The list of panels is not final, and is subject to change

last update: 6/01/2019

Rising and Declining Powers in the Middle East

The international arena has experienced much turbulence in recent years, particularly in 2018, as a result of changed US foreign policy under President Trump. In response, other principal international actors, primarily Russia, Europe, and China, have had to adjust their policies so as to ensure that the unfolding dynamics would not harm their interests. These developments directly influence international conduct in the Middle East and pose new challenges for Israel. Moreover, the new international reality that influences the global standing of the United States and inter-state relations and states’ relations with Israel affects the complex matrix of Israel’s strategic interests, its resilience, and its ability to maneuver as it charts a way to meet the challenges before it. This panel will examine the direct and indirect influence of international developments on the policies of the key international actors in the region and assess the potential significance for expected future developments. In addition, it will debate whether Israel should pin all its hopes on the United States alone, while ignoring Europe almost entirely, and consider how this would influence Israel’s relations with Russia and with China.

Are We Heading Toward the Gulf?

In part given the weakening of the traditional Arab political centers over recent years, the Gulf has become a central arena that influences the Arab agenda. However, the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf face a number of complex challenges, including the need to reduce their dependence on oil and rewrite the “social contract” between ruler and subjects; the uncertainty regarding Iran’s nuclear program and missile project; and America’s future presence in the Gulf. Some of the profound issues in the Gulf that affect the Middle East and Israel include: regime stability – with the rise of young, assertive leaders who represent opportunities and potential risks alike; low level nuclear proliferation – how many states are exploring the nuclear option for their respective purposes, as the taboo on uranium enrichment erodes; the conventional arms race – how many states seek to acquire advanced weapons, which would perforce detract from Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge; and inter-Arab struggles – how current inter-state tensions have intensified to create the most severe crisis since the establishment of the GCC.

This panel deals with the stability of the Gulf states and the challenges and opportunities before them. It will emphasize the relations of the GCC states with Iran on the one hand, and with the United States on the other. While the Gulf rulers understand that there is currently no substitute for American security support, other powers are attempting to diversify sources of support and are offering a foothold for additional actors in economic, conventional, and nuclear realms. The panel will also examine the positions of the Gulf states toward Israel, and the shared and opposing interests with Israel.

The Arab Public in Israel:

The Five Year-Plan and the Nation State Law

The Israeli government's approach to the Arab minority in Israel is typified by an uneasy duality. On the one hand, the government has allocated significant budgets to promote economic and social growth in Israel’s Arab sector, working together with Arab leaders on the national and local levels in planning projects and ensuring their successful implementation. On the other hand, the government and ranking politicians are increasingly marginalizing the Arab public, as was manifested by the Nation State law and the loyalty tests for this sector. This session examines how much these two trajectories can coexist, and considers if and how they influence socio-economic and political integration of the Arab minority in Israel and thereby serve the country’s best interests.

INSS National Security and Public Opinion Poll:

Latest Findings

Will be presented at the conference

 Cyber Security: Simulation

This session will examine a real-world scenario through audience participation.

Cyber attacks are becoming more frequent, complex, and sophisticated – with potential for long term and far reaching damage. While the motivation of cyber attackers is often purely financial, nation-state sponsored attacks are a modern-day evolution of warfare: the disruption of critical financial services, for example, stands to destroy trust in the financial system and thus harm national robustness This panel will discuss the challenges and dilemmas related to the scenario, using live polls to measure audience opinion, and panelists will respond to the results as they are tallied.

The Gaps Between Israel and American Jewry:

Cause for Concern?

Over the past seventy years, the relations between Israel and the United States Jewish community have been a central anchor in their mutual ability to develop and flourish, and to this day, these relations continue to be essential for Israel's national security and the security of the Jewish people. Recent years, however, have witnessed a widening gap between Israel and American Jewry, characterized by increasing alienation, dwindling affiliation and sense of belonging, a decrease in the perception of a shared destiny, and a decline in interest and engagement with each other. These trends have long term implications for Israel’s national security and the security of the Jewish nation, Israel’s identity and destiny as the nation state of the Jewish people, and the social resilience and cohesiveness of each of the societies. At this point, both communities need a joint action plan based on an in-depth understanding of how each can assist the other in overcoming current and future challenges. Only a significant joint process can change these trends that have affected the relations, and secure the future of these communities.


The panel will open with the main findings of a comprehensive research study conducted by INSS in cooperation with the Ruderman Family Foundation. The research addresses two core principles that impact on Israel and the Jewish people: American Jewry is a central element of Israel’s national security, and the relations between the two largest Jewish communities are an essential factor that shapes the safety and future of the Jewish people. Following the initial presentation, Mr. Isaac (“Bujie”) Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, will present his vision regarding relations between Israel and the diaspora, and what is necessary to preserve and improve these relations. The session will end with a panel discussion, led by former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, on the challenges facing US Jewry and the importance of this community’s links to the State of Israel, from an inter-generational viewpoint.

The World according to Trump 

Since Donald Trump entered the White House two years ago, it seems that no day goes by without a shockwave of its own. Indeed, many people begin the day by checking Trump’s Twitter account, to see what surprise awaits them. In the President’s world, US institutions, international relations, and approaches to friends, enemies, and international organizations are all targets for criticism. Trump is determined to change the established rules of the game in the international system, and is not prepared to supply economic support to organizations and institutions that do not advance American interests.The panel will open with the main findings of a comprehensive research study conducted by INSS in cooperation with the Ruderman Family Foundation. The research addresses two core principles that impact on Israel and the Jewish people: American Jewry is a central element of Israel’s national security, and the relations between the two largest Jewish communities are an essential factor that shapes the safety and future of the Jewish people. Following the initial presentation, Mr. Isaac (“Bujie”) Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, will present his vision regarding relations between Israel and the diaspora, and what is necessary to preserve and improve these relations. The session will end with a panel discussion, led by former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, on the challenges facing US Jewry and the importance of this community’s links to the State of Israel, from an inter-generational viewpoint.

Trump is not solely responsible for the world’s political and economic problems. Alongside the United States are China, Russia, and Europe, and they too have abilities (albeit more modest) to influence the international world order – and they have the determination to achieve their strategic objectives. Israel must deal with the implications of Trump’s policy, including those that do not match Israel’s interests, both in the region and in the international arena.

From the Trump Plan to the Institute for National Security Studies' outline

With President Trump's "deal of the century" to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue in the offing, the Institute for National Security Studies presents an outline based on a three-step research project: in the first step, we examined possible future scenarios in the Palestinian arena; in the second, we examined alternatives to acting; and in the third, we drafted an outline to best neutralize the risks from the first two steps. An analysis of the scenarios makes it appear that Israel is coasting, willingly or not, to a one-state reality. Threats to stability and a degradation of the strategic situation appear increasingly likely. All the alternatives we have considered encounter three main problems: a lack of will and ability by both sides to reach an agreement, complexity of implementation, and low feasibility. Considering this starting point, we drew up a strategic outline for the Israeli-Palestinian arena which is intended to preserve a Jewish, democratic, secure, and ethical state. This is to be done through taking the initiative to implement the outline and leverage the advantages of an interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, unilateral Israeli measures for a diplomatic, territorial, and demographic split from the Palestinians, and a regional component to encourage cooperation from the Palestinian Authority and assist it in creating the infrastructure for an independent and functional entity.

At the session we will analyze, according to what we currently know about Trump's plan, what is the likelihood of its implementation after Israeli elections. Furthermore, we will compare the estimated feasibility of the Institute outline - whether in combination [with another plan] or as an alternative (Plan-B). To do so, we have invited American specialists who have been previously involved in formulating United States peace plans, as well as individuals who have taken part in the peace process on Israel's behalf.

The Eisenkot Doctrine

Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s term as IDF Chief of Staff was characterized by relative security stability, and no war or broad military campaign occurred during his tenure. Lt. Gen. Eisenkot is credited with formulating and implementing the “campaign between wars” approach, which is designed as a central element to strengthen Israeli deterrence; reduce existing and emerging threats; disrupt enemy buildup processes; control events so they do not escalate into war; and in the event of escalation, create better opening conditions for the IDF over those of their enemies.

Over the past few years, the campaign between wars approach was implemented in practice in the northern arena, with careful monitoring of the developments in the Syrian civil war. In early 2013 decision makers realized that characteristics of the northern arena afforded the IDF greater operational freedom of action. They assessed that correct management of risks could allow Israel to operate while guarding against escalation or a broad confrontation, which Israel did not want. This assessment, which was proved correct, led over the years to ongoing initiated activity against a range of Iranian targets in Syrian territory and against the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

This session will question whether the “Eisenkot Doctrine” is still relevant or has maximized its potential. Do the changes in the northern arena call on Chief of Staff Kochavi to formulate a new doctrine? We will look at examples from the past and consider how strategic success is measured and at what point strategic purpose is considered fulfilled; what kinds of attack missions suit the campaign between wars; how are the borders of operational space determined; and when an alternative operational doctrine should be formulated.

Participating in the session are commanders who helped formulate and implement the doctrine: former IAF Commander Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Amir Eshel; former head of the Operations Directorate Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon; and former Commander of the Dado Center for Interdisciplinary Military Studies Brig. Gen. (res.) Yoram Hamo.

Is Israeli Democracy in Danger?

Israeli society is engaged in a heated debate whether Israeli democracy is under threat. Some claim that the internal threat to Israel’s vision, as a Jewish, democratic, secure, and moral state, is greater than the external threat. It is also claimed that the current government consistently undermines democratic values and institutions. In contrast, others claim that democracy in Israel is as strong as ever and that the government is acting to fulfill the majority's will, with critics simply mourning the rejection of their political viewpoints. Legislative and administrative moves that have given rise to this debate include the new Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People; the Judea and Samaria Settlement Regulation Law; proposals to annex portions of the West Bank; limitations on the entry of critics of Israel; attempts to limit judicial intervention; and political involvement in the appointment of judges and legal advisors in government offices. This panel will address these and other recent developments, and hear different arguments regarding their impact on democracy. We will attempt to assess whether, and to what extent, the fear for Israeli democracy is founded and substantial

Iran and the International Community

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and restore all the previous sanctions on Iran has created a new, complex reality for Iran. Iran has lost most of the economic gains that began to develop slowly after the sanctions were rescinded, and its nuclear program was reduced after it fulfilled its obligations under the nuclear agreement. The US administration, and President Trump in particular, has emphasized that the goal is to bring Iran to new negotiations that will deal not only with the nuclear issue, but other troubling issues as well – Iran’s missile program, its regional policies, and its support for terror. Thus far the Iranian regime has decided not to leave the JCPOA, and according to the IAEA, continues to meet its requirements. Its primary driving force is its desire to isolate the United States and keep Europe, Russia, and China on its side.

2019 brings many question marks, including: what will US strategy be if the sanctions do not bring Iran to the negotiating table? What will happen if an Israel-Iran collision in Syria deteriorates to a wider conflict? Will Iran direct an offensive approach at the US in Iraq and Syria through third parties? Under what circumstances might the US consider military action against Iran? Is a return to negotiations between Iran and the US even possible, and if so, under what circumstances? These and other questions will be the subject of this panel.

Syria 2011 vs. Syria 2019

The war in Syria is entering its eighth year, and although it has not yet ended, it appears that the Assad regime has survived and emerged victorious in the civil war. This session considers whether Syria stands at the threshold of a new era, essentially shifting the focus from ongoing combat to the day after the war. Despite the attempt to stabilize the country and restore life in Syria, the war has changed the basic characteristics of the state in ways that make it unrecognizable in comparison to the state we knew in 2011. The session will deal with the changes that have occurred in the country and how long term and irreversible they might be; the Iranian entrenchment in Syria and the implications for Israel; and the map of influential forces – the regional and international powers. This will allow us to identify the challenges for Israel, and consider how it can best confront them.

Battle of Minds in a Digital World

This session will deal with the battle of minds on the internet between the various forces that seek cognitive influence over social and strategic phenomena. It will look at forms of attack, and examine what defense capabilities, if any, are in the hands of the establishment. Panelists will examine how inspirations and ideas traverse the internet, and we will see how seemingly unconnected phenomena are in fact linked. We will look at how world powers, led by Russia, use technology to feed societal rifts, in themselves strategic weak points, to undermine Western democracies. We will examine how these forces attack through hacking activity that targets information flow, and then propose ideas for democratic societies as they endeavor to grapple with these challenges.

The Arab World: What They See vs. What We See

Much has been made of burgeoning ties between Israel and the Sunni “moderate” states in recent years, but for the most part this engagement has remained confined to the political and security establishments of Israel and the states in question. At the Arab governmental level, there indeed appears to be greater willingness to develop relations with Israel. This panel will attempt to read the attitudes of the various sectors. How is Israel perceived by its neighbors, not only in relation to the Palestinian question, but in terms of regional and domestic Israeli debates over democracy, religion and state, extremism vs. moderation, and national identity? Where are the obstacles to warmer relations between the nations? Which common denominators can help the sides skip over traditional categories of state, nationality, and religion? Is normalization between the peoples of the region even important? This session will explore these and related questions, highlighting potential avenues of cooperation between Israelis and Arabs in the region and beyond.