Today marks six years since the cessation of military operations in the July War. The "Israeli" military establishment is hoping that the outcome of the current revolts sweeping the region will work in their favor, reversing the strategic setback suffered at the hands of Hizbullah in 2006.
Since the declaration of the state of "Israel" in 1948, every war it launched had its own peculiar global and regional strategic environment which set the circumstances and impetus for the decision to go to war. The war launched by "Israel" on Hizbullah and Lebanon in 2006 was also a product of a strategic environment that made it possible and imperative.
It was necessary to eliminate Hizbullah, its fighting capacity, and military threat to "Israel". Additionally, it aimed to pave the way for Washington to carry out its plans for the Middle East by way of Lebanon.
On the eve of the 2006 war, "Israel" enjoyed two strategic assets. The first was
the Hosni Mubarak regime on its southern border, which had guaranteed the neutrality of Egypt for the past thirty years, thus allowing Israel to launch its wars on Lebanon, Palestine, and the region without worrying about the Egyptian front.
The second was the US occupation of Iraq, a strategic development that promised - according to "Israeli" projections at the time - the neutralization of its eastern and northern fronts. Iraq is considered the strategic depth of these two fronts, in addition to its ability to contain Iran.
At the time, "Israel" seemed bolstered by an international and regional strategic fortification which would be completed by the subjugation of Hizbullah and Syria. At the time, "Israel" seemed bolstered by an international and regional strategic fortification which would be completed by the subjugation of Hizbullah and Syria, through a war which had all its elements of success in place. This was in the wake of the failure of its bet on an internal process to disarm Hizbullah following the departure of the Syrian army from Lebanon in 2005.
"Israel's" assessment at the time saw the Syrian withdrawal as an opportunity to crush Hizbullah and smash its capabilities, making it impossible for the party to rebuild its fighting capacity. But as the bet on an internal Lebanese process failed, the war became more necessary and urgent.
The repercussions of "Israel's" subsequent failure were not limited to Lebanon; it led to a transformation deep inside "Israel's" strategic thinking. The most prominent manifestation of such a shift was expressed by the current "Israeli" war minister Ehud Barak in Yedioth Ahronoth on 10 August 2012. "The shock of the 2006 war is the reason the army high command is opposed to attacking Iran's nuclear facilities," he said.
In any case, Tel Aviv and Washington's greatest problem was not eliminated with the failure of the 2006 war. The war allowed Hizbullah to draw the needed lessons and begin accumulating its ballistic and fighting capabilities. The Damascus-Tehran front was reinforced and Hizbullah was viewed differently in the eyes of the Israelis.
It was no longer just a resistance movement preventing the re-occupation of Lebanon and thwarting "Israel's" plots in the region. Rather, it became a growing strategic threat and a basic foundation for current regional equations.
Arab Spring or "Israeli" Winter?
Tel Aviv and Washington's greatest problem was not eliminated with the failure of the 2006 war. The war allowed Hizbullah to draw the needed lessons and begin accumulating its ballistic and fighting capabilities. The story of the term recommended by "Israeli" intelligence to be used by politicians to denote the current developments in the Arab region summarizes how the "Israeli" establishment perceives it surrounding strategic environment.
After the use of the term "Arab Spring" by "Israeli" politicians and commentators, the intelligence community fell into disarray about what term truly expresses the reality. They finally picked a "neutral" term, "the earthquake."
Behind the choice of the term lies the possibility that events in the Arab world may culminate in a "spring" that could provide "Israel" with a regional umbrella protecting its security and existence. It could also end in a "winter" that would transform the existing wave of change to a threat to its existence and national security.
In other words, the postulate currently adopted by the "Israeli" establishment is that the events in the Arab world exacerbate imminent threats.
What distinguishes the current strategic environment, compared to the eve of the 2006 war, was the loss of "Israel's" southern strategic asset, despite its gamble that the new establishment would not be as bad as it feared. Bets and hopes aside, there is a reality that "Israel" cannot ignore. A new process was initiated on its southern borders.
The "Israelis" do see the possibility of such threats dissipating due to political and economic constraints inside Egypt. After all, there is a strong possibility that the new Egyptian regime will have priorities other than "Israel".
However, it seems certain that a state of anxiety is taking hold of "Israel's" military establishment, leading it to demand an increase in its budget to enable it to be ready to contain any sudden developments in the Egyptian arena. To demonstrate the impact of these developments, it is useful to look at the comparison made by Major General Giora Eiland, who had held important positions such as heading the Planning Directorate of the "Israeli" military and later as a national security adviser.
The postulate currently adopted by the "Israeli" establishment is that events in the Arab world could exacerbate imminent threats. Since the signing of the Camp David agreement - more precisely since 1985 - the size of the armed forces was reduced, especially on the ground, while improving their fighting capabilities. "Moreover, in real terms the "Israeli" military budget has remained more or less constant since 1974. Yet because the GDP has grown significantly in the 37 years since then, security allocations have dropped from 30 percent of the GDP in 1974 to less than 7 percent in 2010," he said.
"Israel" has also lost its eastern front stability following the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, whose regime is currently allied with Iran. "The two new events are expected to impact us: the results of the elections in Egypt [which led to a Muslim Brotherhood victory] and the new reality emerging in Iraq which puts "Israel" in the face of challenges from the east in a manner that we have not seen or dealt with for almost ten years," the "Israeli" Prime Minister told the Knesset on 28 December 2011.
"Israel's" Strategic Situation
In a lecture at Bar-Ilan University on 6 June 2007, "Israeli" prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then in the opposition, said that "the 1967 war meant [for "Israel"] the transition from a state whose reason for existence was being questioned to a state that cannot be overcome."
He added that ""Israeli" victory and deterrence were a critical factor for Arab countries to understand the importance of recognizing "Israel's" existence and making peace with it. This had led to peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and indicators for reconciliation with Palestinians."
"Starting with the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, through to the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and following the second Lebanon war (2006), this tendency was reversed and it no longer seems now that "Israel" is invincible. The question about its existence is back on the horizon, not just for "Israel's" enemies, but also its friends."
Another strategic opportunity looms, from the "Israeli" perspective, whose prerequisites were absent in the past years. It is betting on the possibility of toppling Bashar al-Assad's regime. This description of "Israel's" strategic reality, as told by Netanyahu, came 10 months after the war ceased on 14 August 2006. Hizbullah had not yet completed assembling the ballistic capabilities which made it into a vital component of the regional equation, as admitted by the "Israelis" themselves.
Furthermore, the Mubarak regime was still in power in Egypt and neither "Israel" nor anyone else had any indicators that it would fall in the next few years. Iraq was also still under occupation by the US and the future was not clear.
Netanyahu touched on this in his Bar-Ilan address. He said that "the fact that currently there is no threat [against "Israel"] from the east, does not mean that the threat will not occur in the future, if the situation in Iraq does not develop in the directions we would like to see."
This is how Netanyahu saw "Israel's" strategic environment in 2007. In the regional and strategic situation in 2012, another strategic opportunity looms, from the "Israeli" perspective, whose prerequisites were absent in the past years. It is betting on the possibility of toppling Bashar al-Assad's regime, which had embraced and supported the resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine, and provided them with strategic depth. Their victories transformed the regional and strategic equations in the region. Today, however, many "Israeli" officials show some optimism about the outcome of Syrian developments in the foreseeable future and its strategic impact on "Israel".
Source: al-Akhbar Lebanese daily