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Rajat Dubey asked: What will be the short and long term effect of Arab turmoil and growing confrontation with Turkey on the strategic position of Israel?

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  • Rumel Dahiya replies: Although Israel did not have many friends to count upon in the region, it was in a reasonably comfortable situation till 2009 in view of friendly relations with Turkey, stable relations with Egypt and Jordan, and fissures among the Palestinians and a weak Syria to contend with. Even other Arab countries were less hostile towards Israel than before. However, the "street" in the countries neighbouring Israel continued to be by and large hostile towards it. Deterioration of relations with Turkey weakened Israel's position in the region since Turkey was gaining in strength and influence. Israel still felt confident of its security because of its military strength and unstinted support of the US.

    The Arab Spring or Arab Turmoil has disturbed the geo-political balance in the region. Egypt has now come under the sway of the conservative forces. It is expected that the new dispensation in Egypt will be less accommodating of Israel's security and diplomatic concerns despite the fact that it will need external (read US) financial assistance to be able to improve economic condition of the masses. The Egyptian military's salience in decision-making is bound to come down over time and Egypt's policy towards Israel will be dictated more and more by the popular perception at home. However, an armed conflict between the two countries is not expected in short to medium term due to asymmetry of power between the two countries.

    The Iran factor, unless Israel decides to undertake strikes on Iranian nuclear installations, will work to its advantage. Israel may be hoping for fragmentation of Syria on ethnic lines following a civil war, but the outcome may be different and Muslim Brotherhood may assume power upon the fall of the current regime. This will not be a welcome development for Israel. Turkey's ambitions of gaining a leadership role in the region have met with some headwinds in past months and it will remain embroiled in diplomatic stand off with some EU countries and will have to make difficult choices with regard to Syria. It will also be in a difficult situation if Israel decides on striking Iranian nuclear facilities to slow down and disrupt its march towards nuclear weaponisation. Given the asymmetry of military power and the fact that its neighbours will be busy trying to establish internal security, it is felt that in the short-term Israel does not face any military threat or serious diplomatic pressure. However, if the Palestinian factions genuinely unite and once the conservative governments in countries surrounding Israel become stable, there will be serious diplomatic pressures on Israel. It will still be militarily powerful enough to deal with any threat and new gas finds off its coast in Eastern Mediterranean will help its economy, yet its diplomatic isolation is expected to grow. Sub-conventional threats are also likely to grow and hard response will invite universal condemnation. Though Israel can meet the threats that it may face, it is likely to come under growing pressure to resolve the Palestinian problem.