Shaping the future

Young researchers shape Israel’s contemporary and future policies.

(L-R)  Vera Michlin-Shapir, Dr. Liran Antebi and Dr. Avner Golov (photo credit: CHEN GALILI)
(L-R) Vera Michlin-Shapir, Dr. Liran Antebi and Dr. Avner Golov
(photo credit: CHEN GALILI)
 AT THE Institute for National Security Studies, heavy intellectual lifting is not just for its veteran researchers; the think tank’s newest members are doing in-depth work that is likely to have an increasingly important strategic role in Israel’s future.
They may be relatively young, but their work stands to shape the course of Israeli life in the years to come. These young researchers at the Institute for National Security Studies are grappling with complex situations and challenges, whose solutions and applications promise to impact regular citizens’ lives in the future.
Dr. Avner Golov, one such researcher, wears two hats at the INSS. Not only is he a research fellow with a particular focus on North Korea and Iran and their nuclear ambitions, he is also interested in US-Israel relations. In addition, he is the director of research programs – responsible for organizing content at an institutional level.
Golov approaches the US-Israel relationship from a zoomed-out point of view and is of the opinion that the link between Israel and the United States is still a special one, but that it is maturing and changing over time. “In the past, the relationship has been described as ‘a big brother [somewhat dictating] to a little brother,’” he says. “Even though we still need their help, particularly in the international arena, it is gradually becoming more mutual.”
Golov sees that there is scope for a widening and deepening of US-Israel ties, which relies on the curiosity of our respective peoples wanting to meet and understand the other, but there is a potentially devastating parallel challenge. Although he acknowledges that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has created a lot of publicity, he is not overly concerned by this particular campaign in and of itself. Of much more immediate concern is what the BDS movement embodies; namely delegitimization, with Golov labeling it “a potentially huge problem.”
To understand the phenomenon more clearly, however, we need to pull back the lens a little. Since 2001, the picture has radically altered. It is thought that in today’s Republican Party there is around 75% support for the state of Israel, as opposed to approximately 50% in the 1980’s. “Republicans have put Israel at the core of the dispute because it differentiates them from liberals – but it has become a political issue that could be potentially very damaging,” says Golov.
The liberal camp in the Democratic Party has seen a shift in the opposite direction. There is already a generation of young, well-educated students who are the potential future leaders of the Democratic Party. They have already cut their teeth in the highly charged adversarial atmosphere of delegitimization and will take those lessons forward, which according to Golov, “will significantly erode the United States’ and Israel’s sense of joint moral interest and make the relationship harder to maintain.”
Vera Michlin-Shapir is a Neubauer Research Associate, whose field of expertise is contemporary Russian politics, with a focus on Russian defense policy, Israeli foreign policy and Russian-Israel relations. Michlin-Shapir will soon complete her PhD in History at Tel Aviv University, and being a Neubauer Research Associate allows her and fellow recipients to be engaged at the Institute, while completing their degrees. She says she is grateful to Joseph and Jeanette Neubauer for their vision in setting up this fellowship.
Michlin-Shapir says that one of the most challenging parts of her work (or indeed any researcher’s work) is that it is sometimes necessary, vis-à-vis policy analysis or research, to provide the counter position to the Israeli public. “I have to present a point of view, whether it’s Russian or European, that is authentic although it may not be pleasant,” she says. “Sometimes it is not only a question of that; not only does a foreign player not have your perception of threat, they have their own goals and interests in mind.”
IT SHOULD come as no surprise that Israel’s relationship with Russia is crucial, albeit complicated – and it seems that Israeli policy makers have much to learn from their Russian counterparts. “The Russians have much experience in developing strategy,” she says. “They are adept and developed in making links to defense policy and the armed forces, i.e. analyzing the bigger picture. We see it every time we speak to Russian government officials or analysts.”
With Israel’s 70th birthday rapidly approaching, she says that over the next 30 years, we would see a necessary maturation of policy and the decision-makers who implement it – including politicians and strategic thinkers. “We are witnessing systemic changes with regard to technology and modes of operation and we need to stay ahead of the curve. Policy analysis will become increasingly important as we improve our understanding of how different countries operate,” she says.
Liran Antebi has a doctorate from Tel Aviv University and her specialty at the INSS is in advanced technology and national security. The bulk of her writing concerns unmanned systems – robotics and advanced technologies – which influence national security in a broad sense, and not only on the battlefield.
Antebi says that the rhythm of technological development is so rapid that the cumbersome bureaucratic process of implementing policy has no hope of keeping up. “Unmanned technology – military robotics and drones – allows decision makers to consider different calculations before they commit to a decision,” she says. “For example, when the US president approves or rejects targeted killing with unmanned systems being operated from abroad, it is quite different than when a crew might be involved in a particular situation. Not having to worry about their safety changes the way operations are executed, influences how decision-makers think and ultimately change policy.”
In her assessment, future battlefields will not simply be about remote systems but rather autonomous ones – almost without human intervention. Autonomous weapons systems have caused concern particularly among human rights groups and have been the subject of serious debate in the US since 2014,.“The battlefield of the future will be much more autonomous, although that does not mean that there will not be armies,” Antebi says. “Many of the missions that demand human intervention today will become autonomous or automatic – and there is a difference – with human involvement being in terms of observation.”
Each of the researchers notes that working at the institute is an exciting and personally enriching experience, particularly as their work and ideas have the potential to affect policy. With regular and open access to senior staff, including a former defense minister, former Foreign Ministry officials and academics, there is a dialectical atmosphere in which a person’s relative youth is not an impediment to their progress. Antebi says she feels “lucky to be surrounded by people who have greater expertise – and to sometimes have the opportunity to influence and change the world around me.” 