'The American-Iranian Nexus is the Most Dangerous Challenge for Israel's National Security'

Global Centre Stage

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party won a surprise victory in the country’s recent elections. In an exclusive interview with Diplomatist’s Editor, Yamini Chowdhury, Prof Efraim Inbar, Director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, explains the implications of the election results, the future of the Israel-Palestinian peace process and the American-Israeli strategic partnership.

Do the Israeli election results represent progress toward the consolidation of Israel’s party system into two blocs centred on two large parties?

It is not clear as yet. We have seen over time oscillations in the size of the two main blocs.

How do you view the historic rise of the Arab Israeli coalition to become the third-largest bloc in the parliament?

The size of the United Arab list is only slightly larger than the three Arab parties that united in order to pass the higher threshold (3.25%) decided upon in the last Knesset (Parliament). Unless Arab parties become more pragmatic and start taking care of mundane affairs that affect the daily lives of their constituencies, they will remain outside the political game. It is likely that in the next election, we will see a new Arab party that is less radical and more devoted to dealing with domestic issues rather than foreign policy.

Do you believe that the impressive showing of the Joint List has brought with it renewed calls for unity in Palestine?

The Palestinian national movement is very divided primarily between the Islamists (Hamas, the largest faction) and the more secular elements (Fatah, the largest faction). Since June 2007, when Hamas militia took over Gaza, all attempts to bring some unity have failed. This schism reflects deep social and political divisions in Palestinian society that are augmented by the general rise of political Islam in the Arab world.

How can this spirit of unity be spread to the West Bank and Gaza?

The Arabs in Israel remain divided, and are united for electoral purposes only. They are not a leading force in Palestinian society.

How do you view the political power of this bloc with regard to national security issues?

Zero. The radical positions adopted by the leadership of the Arabs in Israel marginalise them in Israel’s political system.

Do you think that the Arab Israeli coalition will remain a minority party with limited influence?

Unless the Arabs in Israel develop parties with leadership that is not radical and is ready for pragmatic cooperation with Zionists parties, their influence will remain minimal.

Do you believe that the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu threatens global efforts to achieve a lasting two-state solution? What is the future of the Israel-Palestinian peace process?

Netanyahu’s victory reflects the Israeli consensus that the Palestinian national movement is unable to make a historic compromise with the Zionist movement. The Israeli experience since 1993 (Oslo agreements) is that the Palestinians are not pragmatic and make demands that Israel cannot meet despite Israel’s willingness to make huge territorial concessions for the sake of establishing a Palestinian state. Israelis view the Palestinians as an authoritarian, dysfunctional political entity that cannot overcome its domestic divisions, driven by radical Islamist impulses. Indeed, the hope that the Palestinians will turn into friendly neighbours was replaced by the realisation that Israel will need to counter Palestinian terrorism for a long time. The Palestinian issue was not even debated in recent elections as there is consensus that the Palestinians must change before peace is attainable. Israelis view the simmering conflict with the Palestinians as a protracted ethno-religious conflict similar to the one in Nagorno Karabakh.

How does Israel view the deal on Iran’s nuclear programme between the world powers and Iran?

Israel is bewildered at the American naïve and irresponsible behaviour that permits Iran to retain illegally built facilities at Fordow and Arak, and to preserve its stockpiles of enriched uranium. What counts is not the Obama’s administration expression of satisfaction with the prospective deal, but the perceptions of Middle East actors. For example, Saudi Arabia and Egypt deplore the fact that the US legitimised the status of Iran as a nuclear threshold state and will do their best to build a similar infrastructure leading inevitably to nuclear proliferation in the region – a strategic nightmare for everybody. Unfortunately, only military action can stop a determined state such as the Islamic Republic of Iran to get a nuclear bomb.

How will the result affect US-Israel relations?

Israel is watching with growing bewilderment the endeavour of the Obama administration to reach a “grand bargain” with Iran. This puts Jerusalem on an inevitable collision course with its most important ally. Israel continues to benefit from a large reservoir of sympathy among the populace of the United States, and most notably within the Republican controlled Congress. Yet, while Obama is not popular, as president he can extract heavy costs in the military, diplomatic and strategic arenas. The remaining 22 months until he leaves office must be weathered with minimum damage to the American-Israeli strategic partnership, particularly if Israel chooses to make good on its threat not to allow Iran to become a nuclear threat. With this in mind, the American-Iranian nexus is the most dangerous challenge for Israel’s national security in the near future.

What will be the future of the Israeli relationship with the European Union?

The EU is not a strategic actor of any significance. Israel’s bilateral relations with European countries are good and are based on common interests. Some European countries are obsessed, however, with the Palestinian issue, but even in Europe, there is growing realisation that the Palestinians must get their act together before they can busy themselves with state building. We can clearly detect weariness on the part of Europe to continue to fund a dysfunctional, corrupt and authoritarian Palestinian entity.

Go to Content Page

Author

Yamini Chowdhury & Prof Efraim Inbar Prof Efraim Inbar

Yamini Chowdhury is Diplomatist Editor.
Prof Efraim Inbar Prof Efraim Inbar, Director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University,

Back to Top

Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.

Search