In the tumultuous and dangerous Middle East, a core Israeli national interest is to cultivate long periods of stability for the country’s citizens and economy.
Frequent rounds of conflict harm the morale of the population, damage the economy, and interrupt the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) long-term force build-up and training programs. These programs are essential to prepare the military for the emerging top-tier threats just over the horizon, Iran and Hezbollah.
Derailing the war preparation programs, by being dragged into frequent conflicts with the Palestinians, is therefore counter-productive to Israel’s national security.
For these reasons and others, stability forms a top objective for the Israeli defense and intelligence communities. It is pursued through an array of steps.
Israel’s military and intelligence power, the resulting deterrence it imposes on enemies, and the IDF’s ability to detect threats quickly and deal with them, is the top source of stability. Yet underneath that level are several other stability-enhancing measures that are also crucial.
One way to achieve stability is to cooperate with regional coalitions of moderate Sunni Arab states. The Sunni pragmatic bloc is essential for keeping radical Islamist threats, like Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in check. The Sunni states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and some of the smaller Gulf states share Israel’s interest in repelling hardline Islamists and keeping Iran’s destructive regional pyromania at bay.
Cairo acts as a major restraining factor on Hamas’s destabilizing ideological and terrorist ambitions. Egypt’s moderating influence serves as an important counterweight to Iran’s ongoing attempts to infiltrate Gaza and to flood it with weapons, as well as to their calls for Gazan armed factions to escalate the situation.
Jordan too, is an essential component of the stabilizing, pragmatic, Sunni system. It is in Israel’s security interest to maintain a reasonable level of relations with Amman, despite the Hashemite Kingdom’s less than friendly diplomatic rhetoric.
For this reason, Israel recently acted to end the diplomatic crisis with Jordan. Although the fallout occurred through no fault of Israel’s, it was still in Jerusalem’s national interest to bring the incident to a close.
Jordan is a stabilizing element in the West Bank. Its security forces help prevent the infiltration of terrorists and weapons from Jordan into the West Bank, meaning that Israel’s longest border is generally peaceful. Jordan’s constructive regional role means that the IDF does not need to invest major resources into securing the eastern border, freeing up resources for other more urgent needs.
The IDF’s security coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA) is also an important contributor to stability.
To be sure, the PA pursues a double game, in which it espouses radical, hostile rhetoric, while its 30,000-strong security forces are in cooperation with the IDF on the ground. This setup suits its interests, helping the PA to fend off charges from Hamas of being a collaborator with Israel, while at the same time, working to repel the real threat to its survival, which is Hamas.
Israel’s ongoing military and intelligence efforts against Hamas in the West Bank are ultimately helped by the PA’s real life conduct on the ground.
The PA’s core interests converge with Israel’s interest to keep Hamas weak in the West Bank. No other player in the Palestinian arena could replace the PA in this capacity. The alternative to the current PA model is either West Bank anarchy, a new confrontation with armed Palestinian factions like Fatah Tanzim, a spike in mass disturbances, or a rise to power of Hamas.
That would lead to many casualties on both sides, and it would require the IDF to send many battalions into the West Bank, tying up valuable resources.
An additional series of associated steps that contribute to stability are efforts by Israel to strengthen the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and to prevent a humanitarian-economic breakdown in the Gaza Strip.
In the West Bank, Israel has been increasing the number of work permits given to Palestinians who pass security screening. It currently lets roughly 70,000 Palestinians cross into Israel every day for work. As Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major-General Yoav Mordechai recently stated, “We perceive the Palestinian economy as part of a national security component. Direct security is the most important thing, the nightly arrests [of terrorists], but we look at the economic layer, distinguishing between [violent and non-violent sections of Palestinian] society, and not pushing them into terrorism via economic and restraining factors.”
In Gaza, Israel ensures that several hundred trucks enter the Strip per day, carrying food, medicine, construction equipment, and other goods. Gaza’s dire economic state is purely the result of Hamas’s policies, which neglect its peoples’ basic needs and diverts resources to Hamas’ armed wing. Yet Israel does not have the ability to crown a new king in Gaza, and an economic collapse there will almost certainly lead to a Hamas attack on Israel, sparking a new armed conflict. Thus, the trucks continue to pour into Gaza every day.
In the complex and easily ignitable Middle East, stability is the name of the game for Israel’s core interests. Pursuing this interest requires a great deal of skill, intelligence capabilities, and a pragmatic approach that identifies pathways for giving the Israeli people lengthy periods free from war.
Edited By Benjamin Anthony
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF or the Foreign Ministry. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.