Monday, 8 February 2010

The 10th Herzlia Conference 2010 - Day 4 (Part 1)

The Conference is massive learning curve covering the world's trouble spots and major issues that affect us all - but especially Israel.

I hope these highlight notes give you a deeper insight into the thinking of leading experts in the various fields.

I started the day as a spectator to the seesion entitled "THE US AND THE ARC OF INSTABILTY - PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN, AND IRAQ."

It was strangely reassuring to hear about a troubled region where Israel was not the focal point.

However, as the moderator, Neil Livingstone, reminded us, although Israel is a hystander it could be a loser if this area destabilises.

Livingstone outlined the three areas of conflict such:

Iraq - The aims are for the US to remove all its forces by the end of 2011. The Iraqi Government to find a political solution to its problems.

Afghanistan - To disrupt terror networks. Promote an effective Government. Develop competant local security forces. However, Robert Gates, the Head of CIA recently said that "Our aim such be to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for terror attacks, but not to turn the country into a Shangi-La".

Pakistan - Should Pakistan become destablilised the whole area may be destabilised. This will immediately affect its neighbour, India.

The 30,000 troop surge in Afghanistan drives terrorists into Pakistan. Pakistan wants US money but they do not want a strategic alliance with the US.

DR.COLIN KAHL is the US Deputy Defense Office for the Middle East gave a US Governmental gloss to his report to the Conference.

2009 saw the lowest number of casulaties in Iraq. December 2009 was the first month with no US casualties, though recent attacks showed that Al Quaida and extremists groups still have capabilities. They have not, however, promoted the reciprocal attacks we saw in the early stages of the Iraqi conflict. Counter attacks from Shia militants groups have significantly reduced.

Iran wants to promote a weak Iraq that will be dependant on Iran. Iraqi nationalism will be a strong counter to Iranian interference.

In the last Iraqi elections in 2005 it took six months to form a Government. During that time Iraq burned to the ground.

The upcoming elections will be a test for the incoming Government.

The Kurds may emerge as a major block and other parties may have to compromise to maintain a stable and progressive Government.

As the US Counter Insurgency forces are drawn down later this year the US State Department will step up in Iraq for a long term strategic partnership.

KORI SCHAKE, a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institute livened up the discussion with her views that the positive developments in Iraq had more to do with the Iraqi politicians and population starting to get it right.

"I wish it were true that the State Department will step up. The truth is that the State Department is dumbing down in providing resources to the newly trained Iraqi police force.

The provisional reconstruction teams are being drawn down togehter with the military".

"The US Administration is not doing enough to support human rights in Iran and standing with the opposition to the regime".

YOSEF KUPERWASSER of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs said that the concnetration should ber where the centre of jihad is which is Iran and not Iraq. It may also be in Pakistan but it is certainly in Iran.

"The fight that the US is involved in is only one element of the Jihadi fight against the free world. Israel is fighting and defending itself against this too with Hamas and Hizbollah".

ELMER BROK is a German MEP and Chairman of the European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs.

I liked his direct and realistic approach to problematical areas in the world.

"Our intervention in Afghanistan was fighting terrorism. Karsai is not even President of Kabul never mind Afghanistan in giving his people security and governance.

Heroin is today eight times more than it was before the conflict.

We see trained police run to the Taliban for more money.".

"Afghanistan was never a country. Historically it was a regional tribal entity".

Turning to Pakistan he warned "The sitation is critical in Pakistan. Imagine what will happen if Al Qaida lets the Taliban take over Pakistan which is a nuclear nation".

Our achievable goals must be to get rid of Al Qaida terror havens".

"As terror is now in Yemen, Somalia, and other places we will be overstretched in fighting Al Qaida".

YOSI KUPERWASSER warned America that "our experience and advise to the US, whose policy is to withdraw from Iraq and then Afghanistan, from our experience in Lebanon and Gaza is that you really don't know what is going to happen after you withdraw".

A fascinating discussion took place in the seminar on DOMESTIC POLITICAL DYNAMICS AND STABILITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

ROYA HAKAKIAN is an Iranian author living in America. She made a number of telling points.

"Watch TV on February 12th and 13th. This is the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. You will see the people of Iran take to the streets against the regime. Frankly, I am surprised that the grassroots revolt against the Iranian regime was not covered at this Conference.

"You have to look beyond the headlines. You may remeber that Ahmadinnajad held an exhibition of Holocaust cartoons in Tehran. That event took the headlines in much of the world press. What wasn't covered that the exhibition was a total failure with the Iranian public. Nobody came to view the cartoons. The hall was empty".

PROFESSOR DAVID MENASHRI of The Center of Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University said the Iranians will be marching in mid February. They will be asking why their expectations have not been met. They are asking if the Islamic Revolution was supposed to be so good in Iran why is it so bad? They are asking if Islam was supposed to the the solution why has it become the problem?

"The history of Iran shows that revolution is based on bread and liberty. The current regime is depriving its citizens of both".

Menashri made a serious point in joke form by relating a conversion between two Iranians. "One hundred liberal newspapers have been closed down by the Government! How can you say that Iran is a good country?" said one. The other answered, "Show me another Islamic country that has one hundred liberal newspapers to close down!"

The moderator, Israeli TVs ZVI YEHEZKELI said that democracy is like a sugar in a cup of tea. Too much sugar and you can't drink it. Too much democracy too quickly put Hamas in control in Gaza. Ask Abu Mazen if this helps the Palestinian people".

ISRAEL ELAD ALTMAN, from the Institute for Policy and Strategy talked about Egypt. Mubarak shows no sign of retiring as President but at 83 a transition is coming. Mubarak came to power after Sadat's assassination. Today, the private sector in Egypt has growing influence. This sector is led by Gamal Mubarak, the current President's son. The military may support his candidacy for future President. The post-Mubarak era will be continuity not change, but the pressure for change is still there led by the Muslim Brotherhood which is related to Hamas.

Journalist JUDITH MILLER was more optimistic. She finds stability in the Arab world. "Mubarak was Vice President under Sadat. He is now Pharoah. The Syrian transition from father to son seems to be established for the long term. The same applies in Jordan. The problem are those regimes that believe that God speaks to them every morning and promote incitement and radicalism".

"What America does shapes everything. 9/11 changed everything. Bush adopted a different position after 9/11. Obama, a sceptic, is now adopting many of the same policies Bush. They include support for Israel, predator strikes against terrorists, not closing Gitmo so quickly. Obama is evolving. Much depends on policy, or policy changes, or this region from Obama.

DR. MENASHRI returned to Obama's policy indecisions by quoting Henry Kissinger "If you don't know where you're going any road will get you there!"

"As we saw in 1979, the changes in Iran changed the region and the world. The changes coming in Iran this year may do the same again. The people of Iran do not share the same fanaticism as their leaders. Signs in recent demonstrations included ' Neither Lebanon or Gaza. I only sacrifice my life for Iran' and 'Obama! you are either with them or with us!' Iranians see the Palestinian war as 'Yes it's war - but not with our money!'"

"You see the faces of the demonstrators in Tehran. They are not the same faces you see in Gaza".

"They took to the streets expecting the human rights support of the greatest world power. For ten days Obama said nothing. The US is not active enough in supporting the voices of moderation in Iran. Where is Europe's muscle?"

Returning to the Palestinian issue ZVI YEHEZKELI said the world needs to see the truth not polical correctness. He quoted a Palestinian football coach in Hebron who told him " After so many years, when my team loses again, I can't blame the occupation any more!"

DR. MENASHRI quoted Churchill. "Man will occasionally stumble on the truth, but he will pick himself up and carry on regardless!"

The next Conference subjects will include a major hasbara session.

The Conference concludes with the Prime Ministers Address which will follow.

I will then conclude with my perspective of Israel's position on many of the serious challenges facing our country based on the opinions and reports of the invited speakers.

Barry Shaw

The View from Here


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