We are always hearing about how Israel is more threatened than ever. Certainly, Hezbollah has more missiles and rockets stockpiled than ever and the continuing nuclear weapons program in Iran constitutes an unacceptable threat for Israel, Europe, America and the World. Yet, this is only part of the story. The glass is also truly half full. This becomes far more clear if we look back 14 years.
Israel’s pullout from Lebanon in 2000 followed by the launch of the second intifada led to a very dangerous dynamic that could have come close to threatening Israel’s existence. The region was slipping towards a full scale regional war. Hezbollah was moving towards launching a massive attack aimed at drawing in the Syrian Army against Israel, while agitators in Gaza and Sinai sought to destabilize the border with Egypt. The most popular song in Egypt was about hating Israel. The rhetoric from Saudi Arabia about the Palestinian conflict was angrier than it had been for decades, while Iran was still enjoying a brief detente with Saudi Arabia. The King of Saudi Arabia had even threatened to reassess relations with the United States over what he claimed were Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. The jingoistic rhetoric emanating from still newly created Al Jazeera focused on portraying the IDF as war criminals and Israel as a illegitimate state thereby rallying the Arab masses’ anger against the tiny Jewish State. Israel’s towns and cities faced a terrible terrorist onslaught orchestrated by Hamas and Iran. It looked as if even the Camp David Accords guaranteeing the peace with Egypt was on the brink of collapse. Saddam would have eagerly joined in with his Iraqi army despite his historic hostility to Hezbollah, Assad and Iran.
That was 2000. None of these threats are imaginable today. Even if the Egyptian military were capable of militarily sustaining an offensive against Israel, Egypt’s economic and political conditions make this more impossible than ever. The other major Arab power, Saudi Arabia, is now openly at war with Assad, Hezbollah and Iran. For the first time in history there is no conventional army threatening Israel.
Hezbollah and Iran’s regional plans were thwarted indirectly by the US war against terrorism. After 9/11 focused America’s attention against terrorism, Iran and Hezbollah worried that their past attacks against American targets in the 1980s and 1990s in addition to their recent links to Bin Laden could lead to them being broadly targeted by the American military. The toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 initially caused further fear from the Iranians. The removal of one Arab dictator in Iraq played a key role of inspiring the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon against another Bathist despot in Syria leading to the withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces. The Cedar Revolution really was the beginning of the larger Arab Spring. Despite all of the alarmist talk about the freed Shiite majority in Iraq, democratic elections in Iraq undermine the neighboring totalitarian rule of Khameini in Iran.
While the media has focused by and large on the Iranian nuclear threat, the greatest WMD threat to Israel has always been Syria’s nerve gas stockpile, the bulk of which has likely been destroyed. This may have come from Assad’s cynical realization that these devastating poisons are far too volatile for his regime to safely stockpile or control, but the resulting enhancement for Israel’s security has been considerable. Lost in the anger over poor intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear program in 2002 is the fact that international inspectors had discovered Saddam Hussein had come close to gaining nuclear weapons in 1990. Only by removing him completely did the United States ensure he would never successfully resurrect his nuclear program.
Today Israel is increasingly protected by new missile defense systems from the Iron Dome to the Patriot and Arrow as well as the US Navy’s Aegis anti-missile system. Iran and Hezbollah will likely largely lose the ability to wage war against Israel once Assad falls. A Iranian nuclear arsenal, no matter how small poses an unacceptable threat to the free world, in large part because of the dangerous regional nuclear proliferation it could trigger. However, the Iranian Government also knows well Israel’s powerful deterrent means a nuclear attack against Israel would likely trigger virtual annihilation for Iran.
Yes, serious threats to Israel remain. However, in many ways Israel is far safer than she has ever been before.