (Trump is a trifling intellectual but what does it mean to receive the Nobel Peace Prize? Enough said!). The hotheads of the right are exerting pressure on the Prime Minister to remove the camouflage nets from Israel's strategic missile system!
“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman's hand.” (Ezekiel 33:6).
* The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT).