Looking ahead, I see grinding but ultimately successful military campaigns on every border, political defeat for the right, and emergence of next generation leadership.
The perils of predicting political and diplomatic developments are well-known, especially in the Middle East. “Black Swan” events seem par for the course (i.e., events that are highly improbable, difficult to predict, and end up having drastic consequences).
Which is why I am so glad I didn’t publish a forecast for 2023, one year ago this week. I would have been wrong on all accounts. Never could I have imagined that Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s just-then-announced judicial reforms would tear this country apart for nine months. Nor could I have predicted that Hamas would catch Israel napping with a barbaric invasion that has led to the shattering Gaza war, still underway.
In my crystal ball column of January 2022, I did foresee tough combat ahead. I wrote that “Israel is likely to wage this year a multifaceted war against Iran’s terrorist proxies in the region – Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad – in successive or simultaneous fashion. A full-scale IDF operation to degrade enemy capabilities in Lebanon and Gaza is just a question of time, and this needs to be done before directly striking at Iran in Iran.”
I then further wondered “whether Washington will give Israel full-throated backing in such circumstances of intense ground combat, with all the civilian casualties this will entail.”
The good news here, and really the greatest positive surprise of the current war, is the staunch support of US President Joe Biden. Never did I imagine such steadfast backing from Biden. Despite growing differences between Washington and Jerusalem over next stages of the war and “day after” scenarios, I think that all Israelis should be deeply appreciative of Biden’s moral leadership and concrete assistance – especially since no Democratic president of the next 50 years is likely to be so understanding.
I also accurately predicted at the start of 2022 that Israel’s new peace treaties with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco would hold firm, despite the Biden administration’s lack of enthusiasm for the Abraham Accords (a disinclination stemming from the Trump administration’s stamp on the Accords and the Biden administration’s desire for a renewed nuclear deal with Iran). The Accords continue to hold firm despite the conflict with Hamas. I estimated two to three years before Riyadh publicly embraces Israel, and I stand by that assessment, again despite the conflict with Hamas.
When looking into my crystal ball for 2024, this is what I see:
Israel will have to increase its defense budget from 60 to 90 billion shekels (from 16 to 25 billion dollars), large chunks of which will be earmarked for a full year of combat in Gaza and perhaps Lebanon, long stints of military duty for reservists, rehabilitation of injured soldiers, massive production and stockpiling of ammunition, and for military strike planning on Iran.
Another NIS 10 billion will be needed to cover the evacuation costs of 150,000 people from Israel’s northern and southern border areas, higher budgets for police and other security services, and the reconstruction of towns destroyed by Hamas on October 7.
Tighten your belt in anticipation of major budget cuts in every other sector, from health to education. The government says that no new taxes are planned, but it will be impossible to avoid this (especially in the second half of the year after elections, which are to be expected – see below).
Over the course of 2024 and perhaps 2025, 500 kilometers or so of underground terror tunnels will be exposed in Gaza and destroyed through diligent IDF combat operations, following which Israel will have to target Hezbollah’s equally dangerous tunnels and bunkers too. Hopefully the Israeli air force can destroy most of Hezbollah’s mammoth stock of precision-guided and long-range missiles before they rain down on Israel. Buckle your seat belts for a long, difficult ride.
Yihye Sinwar will go the way of Saleh al-Arouri and discover that there are no virgins waiting for him in the next world. Hassan Nasrallah will get the chance to make a similar discovery.
Despite his best efforts to avoid this, Prime Minister Netanyahu will be forced into elections in the fall – leading to his defeat. Even though the Israeli public dramatically has shifted rightwards in the wake of the Hamas attack and Mahmoud Abbas’ support for the attack, the right will be swept out office as part of the house-cleaning tidal wave that will characterize Israeli politics.
Likud will splinter into at least three parties, with Yossi Cohen, Naftali Bennett, Yuli Edelstein, Nir Barkat, and Gideon Saar each seeking a piece of those pies.
The vaunted Israeli center will spawn new political parties too, all promising “unity,” “togetherness,” “brotherhood,” “resilience,” and fealty to “Jewish, Zionist and democratic values” along with a commitment to fight “corruption.” These parties will do well even though their policies relating to economy, diplomacy, and defense won’t be much different from those of the Likud era.
Benny Gantz is most likely the next Israeli prime minister. But his tenure will be a stopgap, a holding period in Israeli politics leading towards maturation of a next generation of Israeli leaders. I am thinking of those brave soldiers and young social activists and volunteers who are the real heroes of the current Gaza war. Down the road – say, in 2028 elections – they will emerge as better unifiers with a vision of wholesome Israeli national renaissance and a bolder defense posture.
As for Netanyahu? I hope that the prosecution is wise enough to cut a plea bargain deal with him, and that he is smart enough to accept it to end his trials with misdemeanors. (The courts already have indicated he won’t be convicted on bribery.)
A big question is who will emerge as Israel’s next IDF chief-staff, chief of military intelligence, GSS director, and so on – after an entire generation and several top echelons of Israeli military and intelligence leadership resigns or is guillotined for the October 7 collapse. Remember: Somebody must fight the next wars, warriors not tainted by the faulty security and diplomatic paradigms of past decades.
Perhaps the most depressing development of 2023 lies beyond Israel’s borders: The astonishing speed with which the floodgates of global antisemitism have opened. Physical attacks against highly identifiable Jews have become commonplace, and verbal/intellectual assaults against supporters of Israel have become politically correct, even highly regarded. The woke world unabashedly allied with Israel’s genocidal enemies.
It would be nice to forecast the denouement of this depravity, along with a surge in Aliyah to Israel for all the right reasons – but I can’t see either happening so quickly.
Despite the hard slog predicted here, Israel still sizzles with creativity, and this will bring renewed foreign investment and ever-accelerating collaborations with partners from Marrakesh to Mumbai and Melbourne.
Above all, I believe that Israel will emerge stronger from this rough period. Less starry-eyed but more steely, less bubbly but more buoyant, less wealthy but more focused. Israeli society is strong: Its faith robust and grit undiminished.