“No Illusions, No Despair”
At a much darker hour in Jewish history, prior to the U.N. vote in 1947, this was David Ben-Gurion’s dictum: “No illusions, no despair. For us Jews, and particularly Zionists, two things are forbidden: Easy optimism and sterile pessimism.”
This document details the contours of national security policy for Israel’s government. It reflects insights of the 17 JISS fellows, who jointly surveyed the challenges Israel’s leaders are facing and crafted a comprehensive series of diplomatic and defense policy recommendations.
The JISS team 14 main recommendations, detailed below, can be summarized as follows: Nurture national cohesion; Prepare for several war scenarios with an emphasis on Iran-related scenarios; Counter Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions, in cooperation with the US; Govern effectively and fairly in greater Jerusalem; Manage the conflict with the Palestinians; Respond positively to the US peace plan; Deter Hamas in Gaza; Prioritize relations with Egypt and Jordan while seeking new partnerships in the Arab world; Exact a price for Erdogan’s provocations and bolster alliances in the eastern Mediterranean; Preserve bipartisan support for Israel in the US; Maintain active dialogue and deconfliction channels with Russia; Act boldly to find European anchors to negate hostile attitudes in Brussels; Tread carefully amidst rising tensions in Asia; and Enhance Israel’s diplomatic toolbox.
The background for this effort is the assessment that Israel is a strong country and its strategic position is better than ever. Nevertheless, Israel still faces significant security challenges.
Primary among the growing challenges are a fast-brewing crisis between the US and Iran, alongside attendant threats to Israel’s civilian home front from the Iranian regime and its proxies. In addition, for the foreseeable future, Israel faces a violent and intractable conflict with the Palestinians. Therefore, Israel must always be ready for war. This is the ultimate test for Israeli society, too.
The Israeli government’s top priorities must be preservation of national cohesion, and building Israel’s military and diplomatic might in response to the main threats. At the same time, Israel should take advantage of strategic opportunities – such as the impending Trump Mideast peace plan – to change the rules of the game regarding relations with the Palestinians, the Arab world, and countries in the Mediterranean arena.
- Nurture National Cohesion
National cohesion is a vital component of Israel’s resilience for the tough times that the highly problematic Middle East strategic environment may yet foist upon Israel. Therefore, the new government must nurture a spirit of unity and national purpose by building a policy consensus as broad as possible. This is necessary both in preparation for likely combat operations against Iran and its proxies, and in order to respond wisely to the American peace plan and to intelligently manage conflict with the Palestinians.
- Prepare for Several War Scenarios
Israel must prepare simultaneously for a range of war scenarios. This includes development of a credible capacity to strike Iranian nuclear targets; preparation for war on three fronts against an Iranian-led coalition; the ability to “mow the grass” in the two Palestinian arenas; and the ability to withstand an intense missile war. The highest priority is building a ground force capable of swift maneuver and attaining a decisive outcome by taking the fight into enemy territory (– the Israeli concept of hachra’ah). Reliance on intelligence and accurate airpower (which has been the IDF approach in recent years) is insufficient; this is an important adjunct, not an alternative, to ground combat. The IDF must not be afraid of taking troop casualties. These casualties can be reduced by swift and forceful forays that shorten the period of combat and rapidly bring about enemy collapse. This will also reduce the time that the home front is exposed to enemy missile fire, saving lives.
- Counter Iran’s Ambitions
With Iran openly defying the international community, the IDF must make the necessary preparations so it can, at a moment of truth, demonstrate a credible capability to actively foil the Iranian nuclear program; if necessary, alone (– although the preferred option involves cooperation with the US and others). Doing so will also assist in pushing Iran back to the negotiating table. Meanwhile, denying Iran’s access to resources and advanced technologies must remain part of the toolbox of responses to Iranian threats. In order to prevent the emergence of an Iranian war machine in Syria and the building of long-range missile infrastructure in Iraq, Israel must demonstrate military determination – including readiness for an overall confrontation. It also must act diplomatically (especially versus Russia) to ensure that Syria and Iraq do not become Iranian bases of attack on Israel.
- Govern Effectively and Fairly in Greater Jerusalem
Israel’s national security requires control over Jerusalem and its environs. Reinforcing Jerusalem should be a high priority, with the government acting to bolster the Zionist majority in the city by building in the E-1 quadrant and linking the city to Maaleh Adumim. Arab parts of the city should be governed firmly and fairly, encouraging greater integration of eastern Jerusalem Arabs through investments in infrastructure and education. Resolute action needs to be taken against radical elements who seek to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, and against foreign elements who undermine Israel’s sovereignty in the Jewish People’s historic capital.
- Manage Conflict with the Palestinians
Israel should adhere to a strategy of “conflict management” regarding the Palestinians, designed to reduce the cost of conflict for both sides. This involves careful use of force; economic “carrots”; and deliberate adherence to the existing footprint of the settlement enterprise – except in greater Jerusalem where Israel needs to build and expand significantly. Israel must also govern more effectively in Area C, whether it intends to retain or trade this zone in future negotiations. In any case, it would be wrong to succumb to the siren song of unilateral withdrawals – for reasons of national cohesion, as well as for security and diplomatic considerations. Unilateral withdrawal would only feed unrealistic Palestinian expectations and ensure the persistence of the conflict and even its escalation, without any real diplomatic reward. As for the extension of Israeli law to settlements in Judea and Samaria, no action should be taken until the American peace initiative has been exhausted; and even then, Israeli moves should adhere to the contours of broad national consensus and preserve possibilities for compromise with the Palestinians in the future.
- Respond Positively to the US Peace Plan
Israel should welcome the Trump Administration’s so-called “Deal of the Century” and agree to negotiate on its basis. The Trump plan may usefully upend stale “common wisdom” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (what is termed EKP – the “Everybody Knows Paradigm,” or the “Clinton Parameters”) – and offer more realistic contours. Unfortunately, Palestinian leadership is not ripe for a historic compromise with the Zionist movement, and therefore Israel must be ready for a security deterioration if Palestinian leadership rejects the American initiative. Israel must also be ready to prevent a Hamas takeover of the PA in a post Abbas era, and to preserve cooperation with PA security forces.
- Deter Hamas in Gaza
Israel should persist in the present policy of seeking to establish temporary deterrence versus Hamas for as long as possible, by identifying painful targets on the other side and maintaining levers of pressure on Hamas, while also offering significant “carrots” to the Gazans; meaning, opportunities for economic advancement. In the absence of long-term peace, the goal should be reduction of the material and psychological harm to Israeli citizens and minimizing the diplomatic costs of violent eruptions. It must be noted that the threats from Gaza are secondary to those posed to Israel on the northern front.
- Prioritize Egypt and Jordan while Seeking New Alliances in the Arab World
Israel’s confrontation with Iran and its proxies, and with other radical Islamist forces, has generated a commonality of interests between Israel and key players in the Arab world. It is in Israel’s interest to make the most of these opportunities, but it is also wise to bear in mind the nature of the Gulf states and their limitations. It is therefore important to focus attention and efforts upon Egypt and Jordan, who are Israel’s strategic partners and with whom Israel has signed peace treaties. Their stability is of far-reaching importance.
- Exact a Price for Erdogan’s Provocations and Bolster Alliances in the Eastern Mediterranean
Turkey’s room for maneuver and troublemaking should be curtailed. Led by Erdogan, Turkey is hostile to Israel, supportive of Hamas and acting to subvert Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. Links should be further forged with countries in the region who share the same concern. Diplomacy involving the US and Europe should be leveraged to force a moderation in Turkish policy. Turkish nuclear ambitions should also be monitored. In addition, it is important to bolster the strategic triangle of Israel, Greece ad Cyprus as a counterweight to Erdogan, and expand it into a partnership of all like-minded players in the eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, Israel should keep in mind that Turkey is an important Muslim country where other voices exist, and it is useful to maintain Israel-Turkey trade ties and open channels to the Turkish people as much as possible.
- Preserve Bipartisan Support for Israel in the US
Israel has no substitute for US support; especially when facing the Iranian challenge. It is critical to maintain cooperation with the US military and the intelligence community regarding Iran, while being careful not to push the US to war. Israeli leadership also needs to maintain close relations with both US political parties, even in the current polarized environment. In this context, close coordination with American Jewry is of greater importance than ever. Avenues must be found to overcome the tensions of recent years relating to ties with the Trump administration and stemming from conflicts over issues of religion and state in Israel.
- Maintain Dialogue and Deconfliction Channels with Russia
As tensions rise regarding Iran, it is important to sustain the ongoing dialogue and the channels of military communication (most specifically deconfliction procedures) established with Russia and its forces in Syria. As much as possible, Israel should avoid taking stands in international fora that amount to a direct challenge to Russian positions. Thought should be given to incentivizing Moscow for further cooperation with Israel. But this needs to be handled cautiously, bearing in mind deep-seated enmity in the American national security establishment towards Russian policies.
- Find Anchors in Europe Against Hostile Attitudes in Brussels
Israel’s main goal in Europe should be to assist the Trump Administration in convincing key players not to undermine the renewed sanctions on Iran; to convince key countries to respond harshly to a renewal of Iranian nuclear enrichment activity; and to enhance European awareness regarding Iranian terror and subversion on European soil. More nations in Europe should be encouraged to follow Britain’s example and designate Hizballah as a terrorist organization, abolishing the absurd distinction between a “military” and a “political” wing; and to bring their policies in line with the US on Palestinian matters, with regard to the Golan Heights and regarding Jerusalem. Israel aggressively pursue the gas pipeline project to Europe – which if economically feasible, could bring Israel and Europe much closer together.
- Tread Carefully Amidst Rising Tensions in Asia
Israel’s unique relationship with India must be preserved and developed. Economic relations with China should be managed more carefully, bearing in mind growing American sensitivities, while at the same time avoiding tensions with Beijing. The challenge will be to maintain the right balance between cooperative projects with the PRC and the close relationships that Israel enjoys with many countries in Asia that fear China’s rise to dominance. Israel should hasten the signing of FTA agreements with Asian countries, where and when trade volume justifies this. Meanwhile, efforts should continue to change the voting patterns of Asian (as well as African and Latin American) countries in international organizations, given the declining importance of the Palestinian question. Israel should continue to look for breakthroughs with Asian Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Bangladesh.
- Enhance Israel’s Diplomatic Toolbox
In addition to attentions at the highest levels of government, capitalizing on Israel’s opportunities in the international arena requires a strengthening of the professional Israeli foreign service. This should include appointment of a full-time Minister of Foreign Affairs; a return to the MFA of professional units dispersed among other ministries; the allocation of additional budgets for diplomacy; the enhancement of MASHAV (Israel’s foreign aid agency) and the integration of Israeli (and Jewish) NGOs in aid projects overseas; and training cadres of professionals who can communicate with an increasingly attentive audience in the Arabic-speaking world. It is equally important to build up the array of Israeli trade representatives abroad, in an era where Israeli exports have reached $110 billion. In parallel, the capacities of the Israeli intelligence community must be expanded; its remarkable achievements should not be taken for granted. Inter-agency consultation should be enhanced, led by the National Security Council.
Table of Contents
Note: The full text of this document in English will be available soon.
It can be read in Hebrew here.
Chapter One: National Cohesion in Tough Times
Chapter Two: Judicious Use of Force
2.1 War Scenarios
2.2 Ground Maneuver and Decisive Outcomes: A Return to the Fundamentals
Chapter Three: Trouble in the North
3.1 Foiling Iran’s Nuclear Project
3.2 Insight into Iran
3.3 Iran’s Military Build-Up
3.4 Reducing the Iranian Threat from Syria
3.5 Strategic Dialogue with Russia
3.6 Iran’s Grip on Lebanon through Hizbullah
Chapter Four: Jerusalem
4.1 The Strategic Importance of Jerusalem
4.2 Settling in Jerusalem: The Zionist Imperative
4.3 Confronting Foreign Elements Subverting Israeli Sovereignty in Jerusalem
Chapter Five: The Palestinian Question
5.1 “Managing the Conflict” with the Palestinians
5.2 Trump’s “Deal of the Century”: Re-defining the Realm of the Possible
5.3 The Day After Abbas
5.4 Gaza: Wielding a Big Stick and Some Carrots Too
Chapter Six: Regional Realities and the Eastern Mediterranean
6.1 Prioritize Egypt and Jordan, While Seeking New Horizons in the Arab World
6.2 Putting a Price on Turkish Hostility
6.3 Promoting a Common Agenda in the Eastern Mediterranean
Chapter Seven: The International Arena
7.1 Preserving Bipartisan US Support for Israel
7.2 American Jewry as a Strategic Asset
7.3 The European Arena
7.4 The Asian Continent
7.5 Africa and Latin America
Chapter Eight: Organizational Changes
8.1 Reviving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
8.2 Jerusalem-Based National Security Policy Planning
The full text of this document in English will be available soon.
It can be read in Hebrew here.