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Former senior Mossad official and founding director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) answers readers' questions ahead of the annual Herzliya Conference Series on Israel's Balance of National Security, which opens this coming Sunday.
John Habernack, Sydney, Australia: What is your reaction to Dan Halutz's resignation? What effect do you think it will have on the security establishment?
More than anything else it is sad event. It is a sad event, for the nation, for the IDF, and certainly for Dan Halutz himself, a gallant officer of many accomplishments. But it clearly reflects his sense of responsibility for his own failures in leading the IDF in the last war.
A new chief of staff will be appointed shortly. The candidtates are well qualified and within a short order, the process of rejuvenating the IDF to its high standards of competence will begin. I am confident that the excellence of the IDF will be restored.
Nat Eckstine, Jerusalem: Iran publicly stated it will attack Israel as first target no matter which country attacks Iran's nuclear sites first. How can Israel cope with such a catch-22 situation?
The answer is in the question is: By convincingly deterring Iran from even thinking of such an option.
Angela Cohen, Mexico: It appears the Mossad has lost its prestige. There has not been a major achievement reported in ages and we hear more often of failures. Is this true?
As someone who spent some 25 years with the Mossad I am very very pleased with the fact that no major achievement has been reported. Once an achievement is reported it is already blown. An achievement should go unheralded. That is the essence of secrecy. Usually it is the failures that get publicity. As for the Mossad's prestige? Well, history will tell. History will tell whether the Mossad has been doing its job these days or not. I am inclined to believe that it does and it is on the same high level of performance that is has always been.
Reuben Starkman, Boynton Beach, Florida: On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you believe are the chances of a regional flare-up in 2007?
The answer is 7.246. Beware of numbers and figuresâ€¦ but seriously it's pretty high.
Jay Blaff, Toronto, Canada: Is it a fait accompli, and therefore goes without saying, that a settlement with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors will necessarily entail Israel giving back all of the Golan to Syria, 95-98% of the territories to the Palestinians (including chunks of Jerusalem). Am I reading the inevitabilities correctly or is there any other possible outcome in a peace agreement?
Nothing in life is inevitable except its own end. Israel should not withdraw from the Golan, and I do not expect that to happen; although under a left leading Israeli government and assuming the current circumstances will prevail, it might happen. But my view, and that of many responsible Israelis, is that Israel should maintain control of the western part of the Golan thereby retaining most of the population including the town of Katzrin, staying on the elevating and commanding areas, and keeping a security zone a few miles wide extending from north to south of the water line.
Neither is it inevitable for there to be a substantial withdrawal from the West Bank except for Israel's interest in not controlling the large concentration of Palestinian citizens.
Abel Kolchinsky, Chicago: Is it beneficial for Israel the civil war in Iraq? Would not be involvment of Iran in Iraq civil war lead Iran to confrontation with the Arab nations that in turn will benefit Israel.
Israel would not benefit from civil wars in the Middle East nor anywhere else - neither should it want to see confrontations among other Middle Eastern states. The long-term pursuit of democracy and modernization is the way to bring about stability and peace in the Middle East.
Nagi Najjar, Lebanon: Should Israel consider a reevaluation of an alliance with the Christians of Lebanon, as in 1982? The latest Lebanon round against Islamic terrorism showed that Israel would be weak challenging the balance of this threat without a solid and viable friendly alliance within Lebanon.
Basically, Israel certainly could benefit from having Christians of any denomination who would confront Islamic terrorism, and to the extent that the Christian community will do that and bring about the dismantlement of Hizbullah that would be desirable. The problem is what we should do about Michel Aoun.
Daniel Goodman, Nashville, Tennessee: Can Syria, a Bathist police state that uses assassination as an instrument of national policy, be trusted to fulfill any agreements?
Of course one should always be cautious when dealing with the type of regimes that Israel has for neighbors. Syria's reputation for fulfilling agreements is not necessarily bad. It is not any worse than countries that do not use assassination as an instrument. And conversely there are governments that do not at all use assassination as an instrument of national policy that I wouldn't buy a used car from. So it all depends on the reputation and record of the specific regime in question.
Wallace Brand, Alexandria, Virginia: If Israel or the US were to bomb Iran's uranium enrichment facilities, what measures could be expected to be mounted by Iran? How effective would they be? Would you recommend it if otherwise Iran's capacity to engage in nuclear war was imminent?
This is a most complex question on what could amount to be a fateful decision. Excuse me for reserving my judgment on this, pending a more careful and precise examination of the possibilities and outcomes.
Onofre Jusino, Puerto Rico: We all know that Russia is backing Iran. So how do you think that Russia will react in the event of military action against Iran?
Russia will not radically change the things it's doing now. It will maintain its ties with Iran, without coming to its aid militarily in any way, nor distancing itself from it.
James Mansell, Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada: Do you think Iran's race to produce a nuclear weapon is more of an overt threat (something they intend to use) or a deterrent against perceived (imagined) threats, or is it simply a bargaining tool?
Iran's race to produce a nuclear weapon is probably driven by a variety of motives. Some having to do with a desire for regional dominance others wanting to bolster its military power and reach it all the way to acquiring greater international prestige and clout. It may also have some defensive purposes having been invaded before. There is no overt threat of use, since they do not admit that they seek such capabilities, but the likelihood of intended use or miscalculated use of such capabilities poses a threat of crisis that is far from negligible. This being the case, prudence should guide everyone's policies, and one should not base policies on optimistic assumptions.
Gregg Levine, Tel-Aviv: How do you foresee Israel successfully defending its northern border in the event of a military conflict against a rearmed Hizbullah and a mechanized Syrian army equipped with advanced anti-aircraft weaponry?
That's a tough situation to be in, but that is exactly what the military should be preparing for, and we must hope that the old canons of the Israeli defense concept will be restored and that it will hone its abilities not only to crush Hizbullah, but also defeat the Syrian army, should it become involved.
Victor Ashkenazy, Tel-Aviv: How much do you think Syria, Iran and Hizbullah take seriously Dr. Rice's recent words: "Our most urgent diplomatic goal is to empower reformers and responsible leaders across the region, and to confront extremists" ?
Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah are certainly not impressed by Dr. Rice's words and they are not about to modify their views and engage more reformers and responsible leaders within their ranks so as to please the US. These extremists view America as its enemy, and believe that in the long haul they, rather than the US, will have the upper hand. At the same time Dr. Rice's admonition is appropriate: it is our urgent diplomatic goal to see the regimes and sovereignties of the region allow for reformers and more responsible leaders to confront the extremists. That is the challenge.
Marc Schoenfeld, St. Louis, Missouri: Should intelligence agencies be involved in high risk political assassination if it would be so good for everyone's security if certain people (perhaps Ahmadinejad) were just "gone"?
The answer to the question as it is phrased is yes.
Claudia Zimmermann, Texas: Do you think that the USA will attack Iran or do anything about the nuclear treat before this administration leaves office?
I certainly hope that the administration will accomplish its stated objective to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power without having to attack it through other means, such as effective sanctions. The threat of a military strike as a last resort may help in accomplishing this goal. But should such efforts fail, then I certainly hope that the US will activate that option if it is to be consistent with its self declared policy. Am I sure that it will do so? I'm not sure.
David Levy, Montreal: Is there now and has there ever been a Palestinian entity for Israel to negotiate with?
Sure, there have been Palestinians, groups, and authorities that we did negotiate with and even signed aggreements with. The trouble is that these entities failed to live up to their commitments either for lack of ability or intent. At the moment the relatively more moderate more pragmatic groups are ineffectual. And Hamas, which enjoys greater popularity for the moment does not even recognize Israel's right to exist. So what's the point of negotiating with them?
Maja Hallberg, Sandarne, Sweden: Since all Israel blamers - Arab as well as non-Arab and even Israeli - refer to the "occupation" as the root cause for everything, wouldn't it be of prime importance - in order to eliminate this one and only excuse for anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism worldwide -, to immediately and, if necessary, unilaterally evacuate the West Bank up to the security barrier (which then would be declared as "provisional border open to further negotiation", whether Abbas likes it or not)? Wouldn't this move at once take the wind out of the sails of all Israel assailants so that these would have to show their true face and colors?
Israeli leaders have shown time and again their willingness to withdraw from more than 90 percent of the territory in the West Bank in return for peace with the Palestinians. Unilaterally evacuating the West Bank as an experiment without receiving any reciprocal Palestinian concessions such as accepting Israel's existence, and acting against terror would simply be a reward for terrorism rather than a contribution for peace. The root cause of the problem is not the occupation. If that were the excuse, what exactly caused the wars and conflicts before 1967 and why was there hostility and violence before Israel came into posession of territories as a result of a war it did not initiate but happened to win. The assailants of Israel will always find ways to draw inspiration from anti- Semitism, prejudice, etc. Even if Israel were to do all that it has been advised here by you, those assailants would still be at it. And just experimenting in order to learn this outcome is just too costly.
Kiki Van Der Wal, Middelburg: Iran has never threatened Israel directly before. Why should the present leader do it now and what would be their gain?
The present regime in Iran has been hostile to Israel since it came to power a generation ago. It practiced terrorism against Israel and Jews; it created a suicidal proxy brigade in Lebanon; and it has been leading a virulent campaign of incitement towards Israel in the last year. Ahmadinejad may have certain political purposes for his particularly vulgar genocidal diatribes, but he is not much different except in tone from his peers.
Rohan Dhagai, Mumbai, India: Will the escalation of internal violence in the Palestinian territories result in security threats to Israel as the victory of a more radical faction may further aggravate future peace talks?
The more radical faction is already on top in Gaza and it couldn't get much worse than it already is except that it is accumulating more means of violence and war materials. The challenge then is to reverse the process that brought about the rise of Hamas to power. That is the challenge that the moderate and pragmatic Palestinians should seek, and this is what we should hope for.
David Frank, Jerusalem: Assuming formidable conditions, would it be in Israel's interest to pursue a peace track with Syria at the same time as pursuing one with the Palestinians?
Unlike in the military where one would like to concentrate on one front at one time, in diplomacy one can deal with two or more adversaries at a time. The idea of one track against the other was not a problem of resources but whether one could level action or inaction on the one. Secondly, assuming that both tracks would have required a concession, the question was how much the political traffic in Israel could bear. Unfortunately I don't think at the moment we have much latitude in leveraging activity on one track to gain advantage on the other. Neither of the two tracks seems promising. As far as the Palestinians go we have no competent partner, and as for the Syrians, the conditions seem not to be ripe as they pursue their current policies in Lebanon, Iraq, Hizbullah, and their nexus in Iran.