By Dr Subhash Kapila
Israel faces acute security predicaments spawned by the rapidly changing political dynamics in the Middle East. Israel’s security predicaments would not have been all that acute had the political upheaval currently underway in the Arab World of the Greater Middle East had been localized to one or two of her Arab neighbors.
Israel’s security environment becomes threatening and a matter of strategic concern as the political upheaval in the Arab World is today spreading far and wide like a ‘tsunami’. The situation becomes more startling for Israel as the mainstay of Israel’s security, its 32 year old Peace Treaty with Egypt authored by the United States and underwritten by the United States, today is shrouded in uncertainty with the overthrow of the pro-Israel regime of President Mubarak.
Israel’s security predicaments are of equal concern and applicability to the United States which faces an even graver strategic dilemma faced with the prospects of toppling of its Arab allies of long-standing in the wake of the Egypt Revolution. Since the entire United States security architecture in the Middle East was crafted to rest on countries like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Sheikhdoms, their uncertain political future and questionable stability because of Arab World’s politically infectious upheavals, poses a strategic challenge to United States leadership and diplomacy.
The United States strategic challenge is to craft alternative stable security architecture for the security of Israel and Middle East stability in a politically unpredictable and volatile regional environment. The United States strategic dilemma stands discussed in a recent Paper of mine.
Israel for far too long has been dependant on the United States to underwrite Israel’s security against Arab nation’s hostility, many of whom questioned Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation-state. Israel therefore did not undertake any peace initiatives, independent of the United States to probe prospects of sustainable peace with her Arab neighbors.
With the Arab World in the Middle East in the midst of an unprecedented political upheaval and Israel’s geographical neighbors being Arab nations, both Israel and the United States as Israel’s guarantor of its existence and security, today stand at strategic crossroads.
Israel and the United States therefore have to deliberate on both strategic and tactical strategies to ensure the security of Israel in the context of Middle East rapidly changing dynamics.
However, it needs to be recorded that any transformed strategies so devised must factor-in the emerging reality that this Arab World upheaval under way is not driven by Islamist forces or ideology.
On available indicators and reckoning, the ‘Arab Awakening’ seems to be impelled by a popular upsurge seeking political freedoms, economic uplift and social equitability from decades of oppression by US-favored despotic Arab regimes. If this impelling force is correctly read by the United States and Israel, it could greatly help both to transform their existing policy postulations in the Middle East and also transform the overall political profile which is helpful in promoting a stable Middle East security environment conducive to Israel’s security.
This Paper intends to examine the overall issue under the following relevant heads:
- Israel’s Volatile and Uncertain Security Environment in Post-Egypt Revolution Era
- United States Residual Strategic Leverages in Changing Middle East Dynamics
- United States and Israel Strategic and Tactical Strategies to Ensure Israel’s Security in Unfolding Uncertainty in the Middle East
Israel’s Volatile and Uncertain Security Environment in Post-Egypt Revolution Era
Israel’s volatile and uncertain security environment in the Post-Egypt Revolution era has to be examined basically in three contexts, namely: (1) Israel’s security as impacted by the Egypt-specific developments (2) Israel’s security as likely to be impacted by political instability in Israel’s immediate Arab neighbors and (3) Israel’s security as impacted by overall strategic power-play in the Middle East.
Israel’s security is directly and significantly impacted by the unfolding events in Egypt. This was reflected in the serious Israeli objections to the United States handling of the Egypt Revolution. Israel voiced its protests against United States’ acquiescence in easing out of President Mubarak who had loyally stood by the United States and Israel for the last three decades. Israel protested that this would send a wrong signal in the Middle East that the United States could dump traditional and long standing US allies in the region when faced with political upheavals.
The Egypt Revolution 2011 in its overall tenor may have been peaceful but in relation to Israel, Egypt enters an uncertain phase where the predictable pro-Israel policy approaches of the Mubarak regime would no longer be obtainable despite the assurances of the follow-up administration under the Egyptian Army that Egypt would abide by all its international and treaty commitments.
In terms of strategic and military impact on Israel, the Southern Flank of Israel bordering Egypt now opens up to vulnerabilities in view of the Egyptian political volatility and uncertainty. So far Israel was free of military vulnerabilities on its Southern Flank for the last three decades.
Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt are Israel’s immediate Arab neighbors and all these states are witnessing political volatility and uncertainty. The Arab political unrest has infected all these states in varying intensity. Like Egypt, Jordan provided a secure Eastern Flank to Israel’s security and this now stands endangered. Lebanon has seen the replacement of a pro-Western Prime Minister with a pro-Hezbollah Prime Minister. Syria has once again muscled its way into Lebanon’s politics. Iraq despite the return of US-guided democracy remains unstable.
It cannot also be forgotten that all these immediate Arab neighbors of Israel with geographical contiguity, were historically involved in armed conflicts with Israel. Israel then could outclass them militarily both by its own prowess and also United States unquestionable predominance in the Middle East. That differential seems to have narrowed down with proxy use of Islamist Armed Militias against Israel.
The overall strategic power-play in the Middle East is also weighed heavily against Israel when developments in proximity to Israel are taken into account. Syria has moved closer to Iran. Iran and Turkey enjoy close relations with the resultant situation where Turkey having close military cooperation has moved away from Israel and USA towards more independent stances favoring its Islamist neighbors.
In terms of overall assessment of Israel’s security environment, the situation seems to be strategically disconcerting for Israel’s security with its Southern and Eastern Flanks enveloped in military and political uncertainty and its Northern Flank downright hostile.
United States Residual Strategic Leverages in Changing Middle East Dynamics
The United States undoubtedly continues to be the mightiest military power globally and in the Middle East. Despite economic recession, the United States enjoys significant economic power by virtue of its control of global financial institutions. It does therefore posses substantive leverages to influence the Middle East overall situation.
However, it would not be far wrong to state that despite all these strengths, the United States does not enjoy corresponding political leverages in the Middle East. Simply put, the United States leverages in the Middle East rested on its close linkages with military establishments and autocratic regimes in the region and it had virtually no openings to political entities in Arab nations, which in any case stood suppressed and enfeebled by US-supported autocratic regimes.
If the revolutionary upsurge for political transformation in the Middle East concretizes fully, and political and democratic regimes emerge in the region, the United States would take time to establish substantive relationships with follow-up regimes of whatever shade.
The United States today is perceived as a global power on the decline and especially in the Middle East which witnesses United States bogged down in strategic and military quagmires in Islamic countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.
United States credibility in the Middle East further suffers from its inability to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement and its inability to tame Iran feared by most US Arab allies so far in the region.
Contextually therefore the United States residual strategic leverages in the Middle East in terms of influencing events in the Middle East can be said to be relatively limited.
While the above is true but it is also true that the United States strategic and military power still continues to be significant in terms of deterrence, both conventional and strategic, and which can be expected to come into play as a last resort if Israel’s security and existence are direly threatened in the wake of the political volatility that currently pervades in the Middle East.
United States & Israel Strategic and Tactical Strategies to Ensure Israel’s Security in Unfolding Uncertainty in the Middle East
The strategic and long range component of United States and Israel approaches to ensure security of Israel followed triple strategies, namely: (1) United States boosting Israel’s defense capabilities with advanced military hardware and military aid in billions of dollars annually and Israel developing significant indigenous self-reliant defense capabilities to ensure military dominance (2) United States with Israel in tow shaping Israel’s security environment by contriving or putting in place Israel-friendly regimes, despite any overt rhetoric by such countries to the contrary (3) United States in the ultimate analysis underwriting Israel’s existence and security.
Analyzing the above in the context of unfolding uncertainty in the Middle East, it can be said that there will be no change in the first-named and third-named strategies. In fact not only will the United States continue to be committed to Israel’s existence and security but can be expected in view of regional volatility and uncertainty to further boost Israel’s defense capabilities and deterrence against any ensuing Arab military adventurism.
The second-named component would be most challenging for the United States and Israel too. A firm political template of Post-Egypt Revolution Middle East will take time to crystallize and United States would have to temporize with interim strategies without losing the long range perspectives. Israel will have to be accommodative to US new strategies.
The significant point that needs to be recorded here is that in terms of shaping the regional security environment, both the United States and Israel would have to dispense with the existing pillars of their strategies which were regime-centric rather than Arab peoples-centric. No attempts seemingly have been in evidence that the United States and Israel paid attention to this aspect so far.
The Arab Revolution underway in the Middle East centers on a mix of politico-economic and socio-economic frustrations in the Arab youth, 30% of each Arab nation’s population. Unemployment, economic and political deprivation and social inequities lie at the heart of present Arab unrest. It is seemingly not an Islamist driven or ideology driven upsurge.
Scope therefore exists for the United States to radically transform its military-oriented strategies and an effort which needs to be supplemented by Israel, in bringing about and contributing to the political and economic transformation of the Arab World. In short the United States and Israel’s long term strategies should synergize with the Arab World’s political and economic awakening.
This approach could hopefully lead to shaping Israel’s security environment in a manner where Israel’s Arab neighbors emerge at peace with themselves and at peace with Israel and its right to exist as a sovereign nation-state.
Tactical short term strategies would perforce have to dwell on a significant boost of Israel’s defense capabilities by US demonstrated actions.
United States in the short-term would be well-advised to reiterate in open declaratory policy statements that the United States is irrevocably committed to Israel’s existence and security. The United States as a follow-up would have to declare unambiguously that the United States would not hesitate from unilateral military intervention or under the United Nations Charter, to protect Israel against any aggression.
The political volatility may ordinarily preclude any Arab aggression against Israel but contingency planning is an imperative for the outside chance of some Arab nation to indulge in aggression through the use of Islamist militias to divert domestic and international attention.
Concluding this aspect and to ensure overall objectivity, it needs to be reiterated that Israel’s existence and security are best secured by Arab nations and Israel being mutually at peace with each other That should be the end aim and if that is not forthcoming then Israel stands excused for overly and predominantly relying on the military option to ensure its security and existence.
Israel’s security predicaments arising from the present political upheaval in the Arab world are genuine and acute. It is so because Israel and the United States as guarantor of Israel’s security saw no need to recast their policy approaches to the Arab World and its unfolding dynamics. They were lulled into complacency that the security architecture that had been put into place by the United States based on US-friendly Arab despotic regimes would eternally ensure United States national interests and Israel’s security.
Both the United States and Israel currently stand overtaken by the Arab political upheaval Even now many in the policy establishments in the United States and Israel argue that this political upheaval is Islamist in orientation and United States would be well advised not to dump its traditional Arab allies headed by despots. This is ill-advised and counterproductive.
The United States and Israel need to radically transform their existing policy formulations and recast their policy approaches from despotic regime- centric focus to Arab peoples-centric focus. The current Arab World upsurge seeks a politico-economic and socio-economic transformation of their Arab societies, long suppressed. The United States and Israel could strategically profit by electing to be on” The Right Side of History”. Israel’s security may then be better ensured.
In the evolving uncertainties that are likely to prevail in the Middle East for some time as a result of the Arab Upsurge and impact Israel’s security, it is imperative for the United Sates to make some firm and unambiguous declarations of intent. The United States must reiterate that while it appreciates the root causes of the Arab Upsurge and it would not impede the political transformation so sought, the United States would not hesitate in unilateral military intervention to protect Israel’ security should it be so threatened.
(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: [email protected])