New times call for new strategic thinking

By: David M. Weinberg

Nov 30, 2011

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said that Israel needs to rethink its overall security needs in the wake of the (clearly mislabeled) “Arab Spring.” He noted that Islamists were on the march, and hinted that Israel would have to increase defense spending.

Indeed, the times call for new strategic thinking. Consistently ahead of the curve has been the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (where I direct public affairs). Its experts have conducted over-the-horizon and out-of-the-box research that has not always been politically correct or appreciated at the time by mainstream pundits and journalists. But Netanyahu has definitely noticed. He had good reason to choose the center as the venue for his major foreign policy speech back in June 2009.

We now know that the Oslo process with the Palestinians is going nowhere. The paradigm of a comprehensive peace deal that divides the West Bank and ends all claims is defunct. But it is still hard for politicians to admit this.

Three years ago, BESA Center director Professor Efraim Inbar bucked conventional wisdom and penned the first full-length and full-throated study declaring the two-state paradigm “passe.” His “Rise and Demise of the Two-State Solution” was followed-up by another provocative BESA study by Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, entitled “Regional Alternatives to the Two-State Solution.”

Diplomats and policymakers overseas are now going back to bone up on these path-breaking publications, in search of new thinking that can move beyond the stalemate in Palestinian-Israeli relations to which Oslo has led.

Back in 2006, Professor Efraim Karsh published a little-noticed study called “The Tragedy of Arab Imperialism.” His prescient prediction was that Arab pan-nationalism and nationalist dictatorship structures were paper-thin and bound to fail. He also foresaw the radical Islamist menace lurking underneath. “Islam remains the strongest identity framework in Egyptian society in particular, and in Arab society generally,” Karsh told me last week. “The Arab national dictatorships that were layered over this basic Islamic identity for the past 80 years were but a thin veneer of repression. With the fall of these dictatorships, what remains are the core Islamic underpinnings of society, and these will now come to the fore. Consequently, no democratic structures, processes or values are likely to emerge in the Arab world for many generations.”

In 2009, Dr. Ehud Eilam published an almost-prophetic study on instability in the Egypt-Israel relationship. He questioned Hosni Mubarak’s plan to anoint his son Gamal as his successor, and surveyed a range of scenarios that could result in the cancellation of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

Eilam suggested ways in which Israel needed to prepare for such a possibility. At the time, the Egyptians howled about Israeli chutzpah in publishing the study, and official Israel sought to bury it. Too bad.

Just before he died in September 2010, Professor Joseph Kostiner published the only study I know questioning the security and stability of the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Now look what is happening in Bahrain.

Going all the way back to 2007, Arrow missile project director Uzi Rubin published through the BESA Center a series of in-depth studies analyzing Hamas and Hezbollah rocket and missile capabilities and arguing for a significant Israeli anti-missile defense regime for the Gaza perimeter and northern Israel.

Unfortunately, the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry got into this game very late with the rushed and limited (albeit successful) development of the Iron Dome system. Rubin’s most recent study, published in October, evaluates Iron Dome and clearly shows how the defense establishment and political echelon had to be dragged kicking and screaming into late development of this important defensive system.

Professors Inbar and Amikam Nachmani were the first to warn in 2003 about the hostile Islamist machinations of Turkey’s AKP leaders Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu, and they continue to write prodigiously on this issue.

The Golan Heights have high strategic and moral value for Israel, but Israel has been afraid to say this for years, instead holding out the possibility of a Golan withdrawal in the context of peace with Syria. Given what is happening in Syria right now, what a folly that might have been! In order to put the notion of Israeli abandonment of the Golan to rest once and for all, Inbar has just published a full-length study which details the strategic, legal, moral and historic justifications for permanent Israeli sovereignty on the Golan.

Lastly, one area that has received little attention is the eastern Mediterranean basin, where elements of radical Islam could gain control. In this region, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey display Islamist tendencies, leaving Israel and Greece as the only Western allies. Now there are also major natural gas deposits in the area to protect and fight over.

“The access of Iran to Mediterranean waters, the disruptive potential of failed states, and the competition across countries for energy resources is destabilizing the region,” writes Inbar in the introduction to the BESA Center’s newest study, published this week. “But it is not clear that Western powers, particularly the U.S., are aware of the possibility of losing the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea to radical Islam or are preparing in any way to forestall such a scenario.

Foolishly, they seem to believe that the so-called Arab Spring heralds an improved political environment and that Turkey represents ‘moderate Islam.’ American naiveté and European gullibility could become extremely costly in strategic terms.”

* Originally published in Israel Hayom, November 30, 2011

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About David Weinberg

David M. Weinberg is a spokesman, speechwriter, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »


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A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker.


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