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'Israel can't handle Iran threats on its own'

Internal rifts impair ability to counter Iranian, Palestinian threats — think tank

Warning Tehran can prepare nuclear weapon within weeks, INSS presents annual survey to President Herzog, calling for an integrated Israeli approach to external, domestic challenges

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Bedouin youth during a protest against tree planting by the Jewish National Fund, outside the Bedouin village of al-Atrash in the Negev desert, southern Israel, January 13, 2022 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
Bedouin youth during a protest against tree planting by the Jewish National Fund, outside the Bedouin village of al-Atrash in the Negev desert, southern Israel, January 13, 2022 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

A leading Israeli think tank presented its annual strategic survey to President Isaac Herzog on Monday, arguing that Israel’s deepening domestic rifts hamper its ability to develop an integrated, long-term approach to the major challenges it faces.

Because of this, wrote researchers from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, Israel is failing to “maximize its security, economic, and technological potential in its response to the political, security, and internal challenges.”

The authors of the Strategic Survey for Israel 2022 decried an erosion of trust in Israeli institutions, alongside rising extremism in the country. They specifically identified the weakness of Israel’s police force and the spread of essentially ungoverned regions within Israel, including among Bedouin in the Negev.

“Meanwhile, there are gaps in readiness for multi-front and high casualty war scenarios, or for violent incidents involving Jews and Arabs,” according to the report. “The consequences of these weaknesses are affecting the responses to other national security challenges.”

The INSS study identified Iran and the Palestinians as the other leading threats.

The authors maintained that Iran, Israel’s most serious external threat, currently has the capabilities needed to break out to a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks, though it has not yet made that decision.

At the same time, Israel is at a “strategic impasse” over Iran, with no apparent good options. A partial arrangement between Iran and the P5+1 powers during ongoing talks in Vienna would leave Israel facing Iranian proxies and the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon in the coming years, while a breakdown of talks would allow Iran to continue progressing toward nuclear weapons capability.

Supporters of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels carry a mock rocket as they demonstrate in the capital Sanaa to denounce a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition on a prison in the country’s rebel-held north, on January 21, 2022. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

“However,” said the survey, “the opposition to an arrangement between the powers and Iran, focused on a freeze of the nuclear program, will leave Israel isolated with only the military option for preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.”

Israel cannot handle the threats emanating from Iran — including its precision missile project and its attempt to surround Israel with threats from proxies — on its own, the authors emphasized, and therefore it must further increase coordination with the United States.

The INSS report also stressed that Israel cannot treat the unresolved Palestinian conflict as a “secondary arena,” as evidenced by the 11-day Gaza conflict with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in May 2021. Meanwhile, the West Bank “is nearing a boiling point due to the weakness of the Palestinian Authority in the face of united opposition from various factions and street gangs.”

The Palestinian Authority is weakened and could cease to function, warn the authors, while young Palestinians increasingly want a one-state solution.

Palestinian police prevent demonstrators from gathering in the West Bank city of Ramallah ahead of a planned protest against the Palestinian Authority on July 5, 2021 (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Though it cooperates with Israel on security issues, the PA is pushing a dangerous international legal offensive against Israel, which could cause Israel to be seen as an apartheid state, according to the report.

The survey presented ten policy recommendations, including preparing a credible military option against Iran’s nuclear program in coordination with the US; strengthening the PA and improving Palestinian quality of life; pursuing economic development in exchange for security guarantees in Gaza; further investing in Israel’s technological prowess as a means of improving its global status; and setting up mechanisms for handling crime in Arab society and restoring governance across the country.

“Today there is an emerging regional understanding that the future of the Middle East is a future of cooperation. In the face of the Iranian threat and its dangerous proxies in the region, we must cooperate with our friends,” said Herzog in response to the INSS survey.

INSS executive director Manuel Trajtenberg (L) presents the INSS Strategic Survvey 2022 to President Isaac Herzog (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

“Israel’s security is tightly bound up with its national resilience, in our ability to deal with the most profound disagreements, without giving up on our faith in ourselves,” he continued. “We have the power to live together and act as one people. Bridging divides, including political ones, is perhaps the most important step for maintaining Israel’s security, stability, and prosperity.”

Presenting the survey to Herzog were INSS chairman Frank Lowy, executive director Manuel Trajtenberg, managing director Udi Dekel, and former National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat, among other senior researchers.

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