Security Today: Facing Multiple Challenges on Multiple Fronts
Gen. Gadi Eisenkot (Ret.)
Schiff Memorial Lecture, the Washington Institute
are four main security threats facing Israel at the moment: (1) the
nonconventional threat, whether coming from Iran or in the form of chemical
weapons wielded by hostile actors, (2) the conventional threat of war, (3) the
sub-conventional threat posed by fundamentalists in the region, and (4) the
cyber threat. Over the past few years, the top priority of the Israel Defense
Forces has been Iran’s vision for achieving nuclear capabilities, and, indeed,
the 2015 nuclear deal marked a turning point. When agreeing to the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iranians understood that it would be difficult
to continue with their activities. Yet while they approved the deal due to
tactical considerations, their quest for nuclear weapons continues. Israel has
remained committed to preventing that outcome, but the IDF has simultaneously
been able to focus on Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian arena.
key aspect of Iran’s plan to achieve hegemony in the Middle East is its
entrenchment in Syria. So far, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force
has built intelligence positions along the border between Syria and Israel, with
similar plans to deploy air force capabilities. Over the past three years, the
IDF has successfully conducted an ongoing campaign against Iranian activity in
Syria, but there is an opportunity to improve international cooperation on this
key security challenge is Hezbollah and its intention to infiltrate Israel in
collaboration with the Qods Force. This is an offensive plan that aims to occupy
a part of the Galilee and fire large numbers of rockets and missiles. Over the
past four years, Israel gathered enough intelligence to identify Hezbollah’s
tunnel network and destroy the entirety of this infrastructure via Operation
Northern Shield several months ago. But while the border between Israel and
Lebanon has been quiet since 2006, a potential next war with Hezbollah would be
very difficult for both sides. To be sure, it would be shorter than the previous
Lebanon war, and Israel would achieve its mission. But the IDF must still do
everything possible to avoid war for the sake of both populations.
the Palestinian arena, Hamas continually threatens Israel with terrorist
attacks, and a sensitive situation has developed within the Palestinian
Authority. The IDF and other Israeli apparatuses are looking to provide
security, prevent terrorism, and separate terrorists from the general
population, particularly by maintaining cooperation with Palestinian security
forces. President Mahmoud Abbas understands the need for cooperation, since
without it there would be constant clashes. While something comprehensive
between Israel and the Palestinians in the near future seems farfetched, Israel
should take steps to stabilize and foster cooperation.
Gaza, terrorism continues along the border with Israel. These are not
demonstrations; there is an intense, aggressive energy spurred by Hamas efforts
to infiltrate Israel. The two sides have gone through several rounds of rocket
fire and other hostilities lately, making Gaza the most explosive front Israel
faces. The main objective is to deter Hamas and improve the security situation,
in addition to promoting a long-term ceasefire and bringing Israeli civilians
and soldiers captured by Hamas home. Israel has made significant efforts to
stabilize the situation in Gaza by supporting economic development. Ultimately,
Israel’s interest is to see a different atmosphere in the West Bank and Gaza.
mission for the IDF is to combat Islamic State elements in the Middle East. The
U.S.-led operation against the group achieved decisive victory in Iraq and
Syria, but the Islamic State as a phenomenon remains.
has gone five years without a major conflict or war. At the same time, it now
faces as many as four interlinked and potentially explosive fronts. In the past,
the military was alternately either preparing for war or fighting war. In recent
years, however, the IDF has developed the concept of a “campaign between
walls,” which is meant to take the initiative and combat the enemy in a
sophisticated, low-profile manner.
are two historical figures who can shed light on the challenge Israel faces with
its neighbors: Zeev Jabotinsky, who wrote in “The Iron Wall” that peace will
only be possible when Arabs understand that they will not be able to defeat
Israel by force, and David Ben-Gurion, who noted that although Israel cannot
achieve a decisive victory by use of force, the Israeli state would cease to
exist without it.
for the United States, Israel’s relationship with Washington is a source of
power projection in the Middle East, one characterized by full cooperation.
Although Russia is now deeply involved in nearby Syria, there are safety
measures in place enabling continued Israeli freedom of action. Thanks in part
to a 2015 meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, Israel has been able to conduct activities in Syria for the past
three years while avoiding major friction with the Russian military. In
particular, the Russians understand that if Israel learns of Iranian deployments
within 100 kilometers of its border, it will have complete freedom of action. It
is thus very difficult to see progress on other Syria issues without cooperation
between the United States and Russia.
has also forged close military cooperation with neighbors Greece and Cyprus.
Furthermore, it places high value on its enduring peace treaty with Egypt—a
country that has developed a strong military relationship with Israel’s other
longtime treaty partner Jordan. The threats posed by the Islamic State and Iran
have created new opportunities for cooperation with Cairo. Moving forward,
people-to-people relations between Israelis and Egyptians must improve. Israel
has a lot to contribute to Egypt, from agriculture to technology.
seventy years of independence, Israel’s strategic position is a strong point.
The IDF aims to deter enemies and project Israel’s power to the world, which
will in turn enhance the country’s stability and development.