Israel has occupied a prominent role in regional dynamics in recent years. During this time, Tel Aviv has faced multiple domestic challenges, particularly its internal politics, alongside foreign challenges, most notably the Iranian file. In this light, InterRegional for Strategic Analysis hosted a panel discussion entitled “Security First: How Does Israel Assess Threats in the Middle East?” The speaker was Dr. P. R. Kumaraswamy, Director of the Middle East Institute, New Delhi, and Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in India. The main areas of discussion were as follows:
The panel discussion focused on the levels of Israeli risk assessment and shed light on some of the threats Tel Aviv has faced and is facing, whether at home or abroad, which can be explained as follows:
1. Three levels for assessing Israeli risks: According to the panel discussion, Israel has three levels of issues according to its risk assessment, which has been adopted by the Harry Truman Center for Israel and several major think tanks. The first level is the Islamic world, the second is the Arab region, and the third is the domestic Palestinian level. One of the most significant touchpoints between Judaism and Islam is the lack of separation between religion and the state. Neither religion sees a conflict between religion and the state; rather religion is the centerpiece of the state’s existence. Israel has no real issue with Islam, but its real problem is with the Arabs. Until 1979, Israel was a friend of Iran and enjoyed close relations with Turkey, which are both Islamic nations.
2. Assessment of Israel’s situation in 2022: The panel noted that in terms of its overall assessment in 2022, Israel has become more powerful politically, economically, and technologically, and its security is very good. The state is eager for greater openness to the world and to acquire new friends.
3. Increasing attacks inside Israel: The panel discussion pointed out that Israel is facing major domestic threats that create ongoing concern among the governing authorities in Tel Aviv. Top concerns include the existential conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, the issue of identity and conflict between Israeli and Arab identities, and the anti-Semitic sentiments that have emerged in many cases and caused problems within the Israeli army.
4. The crisis of regional acceptance of Israel: The panel highlighted Israel’s existential suffering from the crisis of regional acceptance and recognition, both at the popular and the governmental level. In 1973, Israel’s international isolation increased, especially in Africa, following the infamous oil crisis during the October War. At the same time, Israel’s relationship with the US has grown stronger since 1967.
5. The importance of settling the dispute with the Palestinians: Achieving a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians is critical, not only to end this protracted conflict but also to enhance Israel’s ability to establish relationships with more countries. A potential settlement could lead to the establishment of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, especially since Riyadh has previously stated that this issue is a necessary pre-condition to discussing any rapprochement with Israel.
The Iranian Opponent
Iran was one of the main topics of the panel discussion, particularly amid the escalation of hostilities between Tehran and Tel Aviv, which have reached the level of direct targeting. The following are the most significant highlights of the panel discussion:
1. The expanding regional hostility to the Iranian regime: The panel indicated that, since 2000, it is not only Israel that is hostile to Iran. The Arab countries neighboring Iran have also come to fear Iran’s expansionist aspirations, thus creating a common enemy or common threat for Arabs and Israelis vis-à-vis Iran’s aggressive policies. This situation eventually led to the Abraham Accords.
2. The importance of coordinating the Israeli-Gulf position: According to the panel discussion, Israel by itself cannot stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The former nuclear agreement enjoyed popular support in Europe and even in the US, and those countries must then put greater pressure on Tehran, which has increased its rates of uranium enrichment. The Gulf states can play a larger role in confronting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
3. The threat from Tehran created Arab-Israeli solidarity: The panel noted that, despite Israel’s problems throughout its history with regard to international recognition and the establishment of strong relationships with is neighbors, the Iranian threat to both Israel and its regional neighbors has contributed to the creation of Israeli-Arab solidarity against Tehran.
4. Tehran’s threat to Israel at three levels: According to the panel, Tehran is a threat to Israel at three main levels. The first is the ideological level, in which the transformations seen in Iran since 1979 posed a threat to Israel given Tel Aviv’s perspective that the Iranian governing structure was incompatible with Israeli interests. The second level involves Iran’s view of itself as not only a central power in the Gulf region, but also a power with aspirations around the Mediterranean.
This is evidenced by Iran’s influence in Mediterranean countries like Lebanon and Syria, as well as its use of proxies to serve its interests, especially the Houthi militia, Lebanese Hezbollah, and the Hamas movement. The third level is the threat of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear hegemony in the region.
5. Push for Washington to play a greater role in the region: The panel discussion pointed out that Israel wants the US to play a greater role in the region and to re-engage following its gradual withdrawal from the Middle East and other regions. The US withdrawal affected Israel’s rapprochement with other countries, such as China and Russia, as shown in Israel’s position of relative neutrality vis-à-vis the beginning of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
Prospects for Cooperation
The panel discussion focused on the future of cooperation between UAE and Israel, especially amid the current political situation in Tel Aviv, which can be explained as follows:
1. Relationships with Abu Dhabi not affected by the new government: The panel opined that it is not yet known what scenario may emerge from the upcoming elections in Israel amid the move to dissolve the Knesset. It is impossible to predict whether it will be possible to establish a strong alliance after these elections to form the government.
According to the panel, there is a state of political instability in Israel, but it will not affect Tel Aviv’s foreign policy. Netanyahu has presented himself as the stronger candidate vis-à-vis Iran, but there is no major or fundamental difference between the various political figures. Thus, the current political instability in Israel is not expected to affect Israeli foreign policy, which means that this situation will not affect Tel Aviv’s relationship with Abu Dhabi. Consistent with this, the current government led by Lapid is expected to continue until next March, when elections are held and a new government is formed.
2. Potential for tripartite cooperation (UAE, India, and Israel): According to the panel, UAE, India, and Israel could create a model and complementary tripartite partnership by using the capabilities and relative advantages of each party and focusing on the economic dimension of relationships. For example, Israel owns advanced technology, India possesses abundant human capital, and UAE has the advantage in resources. The achievement of such an alliance would undoubtedly promote the interests of all three parties and the region. UAE and Israel have the advantage of timely attention and a desire to achieve goals quickly.
In conclusion, the panel discussion emphasized that the UAE has major capability for establishing a better relationship with Israel by using its advantages in resources and technology. The UAE may invest in infrastructure in Israel, especially since this is a competitive field with major powers like China.