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Are Israel's existential threats slowly disappearing?

The former head of the Mossad says Israel no longer faces existential threats, while one of Netanyahu’s top advisors calls the Sunni Arab states of the Middle East ‘Israel’s allies.’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a welcoming ceremony for INS Rahav, Israel's newest submarine. (photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a welcoming ceremony for INS Rahav, Israel’s newest submarine. (photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

If there’s one thing most Israelis can agree on, it is that the world is against us. At the very least, so it goes, Israel is surrounded by enemies on all fronts, and the Jewish state’s existence is always in peril. This mantra was seared into the fabric of the Israeli consciousness from the founding of the state and persists until today.

Perhaps that is why recent statements by top-brass Israeli officials come as such a surprise. In a recent interview with Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, outgoing Mossad head Tamir Pardo stated that while Israel still faces security challenges, it no longer faces any existential threats.

While warning that the nature of the challenges Israel must face has shifted dramatically in recent years, Pardo conceded: “Everyone knows Israel is a very strong nation. This is no longer a time when Israel, as a young state, is forced to deal with existential fears.”

Pardo isn’t alone in challenging what is just plain common sense for most people. In July of last year, Dore Gold, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, gave a presentation to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York, in which he labeled Sunni Arab states “Israel’s allies.”

Gold used the term twice in the presentation, which focused on the shortcomings of the Iran nuclear deal: “What we have is a regime on a roll that is trying to conquer the Middle East,” Gold said of Iran, “and it’s not Israel talking, that is our Sunni Arab neighbors — and you know what? I’ll use another expression – that is our Sunni Arab allies talking.”

Thus, while Dore was warning of one existential threat — a nuclear Iran — he was essentially rebutting the long-held view according to which the Arab states of the Middle East are actively working to annihilate Israel.

And while Gold did not specify which Sunni Arab nations he was referring to, his public meeting with retired Saudi general and former advisor to the Riyadh government, Anwar Eshki, at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations in June is a sign that the former is putting his money where his mouth is. Saudi Arabia may pay lip service to the Palestinian struggle by refusing to recognize Israel — and thereby perpetuating such absurdities like forbidding its national soccer team from playing in the West Bank — but in the arena of an ever-polarized Middle East, where Sunni states are vying for regional power against Iran and its proxies, Israel’s relationship with the House of Saud is all but symbolic.

Other Gulf States such Qatar and Oman allowed Israeli trade missions to be opened on their territory during the mid-1990s but they have since been closed due to protests over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Dore Gold. (photo: EinGedi2/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dore Gold. (photo: EinGedi2/CC BY-SA 3.0)

In November of last year, it was revealed that Israel would open a new delegation in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, which would be accredited to the International Renewable Energy Agency, based in the city. The UAE was revealed last year to be allowing regular semi-covert flights between the two countries. It was later revealed that Abu Dhabi has a mass civil surveillance system installed by an Israeli-owned company. However, whether or not these fledgling links will eventually blossom into normalized relations between Israeli and the Sunni states is yet to be seen.

Regardless of what the future may hold, Pardo and Dore’s remarks are telling, especially when considering just how anathema they are to the worldview promulgated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who misses no opportunity to remind Israelis that they are under threat of extinction at any given moment. We must also remember that Israelis are no more prone to paranoia than any other group, and that years of wars and terrorism have only perpetuated the feeling of being surrounded, not to mention detested.

The logic of Netanyahu’s fear-mongering, therefore, works as much internally as it does externally: from the Arab hordes being bused to polling stations to the shameless comparisons between Palestinians and ISIS to years and years of saber-rattling against the Islamic Republic — Netanyahu ensures that the fears that haunt Israelis beyond its borders are also the ones lurking just around the corner.

Whether Pardo and Dore are right in their assessment, then, is of little consequence. In a country that has given Netanyahu a clear mandate to rule, fear — no matter how justified or exaggerated — is the most valuable currency.

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    1. Gustav

      Complacency. That’s how most of us felt after 1967. Then we got a rude awakening in Yom Kipur in 1973.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        The folks at Blue White Future (which includes Ami Ayalon, former director of Shin Bet) say that Israel could unilaterally withdraw to the 67 borders safely (
        http://bluewhitefuture.org/ ), so this poses a question we need to ponder: believe Ami Ayalon and other Israeli elites about security issues, or Gustav?…hmmmm, we’re going to have to devote some deep thought about this….

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Lotsa foolish things were said by lotsa “clever” Jewish generals before the Yom Kipur war too. And look what nearly happened then…

          Reply to Comment
    2. Gustav

      This is the type of complacency which Israeli elites were guilty before the Yom Kipur war.

      “By mid-1973, Aman was almost completely aware of the Arab war plans. It knew that the Egyptian Second and Third Armies would attempt to cross the Suez Canal and advance ten kilometres into the Sinai, followed by armored divisions that would advance towards the Mitla and Gidi passes, and that naval units and paratroopers would then attempt to capture Sharm el-Sheikh. Aman was also aware of many details of the Syrian war plan. However, Israeli analysts, following “the concept”, did not believe the Arabs were serious about going to war.[77]”

      Our enemies and our fools want us to repeat the same mistake.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The idea being floated here, that Israel is still a plucky, fragile little pioneer state is a propaganda effort that pretends, among other things, that Pardo and Gold have no idea what they’re talking about, that there never was an Agranat Commission, that Ayalon and many others over several generations never read the Agranat Commission Report and incorporated lessons learned and over forty years nothing ever was improved as a result, that Israeli defense and intelligence never progressed beyond 1973 and the days of Aman, that Israel does not have decisive military and intelligence superiority in the region, that the United States and the Germans do not arm it to the teeth, and back it fully; that Israel is not a regional hegemon, that the strategic situation has not changed entirely, that the API was never ventured (twice) and that Israel never rejected it summarily (twice), that all the things Edo says above are just made up. You need all these absurd fictions to maintain this kind of facade with a straight face.

        Moreover, one needs to engage in an exceedingly peculiar military doctrine: “the mothers and children and swimming pools theory of national self defense.” To wit:

        Before “ISIS” the extreme nationalists had all sorts of reasons why they had no choice but to colonize other people’s land. Now it’s “ISIS.” After “ISIS ” it will be something else. Meanwhile they just gotta have civilian settlements in Ariel and other places because the mothers and children and swimming pools and schools there are, um, the tip of the spear against “ISIS.” Yep. Sure. We buy that. I mean it’s not the land. I mean even though the government and the settlers actually say and say again that it’s the land, it’s not, you see. It’s about….”ISIS.” And those women and children and playgrounds and swimming pools–they’re not vulnerabilities requiring massive diversion of IDF assets to protect them, they’re actually critical defense assets. (Top secret IDF doctrine. At the bottom of the swimming pools are secret German-made gun emplacements that pop up like submarines. Shhhh).

        Yes let us ponder this deeply.

        That in 2016 we have a Netanyahu follower citing the 1973 war as a reason why Israel cannot withdraw to the 1967 borders is excellent testimony to the success of the brain washing fear mongering that Edo describes.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          More BS from Benny ignoring history and attempting to sow self serving complacency. I’ll ignore all that. We are still a country of 8 million (of which 20% are Arabs – not all of whom are friendly to the rest of us) surrounded by several hundred million hostile people in a very volatile region and those hostile people are backed up by over a billion Muslim nations and assorted extreme leftists as well as even many Jew hating extreme right wingers. But yes, we are a regional hegemon who can afford to ignore all that, okey dokey Benny dear, if you say so…

          As for the API, no we did not say no to it. We wanted to discuss the bits in it which pose an existential threat to our nation state, the so called ‘right of return’ demand. The response we got, take it or leave it, is the reason why nothing happened with the API. But people like Benny do not want to mention that “minor” detail…

          Reply to Comment