CIJA is pleased to announce that Raphael Hoult is the 2016 winner of the Barry Rubin Prize Essay Competition! Raphael Hoult is a former camp counselor at Camp Massad Manitoba, and an active youth leader in the Winnipeg Jewish community. He is working on a Mathematical Physics degree at the University of Winnipeg, and is a member of his local chapter of Hillel. Raphael hopes to go on to graduate school in order to do research in the field of general relativity.
After a careful review by a panel of professors, Raphael’s essay, A Game of Clocks: An analysis of the situation in the Middle East, and its effects on Israel, was awarded top prize. Congratulations!
A Game of Clocks
An analysis of the situation in the Middle East, and its effects on Israel
Newsflash: the Middle East is once again a hotspot of horrific violence threatening to tear the region apart. Hearing these words, westerners yawn and turn away because they represent a norm that has been the case for as long as most living people can remember. “Has the Middle East not always been violent and primitive?” people ask dismissively. The answer is a simple one.
Not this badly.
The turmoil that has engulfed the entire Arab world since a Tunisian street vendor self-immolated in 2010 has been extreme in nature. The whole Middle East has seen uprisings of one sort or another (including, by the way, Israel – see the housing protests of 2011) that in many places devolved into civil war. Syria has been torn to shreds, as has Libya. Iran has been rising in power and though the threat of a nuclear Iran may have been stalled for now, its nuclear aspirations will likely be realized at some point in the future. Most seriously, filling the void that was once Iraq and Syria is a group that makes Al-Qaeda, the infamous perpetrators of 9/11, look like good Samaritans – Da’esh.
Some point out that perhaps all of this chaos is actually good for Israel: her traditional enemy, Syria, is essentially no longer existent due to the civil war there, Hezbollah is too busy battling Assad’s wars for him for them to fight Israel, and Hamas was absolutely pummeled in the 2014 Gaza war. All, they may claim, is as safe as it ever is in Eretz Yisrael.
This paper wishes to put forward a slightly different spin. The current turmoil in the Middle East is only good for Israel in the short term, and in the long term it is very bad for the Jewish state. The threat of Da’esh will only increase in the coming years, its eventual collapse will release havoc on the Jewish state, and Hamas is simply biding its time.
It is, one might say, All Quiet on the Northern (and Southern) Front.
As it currently stands at the time of writing, Da’esh controls large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq and is facing an increasingly intense military campaign waged against it by most western countries, as well as by Russia and Iran. On the ground, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Armed Forces are slowly making headway against the group, reclaiming ground that they lost in the group’s initial breakout. The core of the conflict is, it seems, in Syria and Iraq.
That is, however, not where the threat to Israel lies. Israel’s northern border is very heavily militarized. Attempting to launch any kind of invasion from Syria would lead to a quicker defeat for Da’esh, since it would drain their resources, thin out their forces, and also force Israel to join the anti-Da’esh coalition, something it has thus-far refrained from doing.
This author believes that any threat from Da’esh will come from the Sinai Peninsula, where a branch (Al-Wilayat Sinai, or the Sinai Province) organization is making the lives of the Egyptians more difficult. In the short term, Dae’sh’s presence in Sinai has actually been a good thing for Israel, since it has led to closer ties with Egypt. Under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, the Sinai Peninsula was to remain demilitarized , but following the insurgency of Da’esh, Israel gave permission for Egypt to (temporarily) militarize the peninsula. However, this will not remain a beneficial situation in the long term.
Israel has a 230 km long fence along its border with Egypt that was built to prevent African migrants from entering the country, as well as to stop cross-border raids . However, with Da’esh’s activities spreading through the Sinai Desert, the chances of a cross-border raid succeeding increase by the day. This is because, given the length of the border, there are inevitably weak points that would allow a small cell to slip through undetected. Once this is achieved, a border town would be a prime target. If Da’esh were to kidnap a civilian, all hell would likely break loose, especially if there were deaths on the Israeli side. Any first crossing would likely result in some sort of light military reprisal with diplomacy on the side, but if it happened a second or third time despite the barrier, Israel would likely seek Egyptian permission to invade the peninsula (contrary to the Peace Treaty) to reclaim the taken individuals and stop Dae’sh incursions. This would in all likelihood be granted by Egypt due to the growing military coordination between the two countries, and due to Israeli permission for militarization in the first place. If this occurs, then Israel would be involved in a ground war.
Even if it doesn’t come to that, Da’esh’s presence in the Sinai Peninsula creates another issue. Following 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, parts of Gaza were practically leveled, and Hamas was incredibly battered . Pundits in Israel assured the population (and themselves) that Hamas would not dare step a toe (or a missile) out of line after the severe beating they had received from the Israel Defense Force, or IDF . Hamas, like Israel, did not want another war.
Fast forward to the opening months of 2016, and Hamas is firing rockets again from the northern Gaza strip and building tunnels into Israeli territory . The promise of 2014 has led to a new reality – we’re due for another Gaza war unless drastic action is taken to prevent it, as evidenced by Hamas’ increased missile and tunneling activity. While Hamas (and indeed Da’esh) is in no way an existential threat to Israel, the prospects of a third Gaza war are not good. If it features a civilian casualty count anywhere near the second Gaza War, it will only serve to further Israel’s isolation from the West, something that nobody wants.
This current situation in Gaza is only possible due to the presence of Da’esh in Sinai. Wilayat Sinai have formed a tentative alliance with Hamas to smuggle goods and weapons into the strip, such as ammunition, armaments, and tunnel building equipment   in exchange for funding. Without Da’esh, Hamas would likely have re-armed, but not nearly as quickly. The terror cell in the Sinai Peninsula serves as an essential conduit between Hamas militants and their supplier, Iran. This funding comes even though Iran is Shi’ite and Hamas is a Sunni organization. After all, the enemy of my enemy (Israel) is my friend.
Following the money back to its source, it becomes clear that one of the largest existential threats to Israel at the moment is, as it has been for a while, Iran. Khamenei’s dictatorship may have been prevented from developing nuclear weapons (assuming President Obama’s nuclear accord actually works, which is yet to be seen), but in doing so, billions of dollars of frozen Iranian oversea assets were unfrozen. If Iran continues to fund terror cells in and around Israel, chaos in the region will only serve it, not Israel. It is far easier for Iran to smuggle weapons into Gaza and Lebanon if there is no rule of law in the region. Iran is fighting Da’esh in Syria and Iraq, and wants to join the coalition forces in said countries, which are not far from Hezbollah. It would not be difficult for such armaments to be transferred, and clearly some sort of transfer is happening. This is apparent from the January 2015 alleged Israeli airstrike that killed several militants, one of whom was a general of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and also six Hezbollah members, among others . Iran is obviously supplying Hezbollah, and though the latter have been relatively quiet since 2006, there have been various flare-ups that have been quickly snuffed out.
Hezbollah, however, should not be discounted. Of all the threats facing Israel, from Da’esh to Hamas to Iran, Hezbollah is easily the most dangerous and the most present. Though currently embroiled in the Syrian civil war (Hezbollah backs President Bashar al-Assad) and temporarily distracted from any major combat with Israel, this situation is actually detrimental in the long term.
Between Hezbollah and Hamas, Hezbollah is by far the more powerful terrorist organization. Claiming to have around 100,000 missiles, a few of which have a range of over 200km , Hezbollah can, in theory, hit all of Israel from Metula right down to Eilat. A war with Hezbollah will be deadly, costly, and much, much bloodier than the 2006 conflict owing to this much-increased missile capability.
Since they have been actively fighting Da’esh incursions into Lebanon and also fighting on behalf of Assad, the militants of Hezbollah have seen their numbers slashed . However, those who have survived have gained a great deal of military experience, and have seen their arsenal of weapons grow immensely in the chaos following the Arab Spring –Hezbollah, as stated before, currently has around 100 000 missiles. If Israel were to put boots on the ground in Sheba Farms (the area immediately to the north of the border) and beyond, that experience against Da’esh and the Free Syrian Army would be invaluable in fighting the Israeli Defense Forces. Beyond that, missiles raining down on Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya, Tzfat and Eilat would lead to heavy Israeli civilian casualties, and while the Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defense systems would certainly help , they wouldn’t be able to stop all of the missiles.
This vision, while certainly dark and depressing, is unfortunately only the scenario that occurs if Hezbollah alone were to attack Israel. The political situation in the region right now is somewhat like a physics problem; if you slightly change the parameters, everything else changes drastically. There are many other threats that are not covered in this paper, but most have little to do with the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East.
The worst case scenario is that all three threats culminate at once. If the coalition succeeds, and Da’esh collapses in Iraq and Syria, and Assad’s fate is decided one way or another, Hezbollah will be able to turn its gaze fully back upon Lebanon, and upon Israel, since it will no longer need to devote resources to Syria. With renewed Iranian funding due to the nuclear deal, Hezbollah will be more powerful than ever. In the meantime, Wilayat Sinai would suddenly find itself to be a tendril disconnected from the squid’s body. It would likely lash out in a desperate attempt to preserve itself from Egyptian military action, and it is possible that this would involve cross-border raids of one sort or another.
While these two fates are connected, since both are predicated upon the collapse of Da’esh, the third would only occur if bad fortune were to strike, namely Hamas seeing a golden opportunity. If the coalition succeeds too quickly, Hezbollah’s escalation as well as Wilayat Sinai’s death throes may occur at the same time as the Gaza war that appears to be in the cards. The author’s prediction is that we will see a war in Gaza by early 2017 based upon the rate of military and rhetorical build-up; and if Hezbollah, Da’esh and Hamas were to all strike within a relatively condensed period of time, the IDF would be stretched to the brink. This author also believes, however, that they would not fail, since there is an entire country of Israeli reserves waiting to be called up. Every Israeli must spend 2-3 years in compulsory military service. The State of Israel would not fall to these threats. However, to underestimate them is perilous.
In conclusion, after analyzing the activities of Da’esh in the Sinai Peninsula, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Iran’s sudden access to billions of dollars in foreign-held assets, and the increased military capabilities of Hezbollah, the situation is clear. While the Arab Spring may indeed have brought a temporary calm to Israel as her enemies fight amongst themselves, it is a peace that is doomed to shatter as soon as, ironically, Da’esh is defeated. This situation may serve Israel in the short term, but it is to her detriment in the long run.
: Shechter, Asher, Haaretz, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/a-short-guide-to-israel-s-social-protest-1.450369, retrieved February 4th, 2016
: McHugh, Jess, International Business Times, http://www.ibtimes.com/who-fighting-isis-map-us-led-coalition-campaign-after-paris-attacks-2185295, retrieved February 4th, 2016.
: Associated Press (AP), Haaretz, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/israel-allows-egypt-troops-in-sinai-for-first-time-since-1979-peace-treaty-1.340405, retrieved February 4th, 2016
: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel%E2%80%93Egypt_barrier, retrieved February 4th, 2016
 Thompson, Stuart et al., Wall Street Journal, http://graphics.wsj.com/gaza-surveying-destruction/ retrieved February 4th 2016
: Harel, Amos, Haaretz, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.658226, retrieved February 4th, 2016
: Khoury, Jack, Haaretz, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.700304, retrieved February 5th, 2016
: Fishman, Alex, Ynetnews.com, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4739234,00.html, retrieved February 5th, 2016
: Algemeiner, http://www.algemeiner.com/2015/12/16/hamas-funds-isis-sinai-branch-receives-help-smuggling-weapons-into-gaza/, retrieved February 5th, 2016
: Issacharoff, Avi, Times of Israel, http://www.timesofisrael.com/boosted-by-nuke-deal-iran-ups-funding-to-hezbollah-hamas/, retrieved February 5th, 2016
: AP, Fox News, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/01/16/iran-close-to-collecting-100b-in-frozen-assets-after-nuke-deal-country-official-says.html, retrieved February 5th, 2016.
: Sengupta, Kim, Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/war-with-isis-iran-seeks-to-join-international-coalition-battling-militants-as-part-of-significant-10461307.html, retrieved February 5th, 2014
: BBC, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30882935, retrieved February 5th, 2016
: Melman, Yossi, Jerusalem Post, http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Analysis-Hezbollahs-100000-rockets-and-Israels-new-missile-defense-system-438084, retrieved February 5th, 2016
: De Luce, Dan, Foreign Policy, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/09/syrian-war-takes-rising-toll-on-hezbollah/, retrieved February 5th, 2016.