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July 21, 2016

Event Summary: ‘No more illusions – Changes in the Middle East’

by
Henry Jackson Society

By Patrick Benjamin

On the 20th July, by kind invitation of Lord Trimble, the Henry Jackson Society was addressed by Major General Yaacov Amidror, former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel and ex-Head of the National Security Council. The subject of his talk was the illusions that need to be dispelled about the Middle East, and the changes taking place there.

He began his whistle-stop tour of Middle Eastern relations by listing the new realities that one must accept in order to deal rationally with the situation on the ground: the USA will not continue to play as great a role in the Middle East as it has previously; the international system will take more responsibility for Middle Eastern issues, but will not necessarily be able to solve them; solving the Israel-Palestine question will not solve any of the other problems in the Middle East; the fallout of the ‘Arab Spring’ will take many generations to fix; and the Middle East is not ultimately heading in the same direction as Europe.

He then spoken further about some of the core difficulties facing the Islamic world. He talked about the split between fundamentalist Islam and modernity, and the fact that many in the Middle East believe that Islam is the solution to its problems without being able to agree on which interpretation of Islam. He asserted that the ‘Arab Spring’ came about due to Arabs’ sense of having suffered a loss of dignity, and also due to the fundamental brokenness of the systems of these states.

On the subject of Israel, Amidror said that whereas in the past his country was threatened by other states, it is now really only threatened by (military) NGOs. He explained that the only player that actually presents an existential danger to Israel is Iran, which he believes has effectively been given ten years to strengthen itself by the Iran nuclear deal.  He also said that the Palestine issue is the only thing preventing Sunni states from openly forming strong, persistent relationships with Israel; behind closed doors, he said, these governments do not care how the solution looks as long as there is one, which would allow the formation of these new relations.

In questions he said that there are certainly many challenges facing Israel, but he is not ultimately worried about them. He said that while terrorism might seem new on the streets of Europe, it is familiar in Israel, and that Israel’s high tech economy has so far led to worrying levels of inequality. He also pointed out that whilst Israel has said that it is willing to attend negotiations on Palestine even on an unfavourable basis, Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly pulled out of negotiations that require compromise, and that the latter experiences no need to compromise at the UN.

For a transcript of this event click here