Israel and the Regional Strategic Landscape

Palestine throughout the 20th century has been subject to and effected by the stategic global and regional balance of power. From the end of WWI up to the present the stategic balance favored Israel and its allies. However and moving forward, the strategic balance in the region is not in Israel’s favor, thus not only the fear of an immediate Palestinian threat that is considered but the larger context of the Arab and Muslim world has to be factored-in by planners to guarantee a continuation of the unbalanced status quo.

In confronting internal Palestinian problems and also prior to 1993, the PLO externally, Israel has seeked to contain the wider ring of strategic support extended to the Palestine cause in political, economic, social and military terms. It is commonly argued that due to its lack of strategic depth, land mass wise, Israel must engage in security oriented activities beyond its borders in order to prevent a possible consolidation of hostile forces that would be allied with Palestinian aspirations. To this end, Israel pursued a heartland and periphery strategy to structure its security goals around its immediate borders with Arab states and the outer ring of countries that might support Palestinians aspirations.

During the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s the focal point for Israel was arresting and disrupting forces ideologically identified with Arab Nationalism. Looking back, one can conclude that it was a successful undertaking on the military, economic and social front but less so on the political underpinnings of the movement. In the most recent period Islam and Islamism has taken the leading role in rallying the greater Arab and Muslim world in opposition to the continued Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians and with it a shift in strategy was readily observable in Israel’s strategic discourses as early as 1980.

Being a foreign implant in the region, Israel, from its inception, needed the political and military cover of a large power to carry its colonial project, Britain served the role leading up to the state while America inherited the role post WWII. On the regional strategic plain, two elements needed to be brought under control; the Arab countries that have the potential or the ability to constitute a military threat to Israel and those that have the economic resources to fund long term confrontation with the newly found alien state.

In pursing its strategic interests Israel had to neutralize some regional threats by means of “peace treaties” while others were contained through participation in internal conflicts and fragmentation i.e. Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan and possibly Iran in the near future. No long-term confrontation can take place without commitment from population and resources endowed states, which in the case of the Arab and Muslim world is the combination of Iraq’s, Syria and Egypt’s population and technical know how of North Africa, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan fused with the Gulf and Saudi Arabian wealth.

While Syria can play a role in this posture, from a strategic perspective, only with the presence of hearland states like Iraq and Egypt in the picture can Damascus be a factor. On the periphery ring of the Arab heartland, the Islamic support represented by Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sudan and North Africa; another regime of containment was employed by Israel to prevent a further consolidation of Palestinian support and prevent a commitment to isloating it in Asia and Africa.

Just like the case in the heartland, some states were contained by “peaceful means”, through pure economic links and development, while others through participation in military confrontation with bordering states and Low Intensity Conflicts through training programs, intellegence support and military equipment sales. From the current strategic map, the Arab and Muslim world has lost all assets that can propel them to a position of parity let alone to alter the asymmetry with the Israel with the possible exception of Turkey as long as it stays out of the military conflicts in both Syria and Iraq and Malysia at a distant from the heartland can be a factor as well. One significant emerging factor is Trukey’s regional role and its impact on shifting the balance of power, which can easily be derailed by containment through entry into the Syrian and Iraq war on the one hand and a possible pro-longed military confrontation with the Kurdish population.

Indeed, the region today is in flames and all financial and stategic assests are being lost and are deployed away from the Palestine cause, a successful containment is underway and Turkey must be aware of this part ongoing strategy.

In the current context, Israel strategic security borders extend to Iran considering the containment of Jordan and Egypt by means of a “peace treaty” and a deep-state strategic cooperation at all levels with both countries leadership. Iraq is neutralized for the next 20 years, if not more, through fragmentation and internal strife, and Syria is in no position to constitute a threat for many years to come being at present lacking internal cohesion (a minority constituted government at odds with a revolting majority population supported by regional actors fighting each other by proxy).

This leaves the Gulf region with vast financial resources as the next piece in the puzzle for creating a long term strategic balance favoring Israel. Important as it may be, military superiority can be over come and Israel in its long term strategic planning understands that elimination of possible future threats is the only way to guarantee its “survival” as an outside implant in a region inhabited by Arabs with deeply held national aspirations. The Gulf resources are being nutralized by over-extending them to fight a containment proxy war in Syria and Iraq that will end-up supplanting Saudi Arabia’s financial strength and might lead to an internal strife in the kindom, which in the long run would be in Israel’s security favor and interests. The Saudi Kingdom will end-up depending on Israel for its security needs if the proxy wars continues and internal strife becomes unmanagable.

For sure Arab and Muslim leadership have served American interests well in the region, at least since the end of WWII, but in a unipolar world, regional states have to compete for the attention of the power center and dismantle or reduce possible competitors rendering similar services. The Israelis understand that the US commitment to its security is relative to domestic pressure generated by the American Jewish community on the one hand and considerations for the long standing strategic interests in the Middle East region. As such Israel’s attempt at defining its security in American terms, which brings us back to Islamist, at this stage, being the enemy of choice for Israeli planners and the need to establish links between the Palestinian Islamic movements and those waging the war on the US in other parts of the world.

Furthermore, the more the threat in the region is crafted around Islam the more Israel’s untility increases and the long term relations with the US are affirmed by a mix of lobbing an real invovlement on the ground.

What Israel is constructing is its own regional security box wedded to US strategic outlook confronting “global terrorism,” and the more it is prenicious and violent, the more Israel’s services and know how is needed and rationalized. In the current period, Israel has been successful in casting its fight with the Palestinians in similar terms as the US confrontation with al Qaeda making it possible to engage in systematic assassinations campaign and a massive attack on the Gaza Strip in 2008/09. In this context, the strategy allows for an epistemic fusion between Israel’s local Occupation strategy and the global war on terrorism as well as involvemrnt in every regional conflict.

The conflict with Israel aside from its day to day land based struggle is directly linked to the global strategic positioning of states visa via the sole remaining superpower. As such the casting of the conflict around the axis of terrorism makes Israel a much needed ally for the US in its fight, while the Palestinians, through a strong Zionist PR campaign, can be identified as an al-Qaeda like threat, which is also built upon many earlier years of demonization of the PLO and its leadership.

However, the missing card in all of this is the success or failure of the US project in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and Afghanistan. In my view, the direct involvement of the US in the region, if it goes sour, will reopen all aspects of relations with the Arab and Muslim world, and central to it is Israel’s role in furthering the tensions and dissatisfactions leading up to a more entrenched nationalism rooted in a search for real independence. Furthermore, prior to US commitment of boots on the ground in the Middle East, Israel and Palestine had no real meaning except to those identified with the region, the Arab, Muslim and Jewish populations for the most part, thus lobbying was effective and unqualified support to the “Jewish State” was easily manufactured.

However, if the current situation in the region continues, and most likely it will, the Middle East becomes even more of a domestic American issue and no longer confined to a small sector of Arab or Jewish partisans. Lastly, the lack of any meaningful progress on ending the Occupation with the continued expansion of settlements will only complicate Israel’s attempt at maintaining the strategic balance in its favor at a time when civil society has began to demonstrate its effectiveness in the BDS movement. The strategic landscape is shifting torward the Palestinians despite the choas witnessed in the region as Israel has no backdoor out of its own ideologically constructed occupation problems and reliance on American support is not assured in the future.