Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently presented to the Israeli cabinet a strategic national security concept for the year 2030. In 2030, Netanyahu will be 81 years old. Judging by the current political desolation, the absence of contestants of equal stature and the demographic constraints – Netanyahu may still be in office or be reelected as Prime Minister even in 2030.
If we dared to formulate our own forecasts upon which a national security doctrine for the future may be based – would they be any different from those presented to the cabinet?
Devising future scenarios is one of the tasks of the control ("dissent") section of the IDF Intelligence Directorate, which operates independently of the Directorate's Analysis Division. Any analysis/research organ that produces short-term forecasts in the Middle East risks being proven wrong, and even more so – when the range of the forecasts is 12 years into the future. The speculative dimension in such forecasts is significant. However, 'scenario-oriented' thinking is vital to the deliberation of the national security strategy. We may demonstrate the importance of scenarios to the national security strategy through the example of a nuclear Iran.
Let us assume that the defense establishment prepares to cope with Iran in the year 2030. In a situation where Iran had not acquired a nuclear capability and assuming a regime similar to the present one is still in control, coping with Iran in 2030 will probably be similar to coping with Iran today. However, the task of coping with Iran will be radically different if we assume that Iran possesses a nuclear capability. In that case, the balance of power between Israel and Iran will change, and it is possible that Iran under a nuclear umbrella will dare to deploy ground divisions, including armored elements, in Iraq and Syria. In the first scenario, Israel should strengthen its air force primarily, while in the second scenario – the IDF will be required to cope with a new and significant state land threat, and the importance assigned to Israel's armored warfare capabilities will change. In another example, if the Muslim Brotherhood should once again seize power in Egypt, the new situation will rekindle the discussion regarding the deployment of the IDF ground elements and enhancing Israel's defensive capabilities in armed conflicts between states.
Scenarios like a nuclear Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood seizing power in Egypt again or the disintegration of the Hashemite regime in Jordan are not zero-probability scenarios. While a third Intifada and Palestinian terrorism do not threaten Israel strategically, geopolitical changes Israel does not control will have a decisive effect on Israel's ability to cope with the threats.
The speculative dimension notwithstanding, we may regard some trends as highly probable – as trends Israel should deal with in the context of the national security strategy it chooses.
The USA – Back to a Bipolar Global Playground
President Donald Trump is 'good for the Jews' but not as good to the status of the USA. Even if Trump remains in the White House for a second term, the official horizon of his administration will not extend beyond the year 2024. It is easy to argue that Trump is 'good for the Jews' especially with regard to the conflict with Iran. The revocation of the JCPOA left Iran, in the short term, bound by its commitments vis-à-vis the Europeans (which slow down the Iranian advance toward nuclear weapons), but also compelled to accept severe US economic sanctions. As far as the issue of Jerusalem is concerned – President Trump did not help, and may have even caused some damage.
The alienation of allies, a defensive avoidance of a confrontation with Russia – in any case, at the same time as the benefit for Israel, the status of the USA vis-à-vis its allies has been undermined. The relations with NATO, the European countries and China all entered a crisis atmosphere. By the time President Trump completes his first term in office, it is safe to assume that these relations will deteriorate even further. If President Trump remains for a second term, the revocation of agreements, renunciation of alliances, trade wars and an unclear and frantic policy will exacerbate even further the strained relations of the USA with the western countries and China. The severe alienation President Trump has led to vis-à-vis the traditional allies of the USA will have an adverse effect on the recovery expected when another president has replaced Donald Trump (according to the law of pendulum motion – a democratic president).
President Trump's successor in the White House will have a hard time reinstating the USA as a superpower in the Middle East and Europe. Contrary to the aggressiveness of the relations between the Trump administration and the allies of the USA, President Trump is weak and self-effacing opposite Russia. Obviously, Trump does everything to avoid a serious confrontation with Russia. All of these are likely to have an adverse effect on the strength of the USA as a global power while enhancing the status of Russia as a superpower in the Middle East in particular, as well as at the global level. Unlike Trump, Putin is here to stay. Putin succeeded with his "Russia First" and "Make Russia Great Again" policy, albeit at a substantial economic cost (sanctions). Many Russians are willing to accept the economic price of Putin's tactics in exchange for the honor and glory of reinstating Russia to superpower status.
Russia – a Splintered Reed of a Staff, but Necessary Nevertheless
The deteriorating status of the USA vis-à-vis the western countries and the exacerbation of the conflict between the USA and China affect Israel. Russia, a secondary player until a few years ago, has evolved into a significant strategic factor for Israel vis-à-vis the Iranian threat and the processes taking place in Syria. Israel has no choice but to keep on implementing Netanyahu's policy of nurturing the relations and sharing interests with Russia while maintaining the relations with the USA. Israel can conduct this policy very easily as long as Trump serves as president and is "deeply influenced" by Russia. Another president may aspire to restrict the coordination between Israel and Russia.
Iran – a Regional & Nuclear Power
The game of delusions North Korea plays opposite the USA has demonstrated, once again, the importance of acquiring nuclear weapons to a regime fearing an American invasion. Apparently, North Korea will not give up its nuclear capability. Iran prepares itself for the stage of unveiling its nuclear capability, and will do so relatively suddenly. After completing the process of providing its missiles with the ability to carry nuclear devices effectively to relevant ranges, Iran will choose the timing for completing the nuclear process. It is reasonable to assume that the Trump administration or the subsequent US administration will not choose the military option in order to harm the Iranian nuclear capability after it had been unveiled. Accordingly, by 2030 Israel may definitely have to cope with an Iran possessing a nuclear capability. The diplomatic and military implications of such a situation are far-reaching. For example, Iran has shown restraint while putting up with Israeli attacks against its forces in Syria. Will a nuclear Iran remain equally patient, or will it take advantage of its nuclear capabilities in order to invade Syria with substantial ground forces and threaten Israel by deploying armored divisions along the border?
The Palestinian Authority (Post Abu-Mazen) – the Balancing Factor
A diplomatic settlement with the Palestinian Authority has no real operative significance. The majority of Palestinians (1.5 million) live in the Gaza Strip and support Hamas. Hamas will definitely not accept an agreement based on negotiations with Israel conducted by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel has already come to terms with the fact that Hamas rules the Gaza Strip. Israel's lunatic aspiration for negotiating with the Palestinians the establishment of their state involves a misunderstanding of the true desires of the PA and the PLO. Avoiding any negotiations that could lead – God forbid – to a Palestinian state is an existential interest for the PA. The PA is interested in tranquility and stability and negotiations with Israel will be detrimental to them. Moreover, if such negotiations take place, their intended result will severely damage the PA: an independent Palestinian state, waiving the right of return and reaching a compromise in Jerusalem. The establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank is more threatening to the PA than anything else. In addition to losing the refugee status of millions of Palestinians and facing the demand to assume responsibility for a failing economy, the very existence of the PA is dependent upon the bayonets of the IDF, which protect the PA against Hamas. The cost of such a state to the PA will be impossible, as it will actually threaten to end the rule of Fatah.
If that is not enough, the departure of Abu-Mazen will trigger a severe fight for control. While such a move was difficult for a leader who is acceptable at least to the Fatah, a new leader attempting to gain legitimacy among the Palestinian public in the West Bank opposite his competitors will not risk embarking on such a dangerous adventure as negotiating with Israel. Against this background, maintaining and containing the status quo is a prime interest of the PA as well as of Israel. Weakening of the PA might lead to deterioration into a new Intifada and to the strengthening of Hamas, so both Israel and the PA must avoid diplomatic negotiations at any cost for the benefit of the Palestinian cause as well as for the benefit of the Israeli cause.
Hamastan – a Settlement by Default
Hamas wants to rule. Israel has come to terms with its rule. Both parties have an interest in maintaining the continuity of this situation. Hamas is interested in fueling the victim ethos of the Palestinian people while maintaining Israel as a hated enemy. Maintaining stability, in itself, does not endanger Hamas, however. Israel and Hamas will aspire for a settled balancing of their respective interests. Eventually, the parties will reach such a settlement, including the release of Hamas prisoners and restrictions on the use of military force between the two sides. This settlement will endure, to a considerable extent, as in the case of the PA and Hezbollah – as long as the interests of Hamas in maintaining the situation remain unchanged.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia & Jordan – Infallible Indefinitely?
It is difficult to predict whether the regimes that dominate the countries engaged in clandestine or semi-public love affairs with Israel will endure or collapse. The collapse of those regimes will lead to the emergence of new, additional threats to Israel, and Israel will be unable to influence or prevent this process. In the event that Egypt falls into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood or if Jordan falls into the hands of ISIS (which may be nesting among the Syrian refugees in Jordan) or into the hands of the Palestinians – these countries might once again evolve into enemy countries.
Today, the IDF is not preparing for armor-versus-armor wars or for the operational capability to conduct a war between states. A far-reaching change in the first (inner) circle countries might compel the IDF to change. A state enemy poised on the border of Israel will compel the IDF to retain its ability to restore the transition from a military focusing on structured terrorism to a military prepared and trained to cope with a state enemy.
Netanyahu's journey through time to the year 2030 is perfectly justified. The danger of a 'Black Swan' emerging and dramatically changing the situation to one where Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah beg for a full peace agreement with Israel is not really on our doorstep. The high probability scenarios are the ones that should serve as the basis for Israel's national security strategic thinking. By 2030, Netanyahu or his successor will have to cope with a reality that in all probability would be the direct extension of the trends that are already emerging today. If a 'Black Swan' should emerge, it will not match the optimistic side of the equation.