BESA Center Perspectives
March 19, 2015
A new Likud-led government will take office in
Jerusalem in the upcoming weeks. The government will have to face many security
challenges emerging from the turbulent strategic environment.
The most important issue is Iran. The US is
racing toward an agreement that will legitimize the nuclear threshold status of
Iran. Many key Mideast powers have signaled their displeasure with the nascent
accord, as well as their desire to develop uranium enrichment capabilities on
par with Iran.
The American attempt to offer a nuclear
umbrella to forestall regional nuclear proliferation – which is a strategic
nightmare – is doomed to failure. No Arab leader trusts President Obama.
Therefore, only a military strike to destroy the Iranian capability to produce
fissionable material needed for nuclear bombs can stop nuclear proliferation in
The only country with 'enough guts' to do this
is Israel. This decision must be taken by the next Israeli government. The
timetable for such a strike is not to be determined by additional Iranian
progress on the nuclear path, but by the perceptions of regional leaders of
Iranian ambitions and power. The expansion of Iranian influence to Iraq and
Yemen, in addition to its grip over Syria and Lebanon, has heightened threat
perceptions. American willingness to accept a greater Iranian regional role
undermines American credibility and underscores the need for Israeli action in
the near future.
An Israeli strike is needed to prevent nuclear
proliferation and to prevent imperial and Islamist Iran from acquiring hegemony
in the Middle East. History indicates that such Israeli actions are not welcomed
by American administrations, but are highly appreciated later on. In this case,
it is Israel that will have to save the Americans from themselves.
Israel's main challenge is to maintain its
freedom of action, while on a collision course with current American policy.
This is not an easy endeavor, but Israel has large reservoirs of goodwill in the
US that should allow Israel to act on its cardinal security interests against
the will of an unpopular American president.
Despite the fact that some of the Arab armies
that posed a threat to Israel have largely disintegrated and the power
differential between Israel and its Arab neighbors grows constantly, the Jewish
state still faces great hostility from Islamist sub-state armed groups.
Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad cannot conquer Israel, but have acquired
impressive capabilities to cause massive damage to Israel. Large armored
formations are still needed to tackle those challenges. In addition, Israel's
active defense missile capabilities must be augmented.
Unfortunately, the IDF is underfunded, which
has led to cuts in ground forces and in training for the regular army and its
reserves. Whoever will be the new defense minister has the task of securing a
much larger, multi-year military budget on which the IDF can definitively plan a
sustained force build-up. Israel's strong economy can definitely sustain larger
Another area that needs attention is the navy.
Over 90 percent of Israel's exports travel via the East Mediterranean. Moreover,
this area is rich in energy resources that are vital for Israel's future
prosperity. Yet, the East Mediterranean is increasingly becoming an Islamic
Turkey under Erdogan grows more hostile every
month. Syria is an Iranian ally, and its civil war has brought about the rise of
Islamist militias of all kinds. Lebanon is largely ruled by Hezbollah – a
Shiite radical organization aligned with Iran. Hezbollah occasionally
perpetrates attacks against Israel and has threatened to hit Israel's gas rigs
at sea. Hamas, a radical Sunni terrorist group linked to Iran, has taken over
Gaza. It has launched thousands of rockets into Israel and staged attacks on
Israeli gas installations in the Mediterranean. In Sinai, a plethora of Islamist
armed groups are challenging the sovereignty of Egypt and even attacked targets
along the Suez Canal. Libya is no longer a real state and the Islamist militias
are fighting to carve out areas of influence. In short, we may soon see real
piracy and terrorist attacks in the East Mediterranean.
Israel's responses must include a larger and
stronger navy. This is an expensive project that has already started. Hopefully,
all budgetary problems will be overcome. Fortunately, some of the vessels needed
for this are procured in Germany (not the US), while others can be built in
Israel if enough money is allocated.
The strategic landscape of the Middle East is
begetting new leaders and new ruling elites. Israel's intelligence apparatus
faces a difficult job in identifying the important players and their modus
operandi. Many of the devils Israel knew are no longer in power. This means
greater uncertainty and higher chances of surprises. Since Israel cannot prevent
all surprises (that is their nature), it must prepare for worst-case scenarios
rather than be tempted by best-case, rosy dreams.