Defense Minister: Potential for new operational challenges on borders

Ehud Barak tells Knesset committee that Israel must be vigilant and prepared for any potential development in the region

Date: 02/01/2012, 4:55 PM     Author: IDF (Zahal) Website

On Monday (January 2), Defense Minister Ehud Barak presented a comprehensive review of Israel’s current strategic security environment and political situation to the members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Barak said that, at the start of 2012, Israel finds itself at a complex junction and is facing many multi-dimensional challenges.

“The Middle East is in a transition period, and the defining characteristic at the heart of what is called the ‘Arab Spring’ is a measure of increasing uncertainty and instability,” Barak said.

Barak added: “It is too early to develop concrete expectations of where this could lead, and yet the ‘old order’ in the area has been undermined by a ‘new order,’ which has yet to stabilize. ‘Earthquakes’ and further turbulence will continue at different strengths, while the increasing strength of the ‘street’ and public, increasing hostility to Israel and the rise of Islamic movements are broad common denominators.”

Barak noted it is still too early to determine if the “Arab Spring” will evolve into an “Islamic Winter,” though a historic perspective reveals a trend that requires alertness.  He stressed that “there is also the potential for new operational challenges on the northern and southern borders. Sinai has the potential to develop into a hotbed for terrorists. The situation in Syria may have implications for the Golan Heights, or larger areas, due to a loss of control.”

“All of these situations require vigilance and an appropriate level of preparedness by our security forces. All the while, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran wait in the wings, aided by an increasingly far-reaching effort to de-legitimize Israel aimed at isolating Israel and limiting her freedom to act. The duty and responsibility of our security forces is to formulate a response and be prepared for any development or change. Even those who are not experts in security understand the need to address these regional challenges, which increase the likelihood of scenarios of deterioration and escalation, and it seems that this threat will continue for several years until the region begins to stabilize.”

Barak emphasized that the combination of these events and their intensity is a “strategic warning” that requires attention and a response of a greater magnitude.

Regarding Judea and Samaria, Barak noted that the region “has remained relatively quite as a result of the efforts of security forces, the IDF (Zahal), and the Shin Bet security services in coordination with the Palestinians.” With regard to criminal activities in Judea and Samaria, he stressed that firm action will be taken against anyone who undermines the order and authority of the state.  “It is an unacceptable phenomenon that we unequivocally condemn and the resulting damage extends into the international arena, portraying Israel in a negative light.” Barak added that he ordered the IDF (Zahal) to “take extreme action without compromise against the offenders. Furthermore, we are developing an integrated response, taking actions and making legal decisions to help fight this phenomenon.”

Regarding the Gaza Strip, on the third anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, the Barak asserted that “Hamas is deterred by the heavy hand of the IDF (Zahal) and still remembers it well.” However, he also noted that “Hamas continues to intensify its operations, building strength and consolidating its rule in Gaza.”