The United States, the Next President, and the Middle East: A View from Israel | Wilson Center
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The United States, the Next President, and the Middle East: A View from Israel

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Ephraim Sneh, former Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense, shared his perspective on Israel’s national security, the civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the nuclear agreement with Iran.

On November 16, 2016, the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Middle East Forum of the Middle East Program hosted the event “The United States, the Next President, and the Middle East: A View from Israel,” with Sneh, who is also Chairman of S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College. Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives and a Distinguished Scholar at the Wilson Center, moderated the event.

Miller began the conversation by explaining how Israel and the Middle East will be some of the most confounding issues for the next U.S. presidential administration. He then asked Sneh about Israel’s reaction to the U.S. presidential election. Sneh explained that conservative Israeli politicians see the election of Donald Trump as valuable in furthering their agenda; they believe they now have a “blank check to do what they want,” especially regarding Israeli settlements, which he said Prime Minister Netanyahu will likely accelerate. Sneh indicated that Israelis on the left share the “American gloom” of uncertainty regarding President-elect Trump.

Miller then asked if the election results were the start of new relations between the two states. Sneh responded by saying that the personal relationship between Netanyahu and Trump is currently unknown. Sneh elaborated that Syria will be a point of contention if the United States prioritizes collaboration with Vladimir Putin at the expense of Israeli interests. Sneh suggested there might be a second “Yalta Conference”—this time to resolve the Syria crisis—and the United States and Russia would be the two main actors. “Trump and Putin will work together for their own interests,” said Sneh. Russia would likely push for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power because Russia owes Iran for their support. However, Israel is concerned that Iran will use Syria to threaten the security—even the existence—of Israel. Miller asked how likely it is that this is Iran’s objective. Iran’s strategy to threaten Israel is long term, explained Sneh, because Iran demonstrated its willingness to wait ten years before resuming its nuclear weapons program when it agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the P5+1.

Miller then asked for the Israeli perspective on the JCPOA. Sneh was staunchly opposed to the agreement and preferred the use of “crippling” sanctions against Iran instead. He stated that if Iran violates any part of the nuclear deal, then the United States should respond harshly. Miller inquired what Sneh believes Iran must do in order for negotiations to be effective. Sneh’s response was that Iran must recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the Iranian government must change.

In the question and answer portion of the event, an audience member asked what may happen if settlements are accelerated and where that leaves the “two-state solution.” Sneh detailed two possible scenarios: Palestinians would become more violent, or they would begin to advocate for a one-state solution, which would lead to, among other things, Palestinian inclusion in the social security program and exemption from serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Sneh was then asked what measures the Palestinians must take, to which Sneh responded by urging the Palestinians to stop suing the British government for the Balfour Declaration and to condemn the use of violence is critical. Fixing Egypt should be made more of a priority, because no one knows the extent of the international impact if a country of 90 million people fails. Another audience member asked how Iran would benefit from eliminating Israel. Sneh explained that everything the Iranian government did was to appease their leaders rather than the general population.

By Nathan Painter, Middle East Program

Speakers

  • Ephraim Sneh

    Chairman of S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue, Netanya Academic College, and former Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense
  • Aaron David Miller

    Aaron David Miller

    Global Fellow