Israel’s leading national security think tank, Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), compiled a “strategic assessment” for Pres. Isaac Herzog on the challenges Israel faces in 2023. It didn’t compile one for PM Netanyahu because…well, you know why.
There were three highlights. The most important, and in some ways the most shocking is what it determined was the number one challenge: US-Israel relations. Though Israeli and American policymakers have long deliberated on this issue, I’ve never seen Israelis label it as a relationship in jeopardy. Israel’s leading national security organization is essentially warning the military-intelligence and political echelon, that Israeli policies are jeopardizing its most important global relationship:
Threat Levels: three threats are central to Israel in 2023, ranked according to their strategic importance and severity. But not necessarily according to their urgency. INSS notes the threat that is most urgent and in danger of flare-up is the Palestinian arena.
The danger of damaging the special relationship with the US–the primary 2023 goal identified by INSS researchers is preservation of the special relationship with the US. Therefore, the Institute places this paragraph at the top of its list of threats this year.
Intensified polarization and radicalization on both sides of the political divide in the US erode support for Israel within the political system. The strength of the progressive camp among the younger generation, which denies the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism, being in its view, an expression of white-colonialist supremacy, alongside an increase in anti-Semitism and racism, challenge the legitimacy and status Israel has enjoyed in the US for many years. Israeli developments which may be perceived as damaging democracy; and a change in the nature of relations with the Palestinians, along with steps which could be viewed as insufficient identification with the US and the west in relation to the competition with China and, in particular with Russia, may add to this damage. Not only within the public but also in Administration ranks. In the face of these challenges, there is an increasing danger to the special relationship which has been the foundation-stone of Israel’s national security.
Let me put it even more succinctly: it’s time to kill the special relationship. It is a dangerous, toxic illusion. Israel has interests, The US has interests. They are not the same interests. Nor should they be. If Israel wants to pursue interests which are detrimental to US interests, it should do so and bear full responsibility for its choices. We have no responsibility to defend or protect Israel from its decisions. Doing so damages US credibility in the world.
Here the INSS summaries the threat to Israel from increasingly rebellious Palestinian youth:
The Palestinian Sector: Israel is at the beginning of a perfect storm. INSS researchers identify this as the most explosive in the coming year. As there is no solution, it appears that toward the end of the era of Mahmoud Abbas, and in the context of groing unrest among a wide swath of frustrated youth, there is an increasing danger of a violent uprising, which may ignite as a result of, among other things, actions by Israel. All this, at a time of grave strategic threat, inherent in the reality of a one-state solution, which would endanger the Jewish-democratic identity of Israel.
INSS notes that besides the external threats mentioned above, worsening social polarization in Israel, which weakens social resilience, is a criticial component of Israel’s ability to cope with these external threats. Rising tensions between Arabs [sic] and Jews in the country and nationalist extremism are significant combined challenges.
Polarization and radicalization, along with a sense of a lack of stability and personal security, weaken social cohesion, and are likely to create such grave phenomena as taking the law into one’s own hands and the establishment of armed militias [something ascribed to Itamar Ben Gvir]. Hand in hand with this, an overreaction to the problem may weaken Israeli democracy with regard to protecting individual and minority rights.
The report also notes a US pivot toward the Indo-Pacific, and away from the Middle East:
At the same time, the the US clearly intends to hedge its engagement with the Iranian nuclear threat (preferably through a return to the nuclear agreement, which is unlikely to materialize), along with a reduction in its engagement in the fight against terror in the Middle East and beyond. In such a circumstance, the nations in the region will be left to cope on their own with the Iranian nuclear threat and Iranian subversion…
Israel, ever ready to exploit global misery, would do well (according to the report) to take advantage of the global crisis to fuel its arms exports:
The war in Ukraine and the threat of renewed use of military power in other regions create an opportunity for Israel to increase the output of [weapons] exports and development of the military industries, along with cooperation with the US and the west, to advance cooperation in the defense field with nations in the region, and for development of multi-purpose capabilities and technologies (artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cyber).
The INSS report closes with key recommendations most of which are, to tell the truth, garbage. The best advice these wise men could come up with is Israel should, in order to preserve the special relationship, remind the US that it is part of the “Camp of Democracies.” What does that even mean?
Israel must undertake active measures in order to protect its special relationship with the US. Accordingly, we should emphasize [to the US] that Israel is a part of the Camp of Democracies, via its willingness to expand the political and technological dialogue.
In the Palestinian sector: a continuation of the existence of the PA, despite it problems and limits, is clearly in Israel’s interest…Any dramatic weakening would be against Israel’s interest. On the ground, we recommend steps to promote separation, via the completion of the Separation Wall and sealing remaining gaps, and strenghening the Palestinian security apparatus under American auspices,
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.