TLR 183- Red lines and Red Herrings
December 20, 2017
After years of blessed boredom, during which Israel was able to watch regional developments from the sidelines with very limited direct involvement, the second half of 2017 has seen a dramatic change. Granted, during this period the pace of events across the entire region has accelerated, but from Israel’s vantage point, the change that has taken place is qualitative, not merely more of the same.
The focal point of this change is Syria, where 2017 has witnessed a move from a prolonged period of war, disruption and political uncertainty, to a new period of ‘post-war settlement’. This latter state is still a work in progress, but the move from war to post-war in Syria has, for Israel, necessitated a move from non-involvement (not to be confused with passivity) to involvement.
The changing situation in Syria is one of the two major developments discussed in this issue — and, to my mind, it is much the more important one, at least in the short- and medium-term. However, the series of events in and around Syria that collectively define this change have been poorly reported and hardly explained in the mainstream media and hence have largely passed under the radar.
In sharp contrast, the declaration by President Trump of a change in American policy — whereby the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and undertakes to move its embassy there — has enjoyed ‘yuuuuuuge’ media coverage, before during and after the actual announcement. The fallout from this move has also been prominently reported, so that the general public can hardly avoid the conclusion that a major development in Middle Eastern affairs has taken place, at the least in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, Trump’s move is almost all posturing and has very little substance — and the same is true of most of the response to it.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to relate to the key questions surrounding this event: What were Trump’s motives in making this move? What effect will it have on the various parties — the US, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, various Arab and Moslem states? And, most importantly, when the dust settles, will there be any substantive change in the region, and if so — what?
I have had the chance to discuss both of these issues with many of you, in London recently or on the phone subsequently, but this Report summarises my thinking with regard to both of them, as well as relating to further developments, which continue almost daily. The conclusion of this analysis is that, as suggested above, we are entering a new and far more volatile period in what The Landau Report calls Section A: Regional Developments. The same is probably true for Section B: Domestic Politics, but they will be discussed in a separate issue.
The practical consequence of these conclusions is that there will probably be a need for more intensive interaction between us in 2018; this will include — in addition to newsletters and bulletins — conference calls as well as email correspondence and regular phone discussions.
Let me therefore urge everyone to enjoy their holidays this month — Hannuka, Christmas, New Year and whatever else you can find — because the coming months, and probably 2018 as a whole, are shaping up to be quite ‘challenging’.
A: Regional Developments
a) Trump’s Jerusalem declaration: noise vs substance
b) Israel intervenes in Syria
c) Borderline players: Hezbollah, Hamas and others