About the 13th Annual International Conference

The theme of this year's Annual International Conference is

"Strategic Assessment for Israel: A Look at the Coming Decade."

The conference will explore the security challenges and opportunities

of the next decade through four principal avenues:

Sessions

The Opening Night

Maj. Gen. Hayman described a tumultuous world in the Middle East of today that does not necessarily lead Israel to escalation or to war. The past year has seen events that have undermined the immunity of several major actors in the Middle East, chief among them Iran and Hezbollah. The digital transformation in the modern world has created a new technological, inter-connected reality akin to nothing short of a revolution. There have been social, geographical, and geo-political changes of the first order, including events such as the killing of Soleimani (“who has a successor, but cannot be replaced”); the growth of Iran’s nuclear program; and the announcement of the “deal of the century.” The Shiite system is strong; there are more militias, and there are more inter-connected threats and arenas. Israel’s enemies have gained new and improved capabilities, skills, and strengths – so that they are better at what they do. Overall, the new reality is one of change and tumult, but this does not perforce spell chaos. The risk of such an outcome is certainly there, but there are also opportunities for influence and impact – and Israel must seek them out, for example, in Syria. When there is more rapid movement and unrest, there is also less rigidity, and this fluidity and flexibility creates the potential for influence and impact.

Chief of IDF Military Intelligence

Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman

The panel of international experts, chaired by Dr. Martin Indyk, dealt first with the “deal of the century,” announced minutes before the speakers took their places on stage. Among the points emphasized was the skepticism that any Arab country would accept this plan, and the belief that the Palestinians can be “bought.” Furthermore, Gen. (ret.) John Allen said that the plan does not resemble any concept that the American people have of a solution to the conflict. Conversely, the plan’s conditional promise of a Palestinian state with a capital somewhere in Jerusalem may fracture Netanyahu’s right wing bloc. Overall, the panelists speculated what lies ahead, and as INSS Director Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin said, it remains to be seen whether it joins other previous plans on the shelf and effects no change; sparks dangerous initiatives, such as Israeli annexation of territory; or becomes a basis for negotiations. Looking at the region, the panelists emphasized that the US has key interests in the Middle East and will continue to pursue them, even if primary attention is focused on Asia. Dr. Richard Haass, who questioned whether the killing of Soleimani was even legal, contended that the turning point in the region was not this event, rather the United States withdrawal from the JCPOA. Gen. (ret.) Allen added that the American people were never given a proper context with which to understand this American action.

Moderator: Amb. Martin Indyk

Gen. (ret) John Allen, Amb. Barbara Leaf, Dr. Richard Haass, Gen (ret.) Joseph Votel and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin

The “Deal of the Century” and the United States in the Region

Dr. Avihai Mandelblit, Israel’s Attorney General, in a conversation with Adv. Col. (res.) Pnina Sharvit Baruch, shared his views on several key issues facing Israel today.  Regarding the Middle East peace plan presented earlier by President Trump, Mandelblit emphasized that the legality of applying this peace plan while Israel has an interim government needed to be checked.  Mandelblit then discussed the indictment filed today against Prime Minister Netanyahu after he dropped his bid for immunity. Mandelblit stated that his decision to indict the prime minister was not made today but had been made some time ago, and that according to the rule of law, he was obliged to submit the indictment immediately. When asked about whether the application of law in Israel is exaggerated, Mandelblit stressed that Israel is based on the rule of law, it is part of Israel’s ethos and its worldview, and that Israel needs to aspire to be a liberal democracy. He added that Israel has one system of applying the law, and the government must defer to the rule of law. At the same time, he pointed out that the government needs to make decisions about issues relating to religion and state, army service of Haredim, and social issues.  Mandelblit underlined that his job is to protect government policy but that he himself does not have an agenda. Finally, Mandleblit addressed the issue of the attempt to disqualify MK Heba Yazbak of the Balad list from running in the upcoming elections on claims that she supported the armed struggle against Israel. Mandelblit stated that there is not enough evidence to disqualify her.

Conversation between Adv. Col. (res.) Pnina Sharvit Baruch and Dr. Avihai Mandelblit, Israel’s Attorney General

Israel’s Attorney General Dr. Avihai Mandelblit Talks the Rule of Law

The Next Decade in the Global Arena

Focusing on last night’s historic “Deal of the Century” outlined by President Trump, Israel’s Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett stated that this is a “one-time opportunity” to implement Israel’s sovereignty over all of Israeli settlement in Judea, Shomron, the Jordan Valley, and North of the Dead Sea.  He emphasized that this deal is a rare chance for Israel to determine borders and to protect itself, and that for the first time, a unified Jerusalem will be recognized as under Israeli sovereignty. Stressing that this is the greatest policy opportunity in fifty years, Bennet warned that opportunities also can disappear and that Israel cannot forego this one. He urged the Israel not to implement this plan in piecemeal, but rather to do it immediately and in its entirety on all 30% of the territory given to Israel by the deal. He also emphasized that Israel will not recognize a Palestinian state. Minister of Defense Bennett acknowledged that he had already ordered the establishment of a committee to implement Israeli law immediately, stressing that “reality is not linear,” and that the State of Israel should not miss this opportunity.

Minister of Defense

Naftali Bennett

Today’s world is grappling with a release of energy not seen since the likes of the industrial revolution, whereby there are climate changes – literal, technological, demographic, and geopolitical – of the first order that propel the world forward in on a trajectory of non-linear acceleration. We live in a fast, interdependent world where there is no “later”; “later is now.” In addition, the traditional left-right political grid is an anachronism, and must move to a more natural framework of an ecosystem, which is adaptive, diverse, networked, open, and non-dogmatic. Only a pluralistic ecosystem will survive in the face of these changes, and is the only resource and recourse to garner and maintain resilience and propulsion – in other words, to survive and to thrive. Empires succeeded in eras of mild climate change; in the contemporary era, weak states can only dissolve, and what every viable state actor must strive for in this world of massive climate change is resilience and propulsion. For its part, Israel must go from managing strength in its surrounding environment to managing the weakness of the engulfing region. Israel’s main security threat is not a conventional army, rather, the potential army of Arab and Muslim refugees.

Thomas Friedman

How the World Went from Flat to Fast to Smart to Deep

Familiar power triangles have changed, and today they are frequently imbalanced. The supporting legs of economics, military power, and the ability to forge alliances are distorted in the name of gross over-investment in military efforts, particularly by Russia, Iran, and North Korea. As a result, there is less equilibrium, and powers that are more self-interested generate confrontation. In the coming decade, Europe hopes not to follow the US course, which has led to the weakening of its idea of international order. Europe presents the only option for a stable, balanced triangle that can help promote a stable word order. Europe can project power emanating from the balanced economic and military interests, and is a credible proponent of viable global systems.

State Secretary at the Federal Foreign Office , Amb. Andreas Michaelis

Will We Long for the Outgoing Decade?

In a panel on the “World Order: Strategic Competition and Dysfunction,” moderated by Amb. Dr. Oded Eran, the panelists discussed events that they think will influence the coming decade.  Dr. Michael Doran believed that we need to worry about a Chinese-Iranian alliance that could control Europe’s resources in the Persian Gulf. He warned that Israel specifically should worry about the United States abandoning the region, leaving Israel alone to face Iran and its nuclear capacity as well as its exploitation of the Middle East. Prof. Irina Zvyagelskaya stated that the collapse of strategic agreements, such as START, is most dangerous for the whole world.  Dr. Stanley Fischer warned that the bipartisan weakening of the United States will affect the world economy, as the United States is reducing its role in the world and we do not know how the new global economy will work.  Amb. Andreas Michaelis expressed the view from Europe, that the disintegration of the European Union is concerning, but that he is confident that it will survive Brexit. When asked about geopolitical risks in the next decade and the impact they will have on our lives, Amb. Michaelis showed concern that migration will be an enormous challenge. Dr. Fischer believed that that a global recession will affect us, while Prof. Zvyagelskaya cautioned us that the new generation is dissatisfied and will have an impact in all countries.  Dr. Doran warned that cyber will affect us most, as the internet has led to very different perceptions between people.

Moderator: Amb. Dr. Oded Eran

Dr. Stanley Fischer, Dr. Michael Doran, Prof. Irina Zvyagelskaya, and Amb. Andreas Michaelis

World Order: Strategic Competition and Dysfunction

Former US National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster contends that the current US approach to China is a correction of policy that was implemented after the Cold War, which was based on three false assumptions regarding increased economic engagement, namely, that it would prompt China to liberalize its economy; liberalize its form of governance; and play by the international rules. These flawed assumptions were based on the insufficient weight ascribed to Chinese Communist Party emotions and ideology, which drive the Chinese leadership to act through cooption and coercion for fear of losing its absolute grip on power. Therefore, new assumptions must underlie a changed, more engaged policy, and these are: the Chinese Communist Party will liberalize neither its economy nor its government; the Party will not play by international rules; China will combine its economic aggression with industrial espionage; its strategy is to control strategic locations in order to dominate global systems; and that absent effective competition, China will become more aggressive in its economic and governance policies. These new assumptions will determine how the US engages, and can actually transform an ostensible US weakness into US strength. To this end, democratic processes must be strengthened; the rule of law must be upheld; open press and freedom of expression must be bolstered, and liberal ways of doing business must be highlighted, to show that China’s way is a liability. US complacency and activity encourages Chinese aggression; only transparent competition can prevent unnecessary confrontation.

H.R. McMaster, Former National Security Adviser

China and the West

The panel on fake news moderated by Ms. Inbal Orpaz featured four short lectures, showcasing the research of the Amnon Lipkin-Shahak Program at INSS, Brig. Gen (ret.) Itai Brun spoke about the how fake news has affected the national-security rooms, making it difficult to differentiate between truths and lies. As a result, the role of the truth has been shaken, and those who tell the truth, such as academics and journalist, have been attacked. Dr. Liraz Margalit talked about how checking facts requires cognitive efforts, and people find it easier to make decisions based on emotions. She noted that the strongest measure of truthfulness on the social networks is the number of likes. Ms. Orpaz discussed possible solutions, including educating the public to be more critical; methods of checking facts; regulation vis-à-vis the internet platforms; and the creation of technology to detect lies. Dr. Tehila Schwartz-Altschuler focused on one solution, that of regulation to control what she termed the “infocalypse.”  She noted that as long as there is technological capitalism involved, the fake news will remain. Dr. Schwartz-Altschuler further warned that as we give data away about ourselves to all the tech giants, regulation is necessary to control the “datacalypse.” When asked about what they all feared for the future, Dr. Margalit mentioned the indifference of people to fake news, while Dr. Schwartz Altschuler expressed her concern about fake news becoming the focus of the security officials, while Brig. Gen (ret.) Brun expressed similar concern about the decision makers being removed from reality because of the fake news.

Moderator: Ms. Inbal Orpaz

Dr. Tehilla Shwartz-Altshuler, Dr. Liraz Margalit and Brig. Gen. (ret.) Itai Brun

Fake News in a Post-Truth Era

The panel on Technology and National Security, moderated by Mr. Yonatan Adiri, discussed the importance of technology to national security.  Dr. Liran Antebi discussed the growth in drones in the last decade, as drones have become extremely inexpensive and has spread to both civilian and security sectors. ISIS, for example, used drones to monitor Syrian military bases, while Hezbollah leads the field in drone attacks.  Israel, however, has not been ready to deal with the use of drones and needs to be prepared. Prof. Uri Shani moved the conversation to climate change and the need of most countries, which rely on flood irrigation for agriculture, to shift to  the more efficient drip irrigation, as developed and used in Israel. He noted that China, despite  technological advances, still lags behind in the application of technology to agricultural production. Dr. Ido Batzelet focused on the use of nanotechnology for manipulating DNA and potentially curing cancers and viruses, with the possibility of feeding DNA sequences to DNA printers in order to create medicine and to respond to pandemics. Dr. Nadia Schadlow responded that government agencies have had a hard time adapting to technology, as technological literacy is imperative. Brig. Gen (ret.) Nadav Zafrir agreed that private and public should no longer be seen as separate, and that Israel has an advantage in being able to recruit young people into its tech units in the IDF, who then become the pillar of the “Start-up Nation.”

Moderator: Mr. Yonatan Adiri

Dr. Liran Antebi, Prof. Uri Shani, Dr. Ido Batzelet, Brig. Gen. (ret.) Nadav Zafrir and Dr. Nadia Schadlow

Innovative Technologies and National Security

Ms. Erin Moseley spoke about the strong relationship between Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and Israel. She discussed how cooperation and the use of fifth generation systems has enabled Israel to stay ahead of threats and maintain its edge. Ms. Moseley noted how aircrafts historically had singular roles; this traditional approach has now changed as the lines have been blurred between domains. There is now a need for multi-domain operating systems. These systems have provided airpower superiority as they connect systems, enabling collaborating and the sharing of critical data across domains. Ms. Moseley mentioned several air operations, in which Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom shared info and tactics, demonstrating the ways in which fifth generation systems are used.

Ms. Erin Moseley

Air Power Next - The Future of Combat Air

The Next Decade in the Middle East

One of the recurring ideas regarding hopes for the region in the next five years, with the idea of making the region more stable, more prosperous, and a home to more satisfied populations, is the need for ongoing, close coordination between the US and Israel. The value of this relationship cannot be overstated. The containment of Iran is a major element, and there is a need to curb aggressive behavior from China and Russia. Mr. Schenker emphasized that the United States is not leaving the Middle East – the US is in the region to stay, and better coalitions allow better engagement with threats. Therefore, it will continue to reach out and work with coalition partners. One possible area where US and Israeli interests may diverge is regarding China, and it is important to resolve this. For Israel, stated Mr. Palti, it is of the utmost importance and urgency to maintain and enhance relations with Egypt and Jordanian.  It is very important to undermine the Shiite threat. This must be predicated on maintaining string security organizations in Israel.

Moderator: Dr. Anat Kurz

Mr. David Schenker and Mr. Zohar Palti

Perspectives from Washington and Jerusalem

INSS Neubauer research associate Khader Sawaed discussed with INSS research fellow Dr. Sarah Feuer opinions among Arab public in the region, based on an online survey among Arab online followers of INSS. Arab publics are interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, more so than their leaders, and are interested in INSS work on the subject.  They are overwhelmingly young and have strong access to INSS projects. Most respondents were in favor of a possible arrangement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. To them, the issues of leading importance in an arrangement are work permits in Israel and freedom of movement. Regarding attitudes toward Iran, most respondents see Iran as a negative influence in the region (twice the percentage of those who see Israel as a negative influence). Most feel the chances of a war between Israel and Iran are slim; if there were a war 36% would support no side; 33% would support Israel; and 29% would support Iran. Most are clearly antagonistic toward Iran, given their regional involvement in several Arab states. The most urgent issues on the minds of Arab respondents: government corruption; unemployment; the need for improved social services; and radicalism in the region.

Conversation Between Mr. Khader Sawaed and Dr. Sarah Feuer

Views from the Arab World: Trends and Trajectories

INSS Director Maj. Gen. (ret.) introduced the session with 2 key questions that arise from the Trump plan: Is this a two-state solution, or a plan for one state with two peoples? And, is this a package deal, or can its components be implemented gradually or selectively? Three speakers commented on the plan. MK Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) stressed the fact that the plan endorses the Israeli narrative regarding the conflict. It ensures Israel’s security interests, challenges prevailing international opinions regarding Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, and recognizes Israel’s sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. The plan is a victory for the settlement movement, and demonstrates to the Palestinians that procrastination and obstinacy are not worthwhile. However, it is doubtful whether a viable Palestinian state can be created, and in any case, Israel’s campaign to validate its presence throughout the area will continue. Adv. Col. (res.) Gilead Sher believes that the plan is a direct continuation of previous international plans, and is in effect Oslo 3. Therefore, the plan can serve as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israel would do well to pursue opportunities to separate from the Palestinians – this is an imperative in order to fulfill the Zionist vision. Annexation undermines this vision, and would harm Israel’s relations with Egypt and Jordan. Ultimately, no plan will resolve the conflict – only negotiations between the parties. Raising additional questions, Brig. Gen. (res.) Assaf Orion questions how much of the United States this plan represents – or just the administration. From a security perspective, it remains to be seen what reactions there can be on the ground. Surprising, rash steps incur rash, surprising responses. Finally, the plan calls for withdrawal from parts of the Negev. Is this indeed part of Israel’s agenda? All this must be weighed carefully.

MK Gideon Sa'ar, Likud Party

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, Adv. Col. (res.) Gilead Sher and Brig. Gen. (res.) Assaf Orion

Assessing the Deal of the Century

Former US CENTCOM Commander General (ret.) Joseph Votel spoke of the national interests driving US interests in the region: that there be no platform for activity against US and its partners; no proliferation of WMD; maintained access to major waterways and resources; no means for instability to spill over to affect the US or its allies; and a positive balance of power maintained, against the rise of other potential regional hegemons. While these issues may be less urgent than in the past, they all remain relevant. Most important, the US must maintain a competitive advantage relative over Russia and China. Iran maintains the most urgent issue on the US regional agenda; the regime may actually be subject to more pressure, though proxies will likely not de-escalate. Other states demand US attention and on this basis, different and particular action and involvement. Jihadi terrorism may become more local, and the region will likely see an attempted resurgence of ISIS. Overall, it is a strategic imperative that the US compete in this dynamic, unpredictable region, trying to wind down military conflicts and moving them to the political realm; maintaining a sustainable military presence; and reviewing security cooperation with coalition partners. This strategic imperative does not eclipse other US interests, and must be integrated with them.

Gen. (ret.) Joseph L. Votel

The View from US CENTCOM

In a conversation between Amb. Prof Itamar Rabinovich and Prof. Francois Heisbourg, Syria and its effects on the region, as well as Europe and the United States were discussed. Prof. Heisbourg acknowledged that Libya has become the new Syria, characterized by the high level of violence, as well as the connections between the two countries, particularly noting the presence of Syrian mercenaries in Libya. Heisbourg discussed the roles that NATO countries Greece and Turkey are playing in taking sides over undersea exploration and drilling rights in the Aegean Sea, with Greece siding with Israel and Egypt, while Turkey aligning with Qatar and the UN-recognized government in Tripoli. As for US involvement in Syria and President Trump’s wanting to remove US troops from Syria, Prof. Heisbourg agreed with Amb. Prof. Rabinovich in his assessment of Trump continuing Obama’s policy of wanting to leave the Middle East to its own devices. However, Heisbourg stated that Trump did not have any real fixed compass in the Middle East and was motivated by transactionalism.

Conversion between Amb. Prof. Itamar Rabinovich and Prof. Francois Heisbourg

Discussing Syria

This session dealt with different aspects of Syria projected in the coming decade. While the Syrian civil war may be over (which is subject to dispute), the country is far from stable. Its likely form of governance will be a revived dictatorship governing a traumatized society. Difficulties in reconstruction are magnified by an economic crisis, although Syria might succeed in reestablishing  relations with Arab states. A major question concerns the nature of the reconstruction of the Syrian military: will it be rebuilt according to Russian interests, almost in a Cold war vein, whereby Moscow has a monopoly over the enterprise, or will it follow more Iranian interests toward an attempted permanent geographic presence (along the lines of Iraq). Iran clearly has strong interests in the Syrian state, and Russia will find it difficult to oust Iran entirely from the area, even should it want to. There is also a question of the future of the Turkey-controlled areas, and the resurgence of jihadi groups that are filling the vacuum. The US presence in the area is fragile. Ms. Cafarella posited that Syria is not in a post-war phase, but in terms of economy, territory, and other factors, it is very likely that in ten years Syria will remain a war zone.

Moderator: Dr. Vera Michlin-Shapir

Dr. Jonathan Spyer, Dr. Can Kasapoglu, Ms. Jennifer Cafarella and Dr. Carmit Valensi

Syria: Back to the Future?

In the War Games scenario, in which Israel initiates attacks on Lebanon and Syria, Lt. Col. (ret.) Orna Mizrahi, representing Hezbollah, stated that although Hezbollah does not have an interest in war at this stage, it would respond by attacking military sites in the north, in order to weaken Israel.  Gen. (ret.) John Allen, playing Syria, stated that Assad would like to hold onto some legitimacy and to be synonymous with Syrian sovereignty. Since his objective is regime survival, he needs to de-escalate as quickly as possible and also preserve the coalition with Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. Russia will be key to de-escalating this conflict. Iran needs to get the Quds Force under control and stop them from launching attacks on Israel. Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitsan Alon (playing Israel) stated that Israel could risk attacking Lebanon and Syria due to US support for our move, economic pressure on Iran from sanctions, and the fact that Assad is still fighting for his survival. According to Dr. Igor Yurgens who played Russia, President Putin immediately would establish a hotline with Israel and open channels of communication with the United States, Khamanei, and Assad. Russia is most interested in a quick de-escalation of the situation. Russia has the best relations with Israel ever will seek to leverage them in making peace. However, if Israeli forces approach Damascus, Putin would have a serious domestic problem, and in that case, Russia would contemplate deployment of ground forces, although it would not be Putin’s first choice. Gen. (ret.) Joseph Votel in the role of the United States, stated that although war is not inevitable, nor is it desirable, the US operational response would include a direct response against groups in Iraq, which attacked American forces, support for Israel, and stopping Iran from further attacks. To keep Iran out of this broader conflict, the United States would use contacts with Russia to not escalate toward a direct US-Iranian confrontation.

Moderator: Brig. Gen. (ret.) Itai Brun

Gen. (ret.) Joseph L. Votel, Gen. (ret.) John R. Allen, Lt. Col. (ret.) Orna Mizrahi, Dr. Igor Yurgens, Maj. Gen. (res.)  Nitsan Alon and Ms. Shimrit Meir

Commanders’ Debriefing:
Moderator: Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel
Lt. Gen. (ret.) Gadi Eisenkot and Gen. (ret.) David Petraeus

War Games in the North and a Surprising Display of Restraint

Closing the first full day of the INSS conference, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Benny Gantz announced that the Trump plan should be a basis for a political plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and therefore he will present it to the Knesset for approval in the coming week. The plan is a historic event, giving Israel a historic opportunity to determine its borders and to move from the long years of conflict management to conflict resolution. This will enable Israel to secure its goal as a Jewish, democratic, secure state. It is incumbent on the Palestinian leadership to accept the principles of the plan as a basis for a resolution to the conflict and an opportunity for peace. On Israel’s part, rash unilateral steps are dangerous that endanger Israel and will not lead to a resolution. Similarly, the lack of political strategic initiative in recent years has hurt Israel; the negligence toward Jordan is what prompted the first relinquishment of territory from Israeli control since the disengagement from Gaza. Militarily, Israel must need to improve is capabilities and deterrence vis-à-vis Iran; politically, it must engage with world powers against the Iranians; and it must restore deterrence against Hamas. Israel needs a new strategic agenda that will also heal rifts and promote solidarity.

Head of Blue and White Party

Lt. Gen. (ret.) MK Benny Gantz

Israel's Foreign Affairs and Security Challenges

In a discussion with Dr. Raz Zimmt, Mr. David Peyman of the US State Department stressed that economic sanctions are a foreign policy tool to achieve foreign policy goals. Sanctions are implemented to encourage changed behavior, bur are crafted so as to avoid undesired side effects that could undermine US interests elsewhere. Regarding Iran, the objective of the maximum pressure campaign is to deprive the regime of revenues used to engage in malign activity in region and against its own people. Essentially, Iran must choose between continued nefarious activity and use of whatever money it has at its disposal for domestic purposes. Although the sanctions have only been in effect for 14 months and the oil export waivers for specific countries were canceled only 8 months ago, there are already tangible results. Funding for Iraqi Shiite militias has been slashed; the Iranian defense budget has been cut by 29% and the IRGC budget by 17%; and Hezbollah lacks funding. The sanctions have also highlighted the regime corruption, and austerity measures taken by the regime have prompted the population to take to the streets to oppose the regime (with hundreds subsequently killed by the regime). The Iranian economy is in a depression, with high unemployment, a high inflation rate, and 17 out of 18 pension funds bankrupt. Likely ahead are more US sanctions, expanded in scope and in strategic targeting.

Conversation between Dr. Raz Zimmt and Mr. David Peyman

U.S Government Sanctions in 2020: Priorities and Strategies

In the panel on Iran vs. the United States, moderated by Ms. Sima Shine, Ms. Holly Dagres stated that the messaging from the Trump administration has been confusing. Iran is in part lashing out because they view that the US goal is regime change, while US leaders and officials have openly expressed this, and from the Iranian perspective, they cannot negotiate bilaterally with the Trump administration. According to Dagres, neither side wants to go to war, but there is a 50:50 chance of going to war. The only way forward is through diplomacy with Europe’s assistance. Furthermore, any kind of negotiations would be multilateral as following the assassination of Soleimani, the Iranians will not negotiate bilaterally with the US administration. However, any multilateral initiative will likely yield a similar agreement to the JCPOA. Dr. Michael Doran noted that the Iranians are under enormous economic pressure due to the US maximum pressure policy, in addition to protests in Iraq and Lebanon targeting Iran. According to Doran, any real negotiations aimed at achieving results with Iran can only happen after the US presidential elections, and the Iranians will set up the negotiations in such a way to get the maximum out of the United States. Maj. Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland stated that the situation today is not good. If the point of embarking on sanctions was to move Iran away from a nuclear weapon, it appears that the opposite is happening, and US policy vis-à-vis Iran has been unsuccessful. He added that Trump has missed some more effective measures that could be applied toward Iran. Lebanon, which is under full control by Iran through Hezbollah, is on the verge of economic collapse and is requesting long-term loans from Europe and international monetary organizations. They could insist that Lebanon neither import nor manufacture weapons in exchange for economic rehabilitation. This would pressure Hezbollah and, in turn, weaken Iran’s power.

Moderator: Ms. Sima Shine

Dr. Michael Doran, Ms. Holly Dagres, Amb. Eric Danon and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland

Iran vs. US: Escalation or Negotiation?

Regarding the ongoing phenomenon of antisemitism, which is both historical in nature and connected to growing nationalism and xenophobia, Prof. Yehuda Bauer contends that it is import to take an offensive approach. Defense is of limited utility. Instead, those pursing antisemitism must be identified and attacked. Even encouragement of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and its enforcement among various countries is an important tool – but is no more than a tool. Antisemitism cannot be battled through defense; rather, the phenomenon must be attacked, based on the recognition that antisemitism is a consuming ideological cancer, and those pursuing this endanger the very societies they live in. Dr. Sharon Nazarian of the ADL noted that antisemitic attitudes in the United States is not necessarily more rampant than before, and they remain quite prominent (e.g., 15% of Americans think that Jews have too much power in the business world, and 19% think that Jews talk excessively about the Holocaust); rather extremists are emboldened, and feeling empowered, pursue antisemitic acts more than ever. She argues that antisemitism is not a Jewish problem per se or a problem for Israel, and therefore Israel should not take the lead in battling it, as it frees the world at large of this problem. Criticism of Israel is not necessarily antisemitism, but both speakers agreed that anti-Zionism or anti-Israel attitudes are often “progressive” masks for basic antisemitism.

Moderator: Ms. Adi Kantor

Prof. Yehuda Bauer and Dr. Sharon Nazarian

Antisemitism: A Global Problem

Speaking with Yoav Limor, INSS Director Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin spoke first about the “deal of the century.” It remains to be seen whether the Trump plan joins previous political plans on the shelf and effects no change; sparks dangerous initiatives, such as Israeli annexation of territory; or becomes a basis for negotiations. If no meaningful negotiations result, the plan should be implemented carefully and gradually, in order to promote Israel’s separation from the Palestinians. The dangers of unilateral annexation of territory are more political than military, and emerge – more than from Arab states – primarily from the United States and the Democratic Party (and most American Jews are Democrats) and from Europe. Gaza is a problem in and of itself, and there are 6 options, ranging from a hudna to all-out war; a middle option of an arrangement is an Israeli interest. Regarding Iran and the killing of Soleimaini, it is clear that this US act undermined Iranian self-assurance of their ability to act with immunity. However, whether this isolated kinetic act by the US will lead to a strategic change in the approach of the regime remains to be seen. Israel must maintain a credible military option against Iran’s nuclear program, although there are certainly options before any such action is taken. Finally, it is important to debate Israel’s strategies against the precision missile project in Lebanon – delay and disruption (the campaign between wars); defense; deterrence; and a preventive attack – at the highest political and military levels

Conversation between Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin and Mr. Yoav Limor

Strategic Assessment for Israel 2020

Dr. Yuval Steinitz spoke with Dr. Oded Eran about natural gas in Israel and the significance of this discovery. Discovered in 2009, 2010, 2011, Dr. Steinitz believes that this discovery will strengthen Israel geopolitically and economically. In addition, it will also enable Israel to lower the air pollution and to improve Israel’s environmental quality. He spoke about how until a few years ago, Israel’s energy was a huge burden. It was expensive and not environmentally sound. Today, Israel has natural gas, which it is now exporting to Egypt and Jordan. In the case of Egypt, it is the first time that Israel has had such significant cooperation since the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt. In the case of Jordan, Israel has also expressed an interest in buying solar energy from Jordan. Israel is currently negotiating with the Palestinian Authority about providing natural gas. Together with Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan, and some European countries, Israel has created an organization of natural gas. Israel has an agreement now also with Greece, Italy, and Cyprus about a pipeline from the Middle East to Europe. In Europe, Israel will not be the main supplier but even if Israel supplies 20% of the gas, it has geopolitical significance. In addition, Dr. Steinitz stated that Israel is the leading country in the world in transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and in the coming four years, Israel will cease to use coal and oil energy and  will be able to reduce the air pollution by 95%.

Amb. Dr. Oded Eran Interviews Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz

Minister of Energy

Dr. Zipi Israeli showed that according to the public opinion survey conducted, Israeli public opinion is full of contradictions but there is also some logic to these contradictions.  Public opinion tended to agree on statements that have been part of the Israeli mythos. For example, the survey shows that a majority of Israelis agree that the Jewish nation is the chosen nation, the nation dwells alone, and that we can rely only on ourselves.  In terms of how Israelis feel vis-à-vis Israel’s strategic situation, a majority agree with the following statements: The State of Israel is a “villa in the jungle,”  Israeli democracy is in danger, and that we will always live by the sword.  This year marked a rise in the feeling that Israeli democracy is in danger. As for threats, for the past three years now, public opinion sees the greatest threat to Israel as the “Northern Front.” In contrast, only 14% view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a danger, representing the declining significance of the conflict to the Israeli public. A strong majority is confident that Israel can successfully deal with challenges such as terror. Interestingly. Israelis are least confident in the ongoing US support. Of those that voted in the audience, 2/3 thought that the Israeli home front is not prepared enough for a possible military conflict. This contradicts the Israeli public at large, 58% of whom think that the home front is prepared to a great extent.  3/4 of those in the audience thought that Israel should proactively confront Iranian entrenchment in Syria, even at the cost of war. This almost matches the Israeli public at large, 70% of whom agree with the previous statement. 70% of Israelis believe the guiding values of the IDF are in line with those of the society at large, although 64% also expressed concern that ideological divisions in Israeli society is harming the IDF.  As for the two-state solution, Israeli society is very polarized, with major cleavages between the Jewish and Arab population and between those that define themselves as left or right. A majority believes the two-state solution is achievable in the long-term, but not in the short-term. When compared to public opinion polls from 1988, values have changed in Israeli society since 1988, and now a majority consider maintaining a Jewish majority

Dr. Zipi Israeli

National Security Index: Public Opinion Survey

Looking at the Palestinian arena, Dr. Kobi Michael sees a fractured Palestinian society that is deteriorating, largely because of the socio-political divisions. While they are not specifically caused by Israel, they can have a serious negative impact on Israel. At the same time, security coordination will likely continue, as this is at least as much of a Palestinian interest as an Israeli one. Dr. Ronit Marzan believes that Palestinian society will be characterized by a new approach, as the younger generation has seen that neither the armed struggle nor the political struggle for a two-state solution has borne fruit. Rather, there is growing support for a cultural struggle, namely, with an emphasis on human rights – which perforce means one state. From Israel’s standpoint, it is critical to stop weakening the PA; Israel and the Palestinians must understand that they are both part of the problem and part of the solution. Amb. Daniel Shapiro envisions significant resistance to the “deal of the century” within the United States, particularly given the US resistance to the imposition of any solution, any non-negotiated solution, and unilateral moves. The two-state solution is still preferred in the United States, and its potential realization, even in the distant future, should remain an asset for Israel. Otherwise, Israel might see an unfavorable proposal that might gain traction. In contrast, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Gershon Hacohen believes there is much potential in the area, particularly if it is open to new ways of thinking. The solution to the conflict should be approached through new ideas, not irrelevant anachronisms, and there are other paths to political rights and legitimacy other than one man, one vote – and these should be fully explored. The lack of a defined end state is an advantage, allowing for greater fluidity. Israel must learn to live in t is expanse with Palestinians, and not separate from them.

Moderator: Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel

Dr. Ronit Marzan , Dr. Kobi Michael, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Gershon Hacohen and Amb. Daniel B. Shapiro

The Keys to the Palestinian Arena

In a conversation with Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov spoke about solutions for Gaza. He started by saying that the Trump administration proposal is a dramatic shift in the paradigm of how the world relates to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and he doubts it will become the basis for negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. Mr. Mladenov believes that negotiations are still possible although if Israel tries to implement unilaterally the Trump proposal, negotiations will then become impossible. He stated that annexation would be the wrong way to go. In the absence of a peace process, the UN has spent most of its time trying to prevent an outbreak of violence, and even a long-term ceasefire in Gaza.  He believes that the only way to solve the conflict is through a sustainable political arrangement. Mr. Mladenov mentioned that military action to destroy Hamas’s military wing would leave Israel with another Somalia—an ungoverned, ungovernable area—on its borders. Currently, he said that managing the conflict to prevent deterioration and to create conditions for prospects of negotiations and for the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza is the best option now. In five years he hopes that there will be a deal based on dignity and on recognition.

Conversation between Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel and Mr. Nickolay Mladenov

Solutions for Gaza

In a discussion with Dr. Sarah Feuer, Amb. Dana Shell Smith and Amb. Barbara A. Leaf shared their views on the Arab world. According to Amb. Leaf, the striking thing about the unveiling of Trump’s peace plan is that Jordan and Egypt were not in the room. They made general statements that they support the general effort but avoided addressing the content. Amb. Leaf noted that the Trump plan was top-down: it presented for people to admire but there needs to be a more collaborative approach. Amb. Smith advised the next president to be very clear about the US role in the region, and that the United States does have interests in the region, and a strong Israel is one of them. She noted that the plan “dropped like a stone,” as there are more pressing concerns in the region than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Governments are not mobilizing their populations in protest and this is a big shift. Amb. Smith also talked about young Qataris and their interest in Israel and its innovations. Amb. Leaf said that in the past views were shaped by governments, but in the last 10–15 years, profound information landscape has changed. In Iraq, for example, Iraqis still listened to radio and read government newspapers in 2010 and had a dated attitude toward Israel.  Now the penetration of the internet is much greater and the governments cannot shape people’s opinion anymore. There is interest in Israel and interaction with Israelis.

Moderator: Dr. Sarah Feuer
Amb. Dana Shell Smith and Amb. Barbara A. Leaf

Views from the Arab World

Speakers

A Look Inward: Changes within the Israeli Society

The panel, moderated by Dr. Meir Elran, dealt with the tension between the desire for integration and particularism within Arab society in Israel. Ms. Ola Nagmi Yusef maintains that there is an important joint future for Arab society and Jewish society in Israel, despite numerous obstacles. Civil society can contribute a great deal – for example, women’s groups that bring together Jewish and Arab efforts. Ultimately, however, the responsibility for advances in Arab society – including a reduction in violence – rests on the state. There must be a strong triangle built of three strong legs: Jewish society, Arab society, and the state. Dr. Mohammer Alnabari believes that there is major potential for Israel within the Bedouin society, as the Bedouins comprise a major component of the Negev. A proven model that as the head of a municipality he built within a specific socioeconomic group is relevant for other groups, and has the potential to allow tremendous advances with the Bedouin society. Initiative and the quest for change must come from with the society, and be advanced by the state. Prof. Mohammad Essawi likewise spoke of the critical interface between a traditional Arab society and the state, which must recognize the reality of traditional Arab structures but can introduce new values and approaches, and enable new advances. The Arab society must be open to this – and the state must facilitate it.

Moderator: Brig. Gen. (ret.) Dr. Meir Elran

Dr. Mohammer Alnabari, Prof. Mohammad Essawi and Ms. Ola Nagmi Yusef

Israel's Arab Community: Integration vs. Particularism

In an interview with Tal Shalev, Minister Gallant expressed the need to implement the Trump plan immediately without delay, especially sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, which has national consensus. He said that there are one-time opportunities and decisiveness is necessary. When asked about the concern that declaring Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley will cause with Jordan, Gallant said that the Jordan Valley has strategic importance and Israel must make decisions even without consulting the Jordanians. The Jordan Valley serves as a buffer between Israel and the Iranians and Israel must defend this area. He stated that this is not about a historic right, but rather about strategic depth. He mentioned that Jordan also has an interest in separating its Palestinian population from the West Bank, and Israel’s move will help to ensure this. When asked about whether there is recognition of a Palestinian state, Gallant said that the Palestinians will not have a military nor control over borders or airspace, but rather representatives and symbols, and in fact, an autonomy. Gallant stated that what was important was national consensus, while international consensus did not matter.

Ms. Tal Shalev interviews Minister Yoav Gallant

Interview with Minister of Aliyah and Integration

In an interview with Tal Shalev, MK Horowitz stated that Trump’s “Deal of the century” was really the “Spin of the century.” He stated that he did not think it was a good plan, and that the negotiations are not between Israel and the United States but between Israel and the Palestinians, and the Palestinians were left out of determining this plan. He further stated that there are elements in the plan that Palestinians would never accept. MK Horowitz rejected the idea about implementing the plan, as Israel has an interim government, and a prime minister that has been indicted. As for Meretz, their view is to talk directly to the Palestinians about the two-state solution and to avoid making any unilateral decisions. He called upon Benny Gantz of the “Blue and White” party to state very clearly that he and his party is against unilateral actions and that the plan should be discussed, after the elections, in negotiations with the Palestinians. MK Horowitz then discussed the need for Israel’s political leaders to understand that the support of the Arab community is necessary, not only to build a government, but in general for Israeli society, as it is in Israeli interest to work with the Arabs for the benefit of all.

Ms. Tal Shalev interviews MK Nitzan Horowitz

Interview with Leader of Meretz Party

The “deal of the century” is important in that it is not based on the idea of “land for peace.” In addition, the idea of land swaps, including among populated areas, is very important. The plan addresses Israeli interests in more favorable fashion than any previous plan. At the same time, the plan must be studied carefully. For example, any concession in Jerusalem can only occur following a national referendum and special legislation with a two-thirds majority. From the standpoint of international law, as has been established by the Foreign Ministry legal department, it is not a problem to shift borders. This is also not the same as “transfer.” In this context, particularly troubling is the growing extremism among Arab citizens of Israel. Much more important than a Palestinian partner now is engagement with the moderate Arab states: a total regional agreement is essential. Regarding annexation of the Jordan Valley: as this is decidedly within the Israeli consensus, there is no reason not to implement this, even before the elections.

Ms. Tal Shalev interviews MK Avigdor Liberman

Interview with Leader of Yisrael Beiteinu Party

The “deal of the century” is excellent for Israel, and as a viable basis for negotiations, positions the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a new place and enables the possibility of a resolution. The Palestinians must recognize that time is not in their favor. The preconditions for establishment of a Palestinian state are entirely acceptable. The plan must be negotiated – the Wadi Ara’a area, for example, will not become part of a Palestinian state. Still it is critical that Israel not descend into a bi-national state. The fact that the plan was made public now is an American interest, and does not constitute outside interference in the elections. After the elections it will be possible to proceed. The goal is to create a unity government. Regarding coalition partners: at some point there is no reason that Arab MKS should not be represented in a governing coalition or in the government. On the contrary – this should happen, but it depends on a political leadership that unequivocally rejects terror and objects to activity against the State of Israel.

Ms. Tal Shalev Interviews MK Yair Lapid

Interview with Head of Yesh Atid Party and member of Blue and White's Leadership

Focusing primarily on questions of religion and state, panelists offered different perspectives on the requisite balance between these defining elements and their implications for related issues, e.g., the attitude to the Arab minority in Israel. For Adv. Talia Sasson, religion and democracy are opposed to a great deal, and what should define Israel as a Jewish state is a Jewish majority. Israel might allow easier, “unequal” entry for Jews, but once in the state, all citizens must be treated equally. Puncturing democratic values punctures Jewish values. For Dr. Lior Alperovich, representing a haredi standpoint, the Jewish people in Israel are struggling with the idea of how to balance its 3500-year old Jewish identity and its recent (100+-year old) political Zionist environment. Israel is an anomaly among national projects. To him, demographics are irrelevant to the essence of the Jewish nation, and once there is an attempt to extract religion from the state, the Jewish state has lost the justification of its existence. In contrast, Lt. Col. (ret.) Avital Leibovich argued for the need to acknowledge and understand the fact of the large Jewish community in the United States, 85% of whom are not Orthodox. It is not right for Israel to forfeit this large Jewish community just because they represent different streams of observance or identity. For Dr. Assaf Malach, societies are built on organizing ideas: the State of Israel is organized on the idea of its being a Jewish state, whose founding fathers never thought of removing the Jewish element from the state – which does not mean a state defined by fundamentalist Jewish law. Deferring the Jewish nature of the state is tantamount to forfeiting Israel’s very essence. At the same time, it is important for the two large Jewish communities, in Israel and the United States, to learn from one another.

Moderator: Col. (res.) Adv. Pnina Sharvit Baruch

Adv. Talia Sasson, Dr. Assaf Malach, Lt. Col. (ret.) Avital Leibovich and Dr. Lior Alperovich

The Future of Israel as a Zionist Entity

In a conversation with Maj. Gen (ret.) Amos Yadlin, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva spoke about the IDF and its readiness for the future. According to Haliva, the new generation of current IDF soldiers are more curious and more understanding than his generation. When asked about the position of women in the IDF, Maj. Gen. Haliva said that most positions are open to women and the IDF is constantly opening more positions for women. This path needs to be continued. He admitted that he did not know where the service of women in armored tanks is headed but the IDF should assess it adequately and in a serious manner. As for Iran’s entrenchment in the region, Maj. Gen. Haliva said that the IDF continues to prevent it in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and to thwart its support for terrorist groups in Gaza. The IDF is also devoting countless hours to the precision-guided missile threat and is prepared for this. In addition, should the IDF need to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, it will know how to do so. In terms of the Trump plan, Maj. Gen. Haliva stated that the IDF knows how to defend the State of Israel and how to prevent violence, even without the plan. Finally, Maj. Gen. Haliva concluded that Israel will always need a strong military.

Conversation between Maj. Gen (ret.) Amos Yadlin and Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva

The Response to the Chances of an Escalation in 2020

Previous Years