It’s amazing how quickly things change in the Middle East. Just three years ago, Israel’s borders were quite stable and quiet. In contrast to the years from 1948 to 1973, when Israel fought three existential wars (and at least one minor one) with its neighbors, the years from 1973 to 2010 saw general calm and certainly no existential threats. While Israel responded to threats from Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon and sought to contain the First and Second Intifadas, its basic strategic regional framework was stable and known.
In three short years, stability has turned into volatility.
Egypt, which had gone from being Israel’s greatest enemy to having a diplomatic relationship with the Jewish state, had its government overthrown. The Muslim Brotherhood came into power, bringing into question not only the decades-old peace agreement with Israel, but the daily security situation along the border.
Syria — a neighbor that, though it never officially signed a peace treaty with Israel since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, provided relative calm (mainly out of fear of Israeli retribution) — has endured the ravages of a civil war that has claimed over 120,000 casualities and has brought Al Qaida terrorists to Israel’s northern border.
Egypt’s government was overthrown again by the military establishment, causing mass violence that continues to this day. The Sinai desert, the physical border between Israel and Egypt, is the site of daily military battles between Islamist terror organizations and the Egyptian military. Egypt has even begun to threaten Hamas in Gaza for its active engagement on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood fighters.
Syria used chemical weapons against its civilians, prompting military threats from President Obama. Today the international world waits anxiously to see if Syria will follow through on its promise to destroy its chemical weapons, but the fighting and killing continue.
Where does all this leave Israel? One thing is absolutely certain: there is no certainty. Israel’s military and strategic planners are facing scenarios today that were impossible to imagine just three years ago.
And then there is Iran. Three years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders put the threat of Iran’s nuclear capability on the world’s radar. But so much has happened since then. Iran has buttressed the Syrian regime, allowing it not only to survive but enabling the slaughter of tens of thousands. In addition to supporting its ally, is Iran distracting the world from its nuclear development? Everyone agrees they are getting closer to weapons of mass destruction capability.
The volatility has increased with the election of Hassan Rouhani as president. As Netanyahu said in his recent speech at the UN, “Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing, but Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
How does Israel deal with these new strategic threats? Given the rapidly changing political environment, how does our Jewish community advocate on Israel’s behalf?
On Sunday, Oct. 20, the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest will hold its third annual Step Up For Israel Advocacy Summit (see sidebar) featuring experts on Egypt, Syria, and Iran from across the political spectrum. Its main focus is to impart a deeper understanding of the Middle East and offer guidelines on how we as a Jewish community can best advocate for Israel during this tumultuous time.
While traditional Israel advocacy has focused on defending Israel’s actions or communicating the threats Israel faces, today’s challenge is to engage a wide range of people who have little connection to or interest in Israel (including many Jews). Reaching such segments of the population necessitates more than having the answers to difficult questions; it takes creative outreach and branding strategies, introducing Israel to wide audiences on their terms and in the context of their interests.
At the summit, we will hear from experts and learn practical tools and initiatives that we can all implement.