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October 21, 2016

Event Summary: ‘Power Dynamics in the Middle East: The Ever-Changing Constellation’

by
Henry Jackson Society

By: Alexis David

On Thursday 20th October, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed General Yosef Kuperwasser, a former senior officer in Israeli military intelligence, to comment on the modern power dynamics of the Middle East.

Kuperwasser began by explaining tensions within Islam, shedding light on the differences between the radical approach and the pragmatic approach towards Western culture.

  • The pragmatic approach was described as the less drastic one, where although the individuals detest elements of Western culture, they are aware that the West largely controls the world, and therefore opt to work with it. Those with a pragmatic approach choose to find elements of the West that are relevant to them in order to integrate into the world order. Certain elements of Western culture and ideologies are deemed unfit to their culture, such as democracy, but pragmatists are willing to adopt – through adjustment – certain features to become part of the global world order.
  • On the other hand radicals have an opposite approach. They perceive the global order to be based on Western values and are eager to fight those who support Western cultural ideologies and those from the West themselves. Radicals believe they should fight Western culture with whatever sources are available to them.

The speaker went on to discuss the different sects of radicals within Islam, focusing on Shiites and Sunnis. The ultra-radicals are emerging in a battle against Western culture now, taking action in order to defeat the West. Then again, most radicals tend to be realistic radicals, and though they would like to defeat the West, they are aware that they should be smart and therefore wait to engage in clashes until they are capable of defeating their opponents.

Kuperwasser subsequently explained Iran’s position. As they are aware that the West is not ready to confront the radicals in the Islamic world, ultra-radicals are able to move forwards and “run the show”. The speaker expressed “they [the ultra-radicals] test the waters every day and realise the west is still weak”, he expanded on this notion by highlighting Iran’s ability to, without Western sanction, test missiles which could be used for nuclear weapons. According to the speaker, Iran continuously humiliates the Americans without any repercussions.

Looking forward, Kuperwasser predicted that the Middle East is going to be more and more dominated by Iran and its surrogates. Thus in any point in time, Iran will eventually make the decision to accelerate its nuclear ambitions. The speaker explained that Iran would like to have an arsenal of weapons, and the deal has “paved the road” for Iranians to accomplish this in 15 years. Furthermore, Iran is also taking advantage of the fact that in the West there are very few Shiites and many Sunnis. The radicalization that is occurring in the West is mainly within Sunni communities, so the West is more willing to cooperate with Shiites in Iran.

Iran is not only doing a good job, but it doesn’t face a real opposition. Sunni radicals would stop Iran (because Iranians are Shiites), but they won’t, because the radicals themselves are very weak; they are consumed by their own problems such as Turkey and Qatar, which are not strong enough to counter Iranian ambitions. The speaker clarified that everything might fall on the shoulders of Israel, as they understand that Iran poses an existential threat, therefore having to take upon themselves the burden of Iran.

Kuperwasser concluded by explaining that Israel must defend itself from what is coming – a Middle East dominated by Iran and likely to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons in 15 years. Although Israel is aware of its limits, what is at stake is so critical that it cannot be ignored by the West. However, Israel faces a number of impediments, including the fact that they are in disagreement with much of the rest of the world regarding Palestine. According to the speaker the world has a total misunderstanding of the issue, believing that Palestinians want peace, thus isolating Israel from the west.

While many in the west believe that radicals want to fight against the west due to misbehaviours in the past against Muslims, it is a common perception that relationships can be amended if the west behaves and proves that Muslims are accepted. However, Kuperwasser disagreed with this notion, stating that western values and ideologies is what radicals are fighting against, and therefore it is not a matter of explaining or attempting to amend ties with these radical groups.