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Being neighbourly in the post-Mubarak Mid East

By Damien Cheong - posted Monday, 21 February 2011

Recent events in the Middle East have increased Israel’s paranoia that it would once again be surrounded by a sea of hostile neighbours bent on its demise.

Since the crisis in Egypt began, the Israeli media has been abuzz with reports of politicians and analysts predicting that an Islamist take over was imminent.

To Israel’s East, King Abdullah II’s recent engagement with Jordan’s Islamists provided them with a greater say in the running of the country. Hezbollah in the North has gained political supremacy in Lebanon due in part to the Israel-Lebanon War in 2006.


Further East, Iran’s nuclear program and strike capability add to the list of Israel’s real or imagined threats.

Finally, repeated attempts to dislodge HAMAS from the Gaza Strip have proven unsuccessful, and negotiations with the Palestinians have reached an impasse.

To the political establishment, such developments vindicate its existing view that Israel is perpetually vulnerable, and its survival is dependent upon a zero-sum approach towards the Palestinians as well as its Arab neighbours.

The zero-sum approach basically means that when dealing with the Palestinians or her Arab neighbours, Israel must always emerge in a far superior position than her interlocutor. This approach applies not only to peace agreements but also to military responses to rocket attacks and cross-border skirmishes.

The win-at-all-cost mentality, particularly when it involves retaliatory strikes, has directly and indirectly caused much suffering to Palestinians and other Arab civilians. This has invariably created popular discontent with Israel throughout the Arab and indeed the Muslim world, fuelled Islamist rage and tarnished Israel’s image internationally.

Moreover, it makes it extremely difficult for Arab regimes that already have peace treaties with Israel like Egypt and Jordan to legitimise existing agreements or for those Arab states that wish to seek normalisation with Israel.


Perhaps there are strategic advantages of maintaining an agreeable tension with her Arab neighbours. But even so, the validity of the zero-sum approach must surely be called into question in light that it has been counter-productive to Israel’s purported efforts to co-exist in peace with her Arab neighbours.

One of the major tenets of Israel’s national security doctrine has been to maintain a military superiority to her Arab neighbours as a deterrent. To that end, Israel possesses a well-trained and professional armed forces, enforces conscription, manufactures and acquires advanced weapons technology including its highly ambiguous nuclear arsenal.

Moreover, in an effort to prevent potential aggressors from gaining the technological advantage, Israel has required neighbouring Arab states to police common borders to prevent weapons smuggling and/or infiltration into Israel, obtained commitments from international allies not to supply high tech weaponry to her neighbours and restricted the kinds of technology that can be imported into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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About the Author

Damien Cheong (PhD) is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Global Terrorism Research Centre, Monash University, Australia.

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All articles by Damien Cheong

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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