Nearly a year ago, I wrote a column discussing how many people considered Israel to be the biggest loser in the events of the Arab Spring. Have things now changed? Does Israel now have the biggest advantage?
This type of introduction fills those who are opposed to the Arab revolutions with joy. My statement is of course made in reference to those who support conspiracies and those who believe that Israel possesses the power to make all supreme decisions in this world. The situation in the region reached a point where millions of people felt the need to protest in “Tahrir Squares” in various Arab capitals.
It is no secret that during the time of the Arab revolutions, Israel expressed concern for its strategic position in virtually all of its political, security and military-related forums. In fact, there was even a possibility that we would have experienced or witnessed open conflict between Israel and various armed groups. Today, however, although Israel may still have some cause for concern, it is more optimistic for the following reasons:
The effects of the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have reached other Arab states, where the Islamic movement’s popularity has waned. Israel has its eye on Jordan in particular, primarily because King Abdullah’s reign has become increasingly more stable. The Brotherhood in Jordan has had to revise its goals in light of what has happened in Egypt.
With Syria engaged in a destructive civil war, Israel continues to believe that what is occurring there is generally to its advantage. There are exceptions to this, though, including the possible spread of the violence across Israel’s northern border. In addition, there is also the threat of chemical weapons being used again and the potential distribution of such weapons to Syrian opposition groups as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Regardless of this, strategic steps taken by Israel began with military involvement on its northern borders. The Israeli army has gone so far as to bomb Syrian weapons stores in an attempt to combat threats to Israel’s security by the regime in Damascus. Israel’s efforts to undermine Syria have affected both sides of the conflict, the Assad regime and the opposition groups.
- The Palestinians:
Israel has decided to confront the Palestinian front at a time when other Arab countries are focusing on their own internal issues. Using negotiations as a crutch, Israel is planning to strengthen its regional strategy, which has suddenly become the priority of the Obama administration. Thus, decision makers in Tel Aviv have no doubt that they will succeed in achieving their goals.
It appears as though the Palestinian cause is no longer a priority in the Arab world, which gives Israel the chance to take full advantage and implement its policies unopposed. The responsibility for defending the Palestinian cause now falls on non-Arab parties. Meanwhile, Israel has taken on the role of mediator on issues facing countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iran.
President Mohammed Morsi’s isolation allowed for normal life to return in the area bordering the southwest region of Israel. Despite the political paralysis facing Egypt, Israel has come out of these events with the strongest advantage. Prior to the fall of Morsi, Egypt’s foreign policy dictated that there would no longer be any relations with Israel. However, after the removal of Morsi and the military coup in Egypt, the idea of reviving Egyptian-Israeli relations and partaking in regional strategies became possible once again.
Although the Sinai Peninsula remains a major security concern for Israel, it has allowed the deployment of Egyptian troops there; they are normally forbidden (in any great numbers) by the terms of the peace treaty with Israel. There is currently a war being waged against an armed militia and Israel is no doubt very relieved to have Egypt dealing with it.
Israel’s enemies in the Arab world are weak and vulnerable as the situation remains chaotic due to many internal issues. UN reports suggest that the region is facing many intellectual, social and cultural problems that lead many to believe that it is struggling with modernisation. In fact, the behaviour exhibited in the region today is contrary to what is expected in the 21st century. It is undoubtedly facing a period of uncertainty and backwardness after the failure of the Arab Spring. States across the region are no threat to Israel’s military hegemony, and the United States is pledged to make sure that things stay that way.
Indeed, external influences are damaging Arab economies, leaving the field free for Israel to boost its own economy and make others dependent on it, not least the Palestinian economy. Israel is a world leader in military technology, agriculture, medicine and communications. While the rest of the world has been suffering from a major economic downturn, Israel’s economy has thrived.
Between 2009 and 2012, Israel’s GNP increased by 14.7 per cent; its public debt to GDP ratio fell from 100 per cent in 2000 to 74 per cent in 2012. Foreign currency reserves increased from $25 billion in 2004 to $75 billion in 2012. This is a major factor in explaining why Israel is able to maintain the world’s confidence in its economic capabilities and why the country is able to deal with emergencies efficiently. In fact, the currency surplus in Israel is among the highest in the world, at 26th on the international rankings, with the result that the IMF has praised its economic performance, expressing confidence in its long-term stability. Israel is also second only to the US for technological developments, which attract research grants and investors.
Despite all of this, the political and security situation in Israel is not perfect. Yet, time testifies to its positive developments and its ability to prosper as a state and maintain strong social unity. Its international position is improving and American support remains strong.
All of this means that in the current political climate, Israel is prospering at a time when democracy and a free market economy are promoted, with minimal exceptions. These factors work to the benefit of Israel as a state but not to its Arab neighbours, which are currently experiencing a number of economic, social and political hardships.
An analysis of the balance of power between Israel and its enemies, when considering internal factors such as the economy, political and social issues, and international standing, suggests that after 65 years of existence, Israel is able to face any challenges with confidence. Regional conditions mean that Israel’s security and environment are guaranteed due to the instability of its Arab neighbours.
It is generally thought that Israel’s success is due to a strong army that has been able to overcome many military threats with sophisticated weaponry, and that its military victories in the past have confirmed that its Arab neighbours are unable to defeat it. Israel’s military superiority is the main factor in reducing its conflict with the Arabs to negotiations instead of outright war.
Israel continues to face military challenges from non-state players such as Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights. These groups continue to receive foreign funding which permit a degree of military sophistication and strong training.
When it comes to Israel taking advantage of the current situation in the region, it has increased its research initiatives while continuing to complain about “existential” threats; international prestige has been hit by growing awareness of the injustices of its occupation of Palestine.
Nevertheless, at this moment in time, Israel’s strategic standing is better than it was at the start of the Arab Spring. It has an opportunity to consolidate its position and power, the likes of which may not arise again in the foreseeable future. As David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, once said, it did not achieve victory over the Arabs due to its own strength alone; “Arab weakness was a factor too!”
The author is a Palestinian writer. This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera net on 25 October, 2103
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.