Current Middle East Meltdown: The View from Israel
A turbulent and volatile Middle East continues to pose seemingly insurmountable challenges for America and its allies. How does the Government of Israel view the current situation? What are its national security priorities and how has it reconfigured its approach to take account of Russia’s new role; the ongoing Syrian civil war; the rise of ISIS; new tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia; and the implementation of the Iranian nuclear agreement. Please join us for a conversation on these and other issues with one of Israel’s leading policy practitioners and analysts of Middle Eastern affairs.
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Dore Gold, Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shared his analysis and Israel’s view of the current security and political challenges in the Middle East.
On January 11, 2016, the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Middle East Forum of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted the event “Current Middle East Meltdown: The View from Israel,” moderated by Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives at the Wilson Center. Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center, provided opening remarks.
Miller began by asking Gold to identify Israel’s core challenges and how those challenges should be addressed. Gold asserted that Israel’s most pressing concern continues to be Iran, which he identified as a threat to Israel’s survival. He pointed to Iran’s nuclear program and commitment to the export of the Iranian Revolution as major components of the Iranian challenge. He then noted that although 2015 was a year of negotiations between the major powers and Iran, it was also a year in which Iran consolidated its position in Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq. Secondly, Gold identified the Palestinian issue as a key area of struggle following years of stalled negotiation efforts. Finally, Gold said he believes the perceived breakdown of world order poses a significant challenge to Israel, because the world has not yet created an effective framework for international security capable of addressing terrorism and other modern threats.
Miller then pressed Gold on the ways in which Israel might manage these issues. Gold said Israel has a strategic convergence with many other countries in the region, including Jordan and Egypt. He proposed that Israel’s challenges vis-à-vis Iran could be best addressed with Arab partners, noting the front line of the Iranian challenge lies in the Gulf Arab states. He also expressed hope that Israel and Turkey could continue to develop a close partnership over issues of mutual interest in the region.
Shifting the conversation back to Iran, Miller asked Gold if there is utility in the recent nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. Gold spoke of his past conversations with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in which the two discussed Israel’s relationship with Iran. According to Gold, Kissinger stressed the need for a “code of conduct” in the region to address Iranian adventurism in the Middle East and to create a new basis for security. Based on this, Gold said, the international community should hold Iran to higher standards concerning its funding of terrorism and other non-sanctioned actions in the region.
During the question and answer portion of the event, Gold was asked several questions about the Syrian crisis. He stated that Israel has been careful not to intervene in the conflict, and asserted Israel will not involve itself unless its interests are directly threatened. He mentioned Israel has been engaged in the humanitarian response to the conflict; Israel has built field hospitals in the Golan Heights, and Israeli doctors have provided treatment to refugees in northern hospitals. In response to a question about Israel’s view of the Russian intervention in Syria, Gold noted that Russia believes it has certain vital interests in the conflict, and Israel has spoken with Russia at length to ensure both sides understand the others’ perspectives.
Gold then responded to a question about whether Israel’s relationship with Europe is deteriorating. He characterized the Israeli-European relationship as a “mixed situation,” and not purely negative. Gold highlighted the European Union’s 2020 Research & Development program and how Europe has backed out of projects in settlement areas as reasons for the current situation. He asserted Israel’s desire to preserve good relations with Europe. Regarding whether Israel is interested in joining NATO, Gold said that while Israel seeks allies and cooperation, it defends itself by itself.
By Veronica Baker, Middle East Program
Middle East Program
The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Read more