How Israel Should Respond to the New American National Security Strategy

Dec. 27 2017

After broadly praising the National Security Strategy recently released by the White House, Amos Yadlin and Avner Golov identify some lacunae—particularly with respect to Iran—that affect Israel, and urge Jerusalem to work with Washington to see that they are filled.

[T]he document . . . does not describe specific steps to convert the administration’s declared strategy into coherent policy. Thus, one source of concern is that [its] approach may not be fully translated into action, and, as a result, Iran will be allowed to broaden its influence in the region further without much interference. This gap will likely be examined in the talks among the various branches of the administration, . . . particularly in the field of military strategy. [Therefore], in the short term, Israel might in fact influence the formation of American policy. . . .

[Jerusalem should work with Washington to] draft a coordinated American-Israeli strategy against Iran that will ensure the implementation of the principles described in the National Security Strategy, while also protecting Israeli interests. This joint strategy should include an agreement . . . that [outlines] principles for coordinated action in the event of various Iranian breaches of the nuclear deal, to which Israel is not a party. Such a “parallel agreement” should guarantee Israel’s independent ability, as a last resort, to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. . . . In addition, Israel and the United States must coordinate their moves against Iranian threats that are not linked to the nuclear program—particularly the proliferation of terror and weapons in the Middle East, and growing Iranian influence in Syria.

The American response to the Iranian threat as outlined in the National Security Strategy is described in defensive terms: its objective is to neutralize Iranian activity, mainly through a united front [made up of Israel and anti-Iranian Arab states] to create a regional balance of power. In other words, it focuses on curbing Iran and containing the damage it causes, and on cooperating with the pro-American players in the region as a precondition for achieving these objectives.

America and Israel, Golov and Yadlin conclude, must prepare for the possibility that efforts to form such a coordinated regional alliance will fail, which is especially likely, in their view, if Saudi-Israeli rapprochement proves impossible.

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More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israel-Arab relations, U.S. Foreign policy

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank