Ahead of Israel's most important policy gathering - The Herzliya Conference (Jan. 20-23) - conference chairman and former top Mossad official Prof. Uzi Arad answers readers' questions about the chances of reaching peace by the end of the year, the NIE on Iran and other matters of importance to Israel's security
Maya, Tel Aviv: How do you see the Israeli political landscape in the aftermath of the publication of the final Winograd report?
Prof. Arad: I expect things to be very much in flux. There are already many elements that would cause such dynamics, for example: the fact that the Prime Minister is constrained by low popularity in the polls restricts his ability to move with vigor on any issue requiring widespread legitimacy. In addition he is coerced into frequent coalition restructurings which have adverse effects on the management of the county. For example, just two days ago the Minister of Tourism was scheduled to speak at the Herzliya Conference but now we have to ask his substitute. Frequent shifts do not improve the governing ability of a country that deserves to have effective management. My personal prediction is that 2008, rather than being a year of stability in our domestic and political affairs, will be a year of instability possibly culminating in elections.
Matthew Cohen, Dallas: If the Winograd report is especially harsh against Olmert, do you think he should resign?
Prof. Arad: Democratically speaking and, as a person who holds these democratic principles in high regard, it will be Olmert's moral and political decision to make. He's not under a legal obligation to resign and I don't think that he should be coerced into stating that this is the course he should take. Clearly he would be under strong moral pressure to do so both from the political arena and from those believing he should demonstrate that he is accountable to what happened during the Second Lebanon war. At the end of the day, that is his decision to make and his task to gain the legitimacy that any Prime Minister needs to govern effectively.
Yoel Nitzarim, Skokie, Illinois: It is evident that the peace process will not come into place before the end of the year because the Palestinian demands and Mr. Olmert's territorial capitulations are outrageous and extremely detrimental to the security of Israel. Accordingly, under what conditions do you see the need for a full-scale IDF invasion of Gaza?
Prof. Arad: Let's separate the two issues here. First of all, when it comes to negotiating peace or any issue with the Palestinians, the key criterion should not be our aspirations but what is reality on the ground and how we can best advance our diverse interests whilst negotiating with credible partners.
The fact of the matter is that, at the moment Hamas, which is not a negotiating partner, controls Gaza and Abu Mazen, who rules the West Bank, is not a credible partner because he's not able to deliver the goods. So, we don't have real negotiation options with the exception, perhaps, of a local level arrangement, but certainly not final status negotiations. Until the political landscape with the Palestinians changes, this may remain the case.
As for the Gaza developments, let us remind ourselves what brought this about to begin with. This was the expected product of an Israeli unilateral withdrawal, without preconditions and without handing the territory over to a partner which engages in give and take and assumes its sovereign responsibility to bring about security and stability. Consequently, Gaza fell into the hands of Hamas and in a cascading sequence of events, the Philadelphi Corridor became wide open to the importation of war material, operatives, funds and within a year after the reckless disengagement from Gaza, it became a bastion of Hamas which is harassing Israeli territories on a daily basis by firing rockets and missiles.
That condition cannot be allowed to last for long. It is the supreme responsibility of the Israeli leadership to protect its civilian population and to neutralize any offensive enemy capability jeopardizing it. Sooner or later the IDF will have to be instructed to act. Any admission of impossibility to this task would amount to an admission to complete military impotence. Impotence would only breed further aggression, therefore the sooner the military order is given and the better prepared we are with the military options, the better Israel's security will be.
Anne, Detroit: There is no military solution against the Kassam rockets. Do you agree?
Prof. Arad: No. As I said, there must be a military option to neutralize the forces that are attacking us. Some of those options may be limited, surgical strikes while others could be more sweeping.
For the time being, there might be an absence of a technological solution, but there is not and should not be an absence of the military response to that threat, in a way that would degrade the aggressor's capability, even up to the point of total elimination.
Keep in mind that we're not talking about distant forces or overwhelming numbers. This is taking place in our own backyard with paramilitary groups which number in the hundreds and thousands. Again, any admission that the IDF, with all its power, is incapable of creating a state of tranquility when dealing with such distances and against these kinds of numbers, would be an admission of weakness. If that's the case, what's the point of having the IDF?
Andre, Paris: How would you rate the world's intelligence agencies: CIA, Mossad, MI6 and others? Which is the best? Do these agencies place a different impermanence on different intelligence gathering mechanisms?
Prof. Arad: I've been out of the intelligence loop for more than a decade so I am in no position to pass judgment and make comparisons. Even when I was a member of the Israeli Intelligence community, where I proudly served for some 25 years in the Mossad, and came into contact with other advanced intelligence services, I refrained from drawing comparisons and saying who was better. We can all take a guess at which service is the most advanced, yet they all have their flaws and bad moments. I used to joke around and say we were the "least bad" amongst the agencies.
Adina Kutnicki, US: As a lifelong Zionist and a parent whose both children recently made Aliyah, I have more than a passing interest in Israel's security. In this regard, Israel's leaders are apparently 'outsourcing' its security to either Washington or to UN mandates. How feasible is it then that Project Daniel will be implemented in regard to Iran, whether the US 'approves' or not?
Prof. Arad: Project Daniel refers to what some analysts have coined the future of Israel's nuclear policy and I am not empowered to comment on that.
Ideally, Israel should be self reliant in all its military and strategic capabilities and I have been advocating a significant increase in Israel's defense budget to provide even more formidable offensive capabilities. The trouble is that even the greatest of powers are seldom able to operate in isolation. Even the US had to search for allies and operated within coalitions and alliances because there is a burden that can be shared and no nation is an island, especially when it's fighting. So, I also support Israel's closer cooperation with other international organizations as long as it remains beneficial. I wholeheartedly back the nurturing of our relationship with NATO for example, not as a substitute for Israel's independent and autonomous capabilities, but to supplement them and bolster Israel's security even further.
Ilana Berkowitz, USA: The fact that we heard nothing of Mossad ops in recent years is good news or bad news?
Prof. Arad: Clearly it presumes that no news can be one of two things: inaction and complete quiet, or a lot of action but so successful that it all remains unheralded and unexposed. Again, I don't know as I am no longer involved in this area, but I know what I hope and assume. Inaction is not in our ethos and thus hopefully not hearing about Mossad operations means some work is being done successfully and unexposed.
Ahmed, Gaza: Do you see a possibility of a three-state solution deal with the Palestinians, meaning Israel-Fatah-Hamas agreement?
Prof. Arad: I can see the possibility of Gaza, under Hamas rule, remaining outside of the confines of any agreement because of its own rejectionist line when it comes to recognizing Israel's right to exist. By default, therefore, one can conceive of a settlement between a responsible Fatah leadership in the West Bank and the State of Israel. If that is what is meant by your question, then it may occur. But, I don't think it would be a tri-lateral agreement because Hamas, in its current status, is not a party to any real settlement. If, however, in the future Gaza would become a responsible separate entity with close links to Egypt and with the West Bank being a responsible Fatah led independent entity with links to Jordan, then I can see a settlement between the two entities and their neighboring Israel.
John, New York: What are the chances that Syria will disconnect itself from Iran and adopt a more pro-Western approach?
Prof. Arad: That's the $64,000 question that any serious person who thinks about the prospects of an Israeli-Syrian deal should consider. The answer may depend on the power relationships within the region. Should the US withdraw from the region and Iran be on the ascendance to nearing nuclear military capabilities, then it would be foolhardy for Syria to jump on the sinking ship and distance itself from the rising power. If, on the other hand, Iran will be contained and the US and Israel would be credible powers, then the likelihood of a Syrian deal which would bring it closer to the West, is more plausible. Near as I can tell, however, there is no real evidence that the Syrians are contemplating divorcing themselves from the Iranians, however tense their relations may be at times. Without any further evidence as to the possibility, there is no point in fantasizing that just because Syria would be given back some territory, it would depart from its current expedient alliance with Iran.
Ron Khordy, New York: Is it possible that the NIE report was simply a ploy, as part of a larger strategy to induce Iran to let its guard down ahead of a possible American strike on its nuclear installations before Bush leaves office?
Prof. Arad: No, and please let me explain. Rare is the case that such ploys can be engineered and to the best of my knowledge, the mechanics and politics of the production of the recent NIE are explainable in different ways and not through this very clever imagination to which I find no supporting evidence.
Felicia Daniels, LA: Do you think war would break out in 2008? If so, with whom?
Prof. Arad: Yes, with ourselves. It is the war of the Jews and as the saying goes: 'we have found the enemy and the enemy is us'. This is only a tongue in cheek response but there is a grain of truth in it. I am very concerned with the fact that there is too much division amongst us rather than a rallying cry for joint and united action. It is true that there are threats coming from the outside and that there could be a flare up in a number of flashpoints, be it in the north, west, or in the Far East (Iran) but one thing is clear: if we are able to win such external wars, we have to win the internal ones, to form a national unity government or exercise a high sense of solidarity.
Howard Poliner, Jerusalem: In the wake of second Lebanon war, many US pundits wrote that Israel's inability to secure a publicly perceived, if not actual, decisive victory against Hizbullah, would lead the US to see Israel as less of a partner in the military fight against terror, and instead more as a trading card in the parallel diplomatic fight against terror. To what extent has this scenario proven true? To what extent, if any, can the Bush and Rice hardening of positions vis a vis Israel be traced to Israel's failures in the second Lebanon war?
Prof. Arad: I think this analysis is in many ways true. The view of Israel as an effective military force was severely eroded by the second Lebanon War, and it had the consequences as you described. I do know that from many discussions I've had with Americans over the years that they tended to admire Israel when the State knew how to stand up for itself, practiced resolve, set its priorities right and when it was able to accomplish its objectives. Since none of these were evident in the last couple of years, Israel's image in the eyes of many influential Americans has been diminished. It is costing us in terms of our deterrence ability and ability to maneuver and advance our interests. So, for more reasons than one, we must regain our strength and in so doing, Israel will be able to better protect ourselves, advance our interests and enjoy higher esteem from our allies and friends.
Yossi, Jerusalem: How do you see a post-Mubarak era in Egypt regarding relations with Israel?
I see it with trepidation. This is the case because Mubarak has been a relatively stable figure who has maintained a continuity of policy and relations and, even though it left something to be desired, they were solid and reliable. What happens after he leaves the scene is unknown. If we were to know with confidence that there are no negative undercurrents, we could relax. However, there are undercurrents of Nasserism, radicalism, and other types of negative attitudes in Egypt that give a feeling that the Egyptians have forgotten the costly years of wars, which may strain the existing peace. Israel has a profound interest in seeing an orderly transition and continuity of policy and hopefully an improvement in our relations because there is much room for this.
Mladen Andrijasevic, Be'er Sheva: Bernard Lewis asserts that for Iran 'MAD is not a constraint; it is an inducement' Since the NIE report limits the room for action by the US, but it is in US interest that there be no nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel, and Israel has no choice, it follows that the US is delegating the task to Israel, does it not? Why is this unique situation Israel is being faced with not discussed by the Israeli and American media?
Prof. Arad: Israel's policies are shrouded in two types of secrecies. First, all intelligence and military affairs are justified and second, its nuclear policies are ambiguous. It's very difficult for any serious discussions of Israel's options to be conducted in the media or by the media. This however, is not to say that Americans cannot simulate what Israel's choices are and indeed some have done so. It is true that with a regime as fanatical as Iran, deterrence may be difficult to achieve. Bernard Lewis assumes that they are suicidal but if that's the case, what's stopping them from doing so now and why are they trying so hard to advance their interests while amassing fortunes? In practice, all that this means is that one would need a much more powerful, robust and persuasive form of deterrence towards those who have the ability to absorb punishment. Do we have any other choice? If we can preempt, we should, but are we guaranteed of success? If we fail, then what? Consider any deterrent an invitation to attack? Capitulate? Commiserate? No, we should put up a strong fight, confront them more effectively and reduce the margins of insecurity to tolerable levels, possibly lower than those the Superpowers faced during the height of the Cold War. So, is our security guaranteed? It's not. But we should work on it, seriously and hard, and with G-d willing, we will succeed.
Yaron Benyamini-Zehavi, Bnai Zion, Israel: After defeating Hamas in Gaza, why doesn't Israel demand that UNRWA be dismantled, and offer every refugee living in its camps a lump sum settlement? Perhaps some of the $7 billion recently raised in Paris for the Palestinian cause can be used for this as well. What do you think?
Prof. Arad: I always personally thought that UNRWA was a travesty which perpetuated the Palestinian refugees' miseries and represented a discriminatory advantage in favor of Palestinian refugees compared to refugees elsewhere, including Jewish refugees. Sooner rather than later the policy should be normalized and the status of Palestinian refugees should be equated to other refugees, (at present the former is passed down through generations). Measures should be taken to resolve the refugee problem along the mechanisms proposed in previous negotiations including compensation, resettlement or settling them in their own areas or a return to the Palestinian territories in the area that is to become Palestine.