The Federation-sponsored trip of 70 representatives of Jewish organizations and synagogues was a chance to see and hear what is happening in Israel, both new and not so new. One of our speakers was Alon Ben-David, a well-known senior defense correspondent and, as someone there described him, Israel’s Walter Cronkite.
Ben-David described Israel as being in a good position strategically. Israel’s traditional enemies are imploding. No foreign armies are on Israel’s borders. Israel faces no existential threat at this time.
There might be a future existential threat from Iran. While Ben-David views the Iranian nuclear deal as bad, it does give Israel 10 years to prepare for the moment when there is more of a threat.
While it is a bad deal, Israel might find itself alone if the United States pulls out, so he believes that the United States should stay in the deal. Also, there is some ability to fix the situation with international cooperation while the deal is in place.
No one is sure of the future of Syria. It is a Russian-oriented state.
Iraq is two-thirds Shia-dominated and one-third Kurdish. Will the Sunni accept that situation in the long run?
Meanwhile, there is no real Lebanon and no Yemen.
For Israel, this is a time of strategic opportunities. The key word is frenemies. Everyone is working together in certain ways, and everyone is undermining one another in other ways. For example, Israel and Turkey do not want Iran to dominate the region, so they will cooperate while being cautious of each other.
Other Middle Eastern countries are willing to work with Israel on various issues. In 2017, Israel bombed Syria 35 times. No one paid attention. (That was before Israel shot down an Iranian drone and Syria downed an Israeli jet.)
Russia understands Israel’s position and looks at Israel as the force that can interfere with its plans. But Russia is a responsible adversary Israel can talk with and deal with.
The Russians are a restraining and stabilizing force in the region. Hezbollah knows that if it starts something, it might have to deal with Russia as well as Israel. Russia has leased an air base in Syria for 50 years; that is one reason Russia wants to maintain a lid on the region.
Israel has bombed Egyptian territory 20 times in the past year — always in the Sinai with Egypt’s approval. Much of the bombing is to prevent cross-border activity. Egypt just does not want to be embarrassed.
Israel is making friends out of individual Syrians by helping with medical care. There is enormous brutality in Syria. But 3,800 Syrian patients are being helped in Israel after making their way to the border.
Word has spread in Syria, and more patients are seeking help. As one Syrian said, “I had been taught that you had horns and a tail. … But then I heard that you were human. Others told me this, and I came for help.”
Israel is investing in resources and activities to protect itself. Those efforts are putting off a major war.
This is considered a “campaign between the wars.” It is a daily campaign, under the radar, of keeping adversaries uncomfortable about going to war. If there is a major war, the enemy will be less capable because of this policy of deferring conflict.
Every major country around Israel is at war in some fashion. Israel is a relative island of stability.