J.J. Goldberg

Top Israeli, Saudi Ex-Spy Chiefs in Rare Dialogue

By J.J. Goldberg

Israeli and Saudi ex-spy chiefs Amos Yadlin (left), Prince Turki al-Faisal (center) dialogue in Brussels, May 26. Moderator David Ignatius at right. / German Marshall Fund-YouTube screen grab

One of the most influential members of the Saudi royal family, former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, sat down today with former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin for an unprecedented one-on-one public dialogue at a think tank in Belgium. Such direct, public contact between high-ranking Saudis and Israelis is virtually unknown.

It was a mostly amiable, hour-long conversation, marked by more agreement than disagreement as they discussed Iran, Syria, Islamic radicalism and the regional arms race (watch the full video below). On their main topic, Israeli-Arab peace efforts and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (text), Turki offered what could be the most explicit public Saudi declaration to date of Saudi willingness to make peace and end the conflict, repeatedly insisting the Arab states have “crossed the Rubicon” and “don’t want to fight Israel anymore.”

The closest they came to acrimony was when Yadlin, noting that three-fourths of Israelis had never heard of the 2002 peace plan, asked the prince to come to Jerusalem and address the Knesset. Turki replied that it was the Israeli leadership’s job to “explain to their people what the Arab Peace Initiative is” and urged Israel to agree to enter discussions based on it. So here’s how the Israeli press led its coverage of the event:

Saudi royal snubs invite to Jerusalem by Israeli ex-intel boss” (Jerusalem Post); “Saudi royal turns down ex-IDF intel chief’s invite to the Knesset” (Times of Israel); “Saudi prince declines invite to Jerusalem by Israeli ex-intel chief” (Haaretz). The Hebrew press had no mention of it.

Turki, the youngest son of the late King Faisal, was Saudi intelligence chief from 1977 to 2001. He later served as Saudi ambassador to London and then Washington. Yadlin, a retired major general, was chief of the IDF intelligence directorate from 2006 to 2010. He previously served as deputy commander of the Israeli air force, commander of the military staff colleges and Israeli military attache in Washington.

Both men currently head their respective countries’ main national security think tanks.

The dialogue was hosted by the Brussels-based German Marshall Fund and moderated by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

Amos Yadlin-Turki al-Faisal dialogue, Brussels, May 26, Part 1:

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Amos Yadlin-Turki al-Faisal dialogue, Brussels, May 26, Part 2:

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Abbas Tells Israeli Parley: Peace, Recognition. Watch

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Mahmoud Abbas

This is a news flash for anyone who’s waiting to hear the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declare publicly in Arabic that he’s ready to recognize and make peace with Israel. He said it. You can watch it here.

The background: Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, in a taped interview to be screened this week at a Tel Aviv conference, declared that the Palestinian goal is full peace between the state of Israel and a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, with the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

Speaking in Arabic (subtitled in English and Hebrew), Abbas said that the transition period for Israeli withdrawal could be as much as three years, but that “those who speak of 10 or 15 years don’t want to withdraw.” He said that Israeli troops would not remain on Palestinian territory, but that NATO troops could be put in their place to secure the borders.

The interview is to be screened at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, the Tel Aviv think tank formerly known as the Jaffe Center of Tel Aviv University. The interviewer is attorney Gilead Sher, who served as chief of staff and chief policy adviser to onetime prime minister Ehud Barak. The two-day conference opens on Tuesday.

Institute president Amos Yadlin, former IDF chief of military intelligence, addressed a pre-conference press briefing today (English, Hebrew) to present the institute’s annual Strategic Survey. He said that the odds of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians in the coming year are not high, but that the risks of avoiding the difficult decisions required for an agreement are greater than the risks of taking those decisions.

If no peace agreement is possible, Yadlin said, Israel should consider taking unilateral steps to withdraw from the West Bank. He said crucial lessons had been learned from the 2005 unilateral Gaza withdrawal, and a unilateral West Bank withdrawal need not repeat the mistakes of Gaza.

One of most striking aspects of today’s news coverage is the stark difference between English and Hebrew language versions of the reporting:

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