Amos Yadlin, the former Israeli military intel head, has this new INSS brief that clearly sets out what one thinks is the establishment strategic thinking:
“Five Years Back and Five Years Forward: Israel’s Strategic Environment in 2011-2015 and Policy Recommendations for 2016-2020”
The key determinations are what some of us have long pointed out:
–Iran is the overall main military threat to Israel and Hezbollah is the greatest immediate threat. This assessment has arguably had a huge impact on Western thinking and approaches towards both actors, even though both only marginally affect the security of Western countries.
— ISIS and Sunni radicals are believed to be far less of a threat to Israel and
(it is believed) can be dealt with – when need be – mostly by deepening ties with their primary drivers/sponsors in the Monarchies, the Gulf, Turkey etc. In the end, the Israeli assessment here seems to be that ISIS and others are bad but can be lived with because they are weakening the main threat to Israel.
–Israel on balance wants to weaken Hezbollah and Iran by collapsing Assad’s regime.
— The main area where an Israeli-Hezbollah war is likely to be sparked is in and around the Golan and southern Syria. The question is whether Hezbollah and Iran will push their position there (I think it is quite likely unfortunately), which would place the Israelis in the somewhat uncomfortable position of having to start the next major war – not because of actual hostilities by Hezbollah but as a “pre-emptive” measure. The Israelis will need to seriously consider whether getting the majority of the blame for starting a giant war will end up being to their advantage (despite the prior information war that would be necessary to try to convince the world that the pre-emptive move was warranted). Unfortunately, I think it is also quite likely that the Israelis will indeed reach a point where the expected blowback from a pre-emptive war that engulfs Lebanon and the region is judged as manageable.
Some key grafs:
Syria is Iran’s corridor to the Arab world and the channel through which it strengthens and maintains contact with Hezbollah and Palestinian extremist groups. The weakening and ousting of the Assad regime is a clear Israeli interest, as only this can level a severe blow to Iran and Hezbollah. Israel must determine how to support efforts that will end with the Assad regime not playing a dominant role in Syria, while at the same time refraining from strengthening extremist Sunni factions and, most prominently, the Islamic State. From Israel’s perspective, these two negative forces can be dealt with sequentially, with a continuous reexamination of their correct prioritization.
To achieve these goals, Israel must develop more creative and active tools through cooperative efforts with strong global allies such as the United States and Europe, as well as with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are also interested in ejecting Iran from Syria and replacing the Assad regime.
Current common interests constitute an unprecedented basis for the development of meaningful relations with the Sunni bloc that will serve Israel both in the short
and long terms. The ability to work together to thwart Iranian subversion and Iran’s aspirations to acquire a nuclear bomb and achieve regional hegemony, and Israeli assistance in fighting IS…
Israel must ensure that the forces of the radical axis are weakened as much as possible in the future Syria and are removed from the Golan Heights to the greatest extent possible. If Syria is divided, the Syrian elements with which Israel can cooperate include the more moderate Sunni organizations and the states supporting them, such as Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, Jordan, and Turkey.
Israel must try to design an updated security plan for the Golan Heights, whether as an
extension of the already existing separation of forces agreement, or under different rules of operation and deterrence vis-à-vis the forces that will establish themselves in the Syrian Golan Heights.
The JCPOA has frozen the Iranian nuclear threat for a number of years, and the armies currently on Israel’s borders are either at peace with Israel or enervated by exhausting civil wars. Israel’s primary military threat at the present time is posed by Hezbollah. This organization continues its buildup with offensive and defensive weaponry produced by Iran, Russia, and Syria. The range of the rockets and missiles at its disposal cover the full territory of Israel, and their precision and lethality continue to increase. Hezbollah is even developing an offensive capability to seize control of some Israeli territory.