New at the BESA Center
An international conference with participants from United States, Israel, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Turkey and NATO. The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and B'nai B'rith International will jointly convene a major international conference focusing on “Strategic Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean” at Bar-Ilan University in Israel on Feb. 17 and 18.
The Israel Ministry of Defense has published an updated and revised Hebrew edition of Dr. Eitan Shamir’s landmark book, Transforming Command (Stanford UP, 2011; Pikud Mesima, Modan, 2015). The book has been endorsed by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and has become required reading in many military academies including the US army, navy and marines, the UK military colleges, and in the IDF.
In an important new book, The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East (Bloomsbury), BESA Center senior research associate Prof. Efraim Karsh debunks the Edward Said’s “Orientalist” notion that the agonies of the Middle East are traceable to the rough handling of the region by Western powers – first European colonialists, then American cold warriors.
Dr. Lerman: “False Palestinian narratives of victimhood and blatant lie-telling reveal just how far the Palestinian leadership is from accepting the premises necessary for true peace with Israel.” Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman has joined the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies as a senior research associate.
General Hacohen: “Israel must reacquire sufficient ideological determination to persevere, progress, repulse, and overwhelm its adversaries.” Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen has joined the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies as a senior research associate.
Read in the January 2016 issue of the BESA Center News Bulletin about the expansion of the center's expert faculty and its activities, including articles on: Securing Jerusalem. Middle East Chaos. Israel's Natural Gas Reserves. Gaza Disengagement. US-Israel Relations in the Final Obama Stretch. Strategic Dialogues with Germany and Australia. New Associates: General Hacohen and Col. Lerman.
Experts discussed the status of minorities in the Middle East at a BESA Center conference in early January 2016. There were presentations on the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, Shiites in Saudi Arabia, Sunnis and Baluchis in Iran, Jews in Turkey, and Arabs in Israel.
The BESA Center held an international conference in May 2015 to mark publication of center associate Dr. Jonathan Rynhold's book The Arab-Israel Conflict in American Political Culture (Cambridge U. Press, 2015). The conference was cosponsored by the Argov Center for the Study of Israel and the Jewish People, headed by Dr. Rynhold.
In November, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and the Aspen Institute (Germany) convened a strategic dialogue in Israel. Discussions focused on defense and scientific cooperation, responses to terrorism, and perspectives on security challenges stemming from the Middle East.
In October, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies associates engaged in a strategic dialogue with colleagues from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Watch the remarks delivered by the Australian experts by clicking on their names.
Summary and videos from a July 2015 conference which took a ten-year retrospective look at Israel’s 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza. Watch the fascinating debate between Prof. AB Yehoshua and Rabbi Yaakov Medan.
Summary and videos from a July 2015 conference on the strategic and geopolitical aspects of Israel’s newly-discovered natural gas deposits.
The Middle East is today divided into four rival camps: Iran with her proxies and allies; the Salafi Jihadists, currently dominated by the so-called “Islamic State”; the Muslim Brotherhood movement in its various manifestations, including Hamas, supported by Qatar and by Erdogan's Turkey; and the “forces of stability”: all those who fear and resist the rise of the first three camps, with Israel an active and important player in this latter camp.
By executing a prominent Shiite leader, the Saudi King and his son the Deputy Crown Prince sent a strong signal to Iran, to the kingdom’s beleaguered Shiite minority, and to the world. To its Iranian Shiite rival, Sunni Riyadh was saying that it would absolutely not tolerate intervention in its internal affairs. It was telling its own Shiites that it would not allow “Arab Spring”-like dissent. And to the world, Salman and Muhammad were signaling that the Saudis were growing into their new role as a defender and leader of the Sunni Muslim countries; especially since the Obama administration appears to be siding with Iran.
Israel has a strategic interest in, and long-standing commitment to, the safety, security, stability and prosperity of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In current times, the relationship is buttressed by a broad-ranging series of cooperative ventures in the strategic, security, diplomatic, economic and energy fields.
The risk of ISIS employing chemical, biological, and radiological warfare agents is real. In fact, ISIS already has attacked with chemical agents. ISIS has mobilized Iraqi and Syrian scientists who are assisting in the development of chemical weapons, particularly nerve and mustard gas, alongside foreign experts. It also has reportedly moved its labs, experts, and materials from Iraq to Syria.
Hamas prides itself on having a reputation dedicated to the public welfare of Palestinians and for providing a variety of social services. The following study evaluates the veracity of this claim. The Hamas government in Gaza acts as another case study that highlights the disastrous leadership which plagued the Palestinian national movement since its inception.
האירועים הקשים בעת הנוכחית אינם מסכנים את קיום המדינה. אסור בשום פנים ואופן שהמצב הקשה, הנובע ממתקפת הטרור הבלתי פוסקת, יביא לחקיקה שתפגע בערביי ישראל או לנקיטת אמצעים קיצוניים נגד האוכלוסייה הפלסטינית בשטחים. אלה אמצעים וחוקים אשר בטווח הבינוני והארוך נזקם רב מתועלתם. קל ופופולרי להתלהם בימים אלה, אך דווקא כעת כדאי לראות את חצי הכוס המלאה.
An incendiary propaganda document replete with blatant lies and utter distortions of history penned by Saeb Erekat, recently sent to foreign media, exposes the futility of the Palestinian mindset, and reveals just how far the Palestinian leadership is from accepting the premises necessary for true peace with Israel.
Legacies of Hajj Amin al-Husseini’s work are still with us. The broadcasts of Radio Zeissen, the Mufti's propaganda station, resonate in the 1988 Hamas covenant, and indeed still reverberate throughout our region. So do the recurrent references to Nazi imagery and texts in the Palestinian public domain. To demand a proper historical reckoning is therefore not to "demonize" the Palestinian people but to treat them, for a change, as adults capable of coping with a culture of responsibility.
ירושלים אינה מיוחדת במאבקים ובעימותים המתרחשים בה. גם משטרת פריז אינה משיגה בכל מקום משילות מלאה, אבל אף אחד לא יטען שיש בשל כך לחלק את פריז. מי שלא יוכל לחלק את ירושלים, לא יוכל לחלק את הארץ לשתי מדינות. צריך לדעת מה באמת אנו מבקשים בהצבת ירושלים על ראש שמחתנו - שיבת ציון במלוא חבלי מולדתנו, או התכנסות הולכת וגוברת אל שפלת החוף. הסטטוס קוו הופך לשעבוד. עלינו לחולל כעת תנופת בנייה בירושלים ביו"ש, כמו מפא"י של פעם.
Conflicts and clashes are not unique to Jerusalem. Israel needs to know why Jerusalem should be a priority; because it is seeking the return to Zion in all regions of the homeland! And if Israel does not insist on this, it will steadily withdraw inward, toward the coastal plain, and edge towards decline.
The Locker Committee called in its July report for significant reforms in the IDF’s budget. The 77-page document was dead-on-arrival. External probes like the Locker Committee are a poor substitute for rigorous internal staff work and for tough governmental decision-making.
אורך החיים של דוח ועדת לוקר היה קצר ביותר, קצר אפילו בהשוואה לדוחות דומים אחרים. מן הסתם, גם אם לחלק מן ההמלצות שבדוח תהיה תקומה, לא לתוצאות עגומות כאלה פיללו יוזמיו. ואולי דווקא כן? כך או כך, ניתן להקשות האם ועדה מסוגה של "ועדת לוקר" היא בכלל מסגרת מתאימה לבחון ולהמליץ בסוגיות הקשורות לגודלו של תקציב הביטחון והרכבו
Global upheavals are underway, U.S. foreign policy is changing, and the Middle East is in turmoil. Caution and preparedness are the watchwords.
It is misplaced to view ISIS as posing an independent serious strategic challenge. Several analyses of the threat ISIS poses to Israel seem to be unnecessary alarmist.
North Korean adventurism only adds to Israel’s proliferation concerns. North Korea's fourth nuclear test, the P5+1 agreement to lift Iranian sanctions, and the billions of dollars' worth in deals between Tehran and Asian and European companies, together constitute a significant challenge. In addition, Jerusalem faces a difficult task of being the watchdog that monitors Iran’s adherence to the nuclear deal.
The storms now convulsing the Middle East are civilizational shifts of historical proportions. Anyone from the outside trying to influence these regional upheavals in a positive direction will find the task very difficult. Israel must focus narrowly on the greatest threat looming in its vicinity -- the Iranian drive for nuclear weaponry.
העובדה שמסגד אל-אקצא אינו נמצא בסכנה, אין משמעותה שהסטאטוס קוו בהר הבית חייב להישאר ללא שינוי. ההפך הוא הנכון. הסטאטוס קוו חייב להשתנות - משיקולים אסטרטגיים, מסיבות מוסריות ולמען שלום ישראלי-פלסטיני אמיתי.
As hard as it may be, the delicate balance between exercising force and exercising restraint must tip in favor of restraint. Israel must be sure to avoid steps that could make tensions boil over. Israel's strategy has to make it clear that violence reaps no rewards.
צריך נחישות בתגובה למעשי הטרור במקום האירוע, עצבים חזקים וסבלנות. זאת על מנת להימנע מצעדים מזיקים אשר נובעים מהלחץ הטבעי שבמצב הנוכחי. יש לשמור על איזון, תוך הימנעות מצעדים, דוגמת סגר, אשר יגררו פלשתינים נוספים למעגל האלימות.
The fact that al-Aqsa is not in danger, does not mean that the status quo on the Temple Mount should remain constant. To the contrary, it must change on both strategic and moral grounds; and for the sake of true Israeli-Palestinian peace.
האירועים הקשים של חג הסוכות ולאחריהם, בעיקר מעשי הרצח האכזריים, הביאו לפרץ של מוכרי אשליות מימין ומשמאל. חלק מאותם אנשים מאמין באמת ובתמים בנאמר על ידיהם, וחלקם עושים שימוש באירועים כדי לקדם את תפיסת עולמם בידיעה שדבריהם לא קשורים לאירועים.
The recent wave of terrorism has seen illusion peddlers take center stage. While some are true believers, others seek only to promote personal, political, potentially dangerous agendas. Regional realities mandate a different, more prudent approach.
השיח הגלוי של ממשלת ישראל, ובמידה רבה גם זה של מנהיגי המתנחלים, מבקש בעיקר ביטחון לאזרחים. זו כמובן תכלית ראויה, אלא שהיא לוכדת את מדינת ישראל בהתנהלות הגנתית.
Those who view Israel as a stepping stone for redemption and as the Jewish national spiritual homeland will act differently in responding to Palestinian violence than those who view Israel merely as a safe haven. Thus, the government should do more than just approve security operations against the terrorists.
The false Palestinian narrative of one-sided victimhood is a major hindrance to all efforts in the direction of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Global actors need to help the Palestinians move beyond wallowing in self-pity and rituals of bashing Israel, and towards difficult compromises with Israel.
The Vienna agreement has made the situation more complex and dangerous, not less so. The conflict that will ensue will take place in conditions far worse (from a Western perspective) than before the agreement, pitting the West (and/or Israel) against a much-stronger Iran.
בהסכם שחתמו המעצמות עם איראן יש לכאורה הישג גדול, אך נראה שהטוענים כך מתעלמים ממכלול החולשות שבו. מדובר על הסכם שנחתם מתוך כוונה לדחות את הבעיה ולא על מנת לפתור אותה, תוך התעלמות מהעובדה שכאשר הבעיה תעלה שוב היא תהיה חמורה פי כמה ויהיה קשה עשרות מונים לטפל בה.
There are still actions Israel might take to protect itself from attack by Iranian nuclear weapons, including a limited Israeli strike on Iran.
There are (at least) six significant and immediate bad results from the agreement reached yesterday between the Western powers and Iran.
Washington now seeks to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, while Jerusalem seeks to prevent it from having the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Israel should keep doing everything it can to prevent a bad deal with Iran, up to the very last second.
Contrary to the assertion that Barack Obama’s foreign policy lacks direction or ideological basis, Prof. David argues the president’s foreign policy can be explained as adhering very closely to traditional realist theory.
Israeli strategic planners must beware the converging twin hazards of Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian statehood.
The proposed agreement with Iran is very bad. Even without using nuclear arms against Israel, a nuclear Iran will make the Middle East far more dangerous.
It is incumbent on Israel to use all the diplomatic and political tools at its disposal to halt the signing of an accord with Iran that leaves Teheran with the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
Obama does not want Netanyahu in Washington because he considers him a spoiler of his most important foreign policy initiative - an agreement with Iran. He’d like to oust him from Jerusalem as well.
The United States’ policy in response to both Iran and the Islamic state is confusing and contradictory. Washington must reexamine the Iranian threat by confronting it, rather than appeasing its leaders.
If a “permanent agreement” with Iran fails to guarantee the bare minimum safeguards against Iran’s nuclearization that Israel feels is necessary, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel will truly be put to the test.
The overall failure of the Agreement Framework to halt North Korea's nuclear program offers an important lesson in analyzing the potential effectiveness of a new nuclear agreement with Iran.
The novelty of the Islamic State, as well as the magnitude of the threat it poses, are greatly exaggerated. Iran remains the main threat to stability in the Middle East.
Last week’s failed ceasefire proposal by John Kerry highlights the clash between the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East, and the strategy preferred by Israel and other American allies in the region.
An agreement that would allow Iran to maintain a full nuclear fuel cycle would be far worse than no agreement, and could force Israel to respond independently
Syrian Civil War
June 30 marks the due date for the complete disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Although Assad may have relinquished the majority of his chemical weapons stockpile, the regime most probably possesses additional ‘undeclared’ facilities.
מבט עמוק יותר על האירועים בסוריה מעלה כמה הרהורים על העתיד הצפוי לאזור בכלל ולישראל בפרט בגלל הנעשה שם, כשהאירוע הראשון הוא פריסת הכוחות הרוסיים בסוריה. זה קורה לראשונה מאז שנות ה־70 של המאה הקודמת ובתיאום מוקדם עם איראן.
Russia's increased deployment in Syria, and Iran and Hezbollah's tightening grip on areas just north of the Israel-Syria border, may soon change regional realities irrevocably. More than ever, Israel must remain determined in its efforts to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining game-changing weapons.
There is a contradiction between the ultimate purposes of Russia and Iran in their intervention in Syria. Putin’s concern for Assad's survival could give Israel some policy leverage, if Israel astutely navigates its way through the situation. This means that Israel should not be tempted to support Saudi-led efforts to unseat Assad or otherwise bring about a decisive outcome in Syria’s civil war.
The Russian-Iranian gambit in Syria will only inflame the volatile situation in the war-torn country. Sunni-Alawite animosity runs too deep to foster any hope for compromise. Israel must remain vigilant, and prevent terrorists from getting advanced weapons.
Efforts to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons are running months behind schedule. Even if Assad abides by his commitment, Syria’s equally dangerous biological weapon stocks will remain.
Disarming Syria's chemical arsenal will be a big challenge. The US-Russia timetable seems too condensed, even if good will is assumed. Syria possesses a huge chemical weapons arsenal, and is likely to further develop biological weapons, which the US-Russia accord does not discuss.
France has changed its view that conflicts can be resolved only through diplomacy, which explains the country’s recent military activism in Libya, Mali, and perhaps soon in Syria, as well.
In this roundtable discussion, ten experts at the BESA Center the implications for Israel and the West of the civil war raging in Syria, just across Israel’s northern border. The bottom line: Israel should stay out of the conflict but prepare for continued instability as Syria breaks up.
The reluctance of the international community to act forcibly regarding undeclared Syrian chemical weapon capabilities is a very bad sign. It raises doubts about full implementation of intelligence-gathering operations and effective monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program.
The Israeli Air Defense Command deployed an efficient defense array against the rocket launchers in the last operation in the Gaza Strip. The operation also uncovered the gaps in the Israeli defense system that require corrective actions.
The rules of the game between Israel and Hamas will be decided by Israel’s response to the first instance of rocket fire.
During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas was clearly defeated, but was not destroyed.
Observing “Operation Protective Edge” against Hamas in Gaza lead to the conclusion that a revision of Israel’s conceptual strategic compass is needed, particularly regarding the concepts of ‘deterrence’ and ‘decisive victory’.
Since the launch of Operation Protective Edge, Israel has made a series of wise tactical choices that contribute to the diplomatic and military effort.
Qatar has become the leading backer of Hamas terrorism, and the country’s wings need to be clipped.
Western media coverage of Operation Protective Edge has been marred by deep anti-Israel bias and serious failures, both professional and ethical.
The developing international consensus to offer Gaza economic aid in exchange for a ceasefire is a moral and strategic mistake.
The IDF must develop the technology and the tactical skills to locate, map and destroy Gaza's tunnels.
New Paradigms in Peace Diplomacy
While partition of the Land of Israel between the Jews and the Arabs living in this small part of the world is desirable, the Palestinian national movement has proved to be the wrong partner to implement partition and is largely responsible for the failure of the two state solution. Conflict management is the only approach that has a chance to minimize suffering on both sides and achieve a modicum of stability in a stormy Middle East.
The Palestinians refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state and are reluctant to drop their armed and ideological opposition to Israel’s existence. The global community can oppose Palestinian denial of Israel’s connection to the land; support Israel’s legitimacy; resettle Palestinian refugees outside of Israel; modify aid programs to reduce Palestinian use of foreign money to support terror; and encourage free speech in Palestinian society.
Within the currently-defined, narrow confines of the conventional two-state parameters, no Israeli-Palestinian agreement is likely. Regional alternatives that widen the scope of actors taking responsibility for a settlement can creatively help break the impasse.
The Obama administration seems not to understand the current power configuration in the Middle-East and the dangers of the growing Islamist movement.
Last week’s failed ceasefire proposal by John Kerry highlights the clash between the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East, and the strategy preferred by Israel and other American allies in the region.
John Kerry warned of a return to Palestinian violence and Israel’s isolation should peace talks fail, yet another reflection of the Obama administration’s inability to properly understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
John Kerry has abandoned America’s honest broker stance in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, laying out the consequences for Israel of disobeying America, but doing no such thing for the Palestinians if they remain intransigent.
Israel and the US must improve their lines of communication. The US also ought to consider equipping Israel with enhanced military resources that would allow Israel to confront Iran at a later date – giving the West more time to pressure the Iranian regime.
The Turkish Prime Minister is facing unprecedented political pressure that might precipitate the end of his rule.
Tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem have escalated since Turkey harshly criticized Israel following its invasion of the Gaza Strip in December 2008 (Operation Cast Lead). This is due to a reorientation in Turkish foreign policy, characterized by moving away from the West and by a desire for better relations with Muslim states.
Syria and Iraq have become battlefields on influence between Turkey and Iran. In Syria, a proxy war is underway, with Iran supplying weapons to its Alawite client and Turkey actively arming the opposition. In Iraq, Turkey and Iran vie for political influence along Sunni-Shiite fault lines.
Turkish demands are unreasonable and an apology will not change the anti-Israeli policy of an increasingly authoritarian and Islamist Turkey. Israel’s reluctance to criticize Erdogan’s government is construed as weakness and Jerusalem should take off its gloves in dealing with Ankara.
The Future of Egypt
Egypt’s new rulers are faced with a terror problem emanating from the Sinai, led by radical jihad groups. The US and international community must support the Egyptian regime to prevent Egypt from turning into the next Syria.
The latest chapter in the Egyptian Revolution is nothing more than a return to the military dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Egypt’s troubles may only be beginning.
Hopes or expectations that the Egyptian military will intervene in the deteriorating political and security crisis are probably misguided.
Morsi’s hosting Ahmadinejad signals a potential improvement in ties between Egypt and Iran. This move will backfire, as ultimately Morsi needs the US and Gulf countries more than they need him.
The Brotherhood sees Israel as a strategic threat and has aggressively lobbied Morsi to strengthen Egyptian military presence in Sinai. The anti-Israel rhetoric emanating from senior Brotherhood leaders must be taken seriously.
Arab Spring-Islamist Winter
Dramatic events have unfolded in the Middle East since the beginning of 2011. This unstable environment indicates trouble for Israel. What follows is an assessment of the implications of the changing regional environment for Israel’s national security.
"Nakba Day" confrontations along Israel’s borders reflect new regional realities and a long-term weakening of Israel’s deterrence posture.
When the first Qassam rocket landed in the town of Sderot in October 2001, few observers, if any, perceived it as the harbinger of a protracted and increasingly furious campaign by the radical Palestinian groups in Gaza against Israel's population centers adjacent to the Gaza Strip (the so called "Gaza envelope" communities) by ballistic weapons.
Praise for Iron Dome may be deserved, yet Israel’s deterrence capability has not been enhanced, and Israel’s enemies may initiate an arms race to try and defeat it.
The operation also proved Israel's determination to act forcefully in the post "Arab Spring" environment. However, the lack of a ground offensive allowed Hamas to craft a victory narrative and gave it the potential to re-arm.
If the appearance of Iron Dome on the battlefields of southern Israel was what compelled Palestinians to scale down the scope of their rocket fire, this would be a major strategic achievement of Israel’s newly deployed missile shield, and a resounding exoneration for the resources invested in it.
The threat to Israel of missile warfare is somewhat exaggerated and public discourse on this issue should reflect realistic assessments. Missile attacks would be able to inflict only limited physical damage on Israel.
Almost the entire Israeli home front has come under rocket and missile assault. This article surveys the Israeli response to rocket attacks, including the targeting of missile launchers and improved civil defense; and discusses the need for a comprehensive active missile defense.
Security in the Gulf
Tension over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood has damaged relations between Doha and its Gulf neighbors. The days of the GCC may be numbered.
There is speculation on collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Israel against Iran. However, given its history and concern for the legitimacy of its rule, the Saudis are more likely to draw closer to Iran.
Yemen is on the verge of becoming a failed state, as the interim government struggles to fight terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, that have made Yemen a base of operations.
The process of balancing and satisfying Saudi royal factions depends on patience and conservatism within royal circles. It also requires quiet in the streets of Riyadh and Jedda. Thus far, there are no signs of the so-called "Arab Spring" spreading to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis are all bark and no bite. Despite occasional public "outrage" from Saudi officials about US policy regarding the Arab unrest, Israel, Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan, Riyadh and Washington are still very distant from the parting of ways threatened by some Saudi officials.