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Institute for National Securities Studies, INSS is an independent academic institute.

The Institute is non-partisan, independent, and autonomous in its fields of research and expressed opinions. As an external institute of Tel Aviv University, it maintains a strong association with the academic environment. In addition, it has a strong association with the political and military establishment.

Most Recent Articles by INSS:

North Korean ICBM Tests: No Surprises, No Good Answers

Aug 7, 2017 — INSS

While North Korea’s recent nuclear tests significantly raised the level of fear in the United States, they were not a surprise. North Korea, long a nuclear state, is a dangerous nuclear proliferator that has shirked international commitments. Pyongyang issues highly aggressive rhetoric toward the United States and its regional neighbors on a regular basis; it flaunts its nuclear capability and threatens to use it, and tends to share nonconventional know-how and technologies. And herein lies a link to Tehran: as Iran also remains motivated in the nuclear realm despite the JCPOA, the direct implications of North Korea’s activities for Iran’s nuclear program must be under constant scrutiny. The indirect implications for dealing with Iran’s nuclear motivation invoke the ability to rely on negotiations to stop a determined proliferator. The North Korean case of failed negotiations must be heeded when thinking about Iran.

Israel and American Jewry: Stepping Back from the Brink

Aug 1, 2017 — INSS

The controversies surrounding the Israeli government’s recent decisions concerning the Western Wall and a bill on conversion underscore key divides in Israeli-Diaspora relations. The ensuing crisis took many Israeli political leaders by surprise, which itself is evidence of a deep disconnect between Israeli leaders attuned to Israeli voters, and the attitudes of American Jewish leaders and activists. Anyone who spends time these days in American Jewish communities cannot fail to note the anger and feelings of personal betrayal. It is a raw moment, which requires careful handling by leaders on both sides to pull Israel and many of its key supporters back from the brink of a potentially irreparable split.

Jerusalem’s holy sites have a way of asserting strategic significance far beyond what their simple physical presence would suggest. Events in the aftermath of the shooting of two Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount highlight this truth.

From the Temple Mount to the Israeli Embassy in Jordan

Jul 31, 2017 — INSS

The tension on the Temple Mount and the crisis between Israel and Jordan following the attack on a security guard at the Israeli embassy in Amman need more than ad hoc solutions that leave the basic situation – the catalyst underlying these events – unresolved, and the strategic opportunities in efforts to reach an agreement untapped.

Iran: Mounting Tension between President Rouhani and the Revolutionary Guards

Jul 16, 2017 — INSS

The tension between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Revolutionary Guards that was evident during the presidential election campaign has intensified in recent weeks and evolved into a confrontation that is unprecedented in its openly severe nature. The current confrontation surrounds two main issues: Iran’s missile strike against Islamic State targets in Syria, and President Rouhani’s criticism of the Revolutionary Guards’ involvement in the economy.

The IDF Exercises in Cyprus and Crete

Jun 28, 2017 — INSS

The Israel Defense Forces recently completed a large military exercise on the island of Cyprus, and a smaller training exercise in Crete was held several months earlier. Although the commanders of the exercise did not refer to this specifically, the topographic outline of Cyprus is clearly similar to that of the Lebanese mountains, and in general, training in unfamiliar territory, and particularly when it resembles areas beyond the border where the troops may well have to operate, is highly important. The exercise presumably created tension with Turkey; in addition, the government heads of Israel, Cyprus, and Greece met earlier this month in Greece, in yet another trilateral meeting since the leaders of the three countries met in Nicosia a year ago to establish a new geopolitical bloc in the Eastern Mediterranean, partly as a counterweight to Turkey.

The Conservative Predicament in Iran

Jun 26, 2017 — INSS

The results of the recent elections are the latest development in a line of defeats that Iran’s conservatives have suffered in recent years. The difficulty faced by the conservative right in its efforts to recruit the support of the Iranian public can be explained by the conservative failure to provide a relevant response to demands regarding economics and individual freedoms. The election results showed that it is not enough to scatter slogans or use social media to recruit public support. Yet as conservative elements continue to control the main centers of power, the prospects for change appear remote. Moreover, the challenges facing the conservative camp do not at this stage amount to a substantive threat to regime stability or even to the continuation of the conservative hegemony. However, adapting revolutionary ideology to the constraints of reality is the key to survival of the system.

Following a stormy election campaign, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was reelected for a second term of office. Rouhani won 57 percent of the votes, while his main rival, the conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, received less than 39 percent of the vote. Rouhani’s sweeping victory in 23 out of the 31 provinces throughout Iran was particularly striking in view of the high voter turnout – about 73 percent, one of the highest rates ever recorded in presidential elections in Iran. In the country’s ongoing political struggle between the pragmatic/reformist camp, which seeks change, even if limited and gradual, and the conservative camp, which fears change and is determined to block it, Iranian citizens preferred the more moderate candidates. In the elections for local councils, which were held concurrently with the presidential elections, candidates for lists identified with the reformist camp also recorded impressive achievements. For the first time in 14 years, reformist candidates (including a record number of six women) won all 21 seats in Tehran’s city council. The reformists were also victorious in other central cities, including Isfahan, Shiraz, Karaj, Yazd, Tabriz, and even the holy city of Mashhad, the home of presidential candidate Raisi.

East-West-North-South: The Race for Syria after the Islamic State

Jun 26, 2017 — INSS

The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes – with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. In the meantime, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late. Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern Syria.

Increasing signs are pointing to the impending fall of the Islamic State in Syria, which has suffered a series of defeats in recent months. The territory in eastern Syria that will be freed of Islamic State control now constitutes a focus of the major struggle between the United States and Iran in Syria, as both are striving to seize the area. Early June marked the onset of the final phase of the US-led coalition’s offensive to conquer the city of Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State in Syria, with a combined Kurdish-Arab (though predominantly Kurdish) ground force – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – and air support provided by the international coalition, including the United States, other Western countries, and Arab states. At the same time, Iran and its proxies have also started intensifying efforts aimed at shaping Syria the day after the fall of the Islamic State. Forces of the pro-Assad coalition are currently trying to expand their control in the Deir ez-Zor region and improve their access to Raqqa and the surrounding area, and also seize key positions along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

The New United States Policy against the Islamic State: Ramifications for Asymmetric Warfare

Jun 21, 2017 — INSS

Are the recent US strikes against the Islamic State, as well Russia’s permissive policy on airstrikes in Syria that cause mass civilian casualties and extensive harm to civilian infrastructures, evidence of a change in international standards in the fight against terrorist organizations and sub-state actors? A related question is: do the rules of engagement that apply to powers such as the United States and Russia also apply to other states confronting terrorism, such as Israel? How should Israel prepare for its next confrontation against a sub-state actor such as Hamas or Hezbollah that operates in an urban environment while intentionally embedded in the civilian population?

In late May 2017, US Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis announced a change in United States strategy in the war against the Islamic State, amounting to a transition from attrition to a concerted policy of annihilation. Mattis announced that the US intention is to prevent foreigners fighting in Islamic State ranks from surviving the battle and returning home or acting elsewhere, such as in North Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Mattis added that civilian casualties in the war against terrorism is “a fact of life,” but made it clear that US forces would continue to make great efforts to prevent civilian casualties, while taking the army’s needs into consideration. However, is already clear that since President Trump took office there has been an increase in civilian casualties in US attacks in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State.

Qatar under Siege: Regional Implications and Ramifications for the Palestinian Arena

Jun 12, 2017 — INSS

The severing of relations between Qatar and the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on the grounds that Qatar has been supporting terrorism, which follows on the heels of President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, will have serious regional implications. Closing Qatar’s sea and air space and the land border with Saudi Arabia are tantamount to casus belli and could lead to chaos in the emirate if not solved soon. Isolating Qatar will also have serious regional implications on Israel and the Palestinian arena. Qatar is one of the main financial supporters of the reconstruction Gaza Strip, in addition to paying salaries within the Hamas government and helping to provide services to Gaza Strip residents. Its isolation could lead to a decrease in its support for the Gaza Strip and push Hamas into the open arms of Iran. Although fighting terrorism is in the interests of Israel and the United States, Israel would be wise to advise the US administration not to paint Qatar into the corner, if only because this would push it further towards Iran.

President Trump’s Visit to the Middle East

May 22, 2017 — INSS

President Trump’s visit to the Middle East coincides with a bitter political crisis underway in Washington revolving around alleged contacts between close Trump associates and Russia during the election campaign. Accusations are under investigation by the FBI and committees in both houses of Congress; the US Justice Department has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the matter; and voices are heard, including among Republican lawmakers, regarding the possibility of impeachment proceedings against the President. These developments have forced the President, only four months into his tenure, into a defensive position that has already left its mark on his conduct in the US domestic arena and that has the potential to influence his foreign policy as well.

The meetings scheduled for Trump in Riyadh, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Vatican, like his participation in meetings of NATO and the G-7 in Sicily later in the month, will provide the President with something of an opportunity to divert domestic attention from the events underway in the American domestic arena. They also offer an opportunity to generate an alternative and more positive discourse focusing on the rapid and auspicious change that, as he sees it, his administration has succeeding in effecting in the Middle East and, as a result, in the status of the United States in the international arena.

Trump’s “Square One” on the Twisted Road to an Israeli-Palestinian Solution

May 21, 2017 — INSS

President Trump’s decision to pay his first visit abroad to the Middle East, specifically to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, underscores one of the most surprising early developments of his presidency: his seeming determination to make progress on advancing negotiations to achieve Israeli-Palestinian (and Arab-Israeli) peace. The notoriously insoluble conflict may be a questionable, and even risky, issue for a first presidential trip overseas, especially from a President who was widely expected to adopt Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach, which places primary focus for the Middle East’s ills on Iran. But this choice raises a tantalizing question: where so many others have failed, could President Trump actually succeed?

It is impossible to separate President Donald Trump’s potential ability to initiate negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians from the turmoil surrounding his administration, including the latest revelations about highly classified information, reportedly from Israel, leaked by the President to the Russians. The administration’s broader competence and stability is in question, as well as the confidence Israelis will have dealing with it on sensitive security matters. Those factors will certainly hamper the chances of success of any peace initiative. Thus against this background, and on the eve of the forthcoming presidential visit to the region, it is important to identify Trump’s strengths and weaknesses regarding his effort to return Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table.

The United States Attack in Syria: A Change in Europe-Trump Relations?

Apr 27, 2017 — INSS

The United States attack on the al-Shuayrat airport in Syria was met enthusiastically by a substantial portion of countries in Europe, including Britain, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta. Even Germany, which for years has objected to military intervention in international conflicts, expressed support, with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel saying that the attack was in conformity with international law. In addition, senior European Union representatives, such as European Council President Donald Tusk and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, welcomed the action. Middle East states, including Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, likewise said that they saw the event in a positive light.

This stance clashed conspicuously with that of other countries, among them China, Iran, and Russia, which expressed strong opposition to the US action in Syria. The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a laconic statement opposing the use of force in international relations, while Russian President Vladimir Putin responded sharply to the attack, calling it “aggression…in violation of the norms of international law.” The Russian and Chinese opposition to the US involvement in Syria is significant, given the prolonged efforts by a number of European countries to take action in the UN Security Council to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Shortly before the US attack, a Russian veto blocked a Security Council resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons that killed dozens of people in Syria. Indeed, since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, Russia and China have vetoed eight resolutions containing severe condemnations of the Damascus regime.

The United States Strike in Syria: Local Damage, Global Message

Apr 13, 2017 — INSS

On the afternoon of April 4, 2017, the Assad regime launched a chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria, murdering dozens of civilians, including children. On the night of April 6-7, the United States struck the Syrian air force base in Dardaghan-Shuayrat, from where the attack was launched, with dozens of cruise missiles. This was the first deliberate American attack against Assad regime targets. What follows is an analysis of the key implications of these events and the repercussions for Israel.

Shuayrat Airfield in Syria, struck by US Tomahawk cruise missiles. Photo: US Defense Department, as it appears on the Military Times website
On the physical and techno-tactical levels, the attack’s impact is insignificant. About 60 cruise missiles fired from destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea struck the air force base’s infrastructures and, as reported, caused few fatalities and destroyed a few aircraft. Other aircraft had been evacuated from the base earlier, following an advance warning issued by the United States to Russia, in order to avoid hitting Russian forces. Therefore, the attack did not significantly deprive the Assad regime of a significant capability to continue fighting, as can be seen from the subsequent resumption of the air strikes on Khan Sheikhoun itself. Nevertheless, the United States strike demonstrated the Assad regime’s vulnerability when the United States decides to take action against it, and neither Syria’s air defense systems, nor Russia’s, intercepted the cruise missiles, either out of choice or inability. Therefore, it is important to analyze the purposes of the US military action and its repercussions on the strategic level, which are expressed in terms of reputation, image, balances of power, rules of the game, deterrence, and the impact on decision making and on players’ calculus.

President Rouhani’s Visit to Russia: A New Level of Relations?

Apr 6, 2017 — INSS

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his first official visit to Russia on March 27-28, 2017, accompanied by Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and Iran’s Communications Minister, as well as a large economic delegation. The highlight of his visit was the meeting with President Vladimir Putin, during which the leaders discussed options for strengthening bilateral economic ties, trade, and investments. Noting the 70 percent growth in bilateral trade last year, President Rouhani stated that economic relations had moved from the stage of ordinary relations to long term projects. In a joint statement, Rouhani and Putin mentioned treaties in the fields of oil and gas, media and information technology, nuclear energy (construction has already started on one of two additional power stations in Bushehr), construction of a thermal power station in Bandar Abbas, and tourism. Indeed, an agreement was already signed eliminating the need for visas for tourist groups from Russia to Iran, concluded in discussions about possible full elimination of the need for visas to Iran by individual Russian visitors.

Remaking Syria: A Military Update, the Diplomatic Situation, and the Israeli Angle

Mar 27, 2017 — INSS

After more than six blood-soaked years, some half a million dead (mostly civilians), and millions of displaced people and refugees, there are signs that the military stage in the Syrian civil war is approaching an end. The war, which began as a civilian uprising, evolved into a war among jihadist organizations and then into a war among entities vying for regional dominance, bolstered by respective regional and international powers.

The turning point in the war began in September 2015, when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to intervene militarily in Syria to save Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The battlefield successes by the pro-Assad coalition, headed by Russia and assisted by Iran and its various proxies, including Hezbollah, peaked with the fall of the northern city of Aleppo in December 2016. This completed the principal effort to preserve Assad’s rule along Syria’s central spine where most of the population and governing centers are located. Russia subsequently launched a political campaign to reach an agreement that would include a stable ceasefire and the establishment of principles for an interim period that would determine the future of Syria and its regime.