For the first time since the Institute for National Security Studies started publishing its annual INSS 2022 Strategic Survey, the special and strategic relationship with the U.S. features as the most critical challenge for Israel.
This relationship is key to Israel’s security doctrine. Some voices want to cast doubt as to Israel’s dependency on its ties with America, suggesting it should explore various alternatives. But the INSS has made it clear: There is no substitute for the U.S., not in terms of security nor in diplomatic backing. Likewise, no one can replace the U.S. when it comes to the shared values of the two countries.
However, the increased radicalization on both sides of the divide in the U.S. has resulted in the erosion of the constellation that supports Israel. The progressive camp’s grip on the younger generation—with its delegitimization of Israel and Zionism—and rising antisemitism and racism threaten Israel’s status.
Moreover, moves carried out by Israel’s government in a way that would come off as threatening the country’s democratic character or altering Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, and lack of solidarity with the U.S. and the West in the competition with China and Russia, could further hurt Israel’s position.
Israel begins 2023 as a strong military power with a robust international standing, but many of the security challenges are expected to become even more pronounced as the year progresses. Iran is only a small step away from becoming a nuclear threshold state and its nuclear program has reached its most advanced and dangerous state ever. Iran is also accumulating massive amounts of conventional weapons and its stand alongside Russia in Ukraine has given it a safety net of sorts against Western sanctions.
Meanwhile, in the Palestinian theater, Israel appears to be headed towards a perfect storm. The volatile nature of this arena has been highest in recent months compared to other locations. The internal strife within the Palestinians will only exacerbate as both sides gear up for the post-Mahmoud Abbas era.
The threat of a flare-up in response to Israeli action and internal discontent still exists and is getting more pronounced. We have already seen this play out in the aftermath of recent Israeli action in Jenin and Nablus, where every counterterrorism operation is like a scene from a war.
The Palestinian efforts to hurt Israel on the world stage will get worse as the P.A. tries to delegitimize Israel’s activity and its right to self-defense. In the northern arena, Israel should reevaluate whether its original goals of the “war between wars” are relevant to the changing dynamics.
The strategic survey submitted by INSS to the president does not ignore the fact that the worsening internal polarization within Israel could impact overall security. This polarization threatens to undermine Israeli stamina, which is critical for national security. This issue will likely cause heads of Israel’s defense establishment to lose sleep. The IDF, after all, is a reflection of Israeli society—any controversy within civilian life is bound to seep into the military as well. The minister of defense and the chief of staff will have to ensure the military remains isolated from politics, but this will not be an easy feat.
The way to deal with these threats is through the alliance with the U.S. This doesn’t mean that Israel will not be able to go solo when there is a need to do so, but the special relationship amplifies Israel’s strengths manyfold.
Israel needs its most important friend, just like in the past, and perhaps even more so now.