By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The main concept of Israel’s national security was established on the basis that Israel lives in a constant state of existential threat. Therefore, its core is based, on one hand, on the success of staying in a hostile environment, and on the other hand, on the preservation of “Jewish nationalism” and establishing the recognition of the legitimacy of its existence between the river and the sea (instead of occupied Palestine).
First: Main Principles and Bases
The three main principles of Israel’s national security are deterrence, early warning, and decisive outcome. Then, five bases were added to complement the foundations of the security theory: The people’s military (“All citizens” eligible to serve in the army), moving the battle onto “enemy” territory, quality over quantity, defensible borders, and international alliances especially with the United States.
Based on the above, Israel strives always to develop “superiority,” including over nonconventional threats (particularly nuclear capabilities). It has developed “the vital spheres” theory, where—according to Ariel Sharon’s theory —there are expanding circles in the strategic periphery of Israel; the third circle includes Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Gulf countries and North Africa. The Israelis developed also the “buffer zone” theory to solve the strategic depth issue and have “secure borders.” Israeli strategic decision makers have used the concepts of “preemptive strike,” “secure borders” and the “pretext for war,” to secure Israeli dominance over the surrounding area. Hence, there were the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978 and 1982, the 2006 war, the 1981 bombing of Iraqi nuclear reactor, the ongoing wars and aggression on Gaza Strip (GS), the 2012 bombing of the Yarmouk arms factory in Sudan and the Israeli air strikes in Syria.
Second: Affective Challenges and Risks:
The developments, especially in the second decade of the 21st century (2010–2019), brought strategic risks to the “Israeli national security,” most important of which are:
1. The revolutions and uprisings of the Arab region (The Arab Spring), which strongly denounced the corruption and tyranny regimes that have largely contributed to the state of weakness, defeats and Israeli superiority. These revolutions have provided the opportunity for real changes in the strategic landscape, which may pose an existential threat to Israel.
2. The development of Palestinian resistance led by Hamas, and the strong and growing resistance base in GS; the wide Palestinian, Arab and Islamic popular trend supporting the resistance.
3. The external threat to Israel has increased, which includes the northern front (Hizbullah), and regionally Iran and its nuclear and missile program.
4. The nature of threats has changed, hence protecting the “home front” and the application of security principles on it have become more difficult. For instance, the missiles of the resistance pose a threat to the entire of Israeli-controlled areas, the resistance operations (especially during the Aqsa Intifadah 2000–2005), and the drones (UAVs).
5. Cyber threats: Despite the Israeli qualitative edge in the field of communications and cyberwarfare, the resistance forces have developed their cyber capabilities, becoming a growing threat to Israel.
6. The demographic threat: The two-state solution has failed, and the right-wing Israelis desire to maintain control of WB, however the Palestinian population have exceeded (or about to exceed) the Jewish population in historical Palestine. This has made the Israeli face the dilemma of dealing with the “Palestinian demographic time bomb.”
7. The difference and disruption of the geographic and geopolitical criteria, on which some aspects of the Israeli security theory is based. For the possibility of moving the battle onto “enemy” territory has encountered some problems, consequently the values of strategic depth and secure borders have decreased.
8. The challenge of the “delegitimization” of Israel, and the challenge of the spread of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements, These challenges have increased in the past few years, at the international level, and caused a lot of anxiety to Israel.
9. The internal societal threat has increased, for Israel has socially changed due to the swing from a socialist to a free market economy, where new generations want to enjoy their lives, disliking conscription and lacking the will to fight.
All of this have led to the erosion of the deterrence concept, the decrease of Israeli “early warning” capabilities, and those to quick end the wars and battles—especially after its experience in the 2006 Lebanon war and the three wars with GS—, and the doubling of Israeli military costs compared to the expected results.
Third: Updating the National Security Administration:
In the past years until the Coronavirus pandemic, no fundamental change happened to the core of the national security theory, however, in the second decade of the 21st century, some flexible repositioning occurred commensurate with emerging risks and challenges. Israel tried also to take advantage of the many opportunities that the developments offered. Therefore, the administration of the Israeli national security focused on:
1. The Defense Principle: In 2015, the Israeli army published its formal doctrine entitled The IDF Strategy. Observers noted that, for the first time, the document includes the new “defense” principle along with the previous three principles. It is entrenched with the construction of the Separation Wall in the West Bank (WB) and fences and walls with GS, Syria and Lebanon; the anti-missile systems, especially the Iron Dome; and the armored vehicle defense systems. This principle would not have taken hold without the regional changes and the increasing threat of resistance forces.
2. The Region’s Policeman: The Arab countries have effectively exited from their conflict with Israel. The threat of conventional wars has fallen apart with the collapse of a strong Arab army such as that of Iraq, and other Arab armies as those of Libya and Yemen. While the stature and power of other armies, such as those of Egypt and Syria has receded, or got neutralized, following the settlement treaties, such as those with Jordan and Egypt.
3. Dominating the Strategic Environment: Following the launch of the revolutions in the Arab region, Israel has adopted the strategy of “preserving the castle,” because it sensed real danger. At the same time, it strived to dominate the region by encouraging opposing waves and military coups, foiling democratic endeavors, supporting what is called “the Arab moderation axis,” and paying great attention to the existing circumstances in the surrounding countries. For Israel wants to prevent any changes that may turn these countries into incubators for environments or projects hostile to Israel.
4. Employing the Palestinian Authority (PA): It took advantage of the peace process, the Oslo Accords and the Palestinian schism to sideline and weaken the Palestinian side, of which a major part (the PA) was employed to serve Israeli security requirements. These circumstances paved the way also for Israel to Judaize WB and consolidate the fait accompli in it.
5. The US Cover: Taking advantage of the US cover and the “deal of the century” to resolve the conflict issues with the Palestinians, especially Jerusalem’s future, preventing the return of refugees, and legitimizing Israeli settlement in WB.
6. Turning into a Normal Entity: Taking advantage of the favorable strategic environment to achieve an Israeli breakthrough in normalization, and establishing the fact that the strategic environment has accepted Israel as a “normal” entity in the region.
7. Resetting the Compass of Conflict: Benefiting from the region’s weakness and “turmoil” to forge alliances with the US-backed Arab regimes to fight “extremism,” “political Islam” movements and Iran. Moreover, resetting the conflict compass of Arab and Muslim countries, from being with Israel to becoming regional sectarian and ethnic conflicts.
8. Mowing the Grass: Continuing with the “mowing the grass” policy, preemptive strikes, and burning into the consciousness, when dealing with the resistance forces in GS and the northern front.
9. The “National” Spirit: Pumping up loyalty to the Zionist project and raising the racism spirit (or “nationalism” as they call it). Consequently the Israeli society became more right-winged and religious, enacting racist laws, prominent among them “The Jewish Nation-State Law.”
10. International Repositioning: Seeking more self-reliance, economically, militarily, and technologically, while reducing Israeli dependence on US aid, and strengthening alliances and relations with emerging (or re-emerging) major powers such as China, India and Russia.
11. The Legitimacy Battle: Waging a fierce international battle to legalize Israeli behavior, criminalize the resistance, and delegitimize and ban the BDS movement.
Fourth: The Coronavirus Pandemic:
Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, Israel considered its national security was at its best, however, the coronavirus pandemic has made the Middle East and the whole world enter a state of ambiguity and instability, open to risks and opportunities, with great difficulties in controlling the paths. Nevertheless, the risks that Israel may face in the medium and long term, may be greater than the potential opportunities. In general, it fears that the Coronavirus pandemic may affect its security system in several ways:
First, the pandemic will cause the powers of the US and its allies to deteriorate, hence their ability to support Israel internationally would decline, and so would their ability of providing it with international cover. Moreover, the power of Israel’s “lobbies” in Western countries may also decline.
Second, the already faltering international system would be shaken, including the United Nations and its Security Council. A state of chaos or other powers like China, for example, would emerge, which do not see their interest in the “blind” support of Israel, or in providing cover for its practices. They may even try to exert some pressures on it.
Third, a widespread outbreak of the epidemic would take place in WB and GS that gets out of control, leading to the PA’s power collapse and subsequently chaos. This would make the Palestinian landscape open to many possibilities, and put great burdens on Israel. For it would be obliged to cover its occupation costs, its military, security and economic burdens would double, and the chances of escalation in armed resistance would increase.
Fourth, located in the strategic environment surrounding Israel, Arab countries may witness more failure, retreat and collapse. Arab regimes may fall, and an environment for a new revolutionary or change wave would be available, carrying strategic risks to Israel.
Fifth, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Israel has incurred massive economic losses, forcing it to pay billions in medical expenses and make cuts in the military and security budgets, albeit in the short term. This means that Israel may have “weak points” in the next couple of years, incurring risks to its national security.
In return, Israel may take advantage of the world being preoccupied with the pandemic, to single out the Palestinian landscape, and move forward with its Judaization and annexation measures, especially in Jerusalem and the rest of WB. Bank.
It seems that the new strategic challenges, especially in the second decade of the 21st century (2010–2019), have revealed many gaps in the Israeli national security theory, bringing to it dilemmas and crises that are difficult to deal with. Nevertheless, Israel is still highly dynamic and have high adaptability potentials, it still benefits from its qualitative edge, and the weakness and fragmentation of the Arab world. However, the strength and threat of a number of challenges to the Zionist project will increase, such as the Palestinian demographic challenge, the escalation of resistance and the development of its qualitative weapons, the possibilities of change in the strategic landscape surrounding Israel, and the emergence of a new wave that carries a civilizational, unitary, resistance and revival project. As for the coronavirus pandemic, it has added to the potential risks to Israel and to its national security, and made Israeli achievements and courses of action face some uncertainties and confusion.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 29/4/2020
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