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."

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