Israel Welcomes Sunni-Shia Conflict

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A picture taken from the Lebanese village of Adaysseh shows Israeli soldiers patrolling along the Israeli-Lebanese border on January 20, 2014.(Photo: AFP - Mahmoud Zayyat).

By: Ali Haydar

Published Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A report forecasting Israel’s strategic future looks positively at Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East though it fears instability along Israeli borders.

Israeli Major General Amos Yadlin concludes the “Strategic Survey for Israel 2013-2014” by stating:

“In 2013, Israel’s national security balance sheet was largely positive. In contrast, in the second half of 2014, complex and problematic processes underway in the region – including the efforts to contend with the Iranian nuclear program, the effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the upheaval in the Arab world, and stature of the United States in the Middle East – can be expected to pose significant challenges to Israel’s security.”

The survey, published by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, lists the positive components of Israel’s national security balance sheet, including the Syrian army’s preoccupation with civil war. As a consequence, the army has been “drastically weakened. It has lost many soldiers and a great deal of equipment, and its chemical weapons are in the process of being dismantled.”

The survey notes Hezbollah’s preoccupation with the fighting in Syria, pinpointing the fact that there has been no response to the attacks carried out by Israel against high-quality weapons en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon from Syria.

Another positive, according to the survey, is the “significant” damage to Iran’s economy from sanctions and “poor economic management” under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran’s economic situation has thus influenced domestic policies related to progress in producing a nuclear weapon.

The survey also optimistically addresses the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt through a military coup, which put the Egyptian military “back in the driver’s seat.”

Yadlin calls attention to a broad confluence of interests between Israel and Arab states that belong to the “moderate Sunni world,” especially the Gulf states, based on a similar perception between Israel and these states regarding developments in Iran, Syria, and Egypt.

The survey addresses several other issues, such as the near-complete tranquility Israel has enjoyed on its border, its ability to maintain peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt despite the regional turmoil, and its effective deterrence against neighboring countries and against what the author refers to as “terrorist” organizations that control Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

As for the negative processes that upset the balance, as Yadlin puts it, the survey argues that, on the political and security levels, the Jewish state is challenged by four key issues: the Iranian nuclear program, the Israeli-Palestinian political process, US policy in the Middle East, and the consequences of weakened central governments in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon on Israel’s national security.

Lurking Risks for Israel

The survey warns against the inherent dangers of an agreement between Iran and world powers, which could could give Iran the ability to develop a nuclear weapon.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian political process, the survey outlines the political and security repercussions if negotiations over a final settlement are unsuccessful. Failure of negotiations might lead to a diplomatic and legal campaign against Israel in the international arena, to strengthening the economic boycott, and – although less likely – to an escalation in violent confrontations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip against Hamas.

The survey argues that US policy in the Middle East may represent a challenge for Israel. Specifically, the report refers to a change in the nature of US politics, represented by an increased interest in Asia and a weakened influence in the Middle East. The latter appeared in the US decision to not use military force against Syria and instead focus on diplomacy.

The survey points to an additional threat: the potential impact that the upheaval in the Arab world might have on countries neighboring Israel, namely Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. The author notes that instability in these countries, especially the weakening of central authority, will have repercussions that threaten Israeli national security.

Strategic Opportunities

The fundamental question at the heart of the survey is the nature of the alternative that will prevail in the Arab world amid the ongoing upheaval, especially after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The survey offers several scenarios, ranging from the return of military dictatorships – as is the case in Egypt – to weakened regimes and the strengthening of extremist Islamist forces such as al-Qaeda and jihadi Salafism. The report points out that events in Syria combine the two latter possibilities, which will surely have an impact on the regional balance of power.

The report argues that these developments entail both risks and opportunities for Israel. Weak governments in nearby countries “increase the likelihood that armed non-state groups will penetrate into the border areas and make the problem of regular security more acute.”

The survey emphasizes that “an increase in terrorist activity on Israel’s borders by terrorist groups ... has thus far not materialized into a strategic threat.”

Yet, the report also argues that “the opportunities presented by the upheavals in the Arab world outweigh the risks they incur.” Foremost among these opportunities is the worsening relations between the Sunni axis led by Saudi Arabia and the Shia axis led by Iran. “The weakening of the Shia axis, primarily as a result of the civil war in Syria, has broadened Israel’s room to maneuver in the Middle East and created an opportunity to expand its cooperation with the Sunni axis countries.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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