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Israel's "most dangerous" challenges in 2013

February 17, 2014 at 1:50 am

An important military study prepared by Colonel Ronen Cohen addresses the “most dangerous” challenges facing Israel in 2013. Published by the Ministry of Defence in its Israel Defence house magazine, the study claims that 2013 will be a “decisive year” with regards to Israel’s defence “risks” from around the Arab world following the collapse of “moderate” regimes in the Arab Spring. One section focuses on Egypt and the new policies introduced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The study emphasises Egypt’s position as the most prominent of the “militant trends” after the collapse of the so-called moderate Arab camps.

The year ahead will also be crucial as far as Israel’s perceived threat from Iran’s nuclear ambitions is concerned, claims Cohen. He expects the issue to be the determining factor in security and stability in the coming years.

Cohen labels Israel as a “Western” country alongside the United States and Europe in being affected by the results of the Arab Spring: “For more than thirty years, Egypt was the country that spearheaded and outlined the course of the ‘moderate’ camp. Today, there is no doubt that the trends that characterised the camp in the past are in a process of dramatic alterations.”

Colonel Cohen added that Mubarak-led Egypt succeeded in stopping Operation Peace for Galilee, between Israel and Lebanon, in 1982 and prevented the collapse of the Oslo Accord 15 years after it was signed. Indeed, the reserve officer in the Israel Defence Forces said that Mubarak has prevented the escalation of events in Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, he does not expect President Mohamed Morsi to have the same effect on the region.

Morsi’s leadership in Egypt, says Cohen in his report, has created a major challenge for Israel, the first signs of which appeared when “Egypt placed armoured forces in the Sinai in August 2012, in breach of the terms of the [peace] agreement and without prior coordination” with Israel.

“Additional challenges might come in the form of Egypt joining the nuclear arms race,” speculates Cohen. “Of course,” he adds slyly, “Egypt would announce that it is interested in a reactor for ‘civilian purposes’.” Other challenges he lists include the violation of the defence status quo by introducing more Egyptian troops into the Sinai Peninsula and efforts to “normalise” the presence of military units prohibited by the peace treaty with Israel. Activities could also be carried out which hurt Israel’s interest in what happens in the Gaza Strip – primarily at the Rafah border crossing – and the possibility of limiting the passage of Israeli shipping through the Suez Canal.

“With regards to the build-up of its military, Egypt will probably continue to strengthen Western-backed components in its air, naval and armoured forces. It is possible that in the future Egypt may strengthen its long-range missile capabilities as part of a military doctrine designed to serve the policies of the new Morsi era.”

The Israeli defence study also highlights what it calls the “global jihad” infrastructures in the Sinai and the Gaza Strip which, it claims, pose one of the biggest challenges to Israel. “Even… after the military action taken by Egypt against terror cells in Sinai, the situation in the Peninsula remains quite problematic. The achievements of the Egyptian military actions are like a drop in the ocean compared to the scope and depth of the terrorist infrastructures in the expanse of the Sinai.”
The study pointed out that Morsi is not expected to work continuously and steadily in repelling the “Global Jihad” infrastructures in the Sinai, although they pose a threat to the stability of the new regime; Morsi will instead choose to operate only intermittently “according to immediate necessity”.

As such, claims Cohen, these infrastructures will be able to operate almost freely and continue to present challenges along the Israel-Egypt border from Gaza to Eilat.

Cohen stressed the need for Israel to assess the current situation so as to prepare for any potential long-term risks from its southern neighbour. This can be done through international diplomacy and pressure on Egypt, imposing sanctions where necessary to repel any potential military threat. However, his report does point out that although Egypt is not Hezbollah, the Israeli army is required to plan for any eventuality and possibility.

Cohen said that the situation has changed negatively with regard to Egypt’s foreign policy. He notes that whereas ousted Hosni Mubarak would have probably preferred to endure “multiple strokes” rather than have to set foot on Iranian soil, Morsi has already been seen embracing Iran’s President Ahmadinejad in public ceremonies. He also doubts whether Egypt under Morsi would allow Israel to operate militarily in Lebanon for as long as it was able to do in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Turning to Jordan, Cohen suggests that it would be disturbing for Israel if Amman had its own Tahrir Square-style revolution; Jordan signed a peace agreement with Israeli in 1994. A Saudi Arabia move away from the moderate camp, of which it has been a part thanks to its relations with the United States, especially since the first Gulf War of 1990, and its political positions against Iran and Hezbollah, would also threaten the Zionist state.

The study places the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Salam Fayyad firmly in the “moderate camp”, although it used violence under the leadership of late-President Yasser Arafat.

“Abu Mazen and his group would like to return to be the global and Arab centre of attention. At the very least, he would certainly like to return to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation table, even if it is doubtful that the group can and wants to end the lengthy conflict. However, in the absence of negotiations, bringing the Palestinian masses to the streets could escalate into another Intifada that would endanger the PA and its institutes, while serving only serving the interests of its bitter rival Hamas.”

With regard to the so-called “axis of evil”, which includes Iran, Hezbollah and Syria, the Israeli study said that this is now in danger for the first time since the death of Hafez al-Assad, as his son Bashar is facing escalating difficulties from the opposition in Syria. This is in the context of the close and constant aid provided by Iran and Hezbollah to strengthen the Shiite-Alawite-Lebanese triangle (more precisely, the Shiites of Lebanon).

“This triangle could survive, tighten and even grow stronger, even in a situation where Syria is divided along communal lines and interests. Should Assad fall, Syria will become a Sunni country and the Alawite minority might endure harsh and continuous oppression, potentially forcing its citizens to wander beyond the borders of the country.”

Much like Egypt, a Sunni Syria would, claims the report, face the similar challenge of building the new regime, establishing its foundation and maintaining its stability. “Only later would it be able to deal with issues pertaining to Israel and foreign policy. The rehabilitation of the military is not a fast and easy process either, and it is likely to develop gradually over the course of several years.”