Experts at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), a foreign affairs and defense think tank, gave The Jerusalem Post a first look at its forecast for the coming year. Israel, they say, must be ready to tackle Iran militarily on its own and fight a pre-emptive warfare with Hizballah.
The Jerusalem Post, 16.12.2019
In the past year, we’ve heard Israel’s top officials say again and again that Israel is facing increased threats in the region, together with unprecedented expansion of its international ties. It’s easy to dismiss those statements as political spin, since those challenges and opportunities weren’t enough for our representatives to get their act together and form a government, and now we’re going to a third election in a row.
Regardless of our leaders’ political ineptitude, Israel’s geopolitical situation is always complex, and 2020 does not look like it will be an exception.
The experts at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), a foreign affairs and defense think tank with close ties to Israel’s security establishment, gave The Jerusalem Post a first look at its forecast for the coming year.
A longstanding warning to Israeli decision-makers has been that bipartisan American support for Israel has been weakening, and the fierce partisan atmosphere ahead of the 2020 elections will likely worsen the situation, and complicate relations between Israel and US Jewry. One area of particular concern is that multiple Democratic candidates have suggested making military aid to Israel conditional on political terms; In response, JISS suggests that Israel emphasize its strategic importance to the US as it withdraws from the Middle East.
As for US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” Washington will expect Israel to support it, even if it exacts painful concessions from Jerusalem.
“Israel has no choice but to respond ‘yes, but’ to the Trump plan,” the report says, suggesting that Israel “respond positively to the Trump plan, so that the onus of its failure – alas – falls on the Palestinian Authority,” while continuing conflict management with the Palestinians.
Iran is expected to continue emptying its deal with the West of any meaning, escalating its enrichment of uranium, while the US “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions drains Iran’s economy. The regime will continue violently suppressing protests. Iran is likely to continue provocations throughout the region, including intensified operations by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Quds Force, which could lead to clashes between Iran and Israel in Syria. JISS advised that Israel “be ready to tackle Iran on its own.”
If the economic pressure brings Iran to the table with the US, Israel should make sure to be fully coordinated with Washington.
Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, will likely continue to hold the upper hand in internal conflicts, even in light of economic difficulties, JISS projected. Israel must be prepared for escalation in Lebanon, they said, even if a pre-emptive strike on Hezbollah is necessary, but if Hezbollah is distracted by internal unrest, there may be an opportunity for Israel.
In Syria, President Bashar Assad will remain economically dependent on Iran. Assad is already on his way to re-establishing control, and his military offensive in Idlib will advance. JISS said Syria will likely return to the Arab League and Europe engage in dialogue with Syria on refugee and terrorism issues.
Turkey has recently acted in violation of Cypriot sovereignty, such as when the Turkish Navy banished an Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research ship from Cyprus’ economic waters, despite the Government of Cyprus approving the ship’s activities. Turkey has also told Israeli officials that they will have to ask for approval before working towards laying a gas pipeline in the Mediterranean towards Europe. Ankara is likely to continue military interventions across the Middle East and its meddling in eastern Jerusalem.
The JISS report posits that confronting Israel is not Turkey’s top priority, but that Israel should push back against any hostility by continuing to strengthen its ties with Cyprus and Greece.
The think tank projects that the PA will channel its disgruntlement with Israel into international diplomatic moves.
Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas will likely cling to power, making a succession crisis as likely as ever, and Fatah-Hamas reconciliation remains unlikely. Hamas will probably move towards medium-term “understandings” with Israel, while the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad will continue to try to derail them.
In Jerusalem, Israel faces two contradictory trends. One is Arab integration in the city through employment, education, health and other areas. The other is radical nationalist and Islamic actors entrenching themselves in Israel’s capital.
Tensions around Jerusalem may make relations between Israel and Jordan uneasy, as would annexation of the Jordan Valley, if any progress is made on that front, but is unlikely to stop security cooperation. Maintaining peace with Egypt and Jordan should be a top priority for Israel, the JISS report states.
Outside of the Middle East, JISS expressed concern that Israel will not be able meet the Russian defense establishment’s expectations that it will foster a gentler American approach, such as easing sanctions.
Moscow will continue to be involved in the Middle East, and it is unclear that Russia will continue to allow Israel to act against Iranian targets in Syrian airspace, and the IDF must prepare alternative plans.
JISS does not expect major changes in Israel-Europe relations; Europe is likely to continue criticizing Israel regarding Palestinian matters while continuing trade and scientific cooperation. To offset pressure from Brussels, the report calls on Israel to continue deepening ties to Eastern European and Eastern Mediterranean countries.
The report puts a special emphasis on ties with India, which it says will continue to strengthen its relationship with Israel, despite not having the same interests regarding Iran.
JISS also compiled a list of 14 possible “unexpected twists” that could impact Israel, ranging from a major confrontation with Hamas in Gaza or a Palestinian civil war in the West Bank, to near-nuclear conflict in other parts of the world, forcing non-proliferation to the forefront of the world’s focus, or Saudi Arabia and Gulf States moving to reduce tensions with Iran, leaving Israel alone in confronting Teheran.
“With considerable regional and global uncertainty defining Israel’s strategic environment, Israel must ensure that it possess national cohesion with which to face the challenges ahead,” JISS president Prof. Efraim Inbar said. “Israel also must improve its military preparedness, especially the readiness of its ground forces for decisive maneuver in enemy territory. Israel must strengthen its primary diplomatic alliances, especially its alliance with the US, to ensure maximum strategic flexibility against enemies and to capitalize on key diplomatic opportunities.”
By Lahav Harkov, The Jerusalem Post, 16.12.2019