Israelis Await New Government Amid Old Security Perils

By Peter Berkowitz - January 4, 2013

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Moreover, with the Egyptian economy teetering on the brink and the problem of feeding Egypt’s nearly 85 million citizens intensifying, Morsi seems to appreciate that the last thing he needs is for Hamas to disrupt relations with Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel’s recently concluded Gaza operation destroyed a high proportion of Hamas’ most dangerous rockets and missiles. Since the end of that operation, Hamas and affiliates in Gaza have held their fire. In the West Bank, which has yet to be touched by the Arab Spring, the economy continues to grow at a brisk clip, as it has since the establishment of Prime Minister Salam Fayad’s government in 2007.

In recent years, the Netanyahu government’s relaxation of the hated roadblocks and checkpoints between Palestinian population centers in the West Bank has increased mobility and promoted commerce, giving Palestinians the opportunity to enjoy middle-class pleasures and develop middle-class habits.

When Israelis casts their gaze beyond the region and look to international bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the bulk of the commentary emanating from universities and news organizations in the West, it sees a barely veiled hostility that seems determined to deny Israel’s right to defend itself -- or even exist.

Notwithstanding former South African judge Richard Goldstone’s April 2011 retraction in the Washington Post of the most scurrilous and baseless charges leveled in the 2009 U.N. report that bears his name, the Goldstone report continues to be cited by those bent on vilifying Israel as an outlaw nation.

Even with the threats posed by Islamization and de-legitimization, there is little doubt in Israel that Iran’s development of nuclear weapons is the most urgent threat the nation faces.

Netanyahu’s great diplomatic achievement has been to compel a dawdling and distracted West to recognize the gravity of the threat a nuclear Iran poses not only to Israel, but to regional stability. The pro-Western gulf monarchies fully appreciate that the regional hegemony Iran envisages entails their necessary subordination, if not their overthrow.

And while Israeli officials are acutely aware that current sanctions are inflicting real pain on the Iranian economy, they also know that diplomacy hasn’t worked, and they are convinced -- as are most Sunni Arabs in the region -- that diplomacy won’t work. Indeed, the Iranians have taken every invitation to negotiate as the cheap purchase of additional time to enrich uranium, and all indications are that they will continue to do so.

Should the mullahs in Tehran acquire a nuclear weapon, it would only be a short time before Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchies turned the Middle East poly-nuclear by purchasing their own nuclear weapons from Pakistan. Alternatively, a nuclear Iran might succeed in using its quantum leap in leverage to force those gulf monarchies to expel American troops from the region.

In these difficult circumstances, Israel must both prepare to take advantage of small openings and gird itself against grave dangers. There is little it can do to weaken the appeal of political Islam in the countries that surround it. Israel can, however, continue to seek common ground with Islamists as it has with Egypt’s Morsi.

And it can exercise influence on the West Bank and among its own Arab citizens to reduce the appeal of radical Islam. Regardless of progress in negotiations concerning a final status agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel should improve cooperation with the United States, Europe and other willing and able members of the international community to assist West Bank Palestinians in building educational, economic, and political infrastructure.

At the same time, Israel should direct more domestic resources to enabling Arab citizens of Israel to take advantage of the equal rights they enjoy under law and to integrate them into mainstream Israeli society.

The publication of the Goldstone report -- with its slanderous accusation that Israel had adopted a strategy of deliberately targeting civilians during its Gaza military operation -- was a painful wake-up call to Israel, but a wake-up call nonetheless. As a result, Israel grasps that the defense of its good name in the court of international public opinion is a pressing national security interest. Since 2009, Israel has allocated substantial new resources to combating ignorance and prejudice abroad. It can do a good deal more. As Middle East analyst Tom Gross points out, “Israel needs to devote the same quality of strategic thinking to combating campaigns of disinformation and slander that it has successfully employed on military and intelligence matters.”

As for Iran, it is fair to say that Israel continues to develop aggressively options to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power. One way in which the United States could advance the vital national security interest it shares with Israel and the Sunni Arab states -- President Obama has repeatedly affirmed that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons -- would be to announce immediately U.S. support for international monitors of Iran’s June 2013 presidential elections.

Needless to say, Tehran will reject any such proposal, not least because the Islamist revolutionaries who run the country know they cannot win a fair election. But just as Ronald Reagan’s speeches condemning the Soviet Union provided vital moral support to those caught in the Russian gulag, so too could Obama give heart to the sizable proportion of the Iranian population that yearns to rid itself of Islamic totalitarianism.

This will be for Israel a perilous year, as has been every year since 1948, when it declared independence. Expect Israel in 2013, as it has every year since its birth, to rise to the daunting challenges it confronts. 

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 Peter Berkowitz is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.  His writings are posted at and you can follow him on Twitter @BerkowitzPeter.

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