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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:

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.

The Weakening of the Islamic State: Have the Mighty Fallen?

Mar 16, 2017 — INSS

Much has been written about the Islamic State and its sources of power since it captured headlines in June 2014 with the announcement of the Islamic Caliphate. The support it won from individuals and groups throughout the Middle East and outside the region, the extent of the territory it seized in Iraq and Syria, and its impressive economic capabilities, so that it became known as the “world’s richest terrorist organization,” strengthened it and boosted the public and media attention directed at it. Since 2016, however, the sources of the Islamic State’s power have begun to weaken, with the ongoing attacks against its strongholds by the international coalition led by the United States, Russian forces, and other local groups. In March 2017, these groups began the re-conquest of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. In addition to the noticeable blow to Islamic State forces, these attacks have caused the caliphate to lose control of territory, in turn impacting negatively on the Islamic State’s financial situation.

Iran and the United States under the Trump Administration

Mar 6, 2017 — INSS

The new American administration and Iran were on a collision course even before President Trump’s inauguration, and the missile tests conducted by Iran (on January 29, 2017), a few days after Trump was sworn in, drew an immediate response. Though not materially different from stances by the Obama administration, the US response took the form of sanctions against 13 people and 12 companies linked to the missile industry, including members of the Revolutionary Guard (a list that was likely prepared in advance). On February 3, 2017, without going into details, then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn stated that the administration was “officially putting Iran on notice,” and after an attack by Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen on a Saudi vessel, Secretary of Defense James Mattis emphasized that Iran was the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem: Opportunities, Risks, and Recommendations

Feb 12, 2017 — INSS

During the American election campaign, one of the promises that President Trump made was to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Unlike other issues, such as immigration and trade, about which Trump made some quick decisions during his first few days in office, he announced that the embassy question is complex and will be discussed in the coming months. King Abdullah’s visit to the United States and messages from the Arab world expressed several risks that such a move would entail, possibly causing the president to rethink his commitment. The administration’s decision on upholding or curbing the 1995 Congressional legislation on moving the embassy to Jerusalem must be made before June 2017, when a presidential decision is required (every six months).

The United States and China at the Outset of the Trump Era: A Rocky Start, with Far-Reaching Potenti

Jan 17, 2017 — INSS

The election of Donald Trump heralds a change in United States policy, and with the inauguration of a new administration on January 20, 2017, official policies, many of which remain vague at this point, will begin to take shape. Relations with China are emerging as a major focus of the new administration; they are a key variable in the United States economy – an issue that played a central role in Trump’s election campaign.

Sparta in the Gulf: The Growing Regional Clout of the United Arab Emirates

Jan 8, 2017 — INSS

The weakening of the traditional Arab political and military centers, as a result of the upheavals in the Middle East, has spurred a change in the conduct of some of the Arab Gulf states and boosted their influence. A prominent example of this is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has positioned itself as a key player in the processes shaping the region. After dealing with potential threats at home, the federation (which includes the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain) took a leading role in contending with some of the political, economic, and military challenges posed by the Arab Spring

Suicide Attacks in 2016: The Highest Number of Fatalities

Jan 5, 2017 — INSS

2016 was the deadliest year in suicide terrorism, a main weapon of deterrence and one of the most effective tools for promoting the political goals of terrorist organizations since its use began in the early 1980s.

According to the Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict Research Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in 2016, 469 suicide bombings were carried out by 800 perpetrators in 28 countries, causing the deaths of 5,650 people. These numbers represent bombings that were reported by at least two independent sources; many unverified reports by organizations seeking to glorify their name, headed by the Islamic State, were not counted, and coordinated bombings on a number of targets carried out simultaneously were counted as one bombing.

Secretary of State Kerry’s Speech on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Jan 2, 2017 — INSS

While the challenge regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict posed by US Secretary of State John Kerry on December 28, 2016, shortly before the end of his term in office, was directed primarily at Israel, it was also aimed at the Palestinians. In his speech, Kerry stipulated the starting points for any future talks between the sides, yet ignoring the fact that in previous rounds of negotiations held over the last twenty years toward a permanent status agreement both sides have rejected these principles. Furthermore, the Secretary of State ignored the turbulence in the Middle East of recent years, although this upheaval demands a reexamination of the traditional negotiations paradigm.

The Quiet Revolution in the Global Oil Industry

Jan 1, 2017 — INSS

In recent years, the oil-producing countries refrained from making informed decisions about reducing the amount of oil they supply to the global market. The result has been a sharp decline in their revenues. In 2012, when the industrialized countries emerged from the economic crisis that hit the world economy in 2008-2009, the price of crude oil soared, reaching $110 a barrel. Three years later, in December 2015, the price of a barrel of oil was less than $50. Saudi Arabia, the most influential oil producer because of its oil reserves and its hold on a quarter of the daily supply of crude oil to markets, was behind the decision not to reduce the amounts in order to raise prices. The reason: its desire to maintain the global markets connected to the supply of Saudi oil at any price, and also, some say, its desire to decrease the economic viability of investments in developing alternative energy sources, especially in the United States.

Security Council Resolution 2334: The Legal Significance

Dec 30, 2016 — INSS

On December 23, 2016, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 on the Jewish settlements, after the United States abstained from the vote and all other 14 members voted in favor. The Security Council resolution was the first to include such a firm condemnation of the Israeli government’s policy on the settlements since Resolution 465 in 1980.

A key motif in the resolution, as emphasized in paragraph 4, is the need to cease all activity concerning the settlements in order to salvage the two-state solution. The preamble to the resolution condemns “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem” and expresses “grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines.” The resolution stipulates that measures should be taken “to reverse the negative trends on the ground which are steadily eroding the two-State solution and entrenching a one-State reality.” These statements, as well as the explanations given by Secretary Kerry and other American administration sources for the United States abstention in the vote, underscore the focus of the resolution on the effort to halt Israeli measures perceived as liable to thwart the implementation of a two-state solution. This refers primarily to construction outside the settlement blocs and Israeli legislative initiatives perceived as intended to change the legal status of the area, along with statements by senior members of the Israeli government members about the end of the two-state era. While the resolution expresses a double standard toward Israel on the part of the countries of the world, these measures by the Israeli government are probably what led to the resolution, on top of the poor relations between the Israeli government and the American administration.