For the past three years, Israel has experienced an unprecedented level of relative quiet from a security point of view. Despite having to deal with a spate of mostly unorganized Palestinian terrorism, the overall situation in the West Bank today is one of calm, with an absence of mass rioting and mass casualty terrorism.
Organized terrorist entities in the West Bank have been on the defensive, and unable to rear their heads, thanks to ongoing Israeli counter-terrorism and high quality intelligence operations.
The Gaza Strip too is at its quietest in decades, despite the fact that Hamas and other terrorist factions are engaged in an armament and force build up program.
To its north, Israel borders heavyweight enemies Hezbollah, Iranian elements, and ISIS-affiliated fundamentalist groups. Yet for the most part, these borders have remained quiet.
There’s no telling how long this will continue in the volatile and unpredictable Middle East. But it is worth examining how Israel has been able to achieve this oasis of security stability thus far, in the midst of so many radical and heavily armed actors.
In March 2016, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon delivered a speech to an audience in Jerusalem, during an event organized by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). During that speech, Ya’alon outlined Israel’s formula.
“When I have to explain the relatively quiet security situation,” Ya’alon said, “[we have] an interest-based view, [and we wield] sticks and carrots.”
The former defense minister glanced back at time, recalling a succession of past wars, intifadas, and escalations, before returning the audience to the present, noting that since the 2014 truce reached between Israel and Hamas, “Hamas has not fired a single bullet” at Israel.
ISIS-affiliated groups in Gaza have, on occasion fired rockets, as part of their struggle with Hamas, and in those cases, Israel “activated its baton,” Ya’alon said. “But we can’t use only sticks.” He spoke of Israel’s efforts to get water and electricity to Gaza, and spoke of the entry of many hundreds of trucks of goods that enter the Gaza Strip each day, describing such measures as “carrots.”
Such carrots help prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. A humanitarian collapse would likely send Hamas to war with Israel, to divert attention from Hamas’s failure to care for Gazans.
The sticks and carrots approach is also what brought “quiet to Judea and Samaria,” Ya’alon said, noting that when Israeli security forces receive word of a developing, organized terrorism plot in the heart of Palestinian cities Jenin or Nablus, forces move in within hours. “We developed a reply to lone attackers too,” he said.
Yet some 100,000 Palestinians have also received clearances to work in Israel every day, Ya’alon said, describing an economic carrot Israel uses to keep many Palestinians from entering violent activities.
“Working only with the baton does not work,” he concluded.
This, then, has been Israel’s formula in every sector around it to create a reasonable level of stability and calm – sticks and carrots, used in the service of Israel’s interests.
A big question, looking ahead, is whether this formula will continue to be successful when it comes to dealing with the largest, and most pressing strategic issues on Israel’s radar, which is the Iranian expansion into Syria, and Hezbollah’s ambitious force build-up program in Lebanon.
Israel has, according to international media reports, not hesitated to ‘bring down the baton’ in a low profile manner when it felt that these threats had crossed the line in the past, and needed to be stopped.
Now, however, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior defense officials are warning that Iran is surging forward in its plan to set up a military presence in Syria, a presence that poses an unacceptable risk to Israel.
Warnings have also been issued from Israel about new missile factories being built by Iran for Hezbollah, in both Lebanon and Syria.
Israel is now threatening to bring down its baton on these activities. It remains to be seen whether the warning is sufficient in deterring the Iranians and their proxies from crossing Israel’s red lines.Israel is also seeking to work with Russia to restrain the Iranian expansion.
If that approach fails, it would appear as if the use of military force may become inevitable.
When it comes to ‘bringing down the baton,’ there are a variety of ways this can be done.
In the meantime, Israel can offer a variety of ‘carrots’ to moderate Syrians living near the Israeli border, in exchange for which, they could be expected to help keep Iran and its agents away.
If these tactics fail, Israel has an arsenal of ‘batons,’ ready to be used in self defense.
Edited by Benjamin Anthony (www.oursoldiersspeak.org)
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.