YONAH JEREMY BOB
INSS said that threats from Iranian proxies in the North, including Hezbollah and from proxies in Syria, “are the greatest military threat in 2021.”
US PRESIDENT-ELECT Joe Biden announces Pete Buttigieg as his nominee for secretary of transportation in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday. / (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
Iran could decide to hit Israel hard in 2021 if it views the incoming Biden administration as restrained, according to the INSS annual report issued on Wednesday.
Covering regular national security issues from Hezbollah to Syria to Hamas, to the impact of normalization and diplomacy with the Palestinian Authority, the report also addresses less conventional security dilemmas like the coronavirus, internal domestic instability and climate change.
Regarding Iran, the report says, “Iran has an ‘open account’ with Israel, and it is possible that Tehran will act aggressively, primarily through its proxies, based on the premise that the new American administration will show restraint in its response and will reduce ‘the maximum pressure’” that it has faced.
Next, the report says that, “Israeli deterrence is strong on all fronts and its enemies do not want war with it, but that due to regional instability, constant friction and the difficulty of controlling dynamic developments, the probability of a [military] deterioration running out of control exists and requires a high level of readiness.”
In particular, INSS writes that threats from Iranian proxies in the North, including Hezbollah and from proxies in Syria, “are the greatest military threat in 2021,” and should be treated as such in terms of how much attention it is given by the defense establishment.
“The coronavirus crisis has not reduced the threat. Israel must also continue to act with determination and proactivity this year to weaken the Iranian-Shiite axis in order to prevent it from building up and strengthening its military front close to Israel,” says the report.
Framing the threat as Israel potentially facing hundreds of precision missiles, the view is that this could strike a strategic blow to Israel’s security and economic stability.
Citing the assassinations of top Iranian officials Qasem Soleimani and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, ongoing preemptive attacks on Iranian proxies in Syria, the US “maximum pressure” campaign, the coronavirus crisis and the drop in oil prices, there are plenty of reasons which could lead to Iran to lash out.
Despite Lebanon’s instability from the pandemic, economic and political crises, including from major recent explosions in Beirut blamed on the government, INSS says Hezbollah’s military might has not been reduced.
In fact, the report states that Iran and Hezbollah are expected to continue their dreams of trying to establish a precision missile threat on Israel’s borders, as well as to maintain some kind of a limited invasion capability against border villages.
Israel’s attacks on the transportation of precision missiles to the border has slowed, but not stopped the above goals, which could also include attacks emanating from Iraq or Yemen.
INSS recommends continuing attacks on the precision missiles project, while also increasing Israel’s home front defense and preemptive strike capabilities against Hezbollah.
When there is a threat from Iran and its proxies, responses must be carefully considered to get the best long-term results and to fit into a broader strategy.
Concepts like deterrence, victory in conflict and the end-goal of any clash must be continually revisited and updated according to the quickly evolving region.
Another major threat discussed by the report was the Iranian nuclear threat, which was framed as “less pressing in 2021, but presenting a much graver long-term potential threat,” than any other item.
After years of pressure from the Trump administration, INSS writes that the Islamic Republic views the incoming Biden administration as good news for likely being able to reactivate the 2015 nuclear deal.
According to the deal, the US and world powers gave Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for its keeping to various nuclear limits until 2025 and 2030.
The report asserts that Israel must both work hard to coordinate diplomatic positions with Biden regarding Iran’s nuclear program, while also “strengthening a reliable attack option,” should the ayatollahs decide to try to breakout to a nuclear weapon.
In the diplomatic realm, the US should be pressed to extend the nuclear restrictions, improve the IAEA inspections, limit Iran from advanced centrifuge research and ballistic missile testing and contain the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing regional behavior.
Moreover, the INSS says that Israel and the US must reach an understanding about under which circumstances Jerusalem would have a “green light” to preemptively strike Iran’s nuclear program.
Though Biden is expected to remain pro-Israel in his general orientation, the report suggests there will be differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The Palestinian problem also has not disappeared and especially the weakness could pressure and influence the Palestinians… toward violent means,” as they watch Israel march forward with normalization deals with other Arab states.
As such, the report suggests efforts to strengthen the stability of the PA, including pursuing potential interim deals which will maintain an eventual peace horizon.
The Abraham Accords and normalization with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and possibly additional countries in the future “are extremely important from a strategic standpoint, and have a positive impact, both on national security and in the economic sphere,” INSS writes.
Regarding Hamas, the approach should be a prolonged ceasefire along with the release of the civilians and bodies of IDF soldiers held in the Gaza Strip, in exchange for improved civilian conditions and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.
Continued efforts must pursue halting Hamas’s military buildup, says INSS.
Next, the report recommends seeking a deal with Saudi Arabia “which would have far-reaching implications” as well as coordinating new deals with Egypt, Jordan and the PA.
In a section unique to 2020, the report discusses how the coronavirus crisis “has exposed many weak points in the country: a deep and prolonged political crisis, resulting in repeated rounds of elections; paralysis in the government, which is operating without a budget; a faulty and inefficient decision-making process; widening gaps between groups in Israeli society; and a decline in solidarity.”
“For the first time, internal and multi-system dysfunction is listed as one of Israel’s main challenges,” states the report.
Recommendations include already projecting needs and strategies for unpredictable post-corona political, economic and sociological fallout which could extend even into 2022.
Regarding China, the report says, “It is necessary to increase Israel’s knowledge base on China and [to] improve the risk management regarding the relations with China.”
“Israel should maintain its channels for dialogue with Moscow, in order to ensure the freedom of action that Russia gives Israel in Syria, and maintain the greatest possible degree of strategic cooperation with Russia – despite the two countries’ different interests,” in many areas, writes INSS.
INSS is hand-delivering the report to President Reuven Rivlin in an official ceremony this afternoon