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Who’s Really Isolated? He Who Misunderstands Middle East Realities

The burnt-out wreckage of an Egyptian military vehicle after militants commandeered it through a security fence from Egypt into Israel

The burnt-out wreckage of an Egyptian military vehicle after militants commandeered it through a security fence from Egypt into Israel
Photo Credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90

Let’s jump over to Egypt. Israel’s high priority is to build up its defensive forces along the border and complete the security fence there. Cross-border attacks are now a real problem. Yet they can be defended against. These attacks consist of terrorists firing across the border or advancing a very short distance into Israeli territory–mainly to fire on a single road that runs near the border–before they can be intercepted. For a real threat to exist, the situation would have to deteriorate considerably, with large terrorist units operating openly on Egyptian soil and being able to transport rockets from the Gaza Strip through miles of Egyptian territory. That could happen but we are nowhere near that point and such a scenario would mean that the Egyptian government and army were openly courting full-scale war.

As long as the army is still running Egypt, though, the danger of a major upsurge in cross-border assaults or, even worse, an attack on Israel from Hamas in the Gaza Strip that would be backed by Egypt is limited. Israel has time to prepare.

Israel’s number-one border problem remains the Gaza Strip. Hamas periodically fires mortars and rockets while trying cross-border ground attacks. Israel has gotten its ground defenses in good shape and has created a fairly effective anti-rocket system. This doesn’t make things more pleasant for citizens in that part of Israel and it is quite possible that a new war will break out in future, as happened in late 2008. Yet such a battle is not an existential threat of the type common from 1948 into the 1970s.

Regarding Jordan, the regime has survived the Arab Spring and is still committed to controlling the border, a task it has handled pretty well over forty years. Terrorism from the West Bank remains a constant threat but the fence has made it a lot harder. That’s why Israel ignores, and will continue to ignore, international criticism. Might there be a new intifadah some day? Yes, but not that soon, if only because the Palestinian Authority realizes that such a gambit risks Hamas using the violence to promote itself and kick out its nationalist rivals.

Now none of this is meant to be complacent. But it is important to understand that Israel starts off with a much higher threat level than that faced by other Western developed countries which consider almost any threat with trepidation. By Israeli standards the problems are manageable.

And that’s why the main efforts of terrorist groups are to attack Israeli citizens and installations outside the country’s borders. The chief of military intelligence has revealed that twenty such plots were broken up before the one in Bulgaria succeeded.

Israel’s “friends” abroad simply can’t seem to get out of their minds the idea that the country faces such terrible threats that it must make big concessions and beg for peace with the Palestinians on just about any terms, or try to appease hostile surrounding countries in order to stave off their wrath.

What they don’t—and at times don’t want to—understand is that the situation is the exact opposite. When forces are after you that want to wipe you off the map, you cannot depend on your “friends,” and know that no compromise solution is desired by the other side, that’s the time to look after your own interests and defense.

The overwhelming majority of Israelis across the political spectrum understand this. Consequently, it doesn’t matter at all that Western pseudo-experts, pundits, and politicians don’t. Being isolated from strategic reality is far more dangerous than being isolated because people don’t like you.

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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