President Reuven Rivlin at INSS conference
President Reuven Rivlin at INSS conferenceKobi Gideon/GPO

President Reuven Rivlin on Monday reviewed the challenges facing the State of Israel as he spoke in the opening session of the 12th annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). The conference took place at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.

“I would choose two words to describe Israel’s strategic position in the near future: escalation and complexity,” said the president at the beginning of his remarks. “Escalation and intensification on one hand, complications and growing complexity on the other. Those are the two central characteristics of the security and political arena in the past year and in the near future.”

The president also related to Iranian involvement in the region, saying “there are those who think that Iran’s regional plans have been halted or have been altered by Israeli action. There are those who see escalation in the level of conflict and, in any case, Iran – I believe – will respond more forcefully to Israeli policy in the north, both in Syria and in Lebanon. The Iranian challenge is not to our north but in the sphere of international diplomacy.”

“Continued Iranian ballistic missile tests and assassination plots that emanate from Teheran have long been a source of contention in the relations between Iran and the members of the European Union. In my talks with French President Emmanuel Macron last week, this issue came up alongside the question of Lebanon. I feel that the Europeans are getting closer to Israel’s view of the situation regarding the dangers emanating from the Iranian regime,” said Rivlin.

The president also spoke about the Palestinian issue, saying “The Gaza strip is still bubbling, the humanitarian situation there is grave and it is fueled by the politics of hatred and division, both internal Palestinian and against Israel. We have the internal Palestinian conflict between Hamas and Fatah and Abu Mazen’s decision to impose heavy sanctions on Gaza. All these push us to make decisions which are the lesser of two evils.”

“The Israeli security establishment,” he continued, “believes that a military solution alone cannot bring a long-term improvement to the situation in Gaza. It is the combination of military force, a policy of partial containment and Israeli-Egyptian diplomacy that has been successful. But the Israeli public, it would appear, finds it hard to accept that containment, particularly when its consequences make life hard in the area of Israel contiguous to Gaza.”

“In my view, not only will the complexity regarding Hamas and Gaza not disappear, but the spirit of Hamas and its people is spreading in a worrying way into Judea and Samaria. If Hamas and its way were once considered a problem and a threat by the Palestinian leadership, today parts of the population and parts of the official Palestinian leadership see Hamas’s way as the solution. This new trend has begun to create real complexity for Israel.”

In conclusion, the president spoke about public discourse in the run-up to elections, saying that “from election campaign to election campaign, the electronic means of disseminating messages and motivating voters become more and more sophisticated. The reforms in election broadcasts and the requirements of transparency proposed by the Central Elections Committee headed by Judge Dorit Beinisch, express an acknowledgement of the rising complexity in the field of elections in a democratic state.”

“The Israeli political scene is more complex than ever, and now it is also open to extremism because of the need to distinguish between parties and to motivate voters by labeling ‘us’ and ‘them’, de-legitimizing political groups and individuals from right and left. Political and ideological rivalries are becoming real enmities. Worse than that, organs of the state, primarily law enforcement and the judiciary – not to their benefit and against their will – have become election issues. I do not need to explain here how dangerous this trend is for Israeli society and even for Israel’s security.”

“Israel is strong and resilient at the moment,” stressed the president at the end of his remarks. “Those on the left and on the right who claim that faced with complexity and escalation Israel stands defenseless and passive are wrong and mislead us. We are not passive. We respond with sensitivity, with wisdom, with force, with lethality, to external threats and internal challenges. But it seems that today’s responses are not enough. We must take the initiative.”

The president continued, “we must formulate a strategy and put it into action. The poisonous behavior of the Iranian regime is fed by Assad’s power vacuum in Syria, the systemic weakness of the Lebanese government and by the withdrawal of democratic forces from engaging in the Middle East. We must do all we can to bring our close allies back to the region, perhaps in the framework of a regional political initiative. The status quo with the Palestinians is not in Israel’s favor. We must make efforts to change it, particularly with confidence-building measures, for our benefit and for the benefit of the Palestinians as well. The Israeli political arena can and should take more meaningful responsibility for what is and what is not permitted. Agreements that cross party and bloc lines about norms of behavior will not blur positions and lose votes, but rather raise civic trust in politics and strengthen us as a society and a community. From the inception of Zionism until today, an Israel that initiates is an Israel that is victorious. Now is the time to initiate; now is the time for victory.”