By Eddo Bibro Bar:
This is the first of a three piece series analyzing outcomes and impacts of the recent Israeli election. Next, Jill R. Russell will analyse the “new” US position on Israel.
The Israeli elections on Tuesday have ended with the overwhelming (and some might say surprising) victory of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Now that the dust is starting to settle on what has been a very emotional election campaign, it is time to examine the effect that Netanyahu’s re-election might have on domestic and regional security.
Perhaps the biggest change following the elections is that the coalition Netanyahu will most likely form will comprise of strictly right-wing parties. In recent decades, most coalitions in Israel were comprised of members from different parts of the political spectrum. However, the new coalition is expected to consist of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Bennett’s radical right Jewish Home Party (comprised mostly of members who live in the settlements) and the economically oriented right-wing party of Moshe Kahlon, who is himself a former senior Likud member.
During the election campaign Netanyahu repeatedly claimed that the Islamic State poses a direct threat to Israel’s security. This does not appear to be the case. The IS-affiliated groups in the Sinai desert are currently contained by the Egyptian Army, which is aggressively trying to eradicate them, and they are not likely to open a second front against Israel. On Israel’s northern border, Hezbollah, aided by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, are focusing most of their resources and efforts on defeating IS while simultaneously fighting Jabat al Nusra forces, which have obtained a number of strongholds in South Lebanon and are undermining Hezbollah’s military supremacy in the region. It is therefore safe to assume that IS will not be posing a threat on the Israeli northern border in the foreseeable future.
Indeed, the threat to Israel’s northern border is not posed by IS but by Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s ongoing war with IS and Jabat al Nusra has led its units to gain control in the Golan Heights, an area previously controlled by the Syrian Army. Israel will not allow Hezbollah (and vicariously Iran) to take over the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, as it is perceived by Israel as an area of great strategic importance. Hezbollah, which has exhausted its resources in the four-year war in Syria, has no interest in opening a new front against Israel. Yet changing circumstances might lead it to try and conquer parts of the Golan Heights. It is a scenario that Israel can’t allow and it might lead it to engage in conflict with Hezbollah.
Gaza will continue to be a major problem for Netanyahu. Operation Protective Edge has left the Gaza Strip in pieces and it is struggling to rebuild itself. Egypt’s persistent stand against Hamas, which includes closing the border between Egypt and Gaza and fighting Hamas’s smuggling industry – which has flourished since 2005 – has taken a big toll on Hamas and the Gazan population alike.
The declining economic state of the Gazan population, along with the loss of hope for political reconciliation with the PLO, are causing public unrest in Gaza. While Hamas is not interested in another war at this moment, as it has drained its resources, if the unrest continues or intensifies, Hamas might be pushed to attack Israel in order to reassert its dominance and regain its legitimacy in the Gazan streets. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition will not allow him to alleviate the blockade on Gaza, as this will be perceived as a concession to a terrorist organisation, but leaving the situation as it is at the moment will likely result in a war that neither of the sides wants.
In the West Bank, it seems like Netanyahu has dug himself a hole from which he will have a hard time finding his way out. Over the last few days of the election campaign, Netanyahu announced that the two-State solution is no longer viable, thereby retracting his 2009 ‘Bar Ilan Speech’, in which he declared that he would be striving to reach a peace agreement based on the two-State solution. In addition, his predicted right-wing coalition will not allow Netanyahu to stop building in the settlements, since the parties are heavily dependent on the settlers’ support. The US government and the EU have both demanded that Israel stops building in the settlements, and if there is no let up in the building then the tensions in the West Bank may be brought to a boiling point.
The PLO is likely to try and unilaterally achieve recognition of its independence through the UN. Whereas in the past such an option seemed extremely unlikely to succeed as the US was expected to automatically veto such requests, the deteriorating relations between Israel and the US, fuelled by the mutual loathing and complete distrust between the American and Israeli heads of state, might lead the US to back such a Palestinian request. In the unlikely event that Netanyahu does in fact pursue a two-state solution, it would probably lead to the collapse of his coalition. Any attempt to pacify his coalition allies by militarily preventing the establishment of an internationally recognised Palestinian State is likely to lead to Israel’s isolation in the international community.
Netanyahu’s six years in power have severely damaged Israel’s international relations and have alienated Israel’s greatest allies. Obama dislikes Netanyahu, who, according to sources in the White House, is referred to as ‘chicken shit’. Hollande has a similarly dim view of the Israeli leader, particularly after the speech Netanyahu delivered following the attack on Charlie Hebdo in which he urged the French Jewish community to flee France. Moreover, relations with Germany are at a historic low.
Israel has always relied on international support, in one way or another, in times of war. Despite the fact that some of the threats Israel is facing may erupt due to circumstances that are not due to Netanyahu’s actions, the international isolation caused by his actions and policies, the radicalisation of his rhetoric, and the predicted formation of a radical right-wing coalition are the main reasons that it will be difficult for Israel to respond to potential future threats.
Eddo Bar holds a BA in Philosophy and Political Science from Tel Aviv University. He is currently studying towards an MA in International Conflict Studies. and Previously worked as a TA, RA and a research intern in the INSS. His work work focused on Peacemaking in Israel since 1967 and history, strategy and warfare in the Middle East.