Israel’s Freedom of Action


(Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
In the aftermath of the Flotilla crisis, many U.S. commentators have suggested that the United States needs to make clear to Israel that there are limits to the kinds of behavior that Washington can accept.
For instance, Center for Strategic and International Studies Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy Anthony H. Cordesman wrote earlier this week that:

It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it test the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews. This does not mean taking a single action that undercuts Israeli security, but it does mean realizing that Israel should show enough discretion to reflect the fact that it is a tertiary U.S. strategic interest in a complex and demanding world.

TWN Publisher Steve Clemons has made similar arguments.
Most states’ actions are limited not by their allies, but by their adversaries. Implicit in Cordesman’s argument is an assumption that Israel’s adversaries have little capacity to restrict Israel’s freedom of action.
Stratfor‘s George Friedman published an interesting piece today in which he explains the internal divisions among Israel’s foes that prevent them from effectively restricting Israeli behavior in the region.
From his piece:

Nations base their actions on risks and rewards. The configuration of the Palestinians and Arabs rewards Israeli assertiveness and provides few rewards for caution. The Israelis do not see global hostility toward Israel translating into a meaningful threat because the Arab reality cancels it out. Therefore, relieving pressure on Hamas makes no sense to the Israelis. Doing so would be as likely to alienate Fatah and Egypt as it would to satisfy the Swedes, for example. As Israel has less interest in the Swedes than in Egypt and Fatah, it proceeds as it has.
A single point sums up the story of Israel and the Gaza blockade-runners: Not one Egyptian aircraft threatened the Israeli naval vessels, nor did any Syrian warship approach the intercept point. The Israelis could be certain of complete command of the sea and air without challenge. And this underscores how the Arab countries no longer have a military force that can challenge the Israelis, nor the will nor interest to acquire one. Where Egyptian and Syrian forces posed a profound threat to Israeli forces in 1973, no such threat exists now. Israel has a completely free hand in the region militarily; it does not have to take into account military counteraction. The threat posed by intifada, suicide bombers, rockets from Lebanon and Gaza, and Hezbollah fighters is real, but it does not threaten the survival of Israel the way the threat from Egypt and Syria once did (and the Israelis see actions like the Gaza blockade as actually reducing the threat of intifada, suicide bombers and rockets). Non-state actors simply lack the force needed to reach this threshold. When we search for the reasons behind Israeli actions, it is this singular military fact that explains Israeli decision-making.

Friedman’s entire article can be read here.
— Ben Katcher


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