This is the transcript of a discussion that occurred at the Israel-Australia-UK Leadership Dialogue at the King David Hotel, Jerusalem, on 20 December 2016. My role was merely to Chair the discussion between Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, served in the IDF for 42 years, commanding troops in battle on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts, and was a Corps commander, and commander of the IDF Military College; Dr Shaul Shay, military historian and former deputy head of the National Security Council, who served as a paratrooper with the IDF and is now a senior research fellow at the International Policy Institute for counter Terrorism (ICT) located within the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya; Baron Trimble,David Trimble, since 2006 enobled as Baron Trimble of Lisnagarvey in the County of Antrim, PC, the Northern Irish politician, the First Minister of Northern Ireland from 1998 to 2002, and the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party from 1995 to 2005, and 1998 joint Nobel Prize winner; Dr Nimrod Goren, the Founder and Head of Mitvim – the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies and a Teaching Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Professor Dr Moshe Ma’oz, Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, Hebrew University, in Jerusalem.
I am very pleased to welcome everybody to this final session of the Israel-Australia-UK Leadership Dialogue. We have an impressive panel of speakers, each of whom will speak briefly and then we will turn this symposium over to the participants in the Dialogue for comments and questions.
On my far right is Major General (res.) Gershon Hacohen who served with the IDF for 42 years commanding troops in battles on the Egyptian and Syrian frontiers. He was a Corps commander and commander of the IDF Military Colleges. Immediately to my right is Colonel (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay who is Director of the Research Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzelia. He is one of the leading experts of local and international terrorism in Israel and worldwide. Immediately to my left is Baron David Trimble, who is a Dialogue delegate and known to all of us during the last few days and needs no introduction. Further along is Dr. Nimrod Goren who is head of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies and a Lecturer at the Hebrew University. At the very end is Prof. Moshe Maoz, also of the Hebrew University, Emeritus Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, and previously Director of the University’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. Originally, we also hoped to have with us Prof. Hillel Frisch, an expert on Palestinian and Islamic politics who might still be joining us later on. But Baron Trimble gladly agreed to fill the gap.
We have covered a lot over the last two days. We have many ideas, impressions and perspectives to consider. In proposing this session, Albert Dadon suggested that we ask each of our panel members to speak briefly, about two things especially, to get some focus: One, the Middle East is in turmoil again, Syria disintegrating, Turkey had an attempted coup d’état earlier this year, there is also a lot of uncertainty as Iran continues to be threatening, Egypt is still recovering from The Arab Spring, while Jordan lives in fear of contamination on its borders. What are the opportunities and what are the threats to Israel in this environment? The second thing to ask our speakers to comment on is: Let’s imagine that the Trump administration keeps its promise to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Let’s consider consequences, including the unintended, positive and negative. What are they?
May be to start off we can go to General Gershon Hacohen.
Good morning and thank you for inviting me. To put it shortly, everyone knows that in every crisis we can find the potential of new opportunities. The best one to describe it was Reb. Nachman of Breslov, when telling the story of Joseph, being called from the prison, to solve a riddle for the King of Egypt, the Pharaoh. It was a very simple riddle: Seven fat cows are being eaten by seven thin cows. Does this mean that hunger is about to come? The answer seemed to be so simple, why, how could all the clever people of Egypt not solve it? Reb. Nachman explained that surely they could solve it. They gave the real interpretation for the dream but it brought along a very pessimistic idea to the Pharaoh. He wanted a second opinion. There are people who say that in a Jewish hospital we begin with the second opinion. This prisoner, Joseph, was called to bring a second opinion. He said, “Yes. What they told you is absolutely true. The hunger is about to come, and I am a Jew, an Israelite, I can offer you a deal for a price. Let’s collect all the food and we’ll build the food center of the world.”
So in every crisis someone can find an opportunity.
What could really be the possibility? Not being a villain exploiting the mass destruction. Of course that is not an option for us. We can even ask who can afford to pay for the reconstruction after the mass destruction in Syria, for example, or in Iraq. Nobody, probably. No Marshall Plan is offered to them. So, who can really offer? Of course the Israelis cannot offer salvation, even with our prosperity. What could be done for such huge mass destruction? Yet there is something we can offer. Especially in the Golan Heights, and it is already being done. The very help that we are giving for years to the neighbors over the borders really destroy images. Such as bringing the Israelis to take upon themselves a duty – to offer real salvation – for the people there. Even if a very small measure, this gives Israel a key for others to come and help. But this is just one corner. What else can be done? We must look at all the difficulties and challenges with our eyes wide open.
In Sinai, for example, it is no secret that we give military assistance to the Egyptians there, to carry the burden of fighting ISIS. ISIS is there and in other places. What is the lesson we the Israelis must learn from that? I am very sorry to tell you that my main lesson is that we must reach the conclusion that never – never can we accept a complete withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and bring into being a Palestinian state that could be a vital state within the ’67 borders. By no means; we must keep the Jordan Valley as a necessary isolation territory, otherwise ISIS actually will be here.
ISIS is not just 40,000 or more people equipped with weapons. It is an idea with powerful inspiration. What else can we study from that? The Palestinian state can never be really demilitarized, as everyone says, because in the new 21st century warfare, nobody can really inspect the demilitarization of a territory, because everybody can build a bomb in his own home, with instructions from the internet. It is being produced from materials in everyday civilian life. A lot of Americans have lost their lives or were severely wounded because of these new ways to create, from a private space, very severe weapons. It means that warfare has become privatized and it is not only carried out by a military organization. This privatization of warfare can lead to a very severe threat, a strategic threat.
Another lesson we must learn is the new role of civilians in keeping stability. It is everywhere. It is in Dunyezk [in the Ukraine], that civilians are leading the main activity of war because it gives a kind of strategic disappearance, for Putin, for everyone. Not soldiers but civilians. It is a civilian warfare. Therefore, everywhere the distinction between soldiers and civilians is not working any more. That is making reality itself post-modern, because modernism is about distinctions. But now the distinctions are actually vanished, not being relevant anymore.
Take for example the Chinese in the South China Sea. Who is leading the expansion of the Chinese in this area? Not the Navy itself, it is a lot of thousands of fishing ships, small ships of civilians. This is another kind of strategic disappearance: Strategic non-accountability of those who set the strategic goals and try to get profits from all these efforts.
So we are asking – what kinds of new opportunities we can find? The Russians could be a potential for an opportunity in the region. How? Of course they are coming to prevent the hegemony of the Americans but in the end, although their main purpose was negative in its logic – to prevent someone else from doing something is negative by itself – in their own little logic. By being here they can create conditions for positive transformation. To the Israeli, this means to recover the area from others. It means that they have the key, the same key that in 1973 Kissinger had the key for creating the order that enables the means of getting out of the war. It was Kissinger himself and the Americans who formulated the agreements after the war between Egypt and Israel and between Syria and Israel. Now the only hegemonic power that can speak with all the actors who brings power to the front is the Russians. They are speaking with the Turks, with the Iranians, with the Syrians, with Israel, with the Lebanese, it is a lot. It is an opportunity and maybe they can help bring stability.
Thank you very much. That is a very provocative set of statements which we will debate and talk about later. The next speaker is Dr. Shaul Shay.
Dr. Shaul Shay:
First of all, thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to speak here. I think that December 2016 is the right time to conclude the year and discuss the main events in the Middle East and to look forward to 2017.
I think that one of the main problems for analysts and decision makers is trying to understand the reality in a very dynamic situation. We are past the sixth year since the so called “The Arab Spring” started in Tunisia in October 2010. So we are in the middle of a process. I used to say about it that we’re in the Middle East. It is a desert and we are in the midst of a sand storm. When the storm is over all the dunes are reshaped. They are not what they were before the storm. This is the situation we’re in. First of all, I would like to relate to the phenomenon of the Arab Spring, that from a short perspective I think it is a challenge to the existing order, designed a hundred years ago in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. I think that this is the first significant challenge to the structure in an order that establishes the nation state as a main component. We can see that from Tunisia through Libya, to a lesser degree Egypt, but Iraq, Syria, Yemen, the existing system is challenged. It is very difficult to say what will come out of the process, but we have to take it under consideration that it is a structural, and I call it a tectonic, change in the whole regional power balance. What direction it will take is yet to be seen.
The essence of these conflicts, first and above all, is inter-Islamic conflicts. There are four major groups confronting each other.
The first one is the Shia-led coalition, with the Iranian leadership, having a long term vision of, on one hand, making a religious and historic justice to the Shia itself, reflecting, on the other hand, Iranian strategic interest to become a dominant power in the Middle East. I am afraid that they are close to achieving this goal more than ever before. King Abdullah was the first one to use the term – the Shia crest, and indeed we can see the basis for the formation of this crest. Starting with the Shia parts of Afghanistan, led surely by Iran, with Iraq having Shia dominance. In Syria we see that the coalition supporting Assad has the upper hand, and Hezbollah as a key player in Lebanon. The northern wing of the Shia crest is almost complete. Now it is the time of the southern wing. We can see the Iranian involvement in Yemen supporting the Houthi rebels fighting the coalition led by Saudi Arabia. There is Iranian insurgency in Bahrain, Iranian insurgency in the north eastern parts of Saudi Arabia with the local Shia population. So this is one camp that so far seems to have the upper hand, if I have to put it in a few words.
Having a big question mark regarding the nuclear agreement, depending on what the Americans will do in the coming months, we have to take under consideration what is a matter of an Iranian decision – the becoming of Iran as a nuclear state.
The second group is the so-called the moderate Sunni coalition. Three months ago I could speak about a more homogenous coalition. Since then, there is the split between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Now this camp is weaker than before. Yet this group is composed of all the monarchies. It is a very interesting question, how the monarchies survived better than the republics with regard to the question of the Arab Spring. We don’t have enough time to analyze it but, no doubt, this conservative moderate group is fighting mainly against the Iranian threat with hard feelings for the U.S. who after decades of close alliance has left them alone in this battle. I will relate later on the opportunities in this situation.
The third group, who seemed to be the leading one till 2015, is the Salafi Jihadist group. It started with the stronghold of Al Qaida in the region, replaced by The Islamic State, with the foundation of The New Caliphate. But I think that over the last year we have the decline of the Islamic State. I believe that the territorial existence of the Islamic State is short, it will take a few more months, but the Caliphate will disappear. Not, mind you, The Islamic State as an ideology or as a terror organization. We will have to live with it for a long period of time.
This third group is confronting both the Shia and the moderate Sunni Group. So the decrease of their power of influence posits the two other groups in a clear frontline, more or less. So far, I have to say, in this sense The Islamic State is very convenient for everybody because they are all unified around the war against the ultimate evil. So when the Russians intervene in Syria it is in favor of Assad and against The Islamic State. Maybe against the moderate opposition they could say it was for the sake of war against The Islamic State. When Saudi Arabia is confronting Iran it is a part of this war. When we remove this component of the regional picture we will reach, I think, another phase of the conflict between these dominant groups.
The fourth and last group is The Moslem Brotherhood that is represented by two sponsors: Turkey and Qatar.
Regarding the opportunities: I think that for the first time in the history of the state of Israel, we have more needs in common with the so called moderate Sunni camp than ever before. We can see the interpretation regarding this opportunity in the close relations between Israel and Egypt under the el-Sisi regime, closer relations with Jordan, and informal but very close relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. So this is an opportunity that Israel has to develop further. I think that the opportunities are both on the security level, having a common interest to confront the Iranian threat, to confront the radical Islamic threat, as well as economic interests. All are equally important.
The last issue I would like to address is that for many decades there was a concept that the Palestinian Israeli conflict is the core of all the conflicts in the Middle East. Solving this conflict will straighten all the other issues. I think that looking at today’s reality, comparing to all other problems of this region, the Palestinian Israeli conflict is minor, or bears only secondary importance. I think that given the closer relation between Israel and the moderate Sunni camp, including the so-called the Arab peace initiative they are committed to promote – Israel has to examine these opportunities seriously.
We have just heard a wonderful presentation on these complex issues. Thank you. Next is Baron Trimble.
Good morning. You said earlier, Dr. Easson, that there are two issues you wanted us to particularly address. So I am going to say a few sentences about the issue that hasn’t been addressed yet, that is what the consequences would be of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Provided it is located adjacent to the Knesset – are there consequences or not? What I am saying is that I hope the Americans have the good sense to locate it in West Jerusalem, because doing anything else would be seriously provocative. But I really do not see that there is anything provocative in locating the embassy in the vicinity of the Knesset. There may be some noise about it or some people may say some things about it, but it is actually quite silly if you think that the basis for this is a UN resolution of 1947 or 1948. That’s history now and it should not bother us. You yourself, Mr. Chairman, gave an introduction that touched on the negative things that there are in the vicinity and there are plenty. But there are also – particularly from an Israeli point of view – some really strong positives here. You’ve a series of attacks, the stabbings, some of them involved firearms, violence, a tactics which a resort, an alternative, to the more violent Intifada, because the more violent Intifadas did not succeed from the point of view of the Palestinians. So the retort to all this – which is very difficult to prevent from happening, the sort of hatred in the program of inciting youths, teenagers, to use knives or other weapons in this respect – is to say that it has not succeeded.
Part of the reason for its failure was a point that I think perhaps hasn’t been noticed enough. Namely, the way in which soldiers, policeman, security guards and ordinary citizens responded. There was a culture amongst the police, the army and the private security guards that if an incident occurred – shouting, shots and all the rest of it, people did not go and lift a telephone to call the police. Policemen wouldn’t get in touch with their commanders and ask them – ‘what do we do?’ Anybody in the vicinity who had the capacity moved towards the noise, towards the shooting, and that was done automatically by people. It was their response. Not guided by security forces but a response by private citizens that made a difference and enabled the community to foil attacks, to apprehend attackers. I think actually when discussing it we should note that the majority of the attackers were captured and from there would go through the legal system. A significant number were killed, but that is less than half. It is worth bearing in mind because, you know, there was a suggestion that the security forces were coming on children and arresting them. That is not an exact representation. So, from that aspect of coherence, for people from Europe to reckon with, the other significant thing to notice was the speed it was washed after the incident. There was no trace left. Areas were not closed for days, weeks or months which have been the case in Europe. Things would turn to normal as quickly as possible. I think that is a very important way of dealing with terrorism. To get things to routine as quickly as possible. That was done automatically, I think, to see that things got through, to normal.
Let me discuss two positives. I think that in the long run these are hugely important: Israel now has a surplus of water. Israel will shortly have a surplus of energy. Those are two hugely important things. Yes, there are vulnerabilities for Israel; but these are two big sources of strength and they are diplomatic cards to be played. Already on the water front, there is a close cooperation with Jordan. Jordan stores some water in Israel which can be drawn when there are problems and Israel is planning, I was told, to make more water available to Jordan, which is very important. I get the impression that the Syrians are going to require energy support as well, when it comes to the time. Natural gas and other sources will come on-stream and be available via Israel in a couple of years, 1-2 years. Israel can not only be self-sufficient in energy, it can also be able to export energy to Jordan and maybe even to Egypt as well. This is going to be vastly important for the rest of the region and cooperation between neighboring states.
Reference was made to Sykes-Picot and all that. What is clear is what is broken up. I remember someone [last year at the Dialogue] starting a presentation by saying that Iraq is broken not to be put together again. I am not absolutely sure if that proposition was accurate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Syria is broken and will not be put together again to the way it was, and that is absolutely true because if there is any way any resolution of the fighting is going to happen this would involve some kind of catonization. But there is another factor here. You may remember that last year I got into a big argument with someone about this. We heard an echo of the proposition earlier [at the Dialogue]. The gentleman may press his argument regarding Iran in a vigorous manner, but it doesn’t mean he is wrong.
I am reminded of a friend’s advice who told me to read Multiple Identities of The Middle East by Bernard Lewis, which has quite an important suggestion as to why the monarchies have succeeded better than the republics. The concept of the nation state does not have great hold upon the loyalties of the Arabs. They have not had nation states until the Imperial powers imposed nation states on them. And their loyalty to a nation state is limited. There is more loyalty to monarchies that have some historic roots and it is not by coincidence, I think, that in Jordan the Hashemites can point to a thousand years of being a governing party. This gives them greater attraction with their people, presumably, also with a large number of Palestinians. There was a time, twenty years ago we used to worry about how Jordan will survive with a majority of people actually Palestinians. That proportion with Palestinians is going on. One hopes very much that this should be kept. From a point of view of a European or British policy maker, the first thing to have in mind looking at the Middle East is the support for Jordan and the support for Egypt, because when people talk about possibilities there, if those countries don’t remain stable the possibilities go. We heard somebody say earlier this week that el-Sisi is potentially vulnerable, because his economy is not performing and not creating areas for ability, and we have got to find ways to addressing that and help. There are other things that could be said but we run out of time.
Thank you for a marvelous presentation – another click of the kaleidoscope of perspectives. Now we will hear from Dr. Nimrod Goren.
Dr. Nimrod Goren:
When we look at Israeli policies regarding the changing Middle East, we should remember that during the first period of the Arab Spring, some 6 years ago, the Israeli leadership presented and promoted a negative framing of regional events. It viewed the Arab Spring as a threat to Israel’s security, as a first step towards Islamic or Iranian domination, and maybe even a starting point for another war between Israel and its neighbors. This was a very different framing than the more optimistic one that was common in the US and Europe. As time went by it became evident that the doomsday scenarios envisioned by the Israeli leadership are not becoming a reality. Israel also gradually understood that its attempt to build new alliances outside the Middle East cannot be a substitute to engagement with regional countries, the ones closer to home.
The Israeli discourse regarding the changing Middle East gradually shifted from a threats-oriented one to an opportunities-oriented one. Positive consequences of the Arab Spring have been identified and highlighted, first by civil society actors, like the Mitvim Institute, and later by most major political parties. Those opportunities related to changes in regional alliances and converging Israeli-Arab interests due to concern from Iran and extremist groups. The direct military threat to Israel from its neighbouring countries has significantly declined, while security coordination – mostly behind the scenes – was on the rise. New channels of communication between Israel and its Arab neighbors opened up, some of them were even visible to the public. The Israeli discourse about the Middle East has changed, and turned into a more nuanced one. In light of the variety of developments taking place throughout the Arab world, it did not make sense to continue viewing the Middle East as a monolithic bloc.
One might say that these opportunities and developments led around 2013 to Israel’s return to the Middle East, after two years of disengaging from the region. Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations resumed, Israel was trying to resolve its crisis with Turkey, and relations with Egypt and Jordan were improving. Over time, a perception evolved in the Israeli public and political discourse that Israeli-Arab relations are now better than ever before. Netanyahu went as far as making a claim that Israel now has better ties with some Arab countries than with some European ones.
Israeli-Arab relations, however, could have been upgraded much more, if the Netanyahu government was willing to move ahead on the road for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Since 2014 there is stagnation in the peace process and the current Israeli government is not showing signs of support to the two-state solution – on the contrary. Because of that, Israel is missing out on an historic opportunity to gain recognition from the Arab world and to develop more normal ties with it, as envisioned by the Arab Peace Initiative that was introduced in 2002.
Following the last round of violence in Gaza in 2014, Netanyahu publicly emphasised the need to develop ties with “the moderate Sunni states”. However, his claim is that the sequence of the Arab Peace Initiative can be reversed, and that normal relations with Arab countries can be put in place before Israeli-Palestinian peace is achieved. This notion is repeatedly rejected by Arab leaders, who time and again express the need for progress between Israelis and the Palestinians advance their own relations with Israel. Before leaving office, former Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that this Arab position better reflects reality than Netanyahu’s.
Facts on the ground show that despite the increase in Israeli-Arab cooperation – as manifested for example by a Saudi delegation visiting Jerusalem, enhanced security coordination, and Egyptian commentators appearing in the Israeli media – the overall relations are still very limited. Arab leaders need to be able to show to their public that progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is taking place, in order to gain more legitimacy for their ties with Israel. Only that will enable a regional breakthrough also regarding civilian issues – like water and energy – and not only regarding joint security concerns.
Progress towards the two state solution – after three years of stagnation and no negotiations – requires political will that is currently absent in the Israeli government. A pro-peace leadership is needed in Israel. On the Palestinian side, there is also a special need to bring unity between the West Bank and Gaza, and to decrease the tensions emerging within the PLO in light of the Abbas succession question.
Political problems in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, lack of hope among the peoples, settlement expansion, and a new American administration that does not seem to be committed to the two state solution – all these make chances for peace seem rather glum at the moment.
In light of this, what can be done in order to advance the two state solution, which I think is the best solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Different international initiatives, which have been floated over the last couple of years, have potential to be of assistance. The Middle East Quartet published in July 2016 a report which identified the obstacles for the resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and which offered a set of recommendations. The French Peace Initiative aimed at keeping the peace process on the international agenda, even in times of stagnation. UN Security Council resolution 2334 presented an international consensus against Israeli settlements’ expansion. The Israeli government has been opposing these initiatives. But these initiatives are actually opportunities to increase clarity regarding the peace process, through:
1. Bringing up-to-date key documents regarding the conflict and its possible resolution, which have been drafted 10-15 years ago: the Clinton parameters, the Quartet Road Map, and the Arab Peace Initiative.
2. Clarifying the international position on what a two state solution actually looks like. A step in this direction was Kerry’s speech – just before leaving office – in which he introduced principles to a two state solution.
3. Clarifying what will be the actual benefits of peace, through an international incentive package presented to Israel and the Palestinians. The EU has called for introducing “a global set of incentives”, and the Paris peace conference referred to the need for economic and political incentive. Such a package could include the Arab Peace Initiative, the EU’s offer (from December 2013) for a Special Privileged Partnership with Israel and the future state of Palestine, and American security guarantees for a two state solution based on the plan devised by US General John Allen during the last round of negotiations. Such an incentive package will also help pro-peace Israeli political actors be more effective when trying to convince the public to support the peace process.
Another important aspect in efforts to promote peace is increasing interaction and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, through civil society initiatives and people-to-people dialogues. Such activities supported the official peace process in the ’90s, but have now almost disappeared due to the anti-normalization movement in the Palestinian Authority, growing indifference in Israel, and donor-fatigue. Attempts at reversing this trend should be made, by local and international actors.
The international community should also work to promote Palestinian unification. Without a unified Palestinian leadership, prospects to reach and actually implement the two states solution almost do not exist.
Israeli democracy should also be enhanced, in light of the erosion of democratic values that public opinion polls of the Israeli Democracy Institute point to. According to one of those polls, more than 70 percent of the Israeli Jewish public thinks that national matters of foreign policy and security should be decided by a Jewish majority, not taking into account the Israeli Arab minority. This is a dangerous finding, which reflects both a challenge to democracy and a further hurdle on the way toward peace.
Thank you very much, another very clear and distinct perspective – now, finally, to Prof. Moshe Maoz.
Prof. Moshe Maoz:
Good Morning to you: Welcome to Jerusalem and the “Muddle” East, which is the Middle East. Do you first want the good news or the bad news? Most of the news is unfortunately not very good.
Start with Trump. This is one of the issues that we have to discuss. I am looking to cover all aspects. One aspect that troubles me is this: Students of Islamic studies say that Trump is encouraging Islamophobia. There is also some anti-Semitism there. They did not invent Islamophobia. It goes back. I just want to mention, some 20 years ago, Sam Huntington started it. A professor at Harvard University said the Islamic borders are bloody. He spoke about the threat of Islam to the Judeo-Christian civilization, which is not true. Of these people, Huntington and Trump, Trump is more important because he is still alive and kicking. He has influence and he doesn’t distinguish between Islam and political Islam, Islam and militant Islam. Dr Shay, you spoke about it. It is a great civilization. There was a time when there was a great Judeo-Islam civilization, better than the Judeo-Christian.
I also want to mention to those who don’t know, that Islam is not one. There are many ‘Islams’. There is even a democracy in Islam – Indonesia. Every country has its own type of Islam. There’s Malaysia, and Bangladesh, Senegal, even India has 150 million Muslims. They all live in democracies, and Kosovo and more. This generalisation that they all live under some kind of terrorist regime is false. Unfortunately this common perception is true even here in Israel and it is a big danger.
The other issue is that of moving the Embassy. This is wonderful. Some of my best friends are Jews, you know? They say that Trump is a Messiah. We’re going to move the Embassy and forget about the Palestinian State. It is wonderful to move the Embassy but only after the conflict is settled. Otherwise it is a challenge, not only to the Palestinians, or the Arabs, but the whole Muslim world. 1.5 billion people. You cannot just ignore it. You cannot just say – “Go to hell”. The conflict is very important because even if, with the new President, nobody mentions the Palestinians, they are also a nation and they suffer. 50 Years of Israeli occupation. Not liberation. It is a matter of Israeli interest to have a Palestinian state next to it. What is the alternative? An apartheid state. Then the international community will just expect to happen to Israel what happened in South Africa, more or less. This is a very great danger. It is an Israeli interest because the alternative is apartheid and terrorism. Think about them fighting against foreign rule. I was in the “Irgun” when I was just a small boy and we fought against the British. We have to put ourselves in their shoes. They are fighting for their liberation. They call it liberation we call it terrorism. There is a very dangerous trend here that might be encouraged by Trump, and it is a trend amongst Jewish Zionist groups, the settlers and others, that think that not only we must have sovereignty over the Temple Mount, but also destroy the mosques and build the new Temple. It started with one of my students, whom apparently I did not educate very well. About 6-7 of them had this crazy idea. Now about 20 organizations related to the Temple want to do it. There was an attempt to do it in 1984. This is very dangerous. Not according to me, but according to 4 or more former chiefs of security in Israel who said that the intention to build the Temple, this fanaticism will damage Al-Aqsa. There could be a new Jewish Muslim Armageddon.
About Syria: It is a complicated story. I will not go into details about it. Or speak too much about Trump. In the presentation by Gershon Hacohen he mentioned Russia. I am only a Colonel. This is good news for Assad. First of all they manipulated Obama in 2012 with the chemical capability and Obama spoke tough but nothing followed. We all watch closely, more or less, the steps of Putin. Now Trump supports Putin and the regime in Syria which is dangerous to Israel. Not because we are Jews and we cannot tolerate a massacre of half a million people. Of all people Minister Lieberman was against it. Surprise: It is a strategic issue. We see here the amalgamation of a Shia crescent, mentioned earlier, of Iran, potentially Iraq, Syria – which is not Shia, and Hezbollah. This is dangerous more than Daesh, more than ISIS. Everybody puts the Muslims in the camp of ISIS. No! ISIS is one thing and there are other Muslim Sunni organizations which are not so fanatic. We can cooperate with them. I think that the Syrian issue is very important. Russia is not a friend of Israel. In UNESCO they voted against Israel. They said – we support a Palestinian state. We have to debate our risks and think in a different way. Thank you.
I am sure all of our speakers have stimulated each of us to think of questions to ask. Shaul Shay made a very interesting observation on how after a sandstorm the dunes look different. Maj. General Hacohen talked about the reality associated with demilitarization. Can you truly demilitarize the Palestinian territories? Some of the opportunities and problems that may lie ahead were addressed. Baron Trimble talked about some of the strategic opportunities for Israel regarding water and energy. Dr. Goren talked about the need to understand what the two state solution might mean today and Professor Maoz talked about the diversity within the Muslim world, its implications and the opportunities that follow; many interesting observations. We open now the symposium to questions.
Q – Daryl McCann – Salisbury Review:
I have noticed, maybe not from all the experts, but many of the experts are seeing Iran as a major threat. There is also the threat from Sunni supremacism. I don’t know if it is addressed as much as it should be. I noticed everybody, or many people keep referring to Saudi Arabia as a moderate state. I find this very strange. Given that their text books see Baghdad as part of the caliphate of Saudi Arabia. I can see why Israel might like to think that it as a partner, I can see why it actually might be that the Emirates are potentially partners, but it is very worrisome. And now the idea of Turkey, which doesn’t even fit in the quietist Salafist category but the activist Salafist category could be a partner, strikes me as crazy. I address this point to everyone.
When I spoke about the Russian new role in the region, I said what I said not because I think they are bringing good. They are not thinking about redemption. They are thinking about power and interest, and what they can do with the card of equilibrium among the powers. What we are really observing here, in what is known and what is in a way – unobservable, but equally known, is that everyone is dreaming to bring himself to the hegemony era of the past. The Iranians are dreaming to go back to the time of Darius.
I was in Shanghai at the Expo in 2010 and I entered the Iranian pavilion. When I was in the line waiting to enter there was a huge map from Darius’ time exemplifying what was the Persian Empire. This is an example of globalization of 2500 years ago. We are really bringing globalization to the region. By getting there you are really getting the impression of a great progress. Meaning, do not think that to be a fundamental Islamic person, that this means going against the progressive ideas of science. You can get all of the achievements of scientific research development in Iran. It means that they are really bringing an alternative, to the scientific enlightened world of the west, and they are aware of that. So, this is about Iran dreaming about a Persian Empire.
Erdogan speaks explicitly about bringing back the Ottoman Empire. This is his interest in Mosul and this is his main interest in his relations with Abu Abbas and Hamas. He is taking this region as part of the Ottoman Empire. He still thinks like that. It is the same about the Russians. They have interests here. And Saudi Arabia, as shown in the famous British film about the McMahon letters. They claim that they got a promise from the British to be the Caliphate and to lead the Arab world and the whole Middle East. The only equilibrium that can come about is by someone who can take the risks to be involved in the friction. I will give you an example of the mode of thinking of the Russians and the Americans. General Nagata, who was commanding US Special Forces troops in North Syria, said to The New York Times that unless he understood what the real rationale of ISIS is, he had no idea how to engage with them. The Russians are thinking totally different. From an epistemological point of view they think: Prior to our involvement in the friction we cannot begin to understand it. We will bring ourselves to be part of the eco-system and only then we will learn what is going on. This form of thinking can be very effective when considering equilibrium.
Dr. Shaul Shay:
Regarding the question, I think it was the fault of Moses that after 40 years he brought us here and not to Switzerland. Unfortunately, we cannot choose our neighbours. We have to survive in this region with all the difficulties. Israel has to look around in a very pragmatic way and choose a better way to survive. This is some perspective: Until 1979 when the Islamic revolution started in Iran, Iran was the closest strategic ally of Israel. Since that year, Iran has taken the opposite side in the Arab Israeli conflict. The Palestinian Israeli or the Islamic Jewish conflict reflects the Iranian position about the region. So, when we look at the options Israel has in the 21st century, I think there is no doubt that when evaluating the various levels of threats, the Iranian or the Shia crescent are the most dangerous for Israel. Starting with an existential threat, starting the day Iran becomes a nuclear power, with a clear declaration that in the long run the annihilation of Israel is a strategic goal. Second level is the operational capabilities to attack Israel with its proxies. Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the Gaza Strip or with other means in the future, as we don’t know what will happen on the Syrian frontline.
From the Israeli point of view the Shia threat is a real one and it is hard to compare the military capability of the Iranian alliance and The Islamic State with any other Sunni group in the region.
Saudi Arabia is surely not a part of the Zionist movement. Saudi Arabia is practically behind the Wahhabi school and it is supporting radical Islamic groups in the Middle East and beyond. We are aware of these facts, but practically when having to see how to create a kind of balance of power in this region that is more or less convenient to Israel, we have more in common with Saudi Arabia than with other players in the region. We have to take under consideration that Iran is the main threat to the stability of those countries which already have a peace agreement with Israel. They are supporting the most radical Islamic factions within the Palestinian territories, and at the same time there is Saudi Arabia, even though it is not going to sign a peace agreement with Israel
For instance: When they signed an agreement with Egypt regarding the Tiran and Sanafir islands it was in the context of discussions with Israel. We do have the channels to work with them and in the Middle Eastern reality it is more than enough.
Thank you. I think we need to have comment from some of our other panel members. I think we already answered one of the questions in detail. David, you wanted to make a quick comment.
The question came about whether Saudi Arabia was an appropriate partnerand we have been answering it in terms of who are the enemies and that we have to distinguish between potential partners and enemies. Obviously the reference is to Iran and I think going back, recalling the Persian Empire, is actually an Iranian mistake. I loved the comment from an Iranian diplomat, when in an argument about Iranian nuclear program, whether Iran should have a nuclear bomb – he said: “Look at Pakistan, it has a nuclear bomb and it is not even a country!” He may actually be right.
Russia is governed by a Mafioso. Russia is a mafia state, with a mafia government. It’s crook. Let’s be honest about this. Putin may not be there forever, but when Putin no longer serves the interests of the criminal gangs that he currently funds, they’ll replace him with someone else. Just as they use Putin instead of someone else who might not be following their agenda so much. Russia is here on an opportunist basis. Anything that Putin does is opportunistic. Will he be able to project where he is going to go next? That’s a question. Although, to be fair, there is in the long historical background of Russian interest in this area; there were Tsars who wanted to position themselves as being the protectors of Christians in the Middle East. That is part of the reason why we launched the Crimea war.
Q – Louise Ellman – Labor MP from the U.K.:
All the speakers have spoken about the division and turmoil across the region. Do those countries and forces actually care about settling the Israeli and Palestinian dispute or does it have to be part of a much wider settlement? And, further, how would any process to try and resolve the Israeli Palestinian issue begin? For instance, there is the French Conference that has been mentioned. Is that realistic or does there have to be something much broader?
Q – David Swissa – Journalist, Los Angeles:
I have two questions. The first one – I heard something that was really chilling. One of the great explanations against the two state solution is that it would be impossible to have a demilitarised Palestinian state. One thing I heard earlier was that is virtually possible according to the first speaker because of some technology made in in someone’s private space, even their backyard. If you can comment on that please – because it is a fundamental aspect of the two states
My second question is for the Professor. You talked about Islamophobia and you mentioned the importance of not stereotyping. The question for you is that I’ve never heard anybody stereotype and say that all Muslims are violent. If you could let me know who, because I never heard anyone say that.
Do you live in Israel?
I live everywhere, I read everywhere. I have never seen any sort of professional writer or anything say the all Muslims are violent. So, if you can believe that there is a strain of Islam that is Jihadist, or radical or politicised, whether it is 5% or 10% – is referencing that there are such strains Islamophobia?
Q – Niv Tadmore – Australia:
So we have 4 groups in the Islamic world, basically fighting for old dreams of the old Empire. Then we have another group, a growing one, of Muslims in Europe: England, Sweden, Denmark, and The Netherland. How does the group in Europe interact with the moderate Sunnis? What is the interaction amongst those four dreams and the European Community?
Louise was the one who asked about the Palestinians; to what extent they interest other countries. Here there is a notion, and Gershon mentioned it, like “the Palestinians are not very important.” No. Most of the Arab countries are very much concerned about it. Our government may say – “we can settle the Palestinian issue through Egypt and Saudi Arabia” and they say it to us. You settle it first. And it is very important because it is our issue, our interest, to do so.
About the demilitarisation: Abu Mazen – and I have spoken to him several times – says time and again that he wants to demilitarize the state. He is even willing to have supervision by the UN. Of course I agree that it is no full proof. We do not live in Switzerland or Australia, but we have to take calculated risks. It is a matter of bad and worse. Yes there could be a problem, but the worst case in my opinion is that we are going to be an apartheid state. A Jewish state returning after two thousand years in order to create another Arab state? Some of my best friends say that the West Bank should go to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt. Who wants to have Gaza? All kinds of dreams.
Regarding Islamophobia: I agree of course. Take 9/11. 19 people did it. It is a very great danger but to be critical for a moment, there is a growing trend to say the outlandish. Sam Huntington and many of my colleagues, they don’t distinguish between Islam and militant Islam. There are so many quotations. Even Rabbis, Rabbi Yosef, the former head of the Shas party, said that Islam is an ugly religion and we must kill all Muslims in Israel. A Rabbi! Yet there was a great deal of connections between the Jews who lived in Arab countries and the Arabs. Bad times too, but good times and great civilization together. There are Sunni countries that are allies of Israel.
Dr. Nimrod Goren:
Regarding demilitarisation, the Palestinians have been willing in the past to accept this concept. However, in that regard, it is worth looking what can be learned from developments in Sinai. Israel, out of partnership with Egypt, agreed to have Egyptian military forces enter Sinai to confront terror over there, despite the fact that the peace treaty kept Sinai overall demilitarised. It became an Israeli interest to have the Egyptian military there, as a stabilizing force. The same may happen in the West Bank in the future. Demilitarisation is not necessarily the best idea, once a peace agreement proves itself effective and sustainable. Until then, international security guarantees, as proposed by the US and NATO, will assist in addressing Israel’s security concerns.
In terms of the French peace initiative, it is not very well apprehended. We should have realistic expectations from such international initiatives. They can help make progress, but are not game-changers. The initiative can promote a more effective international mechanism to advance the peace process, overcoming the downsides of the Quartet. Such a mechanism can give a formal role in the peace process to the Arab countries. In order to have more regional buy-in, Arab representation in relevant international mechanisms will be helpful. Specific European countries – and not only the EU – should also be represented in such mechanisms. A new structure, new parameters, and new incentives can create better conditions to advance peace. But, international involvement is not enough. Without pro-peace leadership in Israel and Palestine, peace will not be obtained.
One final word about Saudi Arabia: Many in Israel relate to it as a “moderate country.” This surprises our partners in the West, who are critical of how the Saudis handle domestic affairs. Israelis focus on the Saudi approach toward Israel, but they should not forget to take values and issues into account. Regional cooperation is good, but one that is based on progressive values will be much better. Israel should not look only for cooperation with the Saudis. It should build channels to Arab countries in which the public sphere is opening up, especially Tunisia. Regional should also be based on civilian components, not merely security ones.
Reference has been as to the demilitarisation of the West Bank. There is a very substantial cottage industry manufacturing AK 47s. So let’s just bear this in mind on that front. Reference has been made to Israel retaining the Jordan Valley as a buffer. Trust the Jordanians. You have trusted them for years to run your security in that front. They have done a good job.
Going back to demilitarisation, this is a conversation made years and years ago with Shimon Peres, at the time when there were a lot of people complaining about the incapacity of the PA to keep peace in their area. He said – “of course they can’t. They need an army to do it and they haven’t got one.” Think about this.
What happened in the last ten years in Gaza, is a laboratory, to observe and absolutely disconfirm what all of you are telling us about the demilitarisation capabilities in the future. Because all the excellent weapons were smuggled into Gaza from Sinai. And the Egyptians are really making an effort. Four years ago they did not really take it seriously. Now they do and yet without much success in operations. Because it is impossible. Because smuggling Russian weapons is a very effective idea, because Russians weapons are not canons, not artillery or tanks, or huge missiles. They are being carried everywhere in the baggage of any farmer. This is about demilitarisation. What it means that by speaking about risk management, I would absolutely prefer the one state risk, with all the trouble and struggles that it will create for me in my homeland, rather than a two state solution. That I am saying this is out of a view of risk management. I prefer it because I struggle anyhow. Life is about struggle, not stability. To think otherwise is misleading. Life is like the sea.Tomorrow there will be a new situation. Why is a two state solution a huge risk? Not only because I am losing some of the most important places of my Father’s land. I don’t want to uproot again 400,000 or at least 100,000 Israelis against our main vector of progress, starting in the 19th century. The way to do this is with a lot of ideas. Like said in the Caribbean Pirates movie, if you only have two roads, both bad for you, find the third road. If you can’t, choose the path that will make you find the third one. There are a lot of solutions with this third way. Not just apartheid or the two state solution.
I would like to address the question on Muslims in Europe and in some way to relate to the argument of Prof. Maoz on Islamophobia. I think that as part of the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, Europe for the first time is exposed to mass migration followed by all of its problems. When looking who are the volunteers who fight along with Daesh in Syria and Iraq, they are the third generation of immigrants who came to Europe in the ’60s from Algeria, Pakistan. First of all we have to understand that it is a permanent problem. So far the solution that the Europeans have developed is only partly successful. Of course I am not relating to the argument that all Muslims are violent.
Another very dangerous development from my point of view is that the response in many of the European countries is Islamophobia. This growing force of rightist movements is practically anti-Semitism, relating both to Jews and Arabs.
A word about demilitarisation: I think that when we look at the Israeli experience along its whole history, not only with respect to the Palestinians, this is a Middle Eastern illusion. It didn’t work from 1948 till 2016. Not in Lebanon with UNIFIL that was supposed to demilitarise south Lebanon, first against the PLO and after 2006 against the Hezbollah. It is not working. We can see what happened in the Gaza Strip. The same will happen if Israel leaves one day the West Bank. There is no question there. The question is whether we are ready to take this risk, but with a clear understanding that it will not be a demilitarized zone. It is an illusion.
Tony, you’ve been intensely interested in the region for many decades. What are your thoughts? Do you have a question for the panel?
Tony Walker – Journalist, Australian Financial Review:
Let me just say that I find this discussion very absorbing and the range of opinions that have been presented has been challenging. It is valuable. Having observed this part of the world for a very long time, the process leading to peace is quite discouraging in that we are at a situation now that things seem to be frozen. There seems to be no prospect particularly of progress on any front.
I would like to ask a question if any of the speakers see any real, legitimate prospects, any real progress, in the peace process front.
First of all we have to pray – to be on the safe side – that we have some prospects for peace. I believe there are. Maybe I am a bit fussy about it but I go to the old school and I think that the Palestinian issue is the heart of the matter, also between us and the Arab world and the Muslim world. I follow it all the time. This is my bread and butter. It can ease things. The Sunni camp of course is not ideal, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I see a coalition of Israel and the US, not sure about Trump, and the Sunni countries, formed in order to solve this issue. I’ll give you an example: in 2002 all Arab nations supported by all Muslim countries, Iran abstained, 57 of them, offered to give a historical solution: Diplomatic recognition, normalisation, security, provided Israel agrees to the two countries solution. Until now, apart from PM Olmert, no other Prime Minister responded positively. Yes there are dangers, no doubt about it, but Israel is the strongest nation in this region. Israel can defeat all the Arab nations put together and we are still afraid of this Palestinian issue. Yes, we have to take a calculated risk, no doubt about it. It is a matter of two alternatives. One which I think is a bit bad, the two state solution, because of the crest. The second is one state, which is worse and worse. In twenty years there will be an Arab majority. Is this our dream of Zionism? Thanks.
The question was – “is there any prospect of the two state solution?”
Dr. Nimrod Goren:
Following up on Prof. Maoz words about the Arab Peace Initiative, it is worth noting that Israel has been offered three different plans that help it envision the post-conflict era. These offers promise normal relations with the Arab world, upgraded ties with the EU, and American security guarantees. Such offers were not on the table in the peace process that took place in the 1990s, and they can now be an important tool in mobilising the Israeli public to support peace. While the peace process is currently stuck, developments in Palestinian politics may move things forward. Once a leadership change takes place there, the international community is likely to become much more engaged and prospects for Palestinian unification may be on the rise. These will be important driving forces to promote peace.
I was very much attracted to Dr. Goren’s suggestion when he spoke about greater clarity. I think it could be a very good idea. He also made reference to Olmert and hisparticipation in talks with the Palestinians. Olmert published the map, or a map, showing what the Palestinian state could be. I know there are aspects to this map that were controversial. Some people would like to bury the fact that to find certain things on the map you had to use magnifying glasses. Two newspapers published the map but they were not entirely consistent. You really have to get a magnifying glass to see whether he was returning East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, which I think he in fact intended. Besides that, it is deeply controversial at the moment. Nevertheless, I think that publishing the map was going to be relieving Israel from quite a huge burden because having to explain that all the settlements are not really settlements in the terms that people use them. They are the new suburbs of Jerusalem developed in a new world. It is not unusual for it not to remain for 30 years in the same boundaries. It happens in all old cities in the western world. They all have to develop suburbs. Those suburbs are going to be part of Israel and that is the case in every negotiation there has been. So getting that out into the open is a great benefit from Israel’s point of view. It will also make it easier to develop negotiations with other Arab countries, when they can see – they can tell their population – that the Palestinians are being offered this. And it is a viable state and it is something they would support. It does mean repackaging. There is a peace initiative to be made again. Let the Arab peace initiative come in and match what has been the outcome of the talks. Now all we have to do, if we can, is to find some Palestinians who will take the risk of agreeing to this. They run a greater risk in agreeing to it than Israel does because they run the risk that more militant people, from Gaza or elsewhere, will come with their guns. Having the map, having the information out in the open, is one way of possibly reducing this risk.
I would like to address the question briefly. I think that we have to lower the expectations. I think that we have first to take into consideration that when speaking about an agreement with the Palestinians there are two main groups: the PA and Hamas. Unfortunately, Hamas is stronger. I think the most we can expect in the short term is a long good “hudna” or ceasefire. Not yet a two state solution. This idea has to be postponed for later on, in the future, when the whole picture is clearer in the Middle East, which is now not going in the direction of the foundation of nation states, but the opposite one. So first of all we have to reduce tension and achieve a long quiet period of time with the worst part of the Palestinian camp. To sum up in an optimistic way, I want to remind us that we have a lot in common between Muslims and Jews: We are awaiting the Messiah, the Muslims are waiting for the Mahdi, and when he arrives he will be in charge of solving the problems.
Professor, Moshe, I can tell you that both left and right wingers in Israel can together be the old school. They are taking the Israeli power as absolute to which nobody can present with a threat. Like there is no threat to Israel’s very existence. I am saying that after being interested in many wars around the world. For example the war in Vietnam: 50,000 American soldiers killed. The Vietnamese lost 1.5 million people. That means that they lost in the war, but actually they consider themselves to be the winner. As General Giap said, “it is true that we lost most of the battles but we won the war.” It means that to be powerful is not really a promise to exist. What the Arabs succeeded to do in Iraq with the Americans and the Allied Forces, is a real lesson. 4,000 killed soldiers. 6,000 severely wounded, and it absolutely did not become relevant in their activity. Therefore do not, at all, believe only in power. And I don’t think that we can keep Israel as a small ghetto along the Tel Aviv sea shore. Dividing Jerusalem is no way to keep isolated the threats, as it appears in Clinton’s concept.
General Sir Charles Guthrie, the Chief of the General Staff of the United Kingdom, was here and I asked him: Relying on what happened in Belfast, this is Israeli neighborhood, this is Palestine, and how can you maintain daily security? No one can come up with an idea that is going to work tomorrow. The concept that something can be stable for eternity is not a part of our day by day life. Even if they come to have an agreement with us, it holds only for today. Tomorrow is another day. This is the difference between business and speaking among the nations. Nations do not come to negotiate about dreams. Dreams are active. They are here. The only way to lead people here in this region, Arabs and Jews to live together, is by the pragmatic approach. It means that it is a necessity for both sides to live in co-existence. I am not at all afraid to live with Arabs. I can do well with them. As Moshe said, I identify myself with Jews living in the US trying to have Christian orientation. I am telling them – I come from a Jewish Islamic orientation. We living here together, praying for the same rain, the same sky. Ecologically there is no way to divide this land.
We have had five great speakers, we’ve so many opinions from everyone to day, to find things we may agree with and many things we might disagree on, and we’ve had a chance to understand the contemporary challenges of contemporary Zionism in Israeli society; so many of the challenges have been talked about.
I thank all of the speakers for their presentation, the debate, the discussion. I would like to thank you all at this symposium for your attendance, participation and keeping our speakers short, succinct and on their toes.
Obviously, my role in this symposium was slight. I reproduce the transcript mainly because the opinions canvassed represent the state of thinking in Israel as to what to think, do, anticipate, and create.