Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror: The snowball effect on Israel’s acceptance by Arab states could eventually spill over into the international community and change Israel’s place in it.
J-Wire News Service, 29.10.2020
Given the cascade of changes in the Middle East, including increased Turkish aggression and the domino effect of Arab normalisation with Israel, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) turned to Major General (Ret.) Yaakov Amidror to explain Israel’s changing security and diplomatic environment.
Amidror had served in senior positions in the IDF and Israeli government for over 30 years and is currently a fellow at both the Israel-based Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS) and the US-based Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), so is well placed to talk about what has changed and what has remained constant in terms of Israel’s security position in the region and the world.
“So many people in the world explained to us that [normalisation] is impossible. Without the Palestinians, they [the Arabs] will not do it,” Amidror said, speaking about the recent UAE, Bahrain and Sudan normalisation agreements with Israel. “Remember that back in ’67 they said in Khartoum ‘no negotiations, no legitimation, no peace,’ and now Khartoum is joining the [normalisation] train.”
The benefits of this normalisation are manifold, including in the diplomatic, economic, and security spheres, he suggested “Here is the acceptance of the Jewish State’s legitimacy to exist in the Middle East,” Amidror said, noting that the snowball effect on Israel’s acceptance by Arab states could eventually spill over into the international community and change Israel’s place in it.
The combination of Israeli innovation and technology and Gulf money also has the potential to transform the region economically and technologically, including in the vital area of food security, he suggested. In the energy sector, a pipeline directly from Saudi Arabia to Israel could reduce Iran’s ability to threaten oil flows in the Persian Gulf. Finally, there is now the potential to work together “to contain countries like Turkey and Iran, which are threatening the interests of both [the Arab states and Israel].”
“Turkey is a new negative factor in the Middle East that we will have to take into account,” Amidror warned, becoming increasingly aggressive in the Mediterranean against Israeli energy interests, as well as against its Arab and European allies. This includes Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, which now acts against Israel from Istanbul and whose senior leaders were given Turkish citizenship to protect them from assassination, Amidror noted.
Primarily due to gas discoveries and energy partnerships, “The Mediterranean is becoming more and more important for Israel,” Amidror explained. “Strategically, it is a new phenomenon: Israel does not have any experience with such a situation in which the sea is so important.” Israel has been expanding its navy as well as worked on deepening its relationships with other Mediterranean countries in order to safeguard these mutual energy interests, which Amidror argues will ultimately lead to closer security ties, as well. “It’s a problem, but at the same time it’s a huge opportunity for Israel to build new relations with new countries and to [improve] Israel-European Union relations.”
Even the Palestinians could benefit from Israel’s burgeoning energy ties with Europe and Mediterranean states, he said. “They have a little gas field near Gaza, and if they will be smart enough to operate it through Israel because the infrastructure is too expensive to do it independently, that will bring them in” to this new Mediterranean alliance.
Amidror stressed the importance of Saudi Arabia and the current reticence to join the UAE and Bahrain in normalising relations with Israel, which he says is due to potential instability in the succession process as leadership passes to a new generation. “They don’t have any experience or tradition how to do it, so it’s a very delicate situation in the history of Saudi Arabia.”
“If the Saudis will join the steps of the [UAE] and Bahrain that would be a huge change,” he said. Already the UAE normalisation has profoundly changed Israel’s situation, and “the Palestinians [are beginning] to understand that they are… losing the opportunity.”
The framework of this regional realignment is the US need for security anchors while it pivots its forces to the Pacific – “The whole Middle East is going to be different because the American umbrella is not disappearing, but the Americans want to be less and less involved,” he argued. US disengagement, while worrying, is also an opportunity for Israel to become an agent of stability in the area, deepening both US reliance on them in the long term as well as that of the surrounding States in need of protection as the US disengages, Amidror suggested.
However, some things don’t change. “We have to remember that there are some geopolitical facts that cannot be ignored, haven’t been changed, and probably will not be changed: Israel will remain a little country,” Amidror explained to the webinar audience. “We will have to bridge the gap by keeping our qualitative [military] edge. Without it, we cannot cope with the area around us.”
A consequence of its small size is that all of Israel’s infrastructure can be held under threat by the rocket arsenals of Hezbollah and Hamas and there’s little redundancy or ability to disperse strategic sites. “There is not even one area [within Israel] they cannot reach,” Amidror said. Iran’s precision missile project with Hezbollah makes the threat far worse, which is why Israel has been investing so much money in active defence, like layered missile defence systems, as well as passive defenscs like air-raid sirens and shelters. Amidror also predicted that in a few years Israel will have integrated laser missile defences into its overall system.
“The logic of the Iranians is very clear: to bring their [missile] capabilities nearer to Israel, to build the ‘ring of fire’ based on what they have in Lebanon, what they want to have in Syria and western Iraq… so they will have all the capabilities close to Israel and we will not have these capabilities close to Iran.” Israel has been very successful until now in thwarting Iranian plans for establishing itself fully in Syria and completely upgrading Hezbollah’s missile arsenal with precision capabilities in Lebanon, Amidror said, although the threat remains.
Normalisation with the UAE and Bahrain poses serious challenges to this Iranian strategy, he said. “For the Iranians, the fact that Israel has a position on the other side of the Gulf [close to Iran], for them it’s a huge problem,” since now Israel could potentially strike Iranian assets from Bahrain or the UAE.
Australia, as a close ally, also has a role to play in Israel’s changing position in the region and world. “We need countries [like] Australia to help Israel in the international community. In a meeting of the G20 that someone will speak on behalf of Israel, in the meetings of the countries of the Pacific, that Australia will be a determined ally of Israel speaking on behalf of Israel… how to help Israel and how to promote the relations between all the other countries with Israel,” he said.
Amidror suggested cooperation in defence projects as a way to help cement the Australia-Israel alliance. Australia and Israel “should build together something big which will be important for the defence of Australia and the capabilities of Israel. Something like that that will make the good relations between the two countries even stronger in the future and will be understood by everyone in Australia and Israel that this is an alliance which will continue in the future” he argued.
Watch a video of General Amidror’s briefing at https://jiss.org.il/en/amidror-israels-changing-security-environment/