Unraveling the Middle East's tangled web

With the INSS’s international summer program, in collaboration with Tel Aviv University International, students from all over the world are learning the nuances at play when it comes to Israel.

INSS Internationl Students Program (INSS)
From Paris to New York to Ramallah, protests erupted over US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month.
But for every protest, there are about 10 different opinions tackling the issue. What is the significance of this decision? How could it fan the flames of an already volatile Middle East? Most have taken to social media to pontificate on these issues, but for students at the Institute for National Security Studies international summer program called “Israel’s National Security Challenges in the Changing Middle East,” they will hear from the experts themselves about these pressing topics.
“This year, we will elaborate on the issue of the American strategy in the Middle East, Russian involvement in the region and we’ll increase our focus on Saudi Arabia’s warming ties with Israel and Egypt’s alarming security situation,” Dr. Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at INSS and the program’s director, told The Jerusalem Post.

Operating the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach, save for a few minor tweaks, the program will mirror last year’s successful inaugural curriculum.
The three-week program is dedicated to the following topics: the Middle East in the wake of the Arab upheaval; a comprehensive look at the trends and roots of Jihadi-Salafi terrorism; and Israel’s national security doctrine.
The program is open to international graduate students who are earning their degree in security studies, international relations, Middle East studies or a related field. In the interest of assembling a robust and diverse class of 2018, INSS and its partner, Tel Aviv University International, are looking for students hailing from a wide array of countries and those coming from Asia and the Arab world are of particular interest.
“If there were, for example, students form Arab countries who want to come, that’s important in and of itself and that’s something we’ll weigh accordingly,” Michael revealed.
Last year alone, there were students from all over the world – including one who currently is studying in Tehran.
Students who successfully complete the course will earn up to six credits that can be transferred to any globally accredited institution.
For alum Colton Williams, a US army vet currently enrolled in the University of Massachusetts, the program felt like a demanding and stimulating intellectual boot camp.
“Every day was full of lectures. People who not only teach in the field but were experts in the field,” he said of his study abroad experience. “Instead of having a curriculum forced upon you, you have people who want to be there and the teachers who are the elite in their fields who condense the minutiae,” he said.
Examples of some names on the lecture roster include former defense minister Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya’alon, and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, with more prominent names expected to be added.
“We enjoy full cooperation with TAU where both sides perceive this program as a unique opportunity for leveraging the mixture between academic excellence and practical experience of experts in their fields,” Michael boasted.
Of course, when it comes to analyzing the Middle East, there are many ways to intellectually dissect what has become a very convoluted pie. But Williams admired the program’s ability to remain neutral in a subject that is a lighting rod for controversy.
“They did a fantastic job at staying away from declaring a point of view. They were really good at removing the bias and sticking to education,” he said.
Weekly field trips where students are able to see potential flash points of violence firsthand was also critical to understanding Israel’s challenges.
Michael McGruddy, a master’s degree student from Georgetown University, said of the program’s weekly field trips: “As an American, you don’t see how close the threats are. It’s such a small country, and there’s a potential threat in every direction.” Those trips took students to east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and to the Gaza periphery – the region of Israel surrounding the Gaza Strip.
“I was surprised by how normal Israeli life is, when faced with such adversity,” McGruddy said.
“While we see this on the news, we become somewhat numb to what’s happening. But when you’re there and see it unfold closely, it gives you a new perspective.”
The program, though, hopes to be more than an enlightening summer experience. By creating a network of accomplished young students, the ultimate goal is to create a global Rolodex of future experts and leaders who are well-versed in Israel’s security struggles.
“Eventually those students go back to their universities; some will have academic careers, or will work in public service or the private sector.
They are very capable students and we assume they will be influential in their society. I think they will be the next generation of elites. It’s our responsibility to expose them to aspects that clarify the complexities of the Middle East,” Michael explained.
“In 10 years from today, if everything works out, we’ll have a pretty impressive network. Not just for Israel, but to bring balance about Israel in the academic world,” he added.
“If I could talk to future students coming into this, if they are looking to just fill a hole in their transcript, I wouldn’t take this program. But if you want to learn and drink from a fire hose, then come here, don’t overbook and prepare to have your mind blown and expanded,” Williams said.
In other words, admitted students should save up ample time to hit Tel Aviv’s beaches after the program wraps. ●
To download an application form, visit: https://international.tau.ac.il/inss
This article was written in cooperation with the INSS.
For more information, please visit http://www.inss.org.il/