Israel's Challenges in 2011
by Sarah Ann Haves
Israel goes into the New Year facing a decrease in military deterrence capability against its enemies; continued failures in reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians; and challenges to its legitimacy as a nation state for the Jewish people.
Israel experienced the worst fire disaster in its modern history in early December 2010, when 44 people lost their lives in the Mount Carmel forest fire. About 1/3 of the forest burned, including four million trees and 35,000 dunams of land. More than 75 homes were destroyed. The Israeli government admitted to being under-staffed, under-financed, and ill-equipped to handle the inferno that spread quickly over four days. Israel needed the help of foreign fire and rescue teams and 18 countries played a major role in putting out the fire. It gave hope to Israelis who were feeling increasingly isolated within the global community.
A record number of tourists arrived in Israel in 2010, which was a milestone year for the tourism industry. At least 4 million visitors are expected in 2011. Tourism is another sign that Israel is a favored nation despite the political, diplomatic, and military challenges it faces in the future.
ISRAEL’S SOUTHERN EXPOSURE
Despite the fact that Israel now has the Iron Dome short-range anti-missile defense system, which will soon be operational and deployable on its southern border, Israel faces hostile terrorist armies resident in Gaza. The Hamas government is capable of striking Israel with thousands of rockets, including the long-range Iranian Fajr-5 which can reach Tel Aviv.
During the past two weeks, over 30 rockets and mortars have hit Israeli southern border towns, launched by terrorists associated with the military wing of Hamas. The escalation has eroded Israel’s deterrence, and heightened tensions along the Gaza periphery. Israeli military commanders have warned that the current tensions could lead to war. Hamas continues to reiterate its goal of destroying the Jewish State, claiming that it will never agree to Israel’s legitimacy.
THE THREAT FROM THE NORTH
In the autumn of 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Lebanon looking to shore up Shiite control over the state through Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s military wing has been a force to contend with in Beirut and in southern Lebanon where the Shiite terrorist group enjoys public support. Hezbollah has been trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards both in Lebanon and in Iran, and continues to receive funding from leaders in Tehran. Cooperation has, reportedly, increased between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Hezbollah, including intelligence gathering.
Syria has transferred caches of M600 long-range rockets to Hezbollah, as well as surface-to-surface missiles. The M600’s have a range of 250 km., which can hit major population centers in Israel, and are capable of carrying a half-ton warhead. Syria’s close military cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah is of great concern to Israel in the event of a future war on its northern border. Syria’s advanced weapons systems threaten Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) in the region.
An international tribunal appointed to gather evidence in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri plans to hand out indictments in 2011. These indictments are expected to implicate Hezbollah operatives in Hariri’s murder. If Hezbollah is threatened with indictments, Arab governments and Israel are concerned that the Shiite group will act to take over the Lebanese government where they already have dominance. In addition, they could stir up civil war in Lebanon, and/or attack Israel in an effort to clearly demonstrate their power and influence in the Middle East.
OTHER HOT SPOTS
In the New Year, Israel will also be looking at signs of instability in Egypt. With a decline in the health of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, there may be a transfer of political power to his son, Gamel, in 2011. This could result in a political challenge by the Islamic extremist group, Moslem Brotherhood, which has strong ties to Hamas in Gaza.
Egyptian Bedouin in the Sinai, working with terrorist operatives in the south, will continue to attempt to smuggle weapons into Gaza through tunnels under the Egyptian border. The Bedouins may aid terrorists in trying to attack internationals vacationing in the Sinai and in Israel’s southern resort town of Eilat.
Israeli government officials have expressed concern that, as U.S. troops pull out of Iraq, the Shiites in Iran will take over the country, thereby increasing their dominance in the region. This not only threatens Jordan, but the eastern border between Jordan and Israel.
It’s also been reported that there are terrorist cells beginning to operate on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, causing Israel’s police and army to concentrate efforts at guarding hotels on the Israeli side of the border.
Jordan’s King Abdullah has been disappointed in the lack of progress between Israel and the Palestinians in peace negotiations, as well as the limited action of the United States against Iran. Abdullah is, therefore, showing more of an interest in closer ties with Iran in order to maintain stability in his country.
The greatest threat to Israel remains the development of Iran’s nuclear arsenal. A recent statement by one of Israel’s reserve generals indicates that the Jewish State is preparing to take action against Iran with or without the help of the United States and its allies; 2011 could become a pivotal year in Israel’s fight against Iran.
Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Forces (the IDF) have been developing a strategy for a future war in the Middle East by coordinating operations between infantry, air force, and naval units. The strategy is for inter-operability, with additional integration of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s). Israel will have to move fast in any future war with its enemies to suppress missile fire that can already reach most of the Jewish State. Israel is particularly worried about enemy missiles targeting Israeli Air Force bases throughout the country.
THE FUTURE OF THE PEACE PROCESS
Without direct or indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the current stalemate could lead to another Palestinian uprising in 2011. The U.S. continues to try and mediate, with a new plan to gather information over a period of time and then introduce bridging proposals to Israel and the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel is concerned that U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are already developing a new American peace initiative which they might introduce in 2011. This could be based on former President Bill Clinton’s parameters outlined in 2000, when peace attempts failed between former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former PLO Chief Yasser Arafat.
The Palestinians are continuing to rally the international community into formally recognizing a Palestinian State, and it’s expected that in 2011 most of Latin America will officially join the ranks of those countries that have already declared such recognition. The Palestinians are pushing the EU to also fall in line with more than 100 countries that have reportedly supported their declaration of statehood.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may attempt to seek official recognition in the UN General Assembly meeting in September 2011, ignoring Israel’s desire for direct final-status negotiations. This could result in a future Palestinian conflict with the Jewish State, especially if there is no agreement on borders, security, refugees, and Jerusalem.
Israeli diplomats are encouraging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly outline Israel’s “red lines”, so that the Palestinians, the Arab League, and the international community will clearly understand Israel’s position in the peace process. But, Netanyahu’s government partners are not in agreement on these issues, and therefore, he has not been able to clearly define Israel’s parameters without threatening a coalition shake-up.
Meanwhile, a new poll indicates that only 8% of Israelis believe that Israel will achieve peace with the Palestinians over the next five years. A large majority of Israeli Jews and Arabs believe that more time is needed to achieve peace; or, that it will never be achieved.
Israel is expected to lose international diplomatic support in 2011, while the Palestinians gain legitimacy in the global arena. This has caused an increasing number of pro-Israel groups to coordinate their strategies in order to combat anti-Israel bias in the media and within human rights organizations. If Israel is forced into a war by its hostile neighbors, resulting in a great number of civilian casualties, an increase in global anti-Semitism can be expected in 2011.
As the New Year approaches, Israel will do its best to fight for its legitimacy on a diplomatic level while preparing for conflict on a military level. What continues to keep the nation united is a desire to survive, with hope towards the future for peace and tranquility in the region.
“You are my King, O God; Command victories for Jacob. Through You we will push down our enemies; Through Your name we will trample those who rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, nor shall my sword save me. But, You have saved us from our enemies, and have put to shame those who hated us. In God we boast all day long, and praise Your name forever.” Psalm 44:4-8
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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