Herbert London: Egypt, Syria & Israel

May 1, 2013

Independence Day marked a major event in Israel’s history: A 65th Anniversary, a day of pomp, ceremony and remembrance. But it is also a day to take stock of Israel’s strategic position in the Middle East. Despite the relative calm, there are storm clouds on the horizon.

The instability in Egypt and the chaotic situation in Syria lead inevitability to concern about pressure from the south and the north. It is difficult for intelligence analysts to predict where and when the next conflict will arise, but instability often leads to military action.

At the moment, the Sinai is the equivalent of the Wild West. Terror groups operate there with impunity. Two days ago rockets were fired into Eilat. These Grad rockets didn’t cause any damage and, my suspicion is, the rockets were designed to increase tension between Egypt and the IDF. The Israeli force operated with restraint.

Egypt itself is at the point of complete collapse. Unemployment is at 50 percent, food stocks are dwindling rapidly, beans – a staple in the Egyptian diet – have increased 42 percent in the last two weeks. The Israeli fear is that desperate people do desperate things. Will the Morsi government seek control of an oil rich nation in order to obtain hard currency? Will it crack down on public dissidents becoming an autocratic state that dispenses with free elections? And what would that mean for Israel?

Syria is also in complete disarray. Bashar Assad will not hesitate to use brutal force against his own people and the so called rebels aren’t much better. Moreover, the war has spilled over into Lebanon and if al Qaeda or another radical group gains a foothold, the Golan Heights could become a target rich area.

At the moment war lords are vying for control within the rebel forces. When the dust settles, these groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra will attempt to gain influence by putting pressure on Israel. So far Israel has kept a lid on a major assault, but should sophisticated reinforcements appear, the IDF will have no alternative except to launch a devastating campaign.

The problem Israel faces is that it isn’t able to deal with a government.


still doesn’t have complete control over the Egyptian military and Assad is holding on for dear life. To complicate matters, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned, arguably the only figure capable of maintaining order in the West Bank. This resignation may make it easier for Abbas to negotiate a deal with Hamas, but whatever the circumstance, this development cannot be good news for Israel.

Nonetheless, Lt. General Benny Ganz, the Chief of Staff, said Israel will do whatever is necessary to protect its interests. An Air force Commander affirmed this view by noting Israel cannot let its guard down at any point. Increased regional tension only means the Israeli Air Force is on high alert.

For the time being, unrest translates into a preoccupation with local matters. That is the positive dimension of this scenario. But, when some form of stability emerges, the threat could increase quickly and with lethal force.

Israel resides in an unhealthy neighborhood. Yet the strength of the IDF, its advanced equipment and the morale of the troops give it an edge in any potential battle. It may be a struggle to maintain this superior position, but without it, Israel would not survive and, as I see it, neither would the Jewish people.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).

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