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Threat of Israel’s Regional Isolation and Imperatives for the Future

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  • November 22, 2013
    Fellows' Seminar

    Event: Fellows’ seminar
    Chair: Ambassador Rajiv Sikri
    External Discussants:  Dr. P R Kumaraswamy, Mr. Ashok Singh
    Internal Discussant: Mr. S Samuel C Rajiv

    The paper provides a comprehensive overview of Israel’s history since its birth in 1948 and examines the topical threat of its isolation in the West Asian region. A temporal overview of Israel’s troubled transition since 1948 has been given, along with a meticulous account of Israel’s position during Arab spring and its WMD policy (Weapons of Mass Destruction i.e. Chemical and Nuclear weapons).

    In his study, the author has raised four pertinent research questions; the issue of Israel’s reorientation of regional policy in recent past, Effect of Arab Spring on Israel, Israel’s policy shift in response to Syrian crisis-Iran nuclear issue, and Imperatives for Israel’s regional strategy.

    The paper was structured in three sections; the first section elaborates Israel and its engagement with the region with an exhaustive timeline of Israel’s relations with its neighbours. The next section analyses impact of Arab Spring on Israel’s regional posture and Israel’s ambiguous policy on Chemical and Nuclear weapons. The last section highlights the likely future trends for Israel’s regional engagement.

    Israel and its Engagement with the region

    In the first section, the author states that throughout its brief history, national security has always dominated Israel’s strategic thought in the region. Israel’s foreign policy was defined as a culmination of three factors; its strategic location, Arab-Israeli conflict and Arab rejection of Israel and it was further suggested that Israel’s strategic thought was always dominated by national security. The period of Israel’s engagement in the region has been classified into three distinct phases; 1948-1991, 1991-2005 and 2005 onwards. The author opined that the first phase highlighted Israel’s fight for survival and its strategy of viewing the region through the spectrum of “peace through security”. The second phase was one of a reconciliatory approach. During this phase, Israel traversed from its traditional security oriented approach to a distinctly different reconciliatory strategic approach. The author built his arguments based on Israeli Prime minister Rabin’s land-for-peace policy. Reference to Madrid conference (1991), Oslo Accords (1993) and Oslo II i.e. Taba Agreement (1995) was made to substantiate the main argument.  This period also witnessed the peace treaty with Jordan in 1994. The third phase has however witnessed the return of security oriented approach. In this section, author outlined the failure of Ariel Sharon’s Gaza Disengagement Plan of 2005 to bring about any lasting peace. The author highlighted the impact of other important developments in the region on Israel’s regional policy; particularly Saddam Hussein’s ouster and ensuing political shifts in Iraq, Iran’s escalating influence across the Levant, and rise of Hamas and Hezbollah.  The author pointed out that Israel witnessed a net deterioration in its regional posture during this period, particularly towards the end of 2010 when Arab uprisings engulfed West Asia.

    Israel and Arab Spring

    Developments in Arab World-particularly regional players-Egypt and Syria were discussed. The author highlighted how Turkey and Iran tried to make the best of these revolutions while Israel kept getting pushed into a corner. Author contended that Arab Spring aggravated Israel’s isolation in the region, and “rise of Islamists on political maps of the countries” was highlighted as a major concern for Israel.

    Weapons of Mass Destruction in the region and Israel

    In the section, the author drew attention towards Israel’s policy of ambiguity on Chemical and Nuclear weapons. Israel’s regional threat perception was also examined to understand why Israel maintains this ambiguity. Most importantly, author highlighted that destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is likely to put enormous pressure on Israel to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. Author referred to various international reports to confirm Israel’s nuclear weapons programme, and emphasized that future of Iran-US nuclear deal will be an important factor in determining Israel’s isolation in the future.

    Conclusion: Likely Future Trends

    In the last section of the paper, the author briefly summed up Israel’s equation with its neighbours to reiterate Israel’s escalating regional isolation. Author noted that it was time for Israel to think in terms of enhancing confidence building measures in West Bank and Gaza, and changing its position on CWC and NPT. Author suggested that there is a need to signal diplomatic willingness to resolve Palestine issue and by altering its anti-Iran rhetoric.

    Comments and Observations:

    Mr. Ashok Singh appreciated the author for extending the scope of his study beyond the clichéd Israel Palestine issue. He urged the author to interpret Israel’s perception of its own strategic policy in the region. With respect to Israel’s regional isolation, he stated that Israel has a policy of keeping distance and it enjoys the threat. The author was asked to offer concrete suggestions to guide Israel’s future imperatives.

    Dr. P R Kumaraswamy mentioned that in the current scenario Iran is perceived as the most potent threat to Israel, and in light of recent developments, Iran is likely to emerge as a decisive player in West Asia. He urged the author to speculate as to how Israel prepares to face Iran resurgence- via reconciliation or retaliation. The decline in US engagement with Israel post-2009 was also underlined, and he advised the author to comment on role of US in shaping Israel’s regional policy.

    Dr. Samual Rajiv appreciated author’s analysis of Israel’s regional policy dynamics. He urged the author to focus more on contemporary issues and also encompass Israeli narrative on peace.

    Ambassador Rajiv Sikri noted that the paper aptly underlined the issue of Israel’s security oriented approach. He highlighted the role of US in shaping Israel’s policy and urged the author to include US factor within the framework of this paper. He pointed out that within Israel, there is dwindling public support for hard lined policy and thus it’s essential to understand public as well as diplomatic perception about regional policy. With reference to Israel’s policy of ambiguity on Chemical and Nuclear weapons, he asserted that Israel will gradually succumb to the compelling regional circumstances and declare its stocks.

    The discussion was followed by Question and Answer round, where questions regarding Saudi-Israel cooperation against Iran, GCC’s economic threat to Israel and Israel’s internal politics were raised.

    Chair concluded the session by commenting on evolving geopolitics of West Asia and India’s capability to intervene in the region.
    Report prepared by Divya Malhotra