By Colonel (Ret.) Dr. Eran Lerman, Co-host TV7 Middle East Review, TV7 Powers-in-Play Panelist, Vice President of The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS) and Editor in Chief of the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune.
Two themes emerge from this fifth issue of the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune. The bloodshed in Ukraine, brought about by the Russian invasion, has become the focal point of world attention and the direct and indirect cause of wide-spread turmoil and dislocation. On a much happier note, this moment in time also marks the second anniversary of the announcement that Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, soon followed by Morocco and, to some extent, Sudan would sign the Abraham Accords.
In his opening letter, the publisher of the JST, Ahmed Charai reminds us of the benefits that the Accords have already generated in fields such as water technologies and alternatives to hydrocarbons. He also firmly advocates expanding the Accords further, bringing Saudi Arabia into the fold, and turning them into a point of departure for a renewed effort to resolve the Palestinian question. Looking ahead, JST columnist and board chair Dov Zakheim weighs the potential of the “I2U2” quad (India, Israel, UAE, and the US), which was launched in a Zoom summit of the four leaders during President Biden’s visit in Israel. Tel Aviv University’s Uzi Rabi surveys the changing dynamics between Israel and the Arab Middle East. Looking back at the manner in which the Abraham Accords were achieved, Aryeh Lightstone offers insider’s insight —and an observation about the need to move beyond what he calls “the foreign policy paradigm in which we have all been stuck for decades.”
Admiral James Foggo adds another perspective on the Abraham Accords, linking their impact to the renewed Israeli-Lebanese negotiations on delineation of their maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean, which could produce a win-win outcome as well as help offset some Russian gas exports to Europe.
On the Ukraine War, economist Anders Åslund sums up the immense costs of the fighting to Ukraine and the country’s reconstruction needs. He also offers cogent policy advice on the international community’s contributions to these costs (including the possibility of using international legal judgments to tap Russia’s frozen central bank accounts) as well Ukraine’s own urgent reform steps.
In their prescient assessment of the impact of the war, Vera Michlin-Shapir and Ofer Fridman use the imagery of a geopolitical earthquake to warn of the manner in which the world as a whole would be blighted. Both energy markets and food supply chains would be—and indeed have been—dangerously disrupted, with the poorer countries hardest hit. For the West, this is a wake-up call, as the impact of the war piles up upon other challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change, shaking the very foundations of the existing order.
Additional insight into the economic dimension of the war is offered by Turkey’s Güven Sak, who notes that Russia, while nurturing dreams of a return to empire, failed to move its economy beyond dependence on the export of hydrocarbons, in a world where they are bound to become increasingly obsolete. Tal Sadeh, meanwhile, warns that sanctions alone are unlikely to have the necessary impact on Putin’s decision to persevere with the war, a view with implications for those who put their faith in economic leverages in other conflict points as well.
As for the military realities in the field, Tom Garrett, a former US Congressman who served in the military as an artilleryman, tells us—based on his firsthand experiences—that the fighting has largely become an artillery duel marked by the heavy use of firepower on both sides, with all that this entails for those caught in the war zone. As the war and the devastation continue, others in what Russia likes to call its “near abroad”—specifically the eight nations in the Caspian region (comprising the South Caucasus and Central Asia)—find themselves, as Richard Hoagland reports, walking a perilously thin line. They need to balance their basic sympathy with Ukraine with their fear of their irascible northern neighbor.
Shifting our focus toward Israel, my column explains the reasons behind Israel’s “Breaking Dawn” Operation against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza (August 5–7, 2022) and the concerns that underlie the blunt deterrent messages issues by Israel’s leaders a day after the fighting died down. This report heralds a new aspect of the work of the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune, going forward—providing short but analytical updates from Israel, Washington, and elsewhere. Robert Silverman’s explanatory note on the life and fate of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is one indicator of the capacity of the JST to respond swiftly to emerging events; another is Attila Somfalvi’s analysis of the impending Israeli elections.
Other perspectives on Israel include Pnina Shuker’s analysis of civil-military relations and especially why the Israel Defense Forces, while still the most trusted institution among the Israeli public, has, nevertheless, seen a distinct decline in its approval rates. For the first time, a majority of those polled questioned the utility of the draft and support a shift toward an all-volunteer professional military. Looking at another angle of Israeli life, Yaron Zelekha—a persistent critic of the semi-monopolistic Israeli market—argues that a structural change toward real competitive economics could further unlock the country’s creative capabilities.
As for the Palestinians, JST columnist Ksenia Svetlova, in another striking personal profile, looks at President Mahmoud Abbas and the promises that were never delivered upon. Koby Michael and Ori Wertman add a painful broader survey of the ongoing failure of governance in Ramallah and reasons for the Palestinian Authority’s decline (and possible collapse), with all that this might imply for regional stability.
Ilan Berman focuses on another central issue in the Middle East—Iran—and offers several possible scenarios for political change. Given the pressures from within Iranian society and the powerful trend away from religious identification, the scenarios include a transition to technocratic rule, a gradual collapse of the regime’s hold on power, or a takeover by a military element (which some scholars argue has already happened with the empowerment of the IRGC).
Finally, in the realm of US–China economic competition, Robert Silverman’s column describes a US government-backed infrastructure initiative in the Caucasus region—the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan oil and gas pipelines—as a counterpoint to China’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” which might serve as a template for a proactive US role elsewhere. One such place, he suggests, might be developing channels to Europe for Eastern Mediterranean gas to help rid Europe of its Russian dependence.
Also on US–China competition, Scot Marciel argues that the US should be much more assertive in competing with the Chinese in Southeast Asian markets. Chinese practices, however, may not be the only impediment in returning to the vision of economic globalization: In their essay Princeton’s Layna Mosley and New York University’s B. Peter Rosendorff point to internal American dynamics that have contributed to what they call “deglobalization,” hampering multilateral cooperation, restricting the flow of goods and finance, and curtailing the utility of international institutions. In all, this issue paints a picture of a world (and a Middle East) in which challenges pile up and require energetic and informed responses. The JST seeks to be a platform for knowledgeable analysis and open-minded debate.