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Towards shaping an Israeli road map regionally and internationally 

August 10, 2021 at 5:20 pm

An Israeli soldier throws teargas against Palestinian protesters during a protest against Jewish settlements on November 24, 2020, in the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank [JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel faces security challenges and military threats and there is an ongoing domestic political crisis which affects its relations with its neighbours and the international community. The occupation authorities are apparently in urgent need of a “road map” to set out the basic parameters of the state and its policies. This has been recommended following a series of meetings by researchers reviewing the existing challenges, including foreign and security affairs.

The importance of this road map shaped in accordance with a lengthy document published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), run by a number of senior Israeli generals and politicians, emanates from the fact that Israel has been in turmoil in recent years, although its strategic position is better than ever. It feels impotent in the face of Iran given that it may need to act alone, which carries a high risk of damage caused on Israel’s home front by Iran and its allies.

Hence, even as Israel maintains the long-term and violent conflict with the Palestinians that is unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future, the occupation authorities seek to be ready for war. That presents a tough test for Israeli society and requires the government to repair or at least cover many cracks; develop its military and political strength, and seek to take advantage of the opportunities made available by last year’s normalisation agreements with some Arab states.

Israel needs to manage the conflict with the Palestinian Authority, strengthen its deterrence factor against Hamas, and improve relations with Washington. It also needs to deepen the network of relations it has built in the Mediterranean, and boost its diplomacy in other sectors, with a special emphasis on balancing its expanding relations with China and those countries trying to hinder this progress.

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In looking at the most prominent strategies recommended to the Israeli government by the JISS, I am not convinced that the authorities in Tel Aviv are able to implement them, not least because Israel is no longer the only player in the region. Other states and organisations have emerged as stubborn rivals.

Israel’s dysfunctional nature prevents it from being able to focus entirely on external threats. This is what its enemies rely on to keep it preoccupied with political disputes and ethnic polarisation. Moreover, the founding generation is no more, and the occupation state is led by inexperienced politicians who may or may not appreciate the seriousness of the JISS recommendations.

National cohesion should be a priority for the occupation government, says the JISS. It is necessary for Israel to overcome the difficult security challenges and prepare for potential aggression. It must establish effective tactics in America under Joe Biden and internationally.

The Israeli government must also try to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The think tank stresses this point. The so-called “battle between wars” mechanism has to be ready to besiege the “ring of fire” of Iran and its proxies who surround the occupation state with long-range missile infrastructure in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and even the West Bank. It is seen to be very important for Israel to thwart Iran’s plans to destabilise Jordan.

There is also a need for the Israeli government and army to be prepared for a variety of military scenarios. The JISS insists that battlefield missiles, troop manoeuvrability, and taking the fight to enemy territory are all important. The latest offensive against the Gaza Strip demonstrated the sensitivity of the Israeli army to human and economic losses.

Overseas, US support for Israel must be maintained as a bipartisan issue for the Democratic and Republican parties; the occupation state has no alternative to Washington waiting in the wings. It might be necessary for Tel Aviv to be more sympathetic to the US position towards China, say the JISS researchers, and develop relations with both sides, especially given the diminishing sympathy for Israel among Democrats.

They also point out that occupied Jerusalem needs to be a priority. The recent response from Gaza to Israeli aggression in the holy city and Al-Aqsa Mosque confirmed that the Palestinians are not shy about challenging Israel’s control of the city. Israel claims that its security requires it to control Jerusalem, but this is obviously a ruse to strengthen the Jewish presence through illegal settlements.

Management of the conflict with the Palestinians has to recognise that a permanent agreement is not on the horizon. A realistic goal, says the JISS, would be to reduce the cost of the conflict to both sides through the calculated use of force and economic incentives, improving the situation in Area C and preserving the current settlement reality in it, with the exception of expanding construction projects in the Jerusalem envelope. In other words, more illegal activity; all settlements are illegal under international law.

At all costs, says the JISS team, Israel must prepare to prevent Hamas from taking over the Palestinian Authority during the post-Mahmoud Abbas era, maintaining security cooperation with the PA as much as possible, responding forcefully to the rockets launched from Gaza, and freeing Israeli prisoners in exchange for facilitating the reconstruction of Gaza. Thus, after the Gaza war, it is said to be “appropriate” for Israel to continue its policy of “mowing the lawn” by striking heavy blows at Hamas and imposing a strong deterrence mechanism for the longest period possible.

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Domestically, the plight of Israel’s Palestinian citizens (“Arab Israelis”) must also be addressed. They should be integrated at every level, say the researchers. Collecting weapons from them must, though, be a “priority”.

Regionally, priority should be given to Egypt and Jordan and expanding the range of normalisation agreements. As strategic partners of Israel, the stability of both states is of far-reaching importance for the Tel Aviv authorities. This requires substantial Israeli coordination with Cairo and Amman, including, the JISS recommends, the restoration of relations with King Abdullah, which have been fractured in recent years. Perhaps his position regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque makes preserving the status quo in Jerusalem a common interest of both sides.

While the Israeli road map necessitates coordination and permanent follow-up with the United Arab Emirates and the other partners in the Abraham Accords, it calls for Turkey to be confronted as long as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan supports Hamas and “undermines” Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. The city, of course, remains annexed unlawfully and, the eastern sector at least, is still regarded as occupied territory under international law, so such “sovereignty, is undoubtedly questionable. Israel, meanwhile, insists that the “undivided” city is its capital.

According to the think tank, Israel needs to develop strategic relations with India and avoid any rift with China, because the balance of power in Asia is the most important file on the global agenda. Moreover, Israel cannot avoid being in the American camp and needs to establish special relations with India, Japan, and Australia, while maintaining caution in its economic relations with Beijing to reduce US concerns.

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The Israeli conclusion regarding the road map is inclined towards setting a series of recommendations, the most important of which is to deepen relations with Arabic-speaking populations, maintain dialogue with Moscow and channels of communication with Russian forces in Syria, and establish links for political and security cooperation with the main European countries. It is also viewed as important to develop a partnership of interests with France in the eastern Mediterranean, consolidating Israel’s positions on the Iranian issue, changing the voting patterns of friendly countries in international forums, and seeking to establish open relations with Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Given that senior officials have been involved in developing these recommendations to the Israeli government, the strategies suggested could play a key role in the development of policies to be implemented at home and abroad. This is despite the fact that there is a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to act on them effectively.

Finally, Israeli political circles believe that the implementation of this road map is linked primarily to the expansion of diplomatic activities, facing the erosion of its capabilities, bridging the widespread divisions between government ministries, obtaining the necessary resources for diplomatic initiatives, and promoting and expanding foreign trade in an era when Israeli exports exceed 400 billion shekels ($124 billion); that’s around a third of its national income.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.