The Palestinians therefore lack the political or military support to challenge Israel. This in turn has meant that other countries' alienation over Israeli policy toward the Palestinians has carried little risk. European countries opposed to Israeli policy are unlikely to take significant action. Because political opposition cannot translate into meaningful action, Israel can afford a higher level of aggressiveness toward the Palestinians.
Thus, Israel's strongest interest is in maintaining divisions among its neighbors and maintaining their disinterest in engaging Israel. In different ways, unrest in Egypt and Syria and Iran's regional emergence pose a serious challenge to this strategy.
Egypt is the ultimate threat to Israel. It has a huge population and, as it demonstrated in 1973, it is capable of mounting complex military operations.
But to do what it did in 1973, Egypt needed an outside power with an interest in supplying Egypt with massive weaponry and other support. In 1973, that power was the Soviet Union, but the Egyptians reversed their alliance position to the U.S. camp following that war. Once their primary source of weaponry became the United States, using that weaponry depended heavily on U.S. supplies of spare parts and contractors.
At this point, no foreign power would be capable of, or interested in, supporting the Egyptian military should Cairo experience regime change and a break with the United States. And a breach of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty alone would not generate a threat to Israel. The United States would act as a brake on Egyptian military capabilities, and no new source would step in. Even if a new source did emerge, it would take a generation for the Egyptians to become militarily effective using new weapon systems. In the long run, however, Egypt will remain Israel's problem.
The near-term question is Syria's future. Israel had maintained a complex and not always transparent relationship with the Syrian government. In spite of formal hostilities, the two shared common interests in Lebanon. Israel did not want to manage Lebanon after Israeli failures in the 1980s, but it still wanted Lebanon -- and particularly Hezbollah -- managed. Syria wanted to control Lebanon for political and economic reasons and did not want Israel interfering there. An implicit accommodation was thus possible, one that didn't begin to unravel until the United States forced Syria out of Lebanon, freeing Hezbollah from Syrian controls and setting the stage for the 2006 war.
Israel continued to view the Alawite regime in Syria as preferable to a radical Sunni regime. In the context of the U.S. presence in Iraq, the threat to Israel came from radical Sunni Islamists; Israel's interests lay with whoever opposed them. Today, with the United States out of Iraq and Iran a dominant influence there, the Israelis face a more complex choice. If the regime of President Bashar al Assad survives (with or without al Assad himself), Iran -- which is supplying weapons and advisers to Syria -- will wield much greater influence in Syria. In effect, this would create an Iranian sphere of influence running from western Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria and into Lebanon via Hezbollah. It would create a regional power. And an Iranian regional power would pose severe dangers to Israel.