The Changing Security Environment in the Levant
On November 24, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), in partnership with the Israeli Mission to the European Union, hosted Ambassador Benny Dagan and Dr. Ian O. Lesser for an on-the-record discussion on recent political and security developments in the Levant and how they are likely to shape the region’s strategic future. Welcoming remarks were offered by Israeli Ambassador to the European Union, David Walzer.
Across North Africa and the Middle East, popular resentment towards exploitative political processes and elite governance continues to grow unabated. Ambassador Walzer expressed concern over the increasingly anti-Western aspect of this frustration, which carries serious implications for Israel’s relations with the region as it continues to be perceived as a symbol of Western governance. Ambassador Dagan described the region’s recent political trajectory as “phases of turmoil,” inaugurated by the 2011 revolutions that toppled a number of autocracies across the MENA region and ultimately prompted the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shortly after, the power vacuum following the rejection of the Brotherhood’s leadership encouraged the establishment of a caliphate and the rapid spread of its influence across the region. Barely emerging from recent turmoil, Israel expects the region’s predicaments to hold throughout the next year. Efforts to diminish the influence of the Islamic State Group will dominate the security agenda, and Dagan identified border stability as a security priority, emphasizing the threats posed by Hezbollah at the Golan Heights border with Lebanon, and the pockets of instability at the borders with Jordan and Egypt.
The conversation then turned to discussing prospects for Israel’s bilateral relations with various actors across the region. Dagan ensured that normalizing relations with Turkey would continue to be a key objective, recognizing the importance of working to overcome the differences that continue to divide the two actors in light of Turkey’s increasingly strong leadership role in the region. Bettering cooperation with Saudi Arabia will also be important to establish stability in the region, although serious divides in opinion on crucial topics such as the issue of Palestine continue to be a roadblock for cooperation. On the question of Palestine, Israeli leadership will devote its efforts to a peace process through negotiations, while looking to ascertain the reliability of a Palestinian agreement. The regional energy environment is likely to continue to shape Israel’s external agenda as well, as the country’s developing identity as one of the world’s largest suppliers of natural gas has afforded it opportunities for new economic relationships.
In light of the U.S.-led coalition’s interventions in Iraq and Syria, Dagan concluded by offering insight into Israel’s perspective on transatlantic efforts to contain militant extremism. While current strategic operations in the Middle East are geared toward minimizing the influence currently exerted by the Islamic State Group, they alone will not ensure the successful democratization of countries undergoing chaotic geopolitical transitions. In devising a comprehensive strategy to address the fundamental issues underpinning recent turmoil, Israel will look favorably upon expanding opportunities for political cooperation and economic integration amongst regional actors.