It is a testament to Israel’s founding generation and its successors that the country has become the resilient, innovative and diverse society it is today. Israel’s success is also a testament to two extraordinary alliances, one with World Jewry, and the other with the United States, vital relationships that are critical to our past, present and future.
Yet Israel faces a number of intensifying national security challenges, which will be the central focus this week at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) 13th annual international conference, as we convene leading figures from Israel, the US and around the world. With a third (and hopefully final) round of Israeli elections just around the corner, the difficult decisions facing Israel’s next government will be center stage.
Here are a few examples.
First, there is the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Earlier this month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the country is enriching uranium at a higher rate than before the 2015 nuclear deal. In the aftermath of the recent escalation between Tehran and Washington, Israel must prepare for the possibility of an Iranian “breakout” or “sneak out” to the bomb, just as it must prepare for the possibility that the powers renew negotiations with Tehran.
Second, Israel must develop a strategy to address the threat of precision weaponry that Iran is providing its regional proxies. One Israeli response, known as “the campaign between the wars,” consisted primarily of interdiction efforts in Syria and achieved considerable success. However, Iran has adjusted its strategy and shifted the bulk of its precision-related operations to Lebanon and Iraq – two theaters where Israel has less freedom of action.
Third, there is the question of how to advance Israel’s interests in the Palestinian arena despite the longstanding political deadlock. The next Israeli government should implement short and medium term stabilization and development measures (many examples are included in the 2018 “INSS Plan”), as well as a long-term strategy to ensure Israel remains democratic, secure, Jewish and moral.
Furthermore, on the urgent question of Gaza, the next Israeli government must restore quiet to the nearly one million Israeli citizens who are terrorized by sirens warning of incoming Palestinian rockets. Even as we continue to seek a framework for improving the situation, as brokered by Cairo, Israel must nevertheless prepare for a military campaign that would deal a severe blow to Hamas’ military wing. Israel has an interest in enabling the negotiation of a more comprehensive arrangement, but should only do so from a commanding position.
Fourth, in terms of the state budget, the next Israeli government must determine how to close the deficit, address the need to increase social expenditures, and at the same time support the IDF in the face of mounting threats from Iran. Correctly allocating our limited resources to address an array of challenges – both old and new – is another reason why Israel’s relations with the United States are so important.
US security assistance and close technological cooperation have allowed Israel to do what would otherwise be impossible: acquiring the fifth generation F-35; developing an effective, multi-layered missile defense system (including Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow); and cooperating in many other realms – some out of the public view – to ensure our qualitative edge while yielding dividends for US national security.
This is precisely why maintaining and deepening bipartisan support for Israel in America, and strengthening relations with American Jewry, should be near the top of the next Israeli government’s agenda.These are just a few examples of the national security decisions in the year ahead. Each is addressed in the Institute’s recently released Strategic Survey for Israel (2020) which was presented to President Reuven Rivlin and the Israeli National Security Council earlier this month.
In the aftermath of the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the potential for escalation and miscalculation has grown more evident and the need for a clear and updated national strategy more urgent.
Israel’s growing power and its impressive successes should not lull us into a false sense of security under the assumption that the world will remain as it is indefinitely. We know all too well from living in this region that one must expect the unexpected and that longstanding and deeply entrenched trends can change in the blink of an eye.
The essence of Zionism is to reject fatalism. Israel cannot afford to rest on its laurels. We must continue to take the initiative. This is why the next Israeli government should use our position of relative strength as an opportunity to prepare for more trying times. It is also a moment to take bold steps to improve relations with our neighbors.