In this Stratfor article George Friedman discusses Israel's strategic circumstances. He argues that while for the past several decades Israel could act with a fair degree of independence, it is entering a new situation, particularly with regards to the rise of Iranian influence, that forces it to depend on outside powers, principally the United States, for support.
I think he is right that Israel is losing room to maneuver on its own. However, I think he tends to overestimate the policy inertia in the State Department while underestimating the animus of the Obama administration.
Regardless, it is an interesting piece. I've excerpted the beginning of it below and, as always, you can follow the link at the end of the excerpt to read the entire article.
For the article's Hot Stratfor Babe I examined the ranks of Israeli actresses and after careful deliberation I selected Mili Avital for the honor.
Before moving to Hollywood Ms Avital started her career on the stage and screen of Israel where she won an Israeli Academy Award. Her most recognizable American role has been the female lead in Stargate, which is a polite way of saying the rest of her career has been less than stellar. None the less, she seems to stay busy, even if it is just making made for TV movies, straight to DVD flops and doing the occasional guest spot on a TV drama.
Israel's New Strategic EnvironmentBy George Friedman, April 3, 2012
Israel is now entering its third strategic environment. The constant threat of state-on-state war defined the first, which lasted from the founding of the Jewish state until its peace treaty with Egypt. A secure periphery defined the second, which lasted until recently and focused on the Palestinian issue, Lebanon and the rise of radical Sunni Islamists. The rise of Iran as a regional power and the need to build international coalitions to contain it define the third.
Israel's fundamental strategic problem is that its national security interests outstrip its national resources, whether industrial, geographic, demographic or economic. During the first phase, it was highly dependent on outside powers -- first the Soviet Union, then France and finally the United States -- in whose interest it was to provide material support to Israel. In the second phase, the threat lessened, leaving Israel relatively free to define its major issues, such as containing the Palestinians and attempting to pacify Lebanon. Its dependence on outside powers decreased, meaning it could disregard those powers from time to time. In the third phase, Israel's dependence on outside powers, particularly the United States, began increasing. With this increase, Israel's freedom for maneuver began declining.
Containing the Palestinians by Managing its Neighbors
The Palestinian issue, of course, has existed since Israel's founding. By itself, this issue does not pose an existential threat to Israel, since the Palestinians cannot threaten the Israeli state's survival. The Palestinians have had the ability to impose a significant cost on the occupation of the West Bank and the containing of the Gaza Strip, however. They have forced the Israelis to control significant hostile populations with costly, ongoing operations and to pay political costs to countries Israel needs to manage its periphery and global interests. The split between Hamas and Fatah reduced the overall threat but raised the political costs. This became apparent during the winter of 2008-2009 during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza when Hamas, for its own reasons, chose to foment conflict with Israel. Israel's response to Hamas' actions cost the Jewish state support in Europe, Turkey and other places.
Ideological or religious considerations aside, the occupation of the territories makes strategic sense in that if Israel withdraws, Hamas might become militarized to the point of threatening Israel with direct attack or artillery and rocket fire. Israel thus sees itself forced into an occupation that carries significant political costs in order to deal with a theoretical military threat. The threat is presently just theoretical, however, because of Israel's management of its strategic relations with its neighboring nation-states.
Israel has based its management of its regional problem less on creating a balance of power in the region than on taking advantage of tensions among its neighbors to prevent them from creating a united military front against Israel. From 1948 until the 1970s, Lebanon refrained from engaging Israel. Meanwhile, Jordan's Hashemite regime had deep-seated tensions with the Palestinians, with Syria and with Nasserite Egypt. In spite of Israeli-Jordanian conflict in 1967, Jordan saw Israel as a guarantor of its national security. Following the 1973 war, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel that created a buffer zone in the Sinai Peninsula.
By then, Lebanon had begun to shift its position, less because of any formal government policy and more because of the disintegration of the Lebanese state and the emergence of a Palestine Liberation Organization presence in southern Lebanon. Currently, with Syria in chaos, Jordan dependent on Israel and Egypt still maintaining the treaty with Israel despite recent Islamist political gains, only Lebanon poses a threat, and that threat is minor.
The Palestinians therefore lack the political or military support to challenge Israel. This in turn has meant that other countries' alienation over Israeli policy toward the Palestinians has carried little risk. European countries opposed to Israeli policy are unlikely to take significant action. Because political opposition cannot translate into meaningful action, Israel can afford a higher level of aggressiveness toward the Palestinians.
Thus, Israel's strongest interest is in maintaining divisions among its neighbors and maintaining their disinterest in engaging Israel. In different ways, unrest in Egypt and Syria and Iran's regional emergence pose a serious challenge to this strategy.
Egypt is the ultimate threat to Israel. It has a huge population and, as it demonstrated in 1973, it is capable of mounting complex military operations.
But to do what it did in 1973, Egypt needed an outside power with an interest in supplying Egypt with massive weaponry and other support. In 1973, that power was the Soviet Union, but the Egyptians reversed their alliance position to the U.S. camp following that war. Once their primary source of weaponry became the United States, using that weaponry depended heavily on U.S. supplies of spare parts and contractors.
At this point, no foreign power would be capable of, or interested in, supporting the Egyptian military should Cairo experience regime change and a break with the United States. And a breach of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty alone would not generate a threat to Israel. The United States would act as a brake on Egyptian military capabilities, and no new source would step in. Even if a new source did emerge, it would take a generation for the Egyptians to become militarily effective using new weapon systems. In the long run, however, Egypt will remain Israel's problem.
The near-term question is Syria's future. Israel had maintained a complex and not always transparent relationship with the Syrian government. In spite of formal hostilities, the two shared common interests in Lebanon. Israel did not want to manage Lebanon after Israeli failures in the 1980s, but it still wanted Lebanon -- and particularly Hezbollah -- managed. Syria wanted to control Lebanon for political and economic reasons and did not want Israel interfering there. An implicit accommodation was thus possible, one that didn't begin to unravel until the United States forced Syria out of Lebanon, freeing Hezbollah from Syrian controls and setting the stage for the 2006 war.
Israel continued to view the Alawite regime in Syria as preferable to a radical Sunni regime. In the context of the U.S. presence in Iraq, the threat to Israel came from radical Sunni Islamists; Israel's interests lay with whoever opposed them. Today, with the United States out of Iraq and Iran a dominant influence there, the Israelis face a more complex choice. If the regime of President Bashar al Assad survives (with or without al Assad himself), Iran -- which is supplying weapons and advisers to Syria -- will wield much greater influence in Syria. In effect, this would create an Iranian sphere of influence running from western Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria and into Lebanon via Hezbollah. It would create a regional power. And an Iranian regional power would pose severe dangers to Israel.