The last week of 2016 is devoted mainly to summations of the past year and to a situation appraisal for the coming year. Such a situation appraisal confronts me with numerous challenges, and in particular with the unexpected. By the end of next year, I might find myself embarrassed owing to unfulfilled estimates. Nevertheless, I will attempt, in this column, to evaluate the future occurrences for 2017 while stressing potential changes and turning points that may affect our region generally and the State of Israel in particular.
Global Terrorism. 2017 will be a particularly bloody year, especially for the western world (regrettably, we have already grown accustomed to terrorism in Iraq, Syria, and Africa and in the next year, too, Sunni Muslims will continue to slaughter Shi'ite Muslims and vice versa). The surge of Islamist terrorism that will flood Europe (and could include an unconventional dimension) will be the result of the defeats of ISIS throughout Iraq and Syria and the ambition of that movement to convey to the world a message according to which the Islamic State concept is invincible. The infrastructure already exists, arms are readily available and any shortages may be fabricated independently. The general directives have already been issued so it is no longer a question of 'whether' but a question of 'when and how much'.
Anyone hoping that such events generate sympathy for Israel in Europe will be sorely disappointed. The only positive outcome can be enhanced professional cooperation at the state level as well as between private professionals, for the purpose of improving the capabilities available in Europe for coping with such situations. Any case of terrorist activity by Hezbollah against Israeli targets or Jewish communities will have far-reaching consequences, all the way to the outbreak of a full-scale confrontation.
The Rise and Fall of Rulers. At the outset of 2017, we are witnessing the beginning of the tenure of US President-Elect Donald Trump, along with significant election campaigns in France and Germany (I have no intention of listing every election campaign worldwide, but to focus on Europe). These processes will encourage significant contrarian activity on the part of the various players in the arena. In my estimate, the various Islamist organizations will attempt to test the new US President and to challenge him and his policy in the way of "Let's see what you're made of". This approach will be highly significant with regard to the scope and intensity of the activity. The same goes for countries where election campaigns are under way – significant terrorist attacks will increase the doubts as to which approach should be elected.
In the Middle East, the stability of the regimes of al-Sisi in Egypt or the King of Jordan and even the President of Syria does not bode well, except this time, any change could affect the State of Israel more profoundly than any terrorist attack in Europe. In 2017, the State of Israel will face a situation where all of its borders, including the Judea and Samaria district, are challenged and require an intensified routine security effort which takes into account such complex scenarios as unconventional terrorism and hostage situations.
Homeland Security. With regard to the internal security aspect, the tensions between the Jewish-Israeli society and the Arab-Israeli society will awaken new-old demons and the Government of Israel would be required to invest substantial resources in this particular arena. Regrettably, at this point in time, the leaders on both sides have not yet assumed the restraint that is essential in order to reduce those tensions.
The Gaza Strip. For the time being, a state of relative calm exists in the Gaza Strip as a result of Operation Protective Edge. It is reasonable to assume, however, that the reports regarding Operation Protective Edge, which are soon to become public knowledge, will invoke intense political arguments. Professionally, the IDF has analyzed its failures and is preparing to improve its capabilities in many areas. In view of the relative calm, Operation Protective Edge will be etched in the collective public awareness as a successful operation (similarly to the time it took the Israeli public to internalize the fact that the Second Lebanon War – judged by the results – was not a complete failure after all).
The Cyber Threat. So far, cyberattacks have not inflicted any substantial damage on Israel, but this year a change will take place and we will find ourselves required – especially opposite the private and public sectors – to initiate activities for minimizing such damage (the National Cyber Bureau was established precisely for that purpose).
In conclusion, my appraisal for 2017 is that "the worst is yet to come" and that we still have a long way to go before we may reach peace and tranquility
The Israeli defense establishment and all organs thereof should take the time to analyze the various scenarios, practice them and enable the political echelon to take an integral part in those scenarios.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel served for nearly 30 years in the IDF and is the former head of Israel's Counter-terrorism Bureau