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What is happening in today’s Middle East?

IDC Herzliya supporters gathered to hear the news – good and bad

Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilead at the IDC's annual Herzliya Conference. (photo credit: Hagai Frid)
Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilead at the IDC's annual Herzliya Conference. (photo credit: Hagai Frid)

“I’ll start with the good news – good news doesn’t make the headlines,” said Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilead, executive director of IDC Herzliya’s Institute for Policy and Strategy and chairman of the Annual Herzliya Conference Series, at an event for Israeli friends and supporters of IDC.

Gilead began the lecture, entitled “Between the Light and the Shadows: The Middle East – Quo Vadis?” by talking about some outcomes of the Arab Spring that he referred to as “miracles.”

“Firstly, all of the traditional monarchies survived the Arab Spring – Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and so on. The second miracle was the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt so quickly after its rise, which also led to the crumbling of the alliance between Egypt and Turkey. If that alliance had remained, we would be in a much worse situation.

Another miracle is that Islamic State planted itself in Sinai, which led to Egyptian and Israeli security forces cooperating. “Now our relations with Cairo are very tight. [Egyptian President] Sissi has become an asset for us.”

Gilead, former director of the Policy and Political-Military Affairs Bureau at the Defense Ministry, said that we are in a time of challenges, but also of unforeseen cooperation with Arab states. “Because of our common enemies, we have found common ground with many Arab countries,” he said. In other good news, he said, “Israel is experiencing a very low level of terror due to deterrence along the border and the successful thwarting of attempted attacks.”

Now for the bad news: Gilead assessed that chances for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement are slim. “Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], despite his lack of love for us, does not think that terrorism is good for the Palestinians. But he will not rule forever, and the common ground of his potential heirs is their choice of violence as the path forward.”

Regarding the chances of regional peace, Gilead said, “I don’t think the Arab states will make peace with us outwardly, publicly, without the Palestinians, because they care about public opinion in their countries, which have the ability to overthrow them.”

Iran, said Gilead, is the only threat to Israel that has the potential to be an existential one. “The Iranian view of the so-called Iran deal is that in eight years’ time, they will have the right to build a nuclear weapon with the blessing of the US,” he said.

“The reason this would be so terrible is that the regime is ideologically committed to Israel’s destruction. Moreover, the Arabs hate the Iranians so much that there is no way they will let them have nuclear weapons if they don’t. So the whole neighborhood will become nuclear. Our security situation is currently satisfactory, but if Iran and our neighbors gain nuclear capabilities, things will worsen.”

Regarding the situation to Israel’s north, Gilead said, “While ISIS is almost completely defeated, Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah are replacing it. They are building a base on the Golan Heights. We are able to deter them and that is why it is quiet there. However, we cannot deter them from building up strength. Our army has to be very strong, and we need alliances.” 

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