War in Ukraine, Regional Amity in the Mediterranean: Evolving Aspects of a Complex International Reality

by May 2022
Ukrainian woman in front of a destroyed house in Lyman, Ukraine, Photo credit: REUTERS

A serious forum for the discussion of major regional and international developments and policy issues—such the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune aspires to be—is not a daily paper chasing after events. And yet the sheer magnitude of what has been happening in Ukraine since late February 2022 forced its own logic upon us all. A large part of this fourth issue of the JST is by necessity focused upon the Russian invasion, the motivations behind it, the initial lessons drawn from the brutal but often deficient manner that it has been conducted so far, and its far-reaching implications for the world in which we live. In his opening letter, our publisher, Ahmed Charai, takes a sad note of the fact that many nations in Africa and elsewhere have failed to see this war in the same moral and political light as do those in the West who rallied against Russian aggression.

A leading expert on modern warfare, Eado Hecht, offers a first take on the conduct of Russian operations and on Ukraine’s counteractions. Yaniv Levyatan adds insights into the role of information warfare and imagery from the battlefield in what he calls the “First Tik Tok War.” Both Lev Topor, looking at the strategic imperatives, and Dima Course, discussing Russian ideological drivers, reflect upon the underlying causes of this paroxysm of violence on European soil, the most severe since 1945. JST’s regular columnist Ksenia Svetlova dedicated her portrait in power this time to the man who unexpectedly became a latter-day Churchillian figure, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, tracing his transformation from a TV comedian to a real-life dramatic player in a drama scripted by his determined enemy, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, Pnina Shuker’s column on military matters traces the problematic impact of public opinion on the way in which Russia has been conducting the war.

The war does seem to prove prophetic Efraim Inbar’s essay in our second issue, which foresaw that war is, and will still be, with us so long as the wills of nations and of leaders continue to clash. And yet the bitter lessons already learned may yet, perhaps, lend weight also to Azar Gat’s claim—in the third issue—that over time, in a world marked by the devastating economic (and reputational) costs of aggression, war may be losing its appeal to many (but clearly not to all) modern nations. In any case, the need for readiness against the prospect of war has now been brought back into the core of policy debates in the West.

Dov Zakheim’s regular column thus takes us into the heart of the US policy debate over the scope and purpose of Biden’s defense budget. Another dimension of this discussion derives from Israel’s experience since its inception, or even before it, suggesting a possible template for survival in a hostile environment.

Here, two contributions suggest that Israel needs to adjust to new security threats. Yoav Gelber, a leading Israeli military historian, who questions the intellectual validity of the three traditional pillars of Israel’s defense doctrine—harta‘ah (deterrence), hatra‘ah (early warning) and hachra‘ah (decisive outcome or “victory”)—and points out their growing irrelevance to the types of warfare Israel may need to fight in the foreseeable future. Responding to the challenge of change, Brigadier General Eran Ortal—an active service officer in charge of doctrinal development—suggests that the IDF’s operational concept is now focused on regaining the initiative against forces such as Hezbollah and Hamas, which have crossed the threshold from guerilla organizations into what the recent doctrinal documents call “diffuse, rocket-based terror armies.”

In this troubled world, the importance of new regional bonds of amity and cooperation—creating a dramatically altered strategic environment—has become more pronounced. The very definition of the “region” has changed, as links have been forged between the nations of the Eastern Mediterranean as well as between Israel and key Arab states. David Pollock, for many years a keen observer of public attitudes in the Middle East, gives us a tour d’horizon of Mediterranean developments. These are better understood against the American policy of “restraint” in the Eastern Mediterranean, presented here by former US Ambassador in Cyprus John Koenig. Ehud Eiran observes that this new definition of Israel’s place in the world has transformed it from an isolated terminus to a regional hub; while Antonia Dimou brings a Greek perspective on the effective new alignment of forces. Eran Lerman’s column on Grand Strategy and Identity Politics finds a link between President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s extensive use of Pharaonic symbolism in the public domain and the changing nature of Egypt’s regional associations, focused less on the Arab and Islamic character of Egypt and more upon its Mediterranean partnership (including a much-improved relationship with Israel).

In two related pieces, Israel’s former Director of Military Intelligence, Major General Amos Yadlin, points to the need for a joint response—perhaps in the form of a Middle East Air Defense Treaty (MEADT) to the Iranian-sponsored missile and drone attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia; whereas another prominent former practitioner, Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich (in his day, the chief negotiator with the regime of Hafez al-Assad) weighs Israel’s options in Syria—none of them promising.

Lest we allow the unfolding drama in Ukraine to sweep aside all other priorities, this issue offers Jon Alterman’s overview of the impact of COVID-19 (or rather, the lack thereof) on the political stability of regimes in the Middle East, with some suggestions as to why the reactions were ultimately so muted. It also carries two significant essays on African affairs by American diplomats. Charles Ray argues forcefully that it would be a mistake to ignore the continent’s potential, all the more so during these turbulent times. J. Peter Pham, in his second essay for JST, takes note of the need to counter Iran’s growing influence in Africa, as part of our ongoing debate about the Islamic Republic’s ambitions and purposes. These, after all, could easily be the spark that could ignite the next great conflagration.

Eran Lerman
Col. (ret.) Dr. Eran Lerman is a former senior intelligence officer. He served as Israel’s deputy national security adviser (2009–2015), and prior to that as director, AJC Israel and ME office (2001–2009). He is currently the vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and a lecturer at Shalem College. @EranLerman
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