Between the Negev Summit and Terror Attacks
By Dr. Michael Milshtein | April, 2022
|Photo: Israel Police | CC BY-SA 3.0|
The last two weeks were split between two extremes: the Negev Summit – an unprecedented meeting between Arab foreign ministers and the U.S. Secretary of State on Israeli soil designed to tighten collaborations between Israel and countries in the region as well as jointly address shared challenges; and the devastating terror attack in the city of Hadera that joined those carried out the previous week in Be`er-Sheva and Bnei-Brak, attesting to an exacerbating domestic challenge. Thus, while Israel's strategic situation in the regional sphere improves, domestic challenges intensify.
The festive photographs, smiles and speeches made at the Negev Summit are accompanied by some dark shadows, the largest of which is cast by Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Blinken arrived at Sde-Boker when Washington's image among Arabs was diminished, for it is being perceived as increasingly feebler (a new low having been reached with its policy on the war in Ukraine), struggling to serve as a strategic source of support, and "suspiciously" keen to engage in dialogue with the enemies of the Arab world, headed by Iran.
During the summit, the U.S. administration attempted to convey a message that the countries in the region found difficult to digest: Washington is determined to sign a nuclear deal with Iran in the very near future, but promises to stand by them as they contend with Tehran's growing boldness as manifest in its Houthi proxies' missile attacks against Saudi Arabia's oil reserves and Emirati cities, as well as Iran's increased entrenchment efforts in Syria. The discussions held also formed a charged platform where the Arab states and Israel attempted to convince the U.S. that the IRGC must not be removed from the terror list.
However, the summit is more than a mere collection of symbolic ceremonies and discussions on threats, it is an event that has yielded a practical strategic achievement for Israel. Striking in this context is the report whereby the parties are working on establishing a joint security mechanism between Israel and its new allies in the region that would address the shared threats posed by Tehran, namely missiles and rockets, UAVs and naval means of attack.
Israel, however, should not only engage in addressing the Iranian threat; it is essential that attention also be given to an issue that has barely been mentioned during the summit – the Palestinians. Ostensibly, Israel could take pride in the opening of the Arab world to it despite the lack of negotiations with the Palestinians or the drafting of an arrangement with them, and bask in the glory of the distinct precedence the Arab world is awarding to its own interests at the expense of its identification with the Palestinians, as this development attests to a new understanding that has recently emerged in the Arab world, whereby Israel is a strategic asset rather than an enemy, and the real threat that is common to all is Tehran.
However, such an assumption is a mere illusion, for the fundamental issues in the Gaza Strip and West Bank require bold decision making; they cannot be frozen or ignored for long, else they will exacerbate and turn into existential threats. A renewed violent eruption in the Palestinian system could jeopardize the historical accomplishments vis-à-vis the Arab states, and indicate that the two arenas are still closely affiliated, even though dramatic progress has been made in Israel's relations with the latter.
The terror attack in Hadera has demonstrated how, while Israel has achieved greatness in outer circles, it also faces exacerbating threats that require rapid, determined, and multidimensional resolution. It should therefore continue to increase monitoring and thwarting efforts among those in the extreme and lethal margins of Israeli Arab society that have carried out the murderous attacks in recent weeks, while earmarking resources to dry up the "swamps" in which terror is grown, namely weak state governability in Arab communities, soaring crime and violence in those populations – that, as clearly shown, will not always remain within the boundaries of criminal law or be limited to the Arab communities – and the deep crisis affecting the young Arab generation in Israel.
Arab-Jewish inside Israel relations are so fragile at present, that the kind of attacks carried out in recent weeks harbor the potential to derail the two societies into greater ravines than those they had reached less than one year ago.
Authored by Dr. Michael Milshtein, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
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