Sunday 17 March 2013

Soundbites from a Conference - Day 4.

The final day of the 13th Annual Herzlia Conference began with an analytical assessment of Israel’s military and security position in a turbulent Middle East delivered by Maj.Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the Director of Military Intelligence. IDF.

Here are some recent facts that affect Israel’s military security. The Syrian air force has conducted over fifty air strikes against their own civilians. Between 400-500 Egyptians have been murdered in Egypt since Morsi took over from Mubarak. Jihad is being waged in Syria and the Sinai. These are the tip of the iceberg in the Middle East. Each has an input on Israel’s security forces. We are experiencing a complex reality. Islamization, and the shake-up in the region, is the main generators in our region. With the shake-up of failing states, Islamization is filling the political void from the Magreb to Turkey. Islamization is involved politically, socially, with welfare, education, and the military. The Muslim Brotherhood promotes their agenda. Egypt is now based on the Ashura religious doctrine. Journalists are imprisoned in Egypt, Palestinian territories, and Turkey for speaking out against their regimes. Ongoing riots show the dissatisfaction of the people with the new Egyptian regime. They don’t see economic results from the change of government. In places like Egypt, Gaza, and even Lebanon, the extremist Salafists are gaining strength. The old definition of “radical and “moderate” is no longer relevant. We now have the Shia-Sunni divide. Hamas is looking for support from Egypt and Qatar rather than Iran.  There is a rift between Jordan and Egypt. For the first time in the Middle East there are four superpowers – Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and Iran – all driven by religious realities. It is a religious paradigm. Apart from issues of borders, religion is important. Israel, to them, is a foreign body. Despite their dislike of Israel, they are not one block. There are hues and shades, but Israel is perceived as unacceptable in the Middle East neither by political or radical Islam.
In Syria, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Mali, the borders re up for grabs. Jihad is moving from global to local. It is not only in our area. It is happening in Africa. The Sinai and Syrian borders affect us in Israel. In Syria, both sides of the conflict are creating ties and moving into Lebanon, over our northern border.

It is dismal looking at the economic situation around us. Syria, Jordan, Egypt, with their poverty, growing populations, food crisis, water and energy shortages. These are factors that will leave them in dire straits. These failing states give us major security headaches with the additional of the radical elements filling the vacuum. The reality looks bad. Some have already declared the next stage, for them, is Israel. This will create yet another reality.
Syria is a country falling apart. They have 1,400,000 refugees.  There have been 1200 terror incidents. It cannot be seen as a complete country. There is now an Assad state and a rebel state with shifting lines. The decisive battles will take place in Tartus, on the shoreline, in Halab, and Damascus.  The areas around these places, including the roads, are in the hands of the rebels. In other words, most of the Syrian towns are in rebel hands.  The Golan Heights have enclaves with rebels or the Syrian army. Gas, water, pipelines, power stations are in the hands of the rebels. Damascus has regular power cuts of up to eleven hours a day. The regime cannot impose their authority. Inflation has grown to 50%. The price of bread is up seven fold. The Syrian army now has less than 13,000 people. They can’t recruit from their own people as they many have fled the violence. Their soldiers have taken heavy casualties. Most of their weaponry and ammunition are in the hands of their Division 4 and their Republican Guards. Their air force is only used for attacks against rebels and civilians. They use live ammunition, Scud missiles, and 200 kg rockets on town centers. His armory is degrading. Assad is preparing, but has not used, chemical weapons. He is bringing in Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon. Iran and Hezbollah act strategically to prolong this regime. Iran and Hezbollah are also preparing for the after the fall of Assad so that their own forces will remain to claim a stake in a future Syria and keep the Shiite influence in that country.   The opposition to Assad is made up of the Free Syrian Army who now has a new chief and is 100,000 strong. There are also radical elements including Al-Qaida affiliates. Qatar supplies the weaponry and they are trying to eliminate the radical elements. The jihadi fighters number about 5000. They are armed with more sophisticated weapons than the other rebel forces. Most Syrians are Sunni and want a complete Syria. They oppose the Shiites. Assad’s allies, the Iranians and Hezbollah have flooded Syria with a militia of 50,000 fighters who will remain as spoilers after Assad’s fall.

Iran’s nuclear plan is progressing. They have three main agendas – the struggle to maintain influence in Syria, their nuclear program, and developing Iranian sectors around the world. They already have 10,000 working centrifuges and another 5000 to be installed. They have 240 kg of uranium enriched to 20%. This quantity is good for 4 or 5 bombs if the Ayatollahs give the order. This will take a few more months. They continue to produce plutogen. They keep trying to buy time but there are cracks in the coherence within the regime due to sanctions. Iranian oil exports have dropped from 2.2 million barrels a day down to 1.1 million.  Their vehicle industry production dropped 60%. Criticism grows in the street and in the regime, but they still haven’t reduced their nuclear program. They increase global terror. Sudan has turned to Iran and has become the main terror transit to Sinai.  Iran does not perceive an attack on its nuclear facilities as being a reality.
Following Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas has turned more to governance due to the damage and deterrent caused by our response to their rocket fire. Their people know that they suffered damage but that the Hamas campaign against Israel did not achieve them anything. Mahmoud Abbas is irrelevant after Operation Pillar of Defense. The Palestinian Authority is in deep financial distress. There is no peace process. So he waits and drags his feet. This can lead to him losing the West Bank to Hamas. Palestinian prisoners are an authentic issue for them. Hamas is employing a “strategic-diplomatic track” aimed at taking over the West Bank through conciliation with the Palestinian Authority.

There are 200,000 rockets aimed at Israel. Most are short range. They improve their trajectory, range, and efficiency.  The IDF needs to secure its four borders. The IDF also faces terror abroad, a growing cyber threat, and a deteriorating neighborhood with jihadi elements. There is a general lack of certainty and growing instability. The IDF Military Intelligence is reforming itself and is changing systems, intelligence gathering, and the social networking to face the new challenges.
Aviv Kohavi’s report was both breathtaking and comprehensive.

The panel for “In Search of a Strategy: US, Europe, and the Middle East” was kicked off very candidly by Alexandr Vondra, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister of the Czech Republic. In 2009, the Czechs had the presidency of the EU and proved to be a good ally of Israel.  In fact, they were the only European nation to vote against the Palestinian UN move for statehood. “There is popular sentiment in Europe that is critical of Israel,” he said, “but we in Czechoslovakia don’t have Mosques and Muslims unlike Belgium, and EU policy is demographic. It is difficult for a unified EU strategy with these different views and attitudes.”  He also pointed out, to applause, that in the recent Czech presidential elections all three candidates, including the Social Democrat candidate, were strongly pro-Israel.
Derek Collett, the US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs explained the close security ties between America and Israel. There have been a hundred defense engagements between the US and Israel a year. Leon Panetta met Ehud Barak more than any other Defense Minister. We appreciate the work of Barak and look forward to working with Israel’s new defense Minister.” There have been 32 robust training exercises between America and Israel in four years. “Chuck Hagel is keen to continue these exercises. We want Israel’s participation in NATO to deepen and we are working on that. It is not possible to see NATO involvement in the Middle East without Israel’s involvement.”

Jasper Vohl, the Director of the Private Office of the Secretary-General of NATO said, “NATO has no desire to be involved militarily in Syria. While NATO is not ready to take a military role we do want a dialogue role and engage with practical assistance in a strategic partnership. We have tools to offer for security in the turmoil in the Arab world and with the Arab League. Non-discrimination is a key to NATO.”
Major-General (res.) Amos Gilead, Director of the Political-Military Bureau in the Ministry of Defense said, “There is no way that the US, EU, or Israel can tolerate a nuclear Iran. Ayatollah Khameni asks ‘Can we develop a bomb?’ He only wants to hear one answer –‘Yes’ Ahmadinajad is the best marketing agent of the Iranian regime, but he doesn’t make the decisions. Khameni does. The United States is concerned about the timing, not the process. If Iran gets the bomb Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt will follow and the Middle East will look like hell. How will Middle East terror look with a nuclear Iran? “Gilead said it is a clear policy of the US to cooperate with Israel and this is a major pillar of Israel’s national security. “I can’t see us without it. We also have a better cooperation with Europe. It’s better than it appears in the newspapers.”

“The military option must remain on the table and this is homework for the United States, if I may speak as a little Czech. This country, Israel, has the right of self-defense,” said Alexandr Vondra.
There was a question addressed to Derek Collett. “There are questions in Israel of is the United States serious about ‘all options on the table.’ We are leaving our national security in your hands. Are we right?” The answer given included the current American military capability that has been employed to the Gulf and close to the Straits of Hormus as a clear message to the Iranians that America is serious.  He was challenged again by the statement that the Iranians do not believe that force will be used against them. Collett pointed out the diplomatic and sanction pressure on Iran. “We still have time. We are in constant dialogue with Israel, trading intelligence, but there is no question in our resolve. The President will make that clear when he comes to Israel as will Hagel.”

Amos Gilead was asked would Israel step in if the international community does not deal with Syria? His answer was that the Golan Heights was still a relatively quiet border. The chemical weapons are under control. Any high profile Israeli action is damaging. “It is an international problem. Syria is a multi-dimensional problem. The less Israel does the better.”
We heard differing views on Syria in other panels. Here are some of the soundbites from the experts.

The attitude not to meddles in Syria is wrong and naïve. The Iranians and Hezbollah have their allies and proxies in Syria. They continue to rain and arm them. We cannot allow them the freedom by not getting involved.”  Salameh Nemett. Jordan Communications Consultant.
“In Syria, we are not seeing Western intervention even on humanitarian grounds.”  Kerstin Muller. Spokesperson for the Alliance 90/Green Party Parliamentary Group, Germany.

“If the United States continues its policy of ‘leading from behind’ we  could likely see a worst case scenario where neither side wins in Syria with the rebels taking the periphery and the Assad regime controlling Damascus.”
“The Red Line in Syria is that you can kill everybody but don’t use chemical weapons.”

“Lack of interest with the opposition in Syria leads to the Islamic Sunni block with a resentment against American and the West. The closest target for this resentment is Israel.”

Soundbites from the panel “Economic Crisis and Political Instability on a Post-Spring Middle East”  began with moderator Judy Miller of the Manhattan Institute and Fox News contributor explaining economics and the upheaval in the Arab world this way, “Rich or poor having money eases the pain of the Arab Spring.  Rich or poor, being a king delays the disaster. The absence of America encourages the deterioration. “
It often takes an Israeli at these conferences to talk common sense.  I recall two years ago the Herzlia Conference had panels on the ‘Arab Spring.’ Most European and American experts saw this as something fresh and positive. All the Israeli experts  spoke gloomily about what it was really all about. This year the overseas panelists are less willing to call it the ‘Arab Spring.’ Those that refuse to see it as the ‘Islamic Winter” struggled to find a new definition. We had people offering ‘The Arab Awakening,’ and  the ‘Arab ReAwaking’ . This may be true. They are coming out of a dream and discovering a nightmare in reality. Others tried ‘A Middle East Transition’ as if what we are seeing is something positive. Distance from the turmoil, it seems, blunts the use of language.

Israel Elad-Altman, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC Herzlia spoke a lot of sense about the new Egyptian government and their terrible economic situation. “If the Muslim Brotherhood had partnered with the non-Islamists it would have stopped the flight of capital and talented people. This Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t think of Egypt. It thinks of the Islamic Umma. They say ‘Who is not part of the Muslim Brotherhood is not part of us.’ They pushed out the secular elements and they have burned their bridges. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has to stop being Pan-Arabist, Islamic Umma.To complete the reality check, there is no opposition in Egypt. The opposition was attacked, discredited, and called traitors. This led to the disappearance of the opposition. Democracy, for the Muslim Brotherhood and for Hamas, is the right of the majority to oppress the minority. Morsi needs to change his name to Mohamed Mandela and step back from his party to be an inclusive president.”   
Summarising the topic of the emergence of a Sunni Axis and the Balance of Power in the Middle East, the main events included the attempt of secular young people to revolt in Tahrir Square being hijacked by the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood, Iraqi disintegration, the impending fall of Assad, and the emergence of the Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar as key players to challenge Shiite Iran and the Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon. With failing states and the rise of tribalism, the Sunni-Shia divide became even stronger. This vector of chaos leads to conflict. As one wit put it “We are now eating more SuShi (Sunni-Shia) these days.”  The disintegration of Syria will escalate the Sunni-Shia conflict. If Iran is deprived of its nuclear capability it will deprive it of its Shia hegemony. If Iran gets nuclear it will increase it and the Shiite element as a regional and global power.  Elliot Abrams agreed that the Sunni axis is a reaction to the Shia axis. This comes as a result of the perception of a rising Iran and a weakening America. “We have,” he said, “ a common interest with the Sunnis against Iran and their proxies. The Sunni axis is increasingly an anti-China axis. China has, despite sanctions, kept strong commercial ties with Iran. They back Assad against both Sunni, US, and also Israeli interests. It is a fear of the Iranian-led Shia axis.”

Brian Katulis, Senior fellow at the Center for American Progress said that the Middle East has become a multi-polar, multi-dimensional struggle for power. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar have differing views on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sudan is a Sunni majority yet has strong ties with Shia Iran. It doesn’t neatly fit into the Sunni-Shia divide.

Riad al Khouri from Jordan said that King Abdullah did coin the phrase “the Shia Crescent.” He said it is helpful to describe the two as the Sunni “Conservative” axis and the Shia “Radical” axis. Jordan is stable but economically fragile. Jordan’s stability is important to Saudi Arabia. “We hope new forms of energy can help our economy and energy needs to maintain Jordan’s neutrality.”

Salameh Nemett from Jordan said the failure of the rulers and parties to build modern states encouraged an Islamic form of politics. The Sunni axis is to cut the Iranian tentacles in the region. Worryingly, a Jihadi Salafist movement is emerging. Nemett gave a list of murderous events that had taken place in Iraq a day before that included suicide bombing, car bombs, murders of prominent people, most of which didn’t register in the main media channels. He listed how Sunni political groups and parties were shifting away from Iran. He included Hamas which was now being supported by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and by Qatar.  He was critical of the election slogan posted by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that “Islam is the way!” “There is no Islamic way to collect the garbage and make the buses run on time. There is no way to run a country according to Islam. Not in Pakistan and not in Iran.”

Riad al Khouri thought that Israel could be the example to the Muslim world. “The new government has reformed and appears to separate synagogue and state while remaining a Jewish state.  This may calm down the Muslim world. They cannot continue to accuse Israel of radical Judaism. They should begin to separate Mosque and State.”

Elliot Abrams jumped in and protested that nothing Israel will do will affect the anti-Semitic hatred of Islamic regimes. Hamas, he said, will call to murder Jews whether they be religious or secular. Suicide bombers don’t differentiate between religious and secular Jews when they blow up a bus in Jerusalem.  “Having a secular Jewish life in Israel does not affect the attitude and agenda of radical Islamic regimes.”

The final panel covered Israel’s National Security strategy in a changing Middle East. The keynote speaker was Dan Meridor who was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence ans Atomic Energy in the outgoing Israeli government. He gave us a brief history of Israel’s national security history starting with David Ben-Gurion who based it on four pillars – the military, linkage with a superpower, projecting the image of a nuclear power as a deterrent to our enemies, and the global support of the Jewish people. Since then, he claimed, there has not been a clear national security strategy. He headed a committee just before the Lebanon War of 2006 which was not formally adopted. Since then Israel’s NS strategy has evaporated. Security not only protects Israel’s existence, it plays a central role in Israel.

Echoing IDF Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz, on the first day of the conference, Meridor said, “If you are ready for last year’s war you may not be ready for next year’s war. You can’t be fixated on the past while the world is changing under our noses.”

Reflecting on the misconceptions of regime change in the Arab world he remarked about Egypt thus, “We thought that the old regimes was about to topple and Thomas Jefferson was going to sail up the Nile. This world is turbulent with its religious identities. There is an enormous wave of change and we are being swept up in it. We once had three or four defined enemies. Today we have tens, if not hundreds, of regimes, groups, organizations, acting against us.”

Major General Ido Nehushtan, former Chief Commander of Israel’s Air Force and former head of IDF Planning Directorate, addressed the issue of deterrence and the ability of act to prevent terror. One main pillar is high quality and precise intelligence. Another is pro-actively strengthening our capabilities. We are engaged in the defense against rockets, the protection of borders, and the challenges of cyber. “Churchill once said ‘We’re out of money. That means we’ve got to think.’ Budget restrictions force us to think how we can maintain and build an efficient defense force in the future while we maintain our qualitative edge. That involves the equipment we use, the training, and the size and structure of the army. This all has long term impact. This is risk management at the highest level. “

Shlomo Avineri, of the Hebrew University and former Director-General of he Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminded us that, for the last forty years, Israel did not find itself at war with an Arab army. Up to 1973 Israel had to fight for its life. Since then, not so. “This is a strategic achievement,” he said. “Today we have another complex. With the recent Arab ReAwakening, they were all in military dictatorships. The kingdom weren’t really challenged. This may change. The Arabs kings claim some sort of family link with Mohammed. If you are an offspring of the Prophet it gives you some sort of protection from riots. The structure of a religious civil society gives them pause.”

“It’s not a question of who is going to rule Syria, but what.”

Regarding Israel’s national security strategy, Avineri rhetorically questioned, “To what extent do my politics affect my ability to recruit the support of important allies?”

Amos Yadlin, the Director of the Institute for National Security Studies joked. “In Israel there is no euphoria, no panic. Just slight paranoia. We think that 200,000 missiles will fall on us  that Syrian chemical weapons from Syria will be launched against us, that we will face a third Intifada from the Palestinians, and that an Iranian nuclear bomb will destroy us. So far, none of these things has happened. Israel has the strongest army and the best air force. Our public expect us to win the war in three hours, maximum six days. There is also an attitude that our civilians can get killed but not our soldiers yet expect us to wipe out the enemy. The nuclearization of Iran continues but Israel has not yet attacked. We are the pigs and monkeys according to Egypt. Israel has managed to deter terrorin the north and south. Our failing is that we haven’t deterred our international legitimacy and, without that, our ability to protect ourselves is harmed.”

Addressing Iran, Yadlin said, “America and Israel is drawing closer together over the prevention of a nuclear Iran. The danger of bombing Iran is less than being a target. After sanctions there could be a blockade on Iran. Having them come to the table is conditional on stronger sanctions. The axis that goes from Tehran to Damascus to Beirut is broken. Syria is being broken for us for free. As for the Palestinians, we do not put our fate in their hands. We must take our fate into our own hands.”

I have given you the gist of a massive and wide-ranging conference. With its closed-door roundtables, simulations, war games, sessions, keynote speakers, and intensive networking in the coffee breaks and lunches, it is a mind-blowing experience allowing me only some of the most interesting soundbites to give you the flavor of the event. I hope my four reports offer you some light on the complexities of the major issues that burden Israel and the free world. If you would like copies of all four report please let me know and I will be pleased to send them to you.

Barry Shaw,
The View from Israel.


Thursday 14 March 2013


The anticipated visit to Israel and the region by President Barack Obama is causing a buzz and curiosity in Israel. Everything from what is on the menu of his state dinners to his meeting the new Miss Israel is being covered in details. 
It was, therefore, natural that it should have its prominent place at the 13th Annual Herzlia Conference, under the auspices of IDC Herzlia at the Dan Accadiah Hotel. The Opening Panel on Day 3 was entitled “Ahead of President Obama’s visit to Israel: US-Israel relations – Quo Vadis?” with US Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, taking center stage. In a nutshell, he described the purpose of his visit is to restate the strong bond between the US and Israel. It was, he said, an opportunity for the two leaders to engage in the significant challenges facing us. In a sense it is a continuation of a partnership, a good example being last September when Hamas escalated its rocket attack against Israel and Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense. The US stated Israel’s right to self-defense and this did a lot to shape international perceptions. Also,there was  a coordination of diplomatic efforts to reduce and end the violence, including US influence with Egypt, and calls between Obama and Morsi. This conflict was highlighted by the success of the Iron Dome US-Israel security policy. Shapiro talked of Iran. He said we have a number of important and shared principles including intelligence gathering, a common understanding of the threat, and the inherent risk of a nuclear arms race, and shared goals, namely prevention of a nuclear Iran and not containment.

I have to report that during the coffee break networking chats I heard the opinion that one of the major purposes of Obama’s visit with PM Netanyahu was to prevent Israel from striking Iran. More on this later.

Dore Gold looked back on the initial meeting between Obama and Bibi. He said the body language between the two men then was positive. He said that, in 2009, the concept was, listening to diplomatic talk, that we were a hair’s breath away from a solution to the Palestinian crisis. “We all knew what it would look like, but how do we get there?” was the talk at the time. Since then the Middle East reality has changed. Things did happen. Bibi gave Abbas what he wanted, according to what Abbas wrote in the New York Times. He agreed to recognize the need for a Two-State solution and he agreed to a settlement freeze. Yet negotiations did not begin. Today, it required taking a step back and reassessing the Middle East is not the Middle East we knew. Israel’s security component is more critical today than it was then.  It is important for Obama to come and speak with the Israeli people. Because President Clinton came over in personal terms to Israelis they accepted his difficult doctrine and parameters. With regard to a nuclear Iran he needs to state prevention and not containment. The narrowing of the gaps between Israel and the US gives us a chance to build on our relationship with America.”

Former Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, said that the President’s visit was a great opportunity for Obama to make a new perception. His 2009 perception was not helpful to us nor the Palestinians. In retrospect, his perception of the conflict and the Arab world was not helpful. The gesture he made  was not reciprocated by the Arab world, neither was it perceived well by the Israeli public. It cut both ways. It wasn’t helped by the Palestinians making all the wrong moves. “It is important for the president to stress that the alliance with Israel is strong as we move from the past to the future.”  On Iran, Ayalon said that they should be told that time is up. The two leaders should make Iran aware of our commonality of purpose – not containment, but prevention. The “Red Line” criteria is enriched uranium. This is the most reliable way to check what is happening.  Ayalon suggested that the Arab League should be brought in to help solve the Syrian crisis post-Assad. They should provide peace-keeping troops. They should take responsibility as a relevant player.  Regarding the Palestinians Ayalon said, “I was against their provocative breach of agreements with their unilateral move at the UN. Gestures should be reciprocal. For Israel’s recognition of a Palestinian state, the Palestinians should recognize Israel as the Jewish state.”

Brian Katulis is a leading national security analyst in Washington DC. He said of the turmoil in the region, “I don’t call it the Arab Spring or the Islamic Winter. I call it the Middles East Transition.” About Obama’s trip to the region he said “By travelling to Ramallah, Obama announces that the Palestinian Authority is the only game in town for the Palestinians”, meaning that is sidelines Hamas in Gaza. “We will hear frank talk, that the Palestinian UN move was unhelpful and that America does not accept the legitimacy of settlement activity. The US will have Israel’s back on security and in international forums.” He suggested that think tanks can do more to find common ground on threat perceptions in the region and how to deal with them.

Dov Zakheim served as senior foreign policy adviser to George W.Bush. he said that Obama needs to show thar America is not withdrawing from the world. “I was in Kurdistan, the Gulf, Europe, and now here. This is the perception. We’re withdrawing from Afghanistan. We withdrew from Iraq. Our number one priority is preventing an attack on Israel. It cannot be a reaction to an attack. It must be prevention.” Relating to the perception of America “leading from behind” he said “If it’s a case of the tail wagging the dog, we are still the dog.”

 In the session on “The Proliferation of Terror and Jihad” Wolfgang Ischinger, the Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, expressed his admiration for Israel. “If what has happened to you happened to us in my country the population would clog the autobahns as they try to run away. It is not self-evident to Europeans that what happens in the Middle East impacts our citizens. For us, it is a learning process. What is going on in Syria reminds me, in a terrible way, of Bosnia. There, we got our act together very late. We saw it is difficult to put ethnic and religious groups together post-conflict. Intervention is not an easy thing. What needs to happen is a more open discussion. We could end up with no good friends in Syria post-Assad and therefore no influence.”

Jane Harman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars said that America had decapitated the Al-Qaida leadership and we now have loose franchises of terror that, in many ways, is more dangerous than a centralized terror organization. “Tactically we have made progress,” she said, “but strategically we have not.” She quoted General McCrystal who, as we approach Passover, asked 4 questions. “Where is the enemy? Who is the enemy” What is the enemy trying to do? Why is he trying to do it?”  To get to the core she asked “Is a kid in Gaza going to strap on an explosive belt, or join society? Understanding that question leads us to understand the strategy to prevent terror. ‘The GateKeepers’ is a controversial movie but it’s message is what is our strategy in fighting terror.”

Ex-CIA chief, James Wolsey, told of a visit by leading Muslims when he worked at Freedom House. They stressed the importance of religious liberty in America but complained about Saudi Arabia providing new literature for their mosques which was troubling to them. The material told of the methods kill  a homosexual. They could throw him off a high place, the higher the better to prolong the agony of the fall. They could stone him to death but that large stones should be used to make his death more painful, or they could burn him alive. This is, he said, the Wahhabi form of Islam.  Saudi Arabia owns 90% of the mosques and the madrassahs. Wolsey demonstrated that the average American family says $4500 annually for oil for their vehicles. It goes into the pockets of the Saudis. “We are trapped,” he said. “We are not addicted to oil, but our vehicles are. OPEC has 75% of our oil. The Saudi royal family told CNN that it costs them $2 to produce oil that they sell for $100. We are paying for what happens in the Middle East, including teaching them how to kill homosexuals, and terror. I suggest you take the Wolsey Test. Next time you drive into the gas station to fill your tank adjust the rearview mirror a little until you see the face of the driver and then ask yourself who is paying for this funding of terror. The answer is, you are looking at him. All twenty two counties that give us our oil are dictatorships. The solution to the funding of terror is we have to bankrupt them. Today, we have a choice. Either gasoline or ethanol. Ethanol is a lot cheaper than gasoline. Natural gas is one fifth the price of oil. We should devise a fuel, methanol or diesel, from natural gas. In Brazil you can choose between gasoline or ethanol when you go fill your tank. We need to be as smart as the Brazilians. We have to take the decision to convert vehicles. It costs $100 to convert a car. We can do it with current technology but the core of the problem is it is way out of the American comfort zone.”  We do not yet understand that we are in the midst of World War 3. It has no familiarity with the two previous wars. It’s about religion. It’s a war within a religfion that spills over to other religions and even to non-religionists. It is no good hiding behind liberal secularism. It’s not going to protect you. (author).

Wolsey explained, “We have to get leverage over their behavior. We need to bankrupt them.”

Boaz Ganor, Director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at IDC, said, “The West, America, two years ago, referred to the turmoil in the Middle East in a very naïve way. They said ‘You need to give this process a chance.’ Who is dictating this change? It’s the radical Islamists. The West said that Al-Qaida was losing its way in trying to impose a global Caliphate under Shariah Law, but what are we seeing here. It is precisely this agenda. We are seeing the breakdown of traditional counties leaving the door open to radicals. We see this in Libya, we are seeing it in Syria. Some say that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t call for terror, but their ideology echoes radical Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood ideology will give birth to a hybrid terror. Although an overall war with Arab nations is less likely our neighborhood is infinitely more dangerous. It is an environment that could lead to an eruption. My advise is not to interfere in the process. If you think that supporting the Syrian rebels is a good thing, remember what happened with the support of the mujahidin in Afghanistan. Stick to your principles of democracy, human rights, and don’t meddle in the turmoil.”

One soundbite that came out of this panel was “If a few years ago we stood on the edge of a cliff we are now taking a giant step forward.”

There was a wide spectrum of thought in the session “Iran and the Red Line: Time for Sword or Time for Diplomacy.”  The views of the overseas panelists were contradictory. One expert showed in a PowerPoint presentation how  both American and Israeli red lines on Iran’s nuclear program have shifted and changed in the last decade.  Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute said that the Iranians have crossed all the previous red lines with impunity. They also see the North Korean example of ignoring warnings, red lines, and sanctions. One speaker, a former US Deputy Secretary of Defense told us that John Kerry recently said that President Obama’s policy was a prevention of a nuclear Iran at all costs and that US presidents don’t bluff.  All this confused talk caused Uzi Arab, a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister to say that, after all the conflicting statements about American policy on Iran, the Israeli Prime Minister must ask President Obama to clearly and unequivocally outline American official policy on Iran. “Red lines,” he said, “are a self-inflicted point. When you say that if Iran crosses those lines that we will take action you had better live up to your declaration. If they see that you don’t step up to the plate why should they take you seriously? It is an unstable position to allow them to close on the targeted red line.” In answer to a question about the desirability to enter into a pre-emptive war with Iran Arad answered, America, in the past, has entered into wars for reasons of ‘regime change’, ‘to win hearts and minds,” and to fight terror. With Iran the option is surgical, not political, social, and is therefore a more modest aim than wars undertaken in the recent past.”
Barry Shaw,
The View from Israel.


Wednesday 13 March 2013


TZIPI LIVNI opened proceedings on Day 2 of the Annual Herzlia Conference held at the Dan Accadia Hotel. Livni is to hold the Justice Ministry in the new Israeli Government. She is also being given the role of Israeli negotiator with the Palestinian Authority. Here is part of what she said;
“There are only two options between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan, or two separate states or one state … just as the Palestinians need to know that there are Jews between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, we need to know that there are Palestinians in the same place…In the negotiation room we need to stop talking about who has the greater right to be here … We have to see how we can create more than just a shared life … we need to see whether we can live together, even though I don’t want to live together, I want a divorceIt is critical for us to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians. It has been an open wound since 1867 that has to be healed ... Having two states for two nations is the most basic and only interest of the Jewish people. It’s the only way we can preserve the existence of a democratic Jewish state.”

An interesting discussion took place on the panel “Israel’s Right to Self-Defense: Strategic, Moral, and Legal Restraints”  where the freedom of a country to act in self-defense was discussed. In Israel, the security discourse is critical. Self-defense and deterrence are two conflicting concepts. If a country wants to defend itself it can, under international law, only repel an attack. If we insert deterrence as an option it could conflict with international law. Issues such as this, raised by the international community, could and have affected Israel’s ability to strike in its self-defense. Israel is a country whose very existence is under attack by regimes that do not recognize its right to exist or even respect Israel’s sovereignty. Up to 1982, the threat against Israel had been by states and conventional armies. Since then, Israel has been coping with non-state enemies. Today, Israel is forced to go to war with non-state actors who use another territory or nation to infiltrate into and attack Israel. Dealing with those threats has placed Israel as a special platform for international law. It is forced to act against the norms accepted in the world. It appears that if its people are shot at from another territory, Israel cannot shoot back, but Israeli citizens, like citizens of any country, demand that their government protect them. It is the duty of any government to protect its citizens. Self-defense, in international law, does not tolerate punitive actions. The ability for self-defense, in international law, exists, but with restrictions. Israel’s appeals that it acts against proxies of other states (such as Hamas and Hezbollah) fell on deaf ears. It was not accepted until the international community acted against Al-Qaida.
The analogy of Pearl Harbour was given where, under international law the Americans did not have to wait until the bombs dropped. It would have been legitimate to attack the planes when they were on their way. But Israel cannot wait for the missiles to be launched. It does not have the luxury of time and distance to wait for an attack.
When Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear facility in a preventative attack the world did not see this as such.  In the 6 Day War, Israel did a pre-emptive strike after Egypt closed the Suez Canal, kicked out UN forces, and recruited Jordan and Syria in advance of a war against it. This was considered self-defense.
Professor  of Law, Moshe Halbertal, said that in Lebanon in 1980 “the other side lost its right to live when it threatened and acted to kill Israelis.” Wars, he said, should not be fought in hubris or out of arrogance. Lebanon had to do with expulsion of the PLO and the establishment of a new regime. This is wrong under international law. Any war that leads to a change of purpose should not be fought. In Iran, he said, Israel has a justification but must be cautious about an exit strategy.
The international community feels that if Israel has an occasional rocket fired at it, it should not react, but a state has the duty to protect its citizens even if the situation following a response deteriorates. Standing your ground is not about body count on the other side. It starts from the basic necessity of self-defense.
There is a level of double standards being applied to Israel by the international community when it comes to its self-defense. Major-General Dan Harel said “I would rather hear reprimand than have them shed tears over my grave. It’s good to be in the camp of the righteous but the other side doesn’t fight according to Queensbury Rules.”  He gave the following scenario;   In Lebanon, there are 196 Shiite villages in the south with rockets, long-range missiles, and weapons of up to 100 kg hidden in homes. Hezbollah chief, Nasrallah, give to order “Go!” The IDF commander can be the most moral man on earth but what is he going to do? Warn them? Tell the villagers to leave within minutes before he is allowed to do something? This applies to Gaza. There were targets we did not attack because of the risk of collateral damage, and they used those weapons against us. The right of self-defense can be the sanctuary of the villain.  In 1999, NATO dropped bombs from a height of 15,000 feet that hit innocent civilians to create a ceasefire in Kosovo, and that was considered OK.
My question, posed against a scenario of repeated attacks from Hamas with increasingly long-range and sophisticated missiles, that regime removal should also be defined as an act of self-defense was met with several objections by one or two members of the panel. I insisted that, if it was legitimate to remove Saddam Hussein, Gadafi, and Assad, it should also be legitimate to remove a Hamas or Hezbollah regime that officially talks of the destruction of Israel and act on that motivation, out of a policy of self-defense. After all, if this is not legitimate then the removal of Adolph Hitler would have been illegitimate.   I was pleased to hear from Moshe Halbertal that a Hamas regime removal would be considered legal under international law, even though her personally thought it would be a “stupid move” by Israel.
Fast forward to an interesting panel discussion on “Is the Israel-Palestinian Impasse Breakable?” Here we saw the type of discussion that is common among Israeli policy and opinion makers.  Shlomo Avneri said, “I appreciate Tzipi Livni’s desire for a Two-State solution but I am skeptical that it can be achieved. She was involved with Ehud Olmert negotiating in good faith for two years. Both sides had the most moderate parties at that time. The fact was it didn’t happen. When the sides came to the nitty-gritty there was a big divide over borders and settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem. Palestinians say that Israel has to go back to 1967 lines but there are more than a quarter of a million Israelis living in the West Bank. They don’t sit on hilltops. They are second generation citizens living in large towns. Land swops won’t solve the problem. Ramot and Gilo in Jerusalem, for Palestinians, are settlements. There are 200,000 Jews there, they say, that must be removed. Do you know of any city that is the capital of two states after forty years of war?  It is wrong to press for final status agreements. Today, countries like Cyprus and Kosovo do not have final status agreements with their adversaries.”
Michael Herzog asked is a Two-State solution valid? Is it desirable? He thought it was. Without it, he said, would prolong the conflict and lead to radicalism. Is it possible? “Yes, on the ground it is possible. Settlements take up about 4%. There is space for a Palestinian entity. Is it possible to bridge core issues? This is problematic but in theory, yes. Is it possible given the two sides leadership? I am skeptical. This is not very favorable. What does it take to generate a peace process? There is the need for urgency, a leadership decision in words and deeds. The parties need to engage. They have to agree to improve the atmosphere, to create back channels to discuss the issues. We shouldn’t give up. We should try if only to tell the world that we did our best if we fail.”
Yoav Hendel who worked with Benjamin Netanyahu, said “The status quo is bad for Israel. Palestinians keep missing every opportunity given to them. The two sides cannot agree, not on Jerusalem, refugees, or settlements. If we don’t want to status quo we need to set the Israeli consensus. We can enter into interim agreements. After what we experienced in Gaza we cannot build castles in the sky. Settlement blocks are part of Israel. We can give the Palestinians alternatives in land but major settlements will remain part of Israel. We now need to manage the conflict to minimize the friction. After 46 years of conflict we need to think out of the box.”
Danny Dayan reminded the panel that, in Hebrew, the subject matter was not just of an impasse but it also asked was the idea of a Two-State solution still valid. He thought the two questions point to the impossibility of the notion. “There is an impasse because we called for a Two-State solution that is impossible to achieve. It’s like somebody determined to drive to Eldorado. They try taking a left turn, then a right turn, but cannot reach their destination. A Two-State solution is our Eldorado. It’s a nice dream but not a place based in reality no matter what route you take. You cannot reconcile the two national movements. The Palestinian aspirations are real and genuine. However, their desire to live in Hebron as a sovereign state clashes with our rights. Every effort you take is doomed to failure. Olmert was imbued with a religious fever, almost a messianic desire to reach that Two-State solution. Even Tzipi Livni, our new negotiator, said in ‘The New Republic” that it was reckless. His offer was rejected by Abbas.   President Obama is coming to the region. He can go along the beaten path. We will get to a new impasse. This obsession for a two-State solution, twenty years after Oslo is impossible to reach. The burden of proof is on the believers not on the doubters. To say that a One-State solution is the only alternative to a failed Two-State solution is a linguistic trick. It is as unreachable as the Two-State failure. We should try a new modus vivendi with the Palestinian Authority with 95% of their population under their own control and with their own security. We should launch a pro-active human rights policy for the Palestinians, an improved status quo where they can freely travel, go to the beaches of Israel, with security as a precondition for everything.”
Shlomo Avneri responded to Dayan. “You are emasculating their national self-determination. They don’t want to visit the beach. They want full independence and self-expression.”

Michael Herzog. “I think the status quo will explode in our faces. I agree there are great difficulties but we must set the steps and start the process. If we fail I would support Israel taking unilateral steps in its own self-interest.”
Dr. Robert Danin of the US Council on Foreign Relations said, “Negotiations are not the way to go. If you want to kill an idea just say ‘We tried that before and it can’t be done.’ The concept of Zionism, of a Start-Up Nation, is that you are great thinkers. You are never satisfied with the status quo – until it comes to the peace process, and then you are not applying original thinking.”
Yoav Hendel. “The only option is to create a process of interim agreements.”
Michael Herzog. “It takes two to tango even for interim agreements. My knowledge is that the Palestinians will not agree to interim agreements until they see an end game. I don’t see the US Administration imposing a solution without taking Palestinian considerations into account.”
Danny Dayan. Is the Two-State solution possible, or not? Negative. If a Palestinian state was established it would not end the conflict. Let’s put it bluntly. The reason there is a ‘moderate’ Palestinian entity known as Abbas is because of the presence of the IDF. The moment that Israel withdraws the clock begins ticking to end Abbas’s political and maybe physical life. To say that Gaza is Hamas and the West Bank is Fatah is an urban legend. There are mornings when I wake up and believe that Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu) wants Two-States. There are mornings I wake up and think he is bluffing. There are mornings that Bibi wakes up and thinks the same..”
Robert Danin. “Four years ago Obama made a speech in Cairo and did nothing. There is ridicule in Egypt against America. It is not enough to articulate your policy. You have to pursue it.
The opinions of leading policy makers displays the frustrations of a peace process going nowhere.

Zionism in the 21st Century brought us some special words from Rabbi Israel Meir Lau who thought that Aliyah was the greatest challenge for Zionism, Jews, and Israel.
“As a motto we have the vision of Isaiah who, thousands of years ago, defined Aliyah as ‘the Ingathering of the Exiles’ Who are these sons and daughters who he said shall come ‘as a cloud or as a dove’? Isaiah lived in the time of the First Temple yet, today, we see people who come as a cloud or as a dove. I came as a little cloud. I came out of the ashes of Auschwitz. My parents were killed. My home destroyed. I was pushed here, as were many Jews, by the winds of progroms, anti-Semitic hatred, the Holocaust, as a wind pushes the clouds. Others come as doves urged with a desire to return to their nest, acting out of a free will to be united with their people.”
Natan Sharansky told a different story. “I married my bride in a small flat in Moscow. There was barely a minyan. We had barely twelve hours together before her flight to Israel and my arrest. We did not meet again for twelve years when they released me to come to Israel. Suddenly, we were part of the history of the Jewish people, the Exodus, that there is a Jewish country ready to send planes and rescue Jews and welcome them into their homeland. I want ot bring Israel to the Diaspora. I want to reconquer the universities, these ’occupied territories’ where I hear ‘it’s better for my Jewish values if Israel did not exist at all.’ We have to tell these Jews that it is cool to connect to Israel. It could be with hi-tech or matchmaking. It doesn’t matter. We need to find a way to strengthen Jews worldwide by strengthening the link between them and Israel.”
Rabbi Lau said we have enough good Zionist role models to persuade Diaspora Jews that “I want to belong to that club.” These people should be sent as representatives, as emissaries to strengthen the ties. “The next Aliyah will be a dove Aliyah. It will be an example to our neighbors that we are a strong people of quality.”





Tuesday 12 March 2013

Soundbites from a conference.

The Annual Herzlia Conference is always the pinnacle of the conference season in Israel. This year, it was magnificently organized by IDC at the Dan Accadiah Hotel in Herzlia. A star-studded cast of international experts cast their eyes over “Time for New National and Regional Agendas” the topic of the 2013 event.
This report offers specific references and anonymous remarks that give the tone to the kaleidoscope of subjects covered by this four day marathon.

IDC Herzlia, together with the Israeli Foreign Office, is sending five of their Ethiopian students speaking English to South Africa to counter the “Israel Apartheid Week” events to show South African students the true face of Israel, which is as far from apartheid as you can get.

With the upcoming visit to Israel of President Obama, Israel’s Prime Minister should demand that he should say that the US will stop a nuclear Iran “even with force” rather than talk of “red lines.”  If Iran knew they could destroy Israel with a nuclear strike they would do so if only to establish their regional hegemony.  Professor Alex Mintz.
Recent research and polls show that Israelis put their trust in generals and judges and less in their politicians.  Professor Gabriel Ben-Dor.

“Frenemies.”  A new word, meaning finding basic points of convergence and common cause with old enemies. For Israel and much of the Arab world these common threats include non-state actors, regional instability, and Iran.
In 2013, Israel finds itself more isolated. Significant processes for Israel includes the rise of political Islam in the Middle East and Africa. Religious and ethnic groups are fracturing the Middle East and Africa. The “fertile crescent” has become the destabilized region.

With its internal strife, the loss of tourism, the inability to export workers abroad to bring back foreign currency, its disrupted gas supply to Israel, Egypt cannot meet its commitments to the IMF. Added to this its growing population, Egypt is on its way to bankruptcy. 
Even though recent US criticism of Israel was not fair, Israel must deepen its ties with America for mutual geopolitical strategic interests. The US has adopted a passive approach to the Middle East as it shifts its attention to Asia. It has allowed Europe and NATO to take a more forward role further adding to this pacifism.

The use of force against Iran must remain a credible threat. Israel is not the only one in the region worried about a nuclear Iran. The Sunni bloc is gravely concerned.
Europe will continue to be a negative economy for several years. Britain will not emerge from its slump until at least the end of 2015. There is a disconnect between the mood and economic reality with the global equity markets rallying and being overly positive.

If China saves 45 cents on the dollar, and the US saves only 12 cents, don’t be surprised in China accumulates more assets than America.
Europe decided to take diverse countries and make them converge. They did so without first building the necessary institutions. Unemployment in Greece and Spain is 26%. In Germany it is only 6%. What do their finance ministers discuss when they meet? How can they agree to anything with their differing competitiveness? The dream was not matched by institution building. If you want to dream you had better wake up.

Developing countries have a growing population. Developed countries have an aging population. By 2030 there will be an additional 1.5 billion people. 
In the US current government spending on social security and healthcare came to 48%. By 2035 it will reach 63%. How can a country survive with that scale of expenditure?

A realist is an optimist with experience.
Keynote speaker for Day One was Lt.General Benny Gantz, Chief of the General Staff of the IDF.

“Lot’s wife was told not to look back, but she did and was turned into a pillar of salt. You should look back but not get stuck in the past. You must know what to change. In the 40 years since the Yom Kippur War it has not been quiet here. If there is one constant it is there is no constant. We must be alert to this constant instability. 
Once we were at war with Syria. Today, the Syrian army is attacking its own people. Terror organizations are taking a foothold against Assad. Guess what? We are next in line. I don’t know what the fate of the Syrian army will be. All I know is that the Golan Heights are not the same place.

I was the last soldier to leave Lebanon in 2000. Today, tens of thousands of missiles are under urban cover. The instability there has changed to a sort of pseudo-stability under Hezbollah, but what is happening at nine in the morning can change by four in the afternoon. There is a fuse that can go off instantly. We are prepared and we know how to act if necessary.
Sinai is no longer the place to go to for hikes and the beach. It is a terrorist hotbed. We hope that quiet will be maintained but it is an area in flux.

In Gaza we have to differentiate between inflammatory rhetoric and action. Operation Pillar of Defense reimposed deterrence.  In Judea & Samaria, the Shabak and the IDF are working night and day to do what is needed to maintain quiet. Iran is on my mind daily.
We face multiple challenges. The chances of war are low but deterioration is possible. There have been changes in the characteristics of the fighting. We are talking about the changes in the range of enemy fire. We don’t have the privilege of the army and the civilians operating separately, not on our side and not in dealing with the enemy. An evasive enemy dissolves among the civilian population. The threats never disappeared. They just changed their form.

We have a moral imperative to protect our citizens. We need to develop intelligence to operate our forces, to assess incoming intelligence and convert it into the right attack capability in a very precise fashion. In a future conflict we will need a physical presence on the ground. Our soldiers may need to go into villages, to go and fight underground, into tunnels, to meet the enemy.
We have the awareness of everything that goes cyber. It saves lives and prevents infrastructure damage. These aren’t video games. They are an existential threat to Israel.

We must not have a hollow army. It may be smaller but solid. A faster, more lethal, better trained and equipped army. The IDF is a strong army with a glorious history, a capability based on that strength. We are not a capital venture fund. This reform must be done cautiously with preparedness. We could be at war tomorrow.
We cannot rest on our laurels. If we do the future will take its revenge on us.

The discussion of who serves, how many and where, are important for Israeli society. The IDF belongs to the people. Paramount importance is bearing the burden, the right ot serve the country. This should be seen as a privilege.
Napoleon said that he needed generals with luck. We must be prepared so that when the time comes we are lucky."