The paradox of Israeli security
Halfway through my Israel vist, I’ve heard from a lot of high-ranking officials, strategists and academics about how they see Israel’s security situation. It would be safe to say that there are a few paradoxes. On the one hand, there are ways in which Israel’s security situation has been better over the past 18 months ...
Halfway through my Israel vist, I've heard from a lot of high-ranking officials, strategists and academics about how they see Israel's security situation. It would be safe to say that there are a few paradoxes.
Halfway through my Israel vist, I’ve heard from a lot of high-ranking officials, strategists and academics about how they see Israel’s security situation. It would be safe to say that there are a few paradoxes.
On the one hand, there are ways in which Israel’s security situation has been better over the past 18 months than it has been for a long time. The rocket attack in Ashkelon was striking because it was the first one since Operation Cast Lead. Rocket fire from Gaza went from 20-30 a day to one every other week or so. Hamas is running Gaza, but Israel has enough reconnaissance equipment overhead and along the border to, as one IDF soldier put it, "know enough to know the brand of olive oil they put on their hummus."
Similarly, in the north, there has been no rocket fire since the 2006 Lebanon war. As for the West Bank, suicide terrorism has disappeared from Israel proper, and the Israelis sound confident that terrorist networks are pretty much nonexistent. The Israeli officials believe that the Palestinian Authority under
Salid Fayyam Salam Fayyad are slowly and steadily developing administrative competencies, which help to ease the likelihood of Hamas developing a foothold.
Why are things so good right now? The Israelis believe it’s because Hezbollah and Hamas now control territory, which means that they can be deterred. As one official put it, both Hezbollah and Hamas have transformed themselves from strong terrorist networks to weak armies. Israel fought bitterly against these outcomes, but they’re comfortable with the status quo.
Actually, most Israelis are too comfortable with the status quo. The bad news is that Israeli security experts also recognize that all of the long-term trends are working against them. As military forces, both Hamas and Hezbollah are only getting stronger, with rockets that can hit further into Israel proper. Iran is developing its nuclear capabilities and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. The demographics are such that, unless Israel lets go of the West Bank very soon, Jews will become a distinct minority. The window for a viable two-state solution is closing fast.
So, what should be done? Israelis don’t have a great answer to this question, beyond "let the status quo continue." They think containment can work in Gaza, and that engagement can work in the West Bank. The wishful thinking that regime change will solve Israel’s problem runs strong and deep within Israeli security circles (coincidentally, this is the only issue on which Israelis sound more optimistic than their America counterparts). Mostly, however, Israeli officials are concerned that the attractiveness of the status quo will lull the population into inaction. At a time when Israel could exploit its temporary advantages into the best deal possible, there isn’t a lot of forward progress on any of Israel’s security issues. And normal Israeli citizens just want to go to the beach – which creates a problem that I’ll discuss in my next post.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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