This article was drafted in collaboration with Dr. Ori Wertman a researcher and coordinator of the Strategic Assessment journal of the Institute for National Security Studies, and a research fellow at the International Center for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales.
The State of Israel at the beginning of 2023 faces a series of strategic challenges. Alongside Iran’s advancement to the status of a nuclear threshold state, Israel has been engaged in a campaign of escalating terrorism in the Palestinian arena for about a year, as the Palestinian Authority continues to converge into the realm of irrelevance. At the same time, Israel is experiencing an internal crisis due to the promotion of judicial reform, which makes the strategic reality even more complicated. Thus, when the resilience of the country and its society is facing one of the most significant tests since the establishment of Israel, this article will present Strategic Load reflected by the complexity of the connection between complex challenges and threats from outside with domestic political and social tension.
At the beginning of the year 2023, the State of Israel faces a series of strategic challenges, which create an unusual strategic load especially due to the connection between complex challenges and threats from outside with political and social tension at home. Along with Iran’s advancement to the status of a nuclear threshold state, which continues its efforts to establish itself regionally and establish the threat to Israel, Israel has been subject to an escalating terrorist system in the Palestinian arena.
For about a year, the Palestinian Authority continues to lose its grip on the territories under its responsibility, fades and converges into the space of irrelevance. Hamas continues to consolidate its grip on the Gaza Strip and develop the military threat to Israel at the same time as playing a zero-sum game against the Palestinian Authority, when it sees itself as a governmental alternative to the Palestinian Authority and works to challenge it, to destabilize it and to escalate the security situation in East Jerusalem with the understanding that this is a barrel of explosives that can set the entire region on fire.
Hezbollah continues to grow stronger and gain self-confidence as Lebanon makes giant strides towards total collapse. The failed Arab space surrounding Israel threatens regional stability as governance, economic, climate and environmental problems may lead to hunger, water and employment crises, which will lead to destabilization in the peaceful countries of Egypt and Jordan as well.
In the international arena, the relations between Israel and the US are more tense than ever, also due to the crisis that Israel is experiencing these days against the background of the Israeli government’s moves to promote legal reform, which is seen by its critics and opponents as an attempt at a coup d’état.
The strategic reality becomes even more complicated due to the crisis that Israel is experiencing at home following the attempt to promote a significant judicial reform, one that the current government’s approach commits to correcting the system of checks and balances between the authorities, which has been violated in the last three decades and is reflected in the excessive power that the judicial system has. On the other hand, according to the opponents’ approach this is not a reform or an attempt to rebalance the authorities, but an attempt to subordinate the justice system to the government and give it unrestrained power.
It seems that the Israeli government did not anticipate the strength of the opposition to its moves and for last months the country has been rocking from one end to the other, mass demonstrations on an unprecedented scale alongside expressions of civil unrest, tearing Israeli society apart and weakening social solidarity and cohesion. The loosening of social solidarity is seen as a serious threat to social and national resilience and as a violation of Israel’s national security and its ability to withstand external challenges.
Israel, which excels in dealing with complex challenges, may find it difficult to deal with an unusual strategic load that builds and intensifies because of the meeting between complex challenges from outside and dangerous challenges from home. It is currently facing one of its most difficult and complex times and will be required to make unusual and necessary leadership decisions, which will be necessary in order to reach agreements at home that will enable the building of the necessary capabilities to deal effectively and powerfully with the challenges outside.
The resilience of the state and society is facing one of the most significant tests since the establishment of the State of Israel. The statements about the end of democracy in Israel are exaggerated and disconnected from reality; The protests and demonstrations prove the vitality of a vibrant and functioning democracy and it would be reasonable to assume that the national responsibility of Israel’s leaders will decide and lead to the construction of negotiation mechanisms and agreement to carry out the judicial reforms without requiring a coup d’état, because the vast majority of the Israeli public is clear how serious and dangerous the other option could be.
The establishment of the State of Israel, its existence and its impressive development must be seen as a kind of unique historical miracle. Since its foundation, the State of Israel has been under severe external threats. Over the years, Israel has succeeded in thwarting and dismantling existential threats, reaching peace agreements with 6 Arab countries, becoming a military, technological and economic power and even changing the regional architecture through the Abraham Accords, which normalized the systems of relations that Israel was able to maintain with Arab and Muslim countries throughout the years.
Israel of the 21st century faces three major external threats. The first and most serious of them, also defined as an existential threat, is the Iranian nuclear threat. The second serious threat is the northern front – Hezbollah and Syria and the third threat is the Palestinian arena. Israel has succeeded over the years in building the military and political capabilities to deal with the threats of the northern front and the Palestinian arena and to thwart and disrupt the Iranian military establishment in the region as well as Iran’s nuclearization efforts. But it has partially succeeded in confronting the Iranian nuclear threat so far. Israel failed to prevent Iran from reaching a point very close to a nuclear threshold state. The main effort at this time as far as Israel is concerned is in building the capacity to deal with the Iranian threat. This requires strategic clarity and determination, which Israeli Prime Ministers in the other two decades have demonstrated, and it seems that Netanyahu more than anyone else.
In order to deal with the Iranian threat, Israel is required to strengthen its deterrence capacity against Iran and build the capacity for an independent military attack against Iran in the event of the failure of Israeli deterrence and the failure of diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions on the part of the international community. For this purpose, Israel requires American backing both in the provision of relevant weapons and in political and military backing for an Israeli attack and American assistance to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, the most important Arab country for building the alliance and the front against Iran.
In order to build capabilities and improve preparedness against the Iranian threat as the main threat, Israel is required to ensure calm on the northern front against Hezbollah and the Palestinian arena. The premise of the Israeli work is that a military attack against Iran will inevitably ignite the other two fronts as well and it would be correct to reach this stage with the highest level of preparedness and competence. Therefore, Israel chooses a strategy of containment against Hezbollah as well as against Hamas, who continue to strengthen militarily, as well as against the Palestinian terrorist system in the West Bank.
The escalation in the Palestinian arena, the persistent Iranian efforts to expand the military establishment in the region and to transfer precision weapons and military technologies to its proxies in the region, the explosive potential of East Jerusalem in the run-up to the holy month of Ramadan, and the possibility of an acute misperception by Israel’s enemies regarding its resilience, create a set of extremely complex strategic challenges. Adding to these the socio-political crisis that Israel has experienced in recent months, Israel is facing a dangerous strategic load, which will require the Israeli leadership and Israeli society to quickly come to their senses, find the consent mechanisms for the necessary legal reforms, calm the tensions and re-strengthen the foundations of Israeli solidarity and cohesion as an infrastructure for social and national resilience and as a basis for strengthening national security.
In addition to these, the Israeli leadership will be required to adhere to strategic clarity and determination, which will allow for the appropriate response to the burden of threats as well as the necessity of further strengthening national security and the “Iron Wall”, which rests on military power, economic-technological power and political power, which derives primarily from the special and important relations with the USA, the conceptual and value belonging to the Western world and the integration into the new regional architecture.