Ignorance is Bliss
The Middle East waits for no man, not even a re-elected Israeli Prime Minister busy building his next government. Indeed, it seems that 2013 will be as strategically challenging for Israel as 2012 was, if not more.
The streets of Egypt and Syria burn, and Jordan and the West Bank stand on precipice, as the “Arab Spring” continues with its relentless domino effect. Those who believe chaos and anarchy actually weaken Israel’s neighbors to the point of irrelevance, could not be more erroneous. The playground is slowly being occupied by players who do not hold Israel in good regard, and are not constrained by conventional external and internal political considerations.
Egypt’s focus is now totally internal. It has not the will, time or resources to concentrate on the elements infiltrating Sinai through the almost non-existing barriers. Israel will most likely have to contend with this growing terrorist threat, facilitated by the resident Bedouin tribes, and led by wandering Jihadists. The fence Israel is constructing on its southern border with Sinai is only a partial solution.
In Syria, as we witnessed this week, the rebels (an umbrella term encompassing external forces such as Al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah) are extremely close to putting their hands on Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons, a clear and present danger for Israel. Syria is in fact on the verge of a serious humanitarian crisis, which can only intensify the level of violence on the streets. Israel, and by extension the U.S., will have to decide how to intervene without risking a regional conflagration.
Lebanon stands on the brink of internal strife. Political and economical confrontations are already taking place, threatening to disrupt an already tenuous status-quo, as Druze and Christian Lebanese are intensifying their criticism of the Hezbollah’s continued intervention in Syria. As before, Hezbollah might use Israel as a means to alleviate this pressure by conflagrating a military conflict with Israel (perhaps using newly acquired/smuggled weapons from Syria). Such a conflict could also be triggered by Iranian pressure – it is probably no coincidence that Israel stationed two Iron Dome batteries in the north after a mysterious blast in an Iranian nuclear facility.
The “Arab Spring” seems to have somehow been mollified in Jordan, though its Hashemite leaders can in no way allow themselves any sigh of relief yet. Widespread discontent causing large scaled demonstrations are still taking place, fed by the continuing civilian strife in Iraq and an unclear future of the Palestinian Authority.
In the West Bank, the un-official deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, dictating a stable status-quo underlined by continued economic and security cooperation, is slowly fading away. Israel’s covert and overt policy of weakening Abu Mazen, weakens its own strategic position, by risking a third intifada and growing influence of the Hamas.
Did I fail to mention Iran?
So all in all, it looks like it’s going to be an interesting and challenging year for Israeli long-term strategic planning. While most of the above is outside our immediate control, 20 minutes from Jerusalem sits the option to alleviate at least one of these potential crises. After building his coalition with Lapid, and somehow managing to pass a budget for 2013, Netanyahu’s first call must be to Abu Mazen.