How are these two things linked? Nasrallah is the Iranians’ ally. His organization receives an enormous amount of aid from Iran, with plenty of advanced equipment and money. He is indicating to Israel that if the United States or Israel decide to attack Iran in the future in a bid to prevent its nuclearization, Hezbollah has the ability—in addition to an Iranian counterattack on Israel—to inflict extensive damage on the Israeli home front and maybe even invade Israel.
Nasrallah has already proved that he is a sophisticated strategist. The Assad regime—which has the support of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah—has managed to stabilize temporarily. Hezbollah, which sustained heavy losses in Syria, is aware of its vulnerability at this point in time and of its relative weakness following to the bloodshed among its fighters in Syria, and is trying to create renewed deterrence against Israel.
The entire military-security echelon in the US—Secretary of Defense James Mattis, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster—see Iran as a provocative and danger country, which encourages terror in the region. They have said that quite often. As senior military officials, they understand what Iran is doing in the region, and they are not trying to beautify the situation or offer explanations or excuses for it.
The visits paid by the Trump administration’s senior officials to America’s traditional allies in different places in the world (South Korea, Israel, NATO) were aimed first and foremost at indicating to their enemies that the US stands behind its allies—what is known in professional literature as extended deterrence—and at strengthening the connection and the mutual commitment between the American administration and its allies, unlike the Obama administration which was considered critical towards US allies and weak towards its enemies.
Both the Islamic State and Iran are seen by the Americans as a major threat in our region. President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel, apart from being important in terms of the peace negotiations, was also aimed at enlisting America’s allies in the region against ISIS and at strengthening informal and formal US alliances and demonstrating a renewed commitment towards them through repeated visits by senior American administration officials.
In light of the intensification of the radical axis against Israel—Iran, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah—I recently suggested including the adaptation concept—in other words, proper adjustment to the frequent and powerful changes in our region—as another component in Israel’s security perception, alongside the four traditional components of deterrence, warning, tilting the balance and self-defense.
Israel is too responsive and less initiating. The absence of adaptation creates conceptual fixation and system calcification. Stagnation. It’s time to implement adaptation on the diplomatic level through initiation and seek the Trump administration’s help in seizing opportunities created vis-à-vis the moderate Sunni countries which hate ISIS and are afraid of Iran.
If, as the Wall Street Journal reported, it’s true that the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia are willing to upgrade their economic relations with Israel in exchange for a construction freeze outside the large settlement blocs, this creates a rare opportunity that has been identified by the Trump administration for a regional agreement that will weaken the radical axis.
Stagnation is both bad for Israel and misses the chance for an economic and diplomatic dividend in the form of normalization with the Gulf states and other Muslim states, in tourism, trade relations, economy, investments and finance.
Prof. Alex Mintz is chairman of the Israeli Political Science Association and director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya.