The Middle East Strategic Balance 2005-2006
January 2, 2007
The war in Lebanon underscored the problematic and fluctuating nature of Israel's strategic environment; damaged Israel's deterrent image; and exposed weaknesses in the IDF and the decision-making process in Israel.
Iran's drive for regional hegemony is reflected primarily by its uncompromising efforts to achieve a military nuclear capability. Despite the growing concern within the international community, the Institute for National Security Studies questions whether effective sanctions will be imposed. Time is working in Iran's favor, and barring military action, Iran's possession of nuclear weapons is only a matter of time.
INSS also assesses that the threats to Middle East security and stability worsened in 2006, as a result of the lack of progress towards a resolution of the Palestinian issue; the absence of significant achievements in the war against global terror and Islamic extremism; and the failure of American efforts to stabilize the situation in Iraq.
- The American failure in Iraq has hurt the standing of the US in the Middle East. Israel has nothing to gain from a continued American presence in Iraq.
- Even if it is questionable whether Bashar Asad can and/or is able to deliver on the relevant issues, it is important to evaluate Syria's intentions thoroughly.
The war in Lebanon underscored the problematic and fluctuating nature of Israel's strategic environment; damaged Israel's deterrent image; and exposed basic and structural weaknesses in the IDF and the decision-making process in Israel.
In 2006 the threats to Middle East security and stability worsened, as a result of the lack of progress towards a resolution of the Palestinian issue; Iran's progress towards acquiring a military option; the absence of significant achievements in the war against global terror and Islamic extremism; and the failure of American efforts to stabilize the situation in Iraq.
In the plus column are Israel's close relations with the United States and its improved relations with the international community. Israel's peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan remain stable; and more common interests with other countries are emerging. Israel continues to enjoy a large military advantage and an improved economic environment.
- Israel's strategic environment of 2006 is problematic. The threats to Middle East security and stability have worsened, as a result of the lack of progress towards a resolution of the Palestinian issue; Iran's progress towards acquiring a military option; the absence of significant achievements in the war against global terror and Islamic extremism; the failure of American efforts to stabilize the situation in Iraq; and the growing challenge posed by an informal coalition of state and particularly sub-state actors that are intent on undermining the established order under the banner of anti-Westernism. Iran, whose drive for regional hegemony was boosted by the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the US entanglement in Iraq (and Afghanistan), heads this coalition. The primary reflection of Iran's ambitious posture (and of its threat perception) is its uncompromising efforts to achieve a nuclear capability.
- Against the Iranian quest for regional hegemony stands a divided Arab world whose leaders are fighting for their survival. The Arab state has lost power to sub-state organizations, and the non-Arab actors are the primary centers of power in the region.
- Iran's drive to acquire a nuclear capability enjoys widespread domestic support. Should Iran become a nuclear power, the ramifications will extend throughout the area and beyond. Despite the growing anxiety in the international community, expressed in UN Security Council resolution 1736, it is doubtful if effective sanctions will be imposed. Time is working in Iran's favor, and barring any military action, nuclear weaponry in Iran is only a matter of time.
- The American failure in Iraq has hurt the standing of the US in the Middle East. Israel has nothing to gain from a continued American presence in Iraq. Overall, the US (and British) have clearly downsized their objectives in Iraq. Iraq continues to be ridden with instability, and it appears to be on the brink of a total civil war. It will continue to fluctuate between chronic instability and Balkanization.
- In Lebanon, UN Security Council resolution 1701 has not prevented Hizbollah's rearmament. Hizbollah is now engaged in political maneuvers in an attempt to topple the Lebanese government, or at least obtain veto power over its decisions and operations. Hizbollah will likely maintain a low, quiet profile in the near future along the northern border so as to continue its revival and refurbishment.
- The fighting in Lebanon was deemed by Israel's allies and adversaries alike as a failure. On a different level, the war exposed the vulnerability of Israel's domestic front and the lack of an effective response to the problem of short and mid range rockets.
- Syria's strategic weakness has propelled it towards steps to improve its standing, including negotiations with Israel. Even if Bashar Asad's desire and / or capability to deliver on his promises is highly in doubt, Syria's posture should be evaluated closely.
- In the Palestinian arena, which is marked by a large presence of outside actors, the dissolution of governing frameworks and institutions and the march toward chaos continues. Hamas is fighting for its leadership position against Fatah and other forces that would stabilize relations with Israel and that identify with the Sunni states in the area. Public dissatisfaction with Hamas' ineffectiveness has encouraged Fatah (with international support) to oppose Hamas with greater force. It is doubtful whether Hamas would relinquish its objectives, and it is unlikely that it would surrender its power without a struggle.
- Hamas is interested in a calm period with Israel in order to consolidate its power, yet it is unable to control groups that continue to attack Israel and as such might spark a whole new round of aggression and retaliation. In all, it is difficult to identify any one catalyst that could allow progress towards an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
- The "resistance camp," whose patron is Iran, is a source of concern for states in the region and beyond. The Sunni-Shiite conflict (status quo powers vs. those who seek to change the norm) offers Israel an opportunity to improve its relations with important actors in the Arab world. Their ability to act together will depend on overcoming the opposition within Arab public opinion. Toward this end, therefore, a serious attempt must be demonstrated in breaking the ice regarding the Palestinian issue and, to a lesser extent, the Syrian issue.
- The operational conclusion of this assessment is: the situation is fluid and prone to rapid changes. The reality that has developed over the last two years underscores that there are no short cuts and no quick fixes in ways to deal with what is on the agenda.
The Military Perspective:
A. Israel continues to enjoy considerable military superiority, both in quantitative and qualitative terms. This includes the strategic superiority of the Israeli Air Force. But this is hampered by the vulnerability of the Israeli homefront. Using very simple means - cheap high trajectory weapons - Hizbollah was able to create a strong impact on the Israeli public. The war in Lebanon also increased the Palestinians' willingness to equip themselves with these weapons, and similar conclusions are being drawn by other countries in the region.
B. As for arms procurement programs - Saudi Arabia signed (2005) a deal, for nearly $10 billion, to procure dozens of combat aircraft from the United Kingdom.
C. Algeria signed a large arms deal with Russia, which includes combat aircraft, tanks and air defense systems. One should also mention the air defense systems Russia sold to Syria and Iran, both being materialized in spite of pressures from the West.
D. The volume of the global armament market has increased considerably in 2005, compared to the previous years. ($44.2 billion). Israel is also a large supplier in this domain. According to the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report Israel signed in 2005 arms transfer deals for $1.1 billion (almost twice as much as it signed in 2004 - $600 million).
E. The lessons of the war in Lebanon brought a renewed interest in unique Israeli weapon systems. There are thus much better prospects for future sales of armor protection system like Rafael's "Trophy," which was previously rejected both by the IDF and the US military. Also there is a renewed interest in anti-rocket systems like the "Nautilus" designed to defend against short range rockets and missiles.
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