By Gabriel Rom
With the Middle East in flux, Israel again finds itself unsure and unstable. Surrounded by instability and uncertain of its “ironclad” allegiance with America, Israel must try to stand on its own. While the reliance on America for both diplomatic and military aid has done Israel well in the past, the changing geopolitical structure of the Middle East means it cannot afford to lean too strongly on this increasingly tenuous alliance. Whether Prime Minister Netanyahu likes it or not, Americans are choosing to become less, not more, engaged with Israel. Israel must adapt to this political reality accordingly rather than claiming to be a victim of systemic bias and expecting American assistance at the ring of a bell. Israel faces challenging months ahead and it must rely on no one but itself to overcome them.
Many criticized Israel during the Arab Spring for appearing to not support democratic movements. As the implications of a democratic Middle East become clearer, these criticisms, from a Realist perspective, now seem shortsighted. The political order of the Middle East has changed radically, and it has become increasingly hostile towards Israel. Egypt has taken a distinctly Islamist path, while Syria is awash with weapons that could easily be passed on to Hamas or Hezbollah. Additionally, according to recently released Syrian documents, Iran has aided Syria in sidestepping sanctions against the regime. The report, released by global hacktivist outfit Anonymous, states that Iran offered Syria over a billion dollars in the past twelve months to resist sanctions. Iran is staking a major claim in the current Syrian regime, betting big that President Bashar al-Assad retains power no matter how many civilians he kills. If successful, Iran could have renewed influence over Syria, creating a more unified front—with a lot more firepower—to oppose Israel.
Iran has also reaffirmed its friendship with Hamas. The bond of friendship between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas’ president, Ismail Haniyeh, is arguably the most pressing security issue that Israel faces. Haniyeh just recently stated that “the gun is the only response to the Zionist regime.” Iran is attempting to extend its influence straight to the doorstep of Israel. Iranian-supplied Hamas and Hezbollah could fire thousands of missiles into Israel and be resupplied within days if a large scale conflict broke out.
The ressurgance of Islamism in Egypt is also worrying for Israel. Without Egypt, Israel is truly alone in the Middle East. While it could be argued that its friendship with Egypt was based on a dictator whose power is illegitimate, the de-facto result of the Egyptian Revolution is a neighborhood far more hostile to Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood has taken more than half of the one hundred sixty seats in the Egyptian parliament, and attacks on the Egyptian-Israeli pipeline have reached double digits. As Leon Wieseltier states, “democratization is not an event in the life of a society, it is an era: a protracted turbulence.” This turbulence will invariably affect Israel and might even shake its foundations.
The nuclear question is, of course, the elephant in the room. Contrary to public perception, an Israeli strike on Iran is still a hotly controversial issue within the country, with many major politicians skeptical of attacking Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant. Ehud Barack has stated that “Iran does not constitute an existential threat towards Israel” and that an attack would be a moral and political disaster. It is imperative that more moderate voices within the Israeli political establishment be given legitimacy and airtime. While a nuclear Iran is a threat to Israel, the viability of a strike must be assessed objectively. This week, a report released by the German foreign ministry claimed that an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would set the program back months, not years. A decision on Iran, as well as a decision on how to present itself to the world cannot be made in a vacuum. Sobriety, historical context and international fallout have to be considered. An attack on Iran must be debated from every conceivable angle—every scenario and counter-scenario must be scrutinized.
Facing these innumerable threats Benyamin Netanyahu must also show a strong face to the powerful Orthodox voting bloc. The hawkish and sometimes illiberal views of this powerful swath of Israeli society will only hurt Israel. The far-right in Israel are governed by Talmudic and biblical rationales for geopolitical policy that should be grounded in realism.
In a region where life, death and power politics go hand in hand the Israeli establishment could take a lesson from Niccolo Machiavelli: “It is not as if men, when times are quiet, could not provide for [turbulent rivers] with dikes and dams.” In other words: Israel must be ready for anything, and its leaders must resist those who wish to dictate policy through inflammatory rhetoric and religious appeals. What the future entails is impossible to know, but through the tools of statecraft Israel must create rock solid dikes and dams that can withstand Katushya rockets and diplomatic war alike. Questions on the legitimacy of the Israeli state have to take a backseat to the geopolitical realities of war and the very existence of Israel as a home to the Jewish people.