By Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad. Israel is living in a most convenient period of time from a security standpoint. Suicide attacks are behind us and there is deterrence against rocket attacks. At the same time there are unprecedented challenges to our national security including the possibility of a nuclear Iran or even a nuclear Middle East
- Iran’s capabilities for developing nuclear weapons are no longer a question. They only have to make the decision. They have the know-how to assemble nuclear warheads on missiles if they want to. Today there is a consensus among the world’s intelligence agencies: Iran is a threat.
- I cannot imagine Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or any of the other Arab countries tolerating a nuclear Iran. There is an Arabic word, “ajami,” which expresses disgust of the Persians. If you ask any Arab leader about the greatest threat, he will say Iran – not Israel – but not publicly.
- The terrorists in Sinai are financed by Iran and they want to murder as many Israelis as they can. If there is terror from Sinai, this complicates Israel’s relationship with Egypt, which is why we choose to preemptively kill the terrorists.
- The Iranians and the Turks have a 1,000-year-old tradition of rivalry. I cannot believe that the Turks believe there is room for friendship with Iran. If Iran goes nuclear, the Turks will be very upset.
- There are political contacts all the time between Israel and the PA. But even if we sign an agreement tomorrow, it cannot be implemented as long as there is a division between Hamas and the PA. If we only sign with Abbas or his colleagues, it would just be a treaty between Israel and Ramallah, and no Palestinian would agree to this.
The Vital Role of Jordan
From a security perspective, the current period is a most convenient one for Israel. We are not suffering from terror, after long years of being attacked. This achievement is based on the unique intelligence capabilities that we have developed, combined with the operational capabilities of the IDF and state-of-the-art security in Jordan. I would like to thank Jordan, even though they are not doing it for us but for their own interests. Jordan’s state-of-the-art security is protecting a very complicated border. The outcome, from the Israeli point of view, is a dramatic contribution to our security. It is very difficult for terrorists to cross the Jordanian border, and we enjoy the benefits.
Coordination with the Palestinian Authority
There is security coordination, but not cooperation, between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It is less significant than our own capabilities or those of Jordan, but it is quite significant. It is based on the interest of the Palestinian Authority to defeat its enemies, such as Hamas. While there is talk of reconciliation between them, this is difficult to imagine since Hamas wants to take over the PLO. The PLO holds the golden shares of Palestinian nationalism, and the PA is a product of agreements between the PLO and Israel. At the moment, Hamas, which is a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, is seeking to take over both the PA and the PLO. For the time being, the PA is quite important from a security point of view, even though there has been a decline in the quality of its security performance.
There are political contacts all the time between Israel and the PA. But even if we sign an agreement tomorrow, it cannot be implemented as long as there is a division between Hamas and the PA. If we only sign with Abbas or his colleagues, it would just be a treaty between Israel and Ramallah, and no Palestinian would agree to this. Israel is committed to a two-state solution and will do its best to resume negotiations with the Palestinians. We are also talking with Jordan, which has hosted the talks in Amman. But I am not offering an optimistic message that tomorrow a peace agreement will be signed.
The Palestinians in Gaza possess rockets that are growing in number, quality and range. They may be deterred from an immediate attack against us, but there is no fundamental solution. They are anti-Israeli, both religiously and nationally. They are very violent and believe in using terror. They are doing their best to attack Israel, but they fail again and again because it is almost impossible to send terrorist groups directly to Israel from Gaza. Depending on Egypt, on
diplomacy, or on our technology to protect us from Gaza rockets is not a fundamental solution. It is an interim solution for an immediate problem.
Along Israel’s Borders
Other good news is that Israel does have deterrence vis-à-vis the threats around us. The north is flourishing. The Golan Heights is very stable and quiet. In the south, we are enjoying partial deterrence. When violence does erupt, Egypt has been successful in convincing Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the others to maintain the quiet because it is clear that if these groups continue to attack us, Egypt could suffer from Israel’s operations. So what Egypt is doing is for its own interests.
I would not describe our relations with Egypt as coordination. I prefer to say that it is in the Egyptian interest to keep stability and quiet. Without Egypt, I cannot imagine there would be any reality of peace on Israel’s southern front. They are the only ones who can convince the extremists to remain quiet. The Egyptian security establishment is efficient and professional.
The leader of any peace option is Egypt. Even a cold peace is better than any war. This is a pillar of our national security. In our country, the best option is to use the army only if you do not have another option.
The Threat to Israel from Iran
Israel’s identification of the Iranian nuclear threat was a great intelligence achievement. We identified the threat of a nuclear Iran in the mid-1990s, when Iran did not have a single missile that could reach Israel. Iran’s capabilities for developing nuclear weapons are no longer a question. They only have to make the decision. They have 5.5 tons of low-enriched uranium. They have hundreds of Shahab-3 missiles which can travel 1,500 km., and they have missiles with a range of 2,200 km. Their ambition is to become the regional superpower. They have the know-how to assemble nuclear warheads on missiles if they want to.
They have not yet crossed the Rubicon. Khamenei, who is the leader, not Ahmadinejad, relies on the brutal force of the Revolutionary Guard. Whenever he finds it appropriate, he is determined to develop the option to decide to develop nuclear weapons. He has not done so yet because he is shocked by the magnitude of exposure of these secret projects. For example, two years ago at the United Nations, the president of the United States exposed the existence of a top-secret project near Qom, and the Iranians were shocked. For a long time the world did not recognize the nature of this threat, but now there is a consensus among the world’s intelligence agencies: Iran is a threat.
There is no current existential threat to Israel, but a nuclear Iran has the potential of creating such a threat when they get the bomb. If Ahmadinejad and Khamenei keep saying that Israel
does not have the right to exist, then with nuclear capability it becomes serious. Without nuclear weapons, it remains just a statement. Iran without nuclear capability is a terrible threat but not an existential one. At the moment, they are using terror and we are suffering from it. The main issue today is how to prevent a nuclear Iran.
For the first time I see significant sanctions, but everything depends on the result – if they decide to pull back from the nuclear project. But even if they withdraw from the project, the know-how remains. In 2003, based on the perception that there was an existential threat, Iran froze the project.
Today in Lebanon, Hizbullah, which murdered former Lebanese prime minister Hariri, is a partner in the coalition government. The names of the murderers are known to everybody, including to the Lebanese police. But the president is not ordering the police to arrest the number two official in Hizbullah, who is responsible for the murder. Most importantly, from Israel’s perspective, Hizbullah has taken over half of Lebanon. Hizbullahstan is much more powerful militarily, or even politically, than Lebanon itself, heavily financed by Iran and Syria. They have at least 45,000 rockets, compared with 14,000 in 2006 at the time of the Second Lebanon War. There is also Iranian terror all over the world, with Iranians whose base is in Lebanon.
I cannot imagine Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or any of the other Arab countries tolerating a nuclear Iran. There is an Arabic word, “ajami,” which expresses disgust of the Persians. A nuclear Iran will destroy the stability of the Middle East and threaten the best interests of the world. If you ask any Arab leader about the greatest threat, he will say Iran – not Israel – but not publicly.
Concerned about Egypt
Israel is concerned about the dramatic changes in Egypt. There is no alternative to peaceful relations between us and Egypt, and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have declared that they are committed to peace, but I am not sure. Their ideology is different. Their dream is to establish an Islamic empire at the expense of Egypt, Jordan, and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority. Israel is excluded by definition since this is considered holy waqf land.
The new Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament in Cairo has repeatedly voted against relations with Israel. The Egyptians may declare they are committed to peace, but they find excuses to undermine it. The Muslim Brotherhood has visited Gaza, but mainly they are focusing on the political process in Egypt, including elections and the new constitution. As of July, there is to be a new president.
Israel is also concerned about Sinai, where we fully rely on the Egyptian government and army to overcome all kinds of threats, including smuggling. In order to pre-empt acts of terror, such as occurred last year, we are relying on our intelligence. The terrorists in Sinai are financed by Iran and they want to murder as many Israelis as they can. If there is terror from Sinai, this
complicates Israel’s relationship with Egypt, which is why we choose to preemptively kill the terrorists. To do this you need to have accurate and excellent intelligence all the time.
Syria Slaughters Its People
Of course Israel denounces the Syrian government’s slaughter of its people. Assad is an Alawite, and he is slaughtering his opponents. He will continue until he is defeated. For Israel, the Golan Heights is very quiet and stable because the Syrians are busy with their own problems. There are concerns about the fate of the strategic weapons that exist in Syria. For the time being they are secure, but we need to be on alert.
A Changed Turkey
Both Turkey and Iran used to be our best friends. We are doing our best to ease the tension between us and Turkey, but it is quite a challenge to digest and understand the changes that have occurred in Turkey. We do not like the way Turkey is cooperating with Iran from time to time, but the Iranians and the Turks have a 1,000-year-old tradition of rivalry. I cannot believe that the Turks believe there is room for friendship with Iran. If Iran goes nuclear, the Turks will be very upset.
Excellent Dialogue with the U.S., China, and Russia
Israel’s security relations with the United States are excellent and very valuable and qualitative
– psychologically, militarily, and strategically.
Israel’s relations with China are excellent. Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak paid a four-day visit there. The Chinese chief-of-staff, with almost 20 generals, has visited Israel, and our prime minister may visit China soon. I am encouraged by China’s deep appreciation of Israel, which is important both psychologically and economically. Israel has nominated a cabinet minister to be the next ambassador in China, officially reflecting an Israeli policy to enhance relations. At the same time, Israel has commitments to the United States regarding some areas of cooperation with China, and we are fully committed to them.
Putin of Russia was in Israel and expressed a deep commitment to our national security. They consider the one million Russian Jews in Israel as very important to Russia. However, the Russians are supplying weapons to Syria, including a supersonic missile against ships and other strategic targets. We have requested that they not supply such weapons because they will fall into the hands of Hizbullah.
All together, there is a paradox here. Israel is living in one of the most convenient periods of time from a security standpoint. Suicide attacks are behind us and there is deterrence against
rocket attacks. At the same time there are unprecedented challenges to our national security including the possibility of a nuclear Iran or even a nuclear Middle East, and we need to be prepared for a wide range of developments.
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Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad serves as Director of the Military/Political and Policy Bureau in Israel’s Ministry of Defense. He has also served as the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator for the Administered Territories, Director of the Research Division for the IDF’s Intelligence Branch, and as the IDF Spokesman. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on April 3, 2012.