In my most recent weekly column I quoted at some length from Uzi Arad, professor of strategic affairs at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center, who served until a year ago as chairman of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Council. Arad is one of Israel’s most influential strategic thinkers, a former Mossad director of research, founder of the Herzliya Conference and Netanyahu’s closest national security adviser in and out of office from the mid-1990s until March 2011, when Arad resigned amid a messy disagreement over Iran strategy.
The quotes from Arad in my column were extracted from a much longer July 17-18 phone conversation about the connections between Iran strategy, U.S.-Israel relations and Palestinian peace talks. Despite his uber-hawk reputation, which leads some detractors (mostly on the left) to call him “Israel’s Dr. Strangelove,” he’s a subtle and surprising thinker, and what he has to say right now is important. Accordingly, I’m presenting my notes from our full conversation.
An attack on Iran is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The overall strategic objective, the one that the American administration and the Israeli government presumably share, is an expression of determination that Iran will be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The president has also amplified his position by saying that America is not in the mode of discussing containment or deterrence. What he means is that all eyes are fixed on prevention.
The website of Foreign Affairs magazine has a very useful interview with David Makovsky, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, former Jerusalem Post editor, former Haaretz diplomatic correspondent and one of the smartest Middle East watchers in Washington, on the various uncertainties Israel faces right now. He notes that Israel and Egypt have been engaging in a lot of back-channel diplomacy in the last few days to try and keep the border quiet and maintain the peace. The danger, he says, is
that the public senses that, when there are elections, Islamist parties—led by the Muslim Brotherhood but not exclusively—could be a dominant political block in Egypt. That would mean that you would have a military that has had excellent relations with the Israelis but does not want to be in a confrontation with the public. Therefore, the political context for the Egyptian-Israeli military-to-military relations, which have been very good, are very much liable to deteriorate.
He’s surprisingly optimistic—or at least un-pessimistic—about the future of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. President Obama’s speeches in May to Congress and AIPAC about Palestinian statehood based on the 1967 lines with swaps were a gesture toward the Palestinian, which made the Israelis uncomfortable. The administration is now trying to get the Europeans to match that with a parallel gesture to pressure the Palestinians, specifically working against the Palestinian statehood measure at the United Nations. The idea is to give Tony Blair space to produce a Quartet formula that allows peace talks to restart. The details Makovsky lays out are fascinating, not least the internal splits within the EU that are making the job difficult. And there’s this: