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Jerusalem Peace & Security Forum

Jerusalem Peace & Security Forum: Syria and Egypt's Impact on Israel's Security Measures

Jerusalem, Israel - The third meeting of the Jerusalem Peace and Security Forum took place at the Hebrew University on February 14. The participants were able to enjoy the beautiful view of the old city of Jerusalem seen from Mount Scopus, where the university's main campus is located.

Prof. Glaubach-Gal, President if the I. Foerder Institute and a political writer, moderated the forum, and presented the theme: "The implications of the current situation in Syria and Egypt on Israel's security measures."

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Mr. Ben Zvi, Senior adviser of UPF-Israel, opened the discussion: "Last December, Dr. Eldad Pardo shared with our forum an innovative approach related to 're-branding' Israel as a non-threatening entity having no involvement in the Sunni - Shiite race for hegemony in the Middle East. It seems that such ideas have not being discussed among the Israeli public. Gathering this forum is our attempt to think 'outside of the box' and bring to the table new thoughts, even though we don't have direct influence over the political agenda in the Middle East."

From the perspective presented by Prof. Glaubach, Syria will not remain as one country but will become a federation of enclaves of various ethnic groups. This will enable President Assad to survive in his Alawi enclave, being supported by Iran and Russia and having certain army control over Damascus. Such a framework is based on the assumption that the bloodshed will slowly give way to a process of striking an agreement among the various enclaves. Our hope is that such future Syrian federation will be able to stabilize the relationships with Israel.

Considering Egypt, "the Islamic Winter is taking over the Arab Spring," said Glaubach. The dispute is over whether Israel's foreign policy should be guided by pragmatism or idealism. Yet the Arab uprisings have shown that both sides have more in common than they would normally admit. Israel assumes that Egypt, under the control of President Morsi, has an interest in maintaining the peace agreement with Israel, mainly due to its connection to the U.S. and its vital economic support. Glaubach concluded by saying that there is a constant preparedness in Israel, in light of the process of the collapse of the countries in the Middle East. However, one have to take notice of the fact that these new regimes are gradually moving towards stability, based on the values ​​ of democracy. This process, predicts Glaubach, will eventually lead to the long desired peace in the Middle East.

Dr. Eldad Pardo, an expert on Iran and the Middle East at the Hebrew University, suggested two future scenarios: pessimistic and optimistic. According to the pessimistic approach, any of the following challenges might "explode in Israel's face." Pardo pointed out the following: Turkey will further radicalize towards the Muslim Brotherhood, new leadership in Syria might heat up things towards the boiling point, drawing cooperation from Israeli Arabs; thus, Israel will face Armageddon. "My own vision is rather optimistic," he explained; "the beginning of a revolution is not necessarily an indication of its final destination. There is a possibility that a very puritan religious regime will develop a democratic culture. Our neighboring countries are falling apart and renewing themselves. All the revolutions in the region, including the one in Syria, have been essentially civilian; however, political Islam seized the opportunity. There is a rise in sectarian and ethnic groups within Arab nationalism; nevertheless, it is not clear where it is heading." Israel should compete with Iran and Turkey over the heart of the Arab world. We should notice that one of Israel's advantages is that its culture is more Middle Eastern than European, a fact that can create the common base with its neighboring countries. Pardo emphasized that the Israeli strategy of 'minimum intervention' was right. Israeli resilience is based on the strong relationship between the political system and civil society. It is a healthy state that keeps transparency.

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Ms. Israela Oron, Vice President of the the National Security Council, explained: "the ability to create a change is greater in an unstable situation; therefore, the current instability might be an advantage." Israel has a problematic policy toward Syria because it is tactical. Israel must create a coalition based on common interests related to Syria with Turkey and the Gulf states. The Iranian threat and the situation in Syria can enhance mutual interests between Turkey and Israel. The Egyptian security challenges give room for some optimism because the situation in the Sinai Peninsula requires a dialogue. Naturally such circumstances will necessitate an increase of the defense budget.

While certainly Israel did not cause the Arab Spring, it's mere existence serves as an excuse for the Arab countries to maintain a radical approach. However, the unstable and unclear situation of Syria could in a way improve the status of Israel "The main interest among the Arab states relates to the issue of holding hegemony in the Middle East," explained Oron, and she continued: "Therefore we need to give a clear message that Israel has no intention to rule over its neighbors."

Colonel (res.) Dr. Erez Sverdlov, CEO of "Hoshva" - a systems analysis company, and a member of the Presidium of the Association for the Study Performance, noted that predicting what will happen in Syria is very difficult. While acknowledging the need for deterrence, Sverdlov moved on to offer a unique and progressive approach towards regional cooperation. "Israel, in the long-term is under risks," said Sverdlov, and described an original initiative: "In the year 2045, we expect to have 16 million people living in Israel. There will be a huge demand for electricity, while we have no land to hold its production. If our relations with Egypt were better, we would be able to use Sinai Desert wisely and create a hub of solar energy there. "The Egyptians can provide the land, and Israel can bring the technology." Concluding his address, Sverdlov shared his vision of establishing a dialog platform in the Middle East and noted that creating a system of dialog and cooperation with the Arabs in Israel will yield a great profit to the state and its residents.

Colonel (res.) Dr. Yaakov Chisai, a historian and lawyer, gave a "friendly warning" that he was going to question things in order to widen the scope of our discussion. "Deterrence is the term we are using against the enemy." After each confrontation, both sides take time for self-examination. We can make a move, and the other side can interpret it quite differently. As Jews, we ought to be pessimistic, and this should be reflected in our work assumptions regarding threats and dangers. Looking at the development of democracy and technology that occur simultaneously, it is hard to believe that the Arab people are ready to adopt the democratic system. In the past, we held the view that given the Arab countries' technological state, Israel could always maintain its military supremacy. However, the Lebanon War proved that when they receive good training and good weapons, our opponents may have the upper hand. Hezbollah equipped with loads of missiles possess a serious threat, since it has demonstrated its ability to use them successfully. For a nation to be secure, it should be unified inwardly. The leadership needs two things: the trust of the people and wisdom. At present, the nation is not united and our national goals are not clearly defined.

Mr. Ben Zvi concluded: "Regarding democracy and the Middle East, indeed the injection of over simplified democratic values is superficial. However, we must remember that 500 years ago Europe was in a similar chaos of internal wars. The emergence as modern democratic states came after a long struggle. Given the fact that in our age the speed of changes has increased substantially, democratization of the Middle East is very feasible in the not so far future. The question is what measures can be taken to hasten the positive process. After all, everyone wishes to live well on earth."

NOTE: UPF has convened or contributed to a number of civil-society forums on the crisis in Syria:

Vienna, Austria: All-Sides Consultation for a Political Solution to the Syrian Conflict, Mar. 8-9, 2014
Buenos Aires, Argentina: To Establish Peace in Syria, the Middle East and the World, Feb. 6, 2014
Geneva, Switzerland: Track 2 Consultation: Toward Peace and Reconciliation in Syria, Executive report of the consultation Jan. 25, 2014
Washington DC, USA: Women's Role in Syria's Transition and Reconciliation, Jan. 15, 2014
Vatican City: Pontifical Academy of Sciences Convenes Consultation on Syria, Jan. 13, 2014
Jerusalem, Israel: The Crisis in Syria and Its Regional Impact, Oct. 16, 2013
Washington DC, USA: Peace Zones as Avenues for Stability in South Sudan, Syria, Colombia and Korea, Oct. 15, 2013
Amman, Jordan: Prospects for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Syria, Oct. 13, 2013
Vienna, Austria: Syrian Christians in Austria Torn Between Hope and Despair, Apr. 16, 2013
Jerusalem, Israel: The Impact of Syria and Egypt on Israel's Security Measures, Feb. 14, 2013
Washington DC, USA: The Tragedy and Hope for Syria, Sept. 26, 2012

See also: Interfaith Declaration on Peace in Syria, Oct. 13, 2013

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