B'NAI B'RITH EUROPE HAS A NEW WEBSITE - Starting February 1st, 2012, the website you are looking at right now will no longer be updated.
VISIT THE NEW BBE WEBSITE FOR THE LATEST UPDATES: http://www.bnaibritheurope.org/bbeurope/
Bínai Bírith Europe
Home arrow IsraŽl arrow Second Bínai Bírith World Center holds second Pessach Seminar- 2011
Saturday, 04 July 2015
Main Menu
President's message
What is Bínai Bírith Europe?
Lodges' Activities
Human Rights and† Public Policy
Humanitarian Projects
Jewish Culture and Heritage
Press Reviews
Young Adults
International Districts
Jewish World News
News of the Lodges
Human Rights and
  Public Policy
Humanitarian Projects
Jewish Culture and Heritage
Press Releases
Site Language
Second Bínai Bírith World Center holds second Pessach Seminar- 2011 Print E-mail
Special Report: “Challenges and Opportunities in the Realigned Middle East”- Second B’nai B’rith World Center holds second Pessach Seminar... April 22, 2011

... Introduction
On April 22 the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem held its second Pessach seminar for B’nai B’rith members from around the world visiting Israel during the holiday.
The seminar, held in cooperation with B’nai B’rith Europe on the third intermediary day of Pessach (Hol Hamoed) in Tel Aviv, was entitled “Challenges and Opportunities in the Realigned Middle East”.

Twenty-five B’nai B’rith leaders and members from over ten countries including  England, Holland, Brazil, Switzerland, Hungary, France, Australia, Romania, Colombia, the US and Israel, participated in the seminar which included sessions on the implications of ongoing transformations in the Middle East for Israel and the Iranian threat.

Opening Remarks
In opening remarks, B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Dr. Haim V. Katz said that the Pessach holiday was a particularly appropriate time for B’nai B’rith members to coalesce in Israel and to engage together in a program that had resonance for Jews in Israel and around the world.

He noted that the international participation in the program confirmed B’nai B’rith’s continued broad reach and expressed the intention of making the World Center Pessach Seminar a regular feature of the BBI annual calendar of events.

B’nai B’rith Europe President Graham Weinberg discussed BBE’s extensive Jewish educational activities in Eastern Europe, young Jewish adult leadership programs, and its efforts to fight anti-Semitism and delegitimization of the State of Israel in which BBI and BBE have recently begun a new partnership.

He also posited that what should really be criticized as being “disproportionate” is the international community’s criticism of Israel rather than Israel’s legitimate attempts at self-defense. BBI EVP Dan Mariaschin noted that the organization has been very active at different UN forums with efforts to forestall the recognition of the expected unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinian Authority in September.

He described the topic of the seminar as extremely important because there are no precedents for the current turbulence and upheavals in the Middle East.

The first session of the seminar, entitled “Recent Transformations in the Middle East and the Prospects for Israel”, was addressed by Ha’aretz military correspondent and B’nai B’rith World Center Award for Journalism winner Anshel Pfeffer and Dr. Mark Heller, Principal Research Associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The second session, entitled “Iran: Can it be Stopped?” was addressed by Mrs. Sima Shine, Head of the Iran Division at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Prof. Efraim Inbar, professor of political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of its Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Session 1: “Recent Transformations in the Middle Ease and Prospects for Israel
Anshel Pfeffer, who covered the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt for Ha’aretz, noted that his conclusion from intensive engagement with Egyptians on the streets during the first two weeks of the demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak was that the demonstrations were not a manifestation of anti-Israel sentiment or a call to abrogate the peace treaty between the two countries.

Today, two months later, the picture seems very different, with talk of the first Iranian ambassador in 31 years (since diplomatic relations were severed by the Ayatollahs following the Iranian revolution) expected to present his credentials in  Cairo, the appointment of anti-Israel officials to the interim government and other worrisome developments.

As a result of these steps the IDF has already declared that it will dedicate the coming year to studying the strategic significance of the changes in Egypt for Israel and perhaps reestablish some of Israel’s military assets that were dismantled following the Camp David Accords.

Pfeffer noted that while it would have been churlish to stand in Tahrir Square and not be moved by the massive expression of democratic yearning, it is still premature to determine whether he might have misled himself and his readers when he was swept up, along with all the international press, in the euphoria of the moment. Pfeffer vowed to admit his mistake if these developments transpire. Still, any interim conclusion will be temporary, at least until the planned September elections.

Pfeffer expressed no remorse at the loss of Mubarak who, despite being a strategic ally for Israel, did nothing to build relations between the Egyptian and Israeli people and even fell back on anti-Israel rhetoric to defuse the demonstrations in their initial stages. He suggested reserving judgment about the impact for Israel of Mubarak’s political demise and expressed the hope that the loss of a strategic ally will be offset by improved people-to-people relations under a new regime.

Dr. Mark Heller noted that comparing current events in the Arab world to the “Spring of Nations” of 1848 is not very promising because what transpired then was perhaps the most miserable hundred years of European history. No matter how hopeful and inspiring popular movements might be as they unfold, revolutions can go bad and can be hijacked. This is something Israel has to be concerned about.

The conditions in each of the countries that are facing upheavals are very different and with Arab countries running the gamut of cosmopolitan Tunisia to dysfunctional Yemen, it is impossible to generalize on how these revolutions will develop or how they will affect Israel.  The countries most relevant for Israel are those that surround it - Egypt, Jordan and Syria -  while what happened in Tunisia or Libya is not a major concern.

The good news is that these revolutions are not really about Israel. This is what Bashar Assad is discovering to his chagrin.  Before his own country was swept with demands for his ouster, Assad declared that he was immune to internal strife because he had adopted a confrontationist posture towards Israel . It turns out that in Syria too, it is not about Israel but rather about the way their societies and political systems have been organized for decades and how that impinges on their personal lives, their prospects and their dignity.

What is common to all these situations is the fact that the barrier of fear has been broken after decades during which democratization had seemingly bypassed this part of the world after it had taken root in southern Europe in the late 1970’s, South America in the 1980’s and eastern Europe in the 1990’s.

The assumption was that people in the Middle East were either too apathetic or too afraid of losing something they had to go out and challenge the regimes. That barrier has now fallen and what looked like a pattern of stability has been broken – although we don’t know why it happened just now. This will possibly have serious implications for Israel depending on how events develop.

Regarding Egypt, what concerns Israel most is the hijacking of the revolution by some radical political movements – Islamist or nationalist - that will either renounce the peace treaty or, even worse, try to remilitarize the Sinai Peninsula.

While this is not a possibility that can be completely dismissed, it is more probable that the new government will be a variation of the old regime with a greater political representation of Islamist factors. That means that the cold peace with Israel will get even colder – even though it is hard to imagine how much colder it could get.

Considering this and the fact that there is little bilateral trade except the sale of natural gas, along with the pervasive anti-Israel discourse in the Egyptian media, the potential for further deterioration is not there. It would take almost a ‘black swan’ to produce an Egyptian remilitarization of Sinai. So while black swans do appear, it is very rare.

Any calculated policy would argue against it and that is the prevailing sentiment in the Egyptian military command that will remain preeminent in determining Egypt’s defense policy into the future regardless of any political upheaval. So while people should think about the worst-case scenario, it should not keep them awake at night.

Jordan is the most significant variable in this equation although it has been paid the least attention so far, mostly because nothing dramatic has happened there yet, primarily because, while not a democracy, it is one of the more decent regimes in the region. While it has a domestic security apparatus, it does not treat people with contempt like Syria or Egypt. There is corruption, but not as blunt and extreme as in Egypt or Syria and it has shown better economic performance.

Therefore we have not seen violence there although the potential is very significant because it coincides with underlying demographic and ethnic splits in the population between the East bank Jordanians and the Palestinians that are somewhere between 40%-60% of the population. Jordan’s history includes a cleavage within the population that expressed itself in a very violent domestic conflict – Black September - that could repeat itself. If that were to happen again, it should keep people in Israel awake at night.

Session 2: Iran: Can it be Stopped?
Mrs. Sima Shine, Director of the Iran Desk at the Ministry of Security Affairs, said that although the upheavals in the Arab world pose many unknowns for Israel, Iran is still the issue that baffles the Israeli decision makers most.

The three major interests of the Iranian regime are the sovereignty of the regime, its deterrents against perceived internal and external enemies and the extension of its influence across the region. In order to promote those interests, the Iranian regime seeks to achieve nuclear capability while extending its relationships and influence in the Middle East. This enables them to enlarge their influence and to have more cards in their hands against the U.S and Israel, while diverting the interest of the world away from the Iranian issue.

When the Iranian leadership looks at the balance sheet of their regime today, they see some very positive developments and also some negative developments. On the positive side, first and foremost is the Iranian nuclear project which is advancing in spite of all the technical problems they face. They are now accumulating enriched uranium using more than 500 centrifuges, which is a very nice achievement in itself, even though they are not as advanced as they thought they would be at the beginning of 2011.

The second element that is positive in the Iranian view is the fact that the international community is not homogeneous in its attitude towards the regime; it is, in fact, very divided. The Iranians understand that there are differences in the interests of Russia, China and the U.S. and they are playing off these interests. China has reduced its dependence on Iranian oil over the last two years because they understand the trend of imposing sanctions. But at the same time the Iranians understand that there are many factors and that countries all over the world are interested in economic relations with Iran, and they utilize these political interests for their gain.

Another positive element for Iran is in the economic sphere. The high price of oil is playing into their hands. If the price of oil stays around what they are today the Iranians will be able to withstand the cost of the sanctions – about $15b annually. That does not mean that the Iranians do not feel the sanctions, but the oil income enable them to reduce the effect on the population and to be able to continue with the reforms they started which have been very important for the Iranian economy.

Another positive element in the Iranian view is the fact that they were able to control the upheaval that came after the elections of June 2009. While many supported the opposition, they are afraid to go into the streets. Furthermore, Turkey is improving relations with Iran in an unprecedented way and Mubarak, who might have been an enemy, is gone while the Muslim element in Egypt is gaining strength. That does not mean that in the long run it will be a net gain for Iran due to the Sunni-Shiite rift. But for the time being they do see all the moderate Arab countries weakening, meaning that the U.S, that was supporting those countries, is also weakened. Israel, that maintained very good relations with those countries and with the U.S, is also weakened.

So from the Iranian point of view, the conclusions they can draw from these positive elements are: 1. The Arab countries are weak; 2. The U.S influence in the Middle East is irrevocably weakened, and Israel is also harmed by that; and 3. The willingness of the world to confront Iran is lower today, because the international community is preoccupied with Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain.

At the same time there are negative developments facing the Iranian regime. First, part of the oil revenue is lost on the sanctions regimen that Iran faces and that creates many economic problems including high inflation. At the same time, American policy triumphed when it secured the support of Russia and China for the sanctions resolution in the UN Security Council, which was a surprise for the Iranians because they had put a lot of effort into trying to convince Russia and China not to support it. At the end of the day, all five permanent UNSC members supported the resolution.

In relation to the internal situation in Iran, the regime presents the upheaval in the Arab world – which they term “the soft revolution” - as its own victory, but they know that they are paying a price for it in the way of increased alienation of their own population and widespread arrests all over the country among them laborers, journalists, lawyers, teachers and professors. At the end of the day, the regime does not feel secure, but they believe that the tactics they have been using are working, for the time being.

There is one huge difference between Egypt, Syria and Iran when it comes to the issue of suppressing the population. In Egypt and Syria it was the Army was sent to suppress the revolution, while in Iran it is the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that was dispatched to quell the violence. The army is part of the population, while the IRGC was created to support the stability of the regime and to make sure that a counter-revolution could never succeed in Iran. If the army of Iran would have to suppress the population, the picture would be very different.

The IRGC knows that it embodies the regime. They control not only the security apparatus, but all major economic contracts. Their representatives have been appointed to every ministry, and some of the heads of the ministries are from the IRGC. So, there is the vested interest by the IRGC to prevent a counter-revolution and to preserve this regime, because if this regime is out, the IRGC will be out as well.

While the regime understands that there is a commitment on the part of the West, especially the U.S, France, and Britain, to make their lives as difficult as possible, the Iranians believe that they can handle it for the time being. They believe that they need no more than two or three years to acquire nuclear capability. They believe that with nuclear weapons the West will have to deal with them in a different way. Would NATO react the same way it does if Libya had a nuclear weapon today?

Israeli policy towards Iran is based today on four pillars. 1. That sanctions should be sharpened, especially in the energy sector, banking, and in transportation (Air Iran, the shipping company IRISA and others). Israel believes that the Iranians are vulnerable and can be pressed more; 2. Political isolation – currently we see no political isolation of Iran.

UN ministers visit Iran and they have reason to believe that their request for a waiver of a travel ban against their Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi will succeed; 3. More support to the opposition; 4. Posing a credible military threat. The Iranians stopped their nuclear program once in 2004 after the American invasion of Iraq when the Iranians thought that they were going to be the next target. These four pillars, if they are used intelligently, could bring this regime to the decision that it made in 2004: to stop nuclear development, if not forever, at least for a while.

Prof. Efraim Inbar concentrated his comments on the West’s attitude toward Iran. Much of the world understands that the combination of a radical regime in Iran with nuclear weapons is not a very good idea because it will bring about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and other unwanted developments in the region and beyond through Iran’s  global ambitions.

Although we have seen part of the West leverage more sanctions in the last two years, is a delusion to think that the Iranian regime will be moved by sanctions because the main reason for seeking a nuclear bomb is to ensure the survival of the regime and nuclear weapons are the surest insurance policy for the survival of the regime.

Therefore the Iranians are determined to get the bomb and if the people suffer, so be it. We forget that in these kinds of regimes, the elite in particular live well even when the people are suffering. Saddam Hussein lived well under sanctions. Cuba lives under sanctions to this day but goes on with its policies because they are important to them.

We also have seen some sabotage tactics by the West, such as the Stuxnet virus, and the elimination of scientists. Still, we should not underestimate the engineering capability of the Iranians. They have made progress albeit, much slower than they had wanted. 

Producing a nuclear bomb is not something that is that difficult. After all, North Korea, a bankrupt country, has done it. So, I see no reason why we should doubt that Iranian engineers can make a bomb if they will be given the time to do so. And their strategy, quite clearly, is to build and buy time just like the North Koreans.

The dream of part of the West is regime change. We see half-hearted efforts towards this, which were obviously not successful, but generally this approach has several weaknesses. First of all, the ability of outsiders to influence domestic events in our part of the world is very limited.

It is Western arrogance to believe that they can influence the regimes in many corners of the world. It simply doesn’t work like that and the days when the CIA could engineer a coupe are over. So, the ability of Westerners to fund, arm and be effective in Iran is very limited. 

Furthermore, the opposition we are talking about is not necessarily the “nice guys” - pro-democratic forces that we would be proud to be associated with. In Iran there are crazier guys than Ahmadinejad. Some of them are in the opposition. Some of the opposition groups have the same plans for the nuclear program that the current regime has. Finally, unfortunately, suppression works.

The regime successfully used oppression in 2009 and again now. People that are running the regime do not have the option of becoming retired public servants because when they do, some may lose their lives. The Revolutionary Guards know that if they lose power they will be dragged into the streets and tortured by the people they tortured just a week or two weeks before. So, we should not underestimate the tenacity of the groups in power to cling to power because it is not just a nice business to have a state, it is also their life that is at stake.

Basically, what we see so far is a weakening of the West’s pressure on Iran. The current administration in Washington is particularly weak. Talk about “engagement” with Iran and Syria is understood in the Middle East as appeasement. In the Middle East you don’t “engage” your enemies; in the Middle East you try to weaken them and, if possible, kill them. Engagement displays weakness. It is what Middle Easterners see in Washington - a weak Administration.

Two fallacies are prevalent in the West. 1. That the West can contain the Middle East and Iran – even a nuclear Iran. The US first articulated the containment policy in February 1994 and what are the results so far? It failed to stop progress on the Iranian nuclear program, Iranian meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan, the buildup of Hezbollah - an Iranian ally – in Lebanon, Iranian influence in Hamastan, the gravitation of a country as important as Turkey towards Iran and Iranian attempts to meddle in Egyptian affairs and destabilize the Mubarak regime. The US has failed to contain the rise of Iran in the Middle East.

Nor did the Americans contain Iranian influence in their own backyard – Venezuela and Bolivia. So I am not sure what the meaning of the word “containment” is. I am afraid that it is basically another word for appeasement.

The Soviet Union was contained in similar arenas because there was a clear American commitment to respond militarily. Indeed, only after 2003, when the Americans invaded Iraq, did the Iranians responded positively. But they understood quite quickly that Iraq became a quagmire for the Americans and they can go on undeterred. If the U.S is not ready to flex its muscles, be it a naval blockade or a military strike, Iran will remain unimpressed, as will the rest of the Middle East. Therefore, military force is needed to give containment a chance.

Another strategic fallacy widespread in academia is that Iran can be easily deterred by other nuclear powers. I would like to point out that it is very difficult to emulate in the Middle East the type of relations that had existed between the Soviet Union and the United States, in what was called the 'Balance of Terror'.

Rationality is very important in deterring an enemy because this forces it to calculate possible costs of aggression. But someone who speaks to god and to the missing Imam - as Ahmadinejad does - maybe have a different type of rationality then the kind the West relies on. Deterrence is also dependent upon sensitivity to cost.

A person is deterred if he understands the price he has to pay. However, we know already that the Iranians are ready to pay heavy prices in order to obtain their objectives. They've said so. They would have to sacrifice millions in order to destroy the Jewish state. They sent waves of youngsters into the mine fields that were laid by the Iraqis in order to detonate the bombs. They lost thousands of people and this was of no consequence in this regime’s perspective. So, their willingness to pay a very heavy price is much greater than we expect.

Also, nuclear deterrents are dependent on what we call the “Second Strike capability”, meaning that each country has a capability to respond in time, even if it was attacked first and part of its nuclear arsenal was demolished.

But countries are not born with second strike capability; it takes time to build it. Israel has not yet developed a second strike capability because the other side does not yet have a first strike capability. It is precisely at this moment, when the two sides are not sure about their ability to deliver a second strike, which is most sensitive and when there is a great incentive to preempt.

Therefore, if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon it will have a great incentive to preempt Israel and use them while they are not sure if Israel has developed a second strike capability yet.

A nuclear Middle East it is a strategic nightmare for Israel as well as everybody else. Therefore, Israel has to strike Iran first and to make sure that they have no nuclear arsenal.

The seminar also included the screening of the new film “Iranium” that explores the Iranian nuclear program as it pertains to strategic threats against the West and Islamic fundamentalism in Iran and a visit to the historic Ben Gurion House.

< Prev   Next >
More info...
History of the Lodges
Speakers Bureau
Photo Gallery
Future Events
No events
Gallery slideshow
Top! Top!