During the 20th century, Israel's military and strategic posture was designed to cope with the existential threats posed by its Arab neighbors, alongside an intermittent series of low-intensity campaigns against irregular guerilla forces perched on its borders. However, the changing geo-strategic realities of the region in the aftermath of the "Arab Spring" have turned preconceived notions within the regional system on its head. This has led to the introduction of increased great-power competition within the region as foreign powers have preyed on and utilized fragmented and failed states for their own interests. This phenomenon has been most pronounced in Syria, where its disintegration into a fragmented, failed state embroiled in an intractable civil war has seen the insertion of Iran, Russia, and Turkey, in addition to the United States, all supporting different rebel groups and actors whose interests have frequently overlapped and clashed.
For Israel, this has complicated the strategic picture in Syria. In conjunction with Iran's neo-imperial foreign policy, as it seeks to expand its interests from its frontier with Iraq, to the Eastern Mediterranean, has forced Israel to deal with additional complications in its near-abroad.
Iran's strategy in the short term is to expand its influence through its irregular forces as well as proxies in the Syrian Golan Heights allowing for a staging ground against the substantial Israeli troop presence in the region. Israel, in response, has sought to expand its substantial deterrent capability against the Iranian buildup through limited and targeted airstrikes against weapons transfers to Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Quds Force) based in Syria. In the lead-up to the Trump Administration's decertification of the Iranian nuclear agreement (JCPOA), there is a heightened chance for Iranian retaliation against Israel in the north. This could most likely come in the form of a surface to surface missile strike by Iran or one of its proxies. However, there is also a small possibility of a limited ground incursion or anti-tank missile strike, such as the Iranian response to an Israeli missile strike which killed Jihad Mugniyeh, the son of Hezbollah's military chief Imad Mugniyeh, as well as Iranian and the Quds Force General Mohammed Ali Allahdadi in January of 2015. The Iranian response targeted an Israeli patrol in Sheba'a Farms, killing three soldiers, but avoided any further escalations. One must take into account that the next few days, JCPOA decertification day would be the opportune time for the Iranians to escalate as a mean to show their combat capacity against Israel, as well as show Washington and the West the potential pitfalls of withdrawing from the nuclear agreement. The confluence of interests and actors within Syria could potentially lead to a spillover into outright conflict between Israel, Iran and its proxies. To counter this potential threat, Israel must aggressively counter Iran both militarily and diplomatically. Militarily, this means continuing the military strikes against Iran and its proxies in conjunction with an aggressive diplomatic program through its intermediaries in Moscow, making sure Iran knows the consequences of its actions and Israel's red lines, which it will continue to act on if it feels threatened.
With the Iranian, and Russian intervention in Syria, which undoubtedly has contributed to the potential for escalation in the region, it has also led to strategic opportunities for new alliances and geopolitical alignments. Israel no longer faces an existential threat from conventional Arab state armies, but it nevertheless must recalibrate its strategic posture in light of the rapid proliferation of sub-state entities, supported by Iran, as well as the added intervention of substantial Russian conventional military forces near its border.
During the Syrian Civil War, these sub-state entities, including Hezbollah, as well as Iranian armed militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, have gained valuable combat experience, increasingly resembling conventional armies, led by Iranian military advisors. Iran remains a threat as it seeks to expand its nuclear ambitions in conjunction with the expansion of its influence through a widening network of proxies throughout the region.
Current regional events seem to have marginalized the relative importance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and increased the possibilities of Israeli cooperation with other moderate Arab states sharing similar interests and enemies. However, the current reality nevertheless requires Israel to make hard decisions in relations with the wider region. While Israel will seek to (and perhaps) achieve greater tactical and strategic cooperation with other Arab states, it will still remain the "other" in the Middle Eastern state system. At best, it can hope for a "cold peace" with the moderate Sunni bloc of states, akin to the peace treaties that Jerusalem has signed with both Jordan and Egypt. The changing regional dynamics and recent rhetoric emanating from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who claimed that the Jews do have a right to their own state, can serve as a bridge for Israel with the rest of the Arab world, vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue and within the regional political context. But Israel must take into account the antipathy that moderate Arab governments must cope with within their own population, against Israel as a western colonial entity and proceed in any relationship in a cautious and moderate manner.