Interviews With CIA/MOSSAD AGENT Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
By John Robles
There is No "Real" Dialogue About Syria
21 February 2012, 22:07
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a Middle East expert and a professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
Things are heating up in Syria and it’s not looking good for relations between the West and Russia. The Foreign Ministry recently released an official statement accusing the West of spreading false information. Why are they making claims such as the ones they were making about a Russian specialist assisting in the gassing of protesters?
Well, you know, the concern I think that the United States and the Europeans have today is that Russia is not looking at the whole picture.
What about the opposition in Syria, I mean there are real serious claims that these are murderers?
Depending on whom you are speaking with. There may be some bad elements involved in the uprising. This is part of the so called Arab Spring, it has not started in Syria coasted in Tunisia and elsewhere, and it is going to continue to spread without any question – what can be done to give to the Syrian people what is due to them. Before, I was quite inciting in suggesting that Russia in fact can play a very, very constructive role and the West basically suggesting that Russia in fact is simply not doing so and the forth pretences.
Since the very beginning Russia has been calling for a peaceful resolution, it has been calling for all the sides to come to the negotiating table.
Russia is not calling for a peaceful resolution. Now, as the Government of Syria, they said that now they are writing a new constitution and the new constitution is going to be presented to the public early next month. But the question is – can you really go through this kind of process when you have state of upheaval, the uprising is spreading and it can no longer be dealt with by simple promises made by either the Syrian Government or someone else.
This has been in the press that certain elements in the West, I think English and French, they were saying that they would be willing to arm the Syrian opposition. What would you say to people willing to escalate the situation to that point?
Well, the problem here is that there is no real dialog, I mean there is no opportunity to settle the matter peacefully. What else can you do – you can talk about the armed gangs, you can talk about terrorists...
What if they are sure on the other foot and Russia was sending weapons to, let’s say, the Occupy movement, if they became fanatical and started shooting at government troops…
Well actually the report we have suggests very strongly that Russia is sending weapons and equipment, and ammunition to the government.
What right does the United States and the West have to say that the Syrian Government is illegitimate, it’s a sovereign country? You are dealing with the internal uprising.
You know, from the history of the Soviet Union itself and now Russia, and Russia only 20 ago…
My question is about the United States, not Russia.
… was not democratic and now it’s far more democratic, there is election and the President cannot be elected for more than two terms.
So, what you are saying – any government that doesn’t follow this Western model, the US can now just go and take up them because they’ve been…
No, John. I’m not even suggesting the Western model, I’m suggesting the Russian model. Russia itself today has legitimate election every four years and you are going to have an election this year. Putin, years ago, he would have stayed thirty years in a rule but he couldn’t, he had to leave and now if he wants to come back and he has to go for another election.
He left voluntarily.
And this is exactly what is happening in Russia. So, this is not the Western model, it is also a Russian model and why should Syria or any other country be different.
Yes, but who is the United States to go and say that they are illegitimate and we are going to remove them.
It’s the Syrian people I think. They have said that in Egypt and Egyptian President Mubarak had to resign. They have said that in Tunisia and the President of Tunisia has to go. They have said that in Libya and the Libyan Government had to disappear. This is not just America which is saying so, it is the Arabs themselves who are saying so. And the governments in these matters are to be listening to the people.
You are saying that the United States – it was not, is not and will not be secretly involved, or not so secretly, in financing NGOs and destabilizing the situations in these countries.
No, I’m not saying that at all. I think the United States is very involved and trying to promote its own take of what political system is now requesting. The United States has been supporting NGOs, has been promoting democracy in Egypt and in the Arab world. United States has been supporting all of these movements for years. And I’m not suggesting to you that the United States has been correct and proper all along. For example I think the United States made a tragic mistake going to Iraq. The United States has made a tragic mistake staying for ten years in Afghanistan, the war is not over there. So, the United States has made and continuing to make many mistakes. But because of that it does not suggest that Syria is not making a mistake. Basher Assad, in my view John, has outlived his usefulness. He is no longer legitimate and I think Russia can play a very constructive role in going to Damascus and telling to Bashar Assad that time has come for him to find some safe place, so that the people…
Well, I believe they’ve done it…
I agree, I think your Foreign Minister has gone to, and he spoke to Bashar Assad. But if Bashar Assad did not listen to the Russian advice, then Russia is to alert Assad that he can no longer count on their support and it is not going to make sense committing constructive changes.
You are right absolutely. He is calling for the referendum, he is saying he is willing to had over the power.
Time has come for him to leave and let some other to come to the fore and govern the Syrian people. And I want to mention something else – the problem in Syria is not only limited to Bashar Assad - it is the system itself. You have the high Alivite group which controls pretty much the high brass and the military, the internal security, intelligence as well as the business elite.
And this is a smaller group of people who control actually. I believe, honestly John, knowing what I know and I’ve been very involved and I continue to be involved very much, directly and indirectly in that process between Syria and its neighbours, and I can tell you Bashar Assad himself would have liked to institute some reforms but he hasn’t been allowed to do it because of this creak around him. They were not allowing because he has been told – well, you start doing this and there will be no contingency to have to go all the way. And he himself had the tendency, he would have liked to institute some reforms and they were not allowing him to do so.
His own inner circle or not?
Exactly, his own inner circle and his brother in particular - Maher al-Assad who is the Commander of the National Guard. And all of these groups have a stake in the current system, the corrupt system and they won’t let him make any significant changes.
Russia's Mediation Could "Save" Iran
8 February 2012, 15:26
Interview with with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir – Middle East expert and a Professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
How are these new sanctions against Iran going to affect the Iranian economy internationally?
I believe it’s going to have a significant effect, because when you freeze all properties and other financial institutions that is going to impede Iran from conducting some significant financial transactions, and in conjunction with that these new sanctions also penalize any other banks that actually work with Iran Central Bank. Together the freezing and the sanctions against the Iranianian Central Bank will have a very strong effect on the Iranian economy.
Most of these banks operate and work with the United States and for them it becomes a toss up. If they want to continue to work with the United States financial institutions, then they’ll have to give up their working relations with Iranian financial institutions. And the toss up is that their business interests with the United States are much greater than that with Iran. And so they have to give up one or the other, and in this case it is likely that they choose not to give up the business with the United States. So, that’s really the calculations they thought.
Has this been been approved by the United Nations or is this the US unilateral move against Iran?
No, as a matter of fact this is within the authority of the President. This was issued by executive order, it didn’t even have to go through the Senate or the House. The President of the United States can issue an executive order that freezes all these activities and he does not need approval from other institutions.
Ok, what about Iran? How do you think Iran is going to react to this? They said that if anyone prevents their oil from reaching its markets, they will close down the Strait of Hormuz.
The truth of the matter John, Iran, you know, they talk quite a lot but they really have much more limited ability to act. If they decide to close the Strait of Hormuz - what that’s going to do to their own shipping of oil from which they need the revenue very badly. So, this is not something that they will do and even if they do that the United States Navy is on location and they are fully prepared to deal with that effectively.
I was told by certain sources here, close to the naval forces, that it will take no more than 24 hours to clear the Strait of Hormuz should the Iranians decide to blockade it. But it is not in their interests to blockade it in the first place because they still want to ship some oil. Specifically India and China both said that they will continue to purchase Iranian oil, and the Iranians are very interested in continuing to ship this oil to these two countries.
How do you think Iran is going to react to this? Do they have anything they can do to counter this move or is this pretty much useless?
The truth of the matter is that I don’t think they will take overt, violent action or retaliation because the United States will respond to that immediately. The only thing they can do, and honestly I think it’s diplomatically, they have an opportunity now to sit down again with the representatives of the IAEA and show greater cooperation with this agency. And I think this is one way to diffuse the tension between Iran and the United States and the West is by Iran cooperating more with the agency. If they want to lift the sanctions they better cooperate with the international agency.
Recently, I think, there were 6 IAEA inspectors there and they did not visit one site. Now, if Iran allows them to visit these sites, will Obama rescind this order?
I think the President here and the House and the Senate were quite clear, they want the IAEA to go there and do the inspection, unfettered inspection and for the Iranian authorities to answer the questions the inspectors have. If the inspection is done and they are satisfied and they can come out and report that Iran is coming clean, I think this can be extremely helpful. If they want to lift the sanctions – that is the only avenue they have. If they start causing problems, well then the United States is prepared for that and that’s not going to make sense from my perspective.
Again, you know John, I want to mention to you one thing here. I think Russia in this respect can play a very important role. The Russians have a good relationship with Iran and Russia as being part of the IAEA should basically tell them look cooperate to the fullest extent, as you can. And if that is not going to happen, then things, you know, can get only worse.
So, Russia, unlike the United States or any of the European countries, enjoys the confidence and the trust of the Iranians. And if Russia goes there and tries to mediate a solution to this crisis – it will not only lift the embargo and lift the sanction but could considerably prevent a military attack that may take place. And so, that’s why I’m concerned about it and I think this is where Russia could have played significant role in trying to diffuse the tension between; specifically Iran and Israel, and Iran and the United States.
Do you think the Russian Federation would have enough of an advanced warning of a military attack to try to intervene?
I doubt it if there is anyone, either Israel or the United States that is going to inform Russia in advance. I doubt that very much indeed. Israel may not even inform the United States for that matter if Israel decides to act. That’s been the tradition. If they inform them, it would be like, maybe five minutes before the attack. So, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
So, time is of the essence, that’s why I keep emphasizing Russia's important role here, because Russia is one of the very few countries, in fact I can’t think of another that enjoys more influence and more prestige and trust in Iran than Russia, and that is why I think Russia could save the day if they go in and make real efforts to try to explain to the Iranians that the West is determined, the United States are determined not to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons period. And that’s in the interests of Russia to intervene, because Russia has also significant investment in Iran and I don’t think Russia wants to see its investments in Iran go up in smoke as a result of this horrible potential development.
Time is Running Out for Iran
Time is Running Out for Iran
16 January 2012, 15:17
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, Middle East expert, a professor from the Center of the Global Affairs at New York University
Hello, Dr. Meir, it’s a pleasure to be speaking with you. Can you give us the latest on the Iranian situation?
The Iranians called that they were ready to negotiate but the United States and the E.U. still have certain requirements. They want to negotiate on the condition that this is going to give some results but not negotiate for the sake of negotiations. But the truth of the matter is to defuse the tension between two sides. The best thing to do is to negotiate and establish timeframe. If there is no agreement, then the parties can do what they want to do. That is the first step and that unfortunately has not taken a place. As a result, of course, the rhetoric is escalating, threats are escalating. The United States sent the secret message to Ayatollah, direct message, that should he attempt to cross the Strait oh Hormuz, this will be the red line the United States will not tolerate. But the truth of the matter is that Iran is based on reports that came from international atomic energy, that Iran is pursuing the nuclear weapons. This is what they are saying. So, on that basis this is the United States and other countries that are acting trying to delay the progress that the Iranians are making in their nuclear program. This is what has taken place. The assassination of the scientist should be condemned in a very strong way, the effort to raise the threats that we hear – all of that is actually in a way trying to prevent attacking Iran rather than a preparation for foreign attacks.
You don’t think it’s a provocation?
I take it somewhat differently. My feeling is that the two things that Iranians will insist and want to achieve are: one is that they really want to have the technology to produce nuclear weapon, not necessarily having the weapon but certainly they need the technology to produce one in a short notice. That is what they are absolutely committed to. The second thing they are committed to is that they want to keep the regime the way it is. Now, the most important thing is that this government wants to stay in power. If they feel that the nuclear program could undermine them to stay in power, they will give it up. And the only way they will give it up is if the sanctions are serious and they are really biting. And that is only from that perspective I support the sanctions. Because we would like to see no war and no attack on Iran and Iran will not be persuaded to stop this nuclear program unless it feels attack may be imminent. I mean this is a different approach but that’s how I believe.
Can you give us a little insight into the situation in Iran? You’ve just mentioned political considerations they might have. Can you also mention or feel us in on the fact that last week it was reported that they got uranium enriched up to 20% and they are going to start sharing this technology with other countries.
I have spoken to some Iranians. I believe they know, at least, more than ordinary people on the street, and, on the one hand, they insist that they are not producing a nuclear weapon. On the other hand, they insist that they are right to enrich uranium to 20% or even more as long as they are not in the direction of building a nuclear weapon. But the problem is for the United States, for Israel and for others is that once you get to that point, it is much easier to purify uranium from 20% to 90% in order to have sufficient fuel to create a nuclear weapon. And that is the concern. They are not coming clean and that has been a pattern, the Iranian pattern all along from day one. They have never allowed themselves to come clean and be able to demonstrate without any equivocation that they are actually intending to do and pursue only a peaceful nuclear program.
We know the statements they’ve made about destroying Israel, for example. Do you think this is a real threat?
The truth is this: if Iran has a nuclear weapon will it actually attack Israel? I don’t believe that’s the case. Iran has neighbors with the nuclear weapons like Pakistan, and India, and others. Iran has major concern in its all neighborhood. Unfortunately, their threat to Israel is not taken lightly by the Israelis and that is the problem. The Iranians simply do not understand the Israeli mindset, Israeli psychology. If they understood that, they would not have threatened Israel existentially, because the Jews simply do not take this kind of threat lightly having experienced what they have experienced in World War II. That is the problem that there is a disconnect in trying to understand the psychological implications of the conflict, and Iranians have demonstrated truly utter stupidity in not understanding that you don’t threaten people who have already gone through one Holocaust.
What about this nuclear scientist who was murdered? What’s your insight on that?
What we hear is who has interests in eliminating or disrupting Iranian nuclear program and you can count these people probably on one hand. Israel would be one, the United States will be one, some European community will be other. So, it does not take a genius to figure out that possibly one of the three have committed that but, on the other hand, we must not throw out the possibility that Iranians themselves may eliminate such an individual, not because they hate him or dislike him, but in order to create the kind of attention they want to create and it is entirely possible. So we can’t throw out this possibility.
Wouldn’t that be a way too put an end to all of this without going to war, which I believe you said the U.S. does not want to have?
I don’t believe the United States wants that and I don’t believe that Israel wants that. But I honestly must say not because I am talking to you being in Russia, that I truly and honestly believe that Russia in particular can play a very significant positive role here in trying to encourage the resumption of the negotiation, because Russia’s relation with Iran is a good relationship, Russia’s built up and Iranian nuclear facilities, Russia has a sway and a say in Iran for many different reasons. And Russia today is needed more than any other time in my view to try to mediate and perhaps along with Turkey to try to work something out as soon as possible because I am afraid time is running out.
Middle East tensions: Forecast for 2012
21 December 2011, 14:18
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir , a Middle East expert and a professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
I’d like to get your predictions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The effort of the Quartet is continuing but the truth is I don’t expect any major breakthrough in 2012. There’s an election in the US. There will be an election in Israel. The situation is rather tense between the settlers and the government, the settlers and Palestinians. Things are not quite down yet. And, given that there is an election in both the US and Israel, I don’t think the government will be implying that Israel should make any serious concession and the US won’t be in a position to press Israel too much. I think it’s going to be a year punctuated with some violence here or there. But probably not much is going to happen.
My next question was about settlement activity. You don’t think it will stop then?
I think what we are witnessing now is exactly a byproduct of the policy of Netanyahu government over the last three years. We were talking about these possibilities, we were saying that the settlers’ movement had been able to accumulate a tremendous amount of political and muscle power and have been pretty much dictating the agenda as far as the West Bank is concerned. The warnings hadn’t been heeded by the government and that’s most unfortunate. Now the government realized that, when settlers attacked military base, this is a significant red line they’ve crossed. I think the Netanyahu government may now wake up and decide to do something about it. But the movement now is so strong, when they have nearly 550,000 settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This represents about 7% of the Israeli population. This is a very significant number and that is going to be very, very difficult to settle. But there is no dramatic shift of power as far as the government’s connection with the Palestinians is concerned and the decision is made to actually sit down and negotiate and make the necessary concessions. The situation is going to get only worse and that’s exactly, as I say, the byproduct of what the government has been going over the last three years.
And the Palestinian UN bid, where do you think it’s going?
That really isn’t going to go through, as it hasn’t gone too far at this point. The only option that the Palestinians have left at this juncture is to go to the General Assembly, where they have an assured majority, to vote for an observer state status. Observer status isn’t exactly a member state, but it will give the Palestinians an opportunity to raise their profile, to be able to join other UN agencies, including the International Criminal Court and some other agencies. But the truth of the matter is that that in itself isn’t going to change much on the ground. The Israeli government basically told the Palestinian Authority “you’d better work with us, negotiate,” and to go to the United Nations’ General Assembly at this point is going to even further sour any prospect of sitting and negotiating in the coming year.” So, if they do go this is not going to change much on the ground and if they didn’t go the situation is going to remain pretty much the same anyway. So, in my view, it’s going to be a tossup. They are going to see how things evolve in the region on a more general scale and they are probably going to make a decision based on that.
What about the Iranian situation and the Iranian nuclear program? Do you think Israel or the West may launch some sort of a military attack on Iran in the coming years?
My position is that the worst thing that can happen is that they launch an attack on Iran. However, to avoid that the US ought to be prepared to do that. What I’m saying is Iran will never give up its nuclear program through negotiations. That’s simply not going to happen. They are not going to negotiate that away. To persuade them that it’s not acceptable that they will be building a nuclear weapon, the only way in that it could be deterred is that they believed that the US would attack. Before that, the US and the European community with the support of Russia are to institute even harsher sanctions to persuade the Iranians to chance course. I think it’d be terrible to have an attack on Iran. But to prevent it and to persuade them you need to have really crippling sanctions or a credible threat of the use of force. And that is simply not the case. The Iranians have already called the Americans a bluff. They don’t believe the US is capable or willing to institute such crippling sanctions and certainly not to attack Iran at this point. What is needed is to start serious negotiations. But if you don’t institute these sanctions and this threat is not serious Iran is going to acquire a nuclear weapon. And I believe it’s only a question of time.
What’s our prediction for Afghanistan and the possibility of rebuilding the country? Where do you think the Taliban will be at the end of 2012?
The truth is that the only solution to Afghanistan is negotiations with the Taliban. There is no other solution. The US has made a horrendous mistake going there. Russia learnt its lesson quickly and I think they were wise enough, when they went to Afghanistan, to cut their losses and leave. The US has not learnt that lesson from Russia. They should have. They should cut their losses and leave. We have no business going to Afghanistan to engage into building a country. Afghanistan has been this way for thousands of years. They don’t need the US or anybody. So what they have to do is pretty much what happened in Iraq: to get them to come to the negotiating table. And the best you can hope is for the Taliban to never allow al-Qaeda to enter Afghanistan again and perhaps to adhere to some basic human rights. That’s all the US can achieve and I do not believe the US will remain beyond 2014 at this point.
Arab World: Forecast for 2012
23 December 2011, 15:52
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir , a Middle East expert and a professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
What will the situation be like in 2012 in Iraq? Will it improve?
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Maliki is becoming more and more not an elected prime minister but more of a dictator. He is accumulating more and more power in his hands and the violence is continuing. Iraq is going to be a stable, peaceful democratic country. I don’t hold my breath. It’s going to take a long while. People just tend to confuse the alliance between Iran and Iraq, thinking that the Shiite bond is very strong between the two countries. I think the Shiite bond is strong at this point because the majority government and many leaders in Iraq today are in a tremendous debt to Iran for having given them a refuge during the Saddam era. Once these leaders are all gone you are going to see Iraqi nationalism on the rise again and that is going to be in 5-6 years from now, maybe a little less or a little more. The relationship between the Iran and Iraq is going to continue the way it used to be – there will be intense rivalry between the two, because Iraq’s nationalism will always trump Shiite affinity.
As for the situation with the Kurds in Turkey, where do you think that’ll go?
I think Turkey has deviated dramatically from the course it has taken a few years ago. Erdogan was wise enough to create openings for the Kurds, allowing them to use their language, allowing them to have their own TV, their own schools and then started to back-slide again. That was a terrible, tragic mistake. The Kurds in Turkey, by and large, don’t want to have a separate state, a separate entity. What they want to do is they want to have their freedom to live their life as they see fit. I think it’s time for the Erdogan government to sit down and write a new constitution to allow any ethnic group of any kind to live their life as they see fit. This will only strengthen the Turkish social fabric and not weaken it. Now it’s time for them to sit down and negotiate and let the Kurds live as they see fit.
What’s your prediction for Turkey?
Erdogan says he is going to ask the Parliament to deal with this issue, but the truth of the matter is that the Parliament in Turkey is a rubber stamp. He has to be very clear about this and ask the Parliament to actually get on legislation and new laws to allow all ethnic groups, including Kurds, to have equal rights to any Turk in any respect. Will he do that? I have a certain doubt. He has to sit down and start negotiating with the PKK. He cannot solve the problem with Kurds unless he acknowledges that there is the PKK, that it’s an organized group and they want to establish their right. As long as he continues to ignore that, he is not going to solve the Kurdish problem.
Where do you think Bahrain is going and what’s the human rights situation there?
In Bahrain, we aren’t going to see the end of the story there. They had a commission. The commission came up with a report. Everybody agreed they had used excessive force. Detention is continuing and arresting people out of trial is continuing. That has to stop. The problem there, as you well know, is the conflict between the Shiite and the Sunni. And this is going to go away. It is the majority of Shiites ruled by the minority of Sunnis and the king there is not going to give them equal rights. This would be extremely difficult. So what we suggest to them is to begin reforms, whereby there will be a really elected Parliament with a prime minister to focus on domestic issues like education, healthcare, infrastructure, economic development and that the king became the commander of the military forces, as well as the final decision-maker on major foreign policy issues. That’s the way all of these kingdoms have to go. The King of Bahrain and the other Gulf emirs, including the kings of Jordan and Morocco, should begin this kind of reforms as soon as possible in order to quell the uprisings. Otherwise this is going to be continuing for a long while.
As for Libya, do you think there is going to be peace in Libya or is it going to deteriorate into a state of anarchy?
No. I think before we see stability in Libya we are going to see more bloodshed, more conflict, more instability. They are forcing the Libyan people to start from scratch. Also, Libya is a tribal society. They simply don’t see eye to eye. Many of the militia continues to retain their weapons. They don’t want to surrender them to the central government at this point. But what we are going to see is a continuing struggle in Libya for some time to come. My feeling is that they have to decide on a transitional government to allow wounds to heal and only then go to an election. But the West is making this terrible mistake, as always, pushing them to go to the election quickly. And I think it’s not going to produce the kind of results as we want in order to generate the stability that is needed. So, Libya will experience much more havoc before it becomes stable.
What do you think will happen with Assad and Syria?
I honestly think that, whether Assad lasts another year or for six months, he is finished. The reason for this is not the sectarian war, the civil war. When you have this many defectors in the military, when you have this many protesters going out day in and day out, more than 5,000 have been killed, this is not something where he is going to simply say “OK, let’s start reform, have a fake election and solve the problem.” He had an opportunity. He missed it. And this is unfortunate. So, Syria is going to go through a tremendous amount of bloodshed, a tremendous amount of violence but, in the end, he is going to be forced out. My advice is that he found refuge as soon as he can before he gets indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and then he’ll have no place to go.
What are your predictions regarding international terrorism?
The Arab spring is going to go on for years to come. Every single Arab country will be affected. The Arab world will never be the same again. The changes are going to be dramatic in some places: some will be quick, some will be very slow. As to terrorism and Islamic extremism, I think it’s off the wind. I don’t think we can say terrorism is over, but al-Qaeda and many extremist groups have suffered a tremendous setback in the past 5-6 years. It’s going to be very, very hard for extremist groups to regroup again and terrorize other countries. So, I think terrorism is off the wind and they are going to get weaker and weaker over time.
From Sanctions to Negotiations: US Strategy
12 December 2011, 14:13
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a Middle East expert and a professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
There’s been a lot of news coming out of Iran lately, with the drone that was captured amongst other things. Israel is calling for stricter sanctions. Can you give our listeners an update?
Since the report from IAEA came out, it clearly indicated that Iran is moving rapidly towards acquiring some kind of a nuclear weapon. That is basically the conclusion that has been drawn by the US, Israel and many others. To that end, of course, there is an effort by the US, the EU and Israel to try to stiffen the sanctions against Iran in the hope that if and when the sanctions get to the point of crippling sanctions Iran may relent and decide to sit down and negotiate in earnest a peaceful solution. I personally believe that Iran will not relent, unless it’s facing absolutely crippling sanctions and unless it feels that an imminent attack may very well take place. My feeling is that to avoid an attack on Iran by any party the best thing to do is to make Iran understand that an attack can happen if there is no peaceful solution. But every means has to be exhausted first.
What can you tell our listeners about the drone? Statements were coming out of Iran that they won’t return the drone to the US as if the US has requested that it be returned. Clearly, this was not a standard procedure.
I think you know that everything that comes out of Iran in terms of rhetorics is aimed in the main at their own public. They are not telling the truth about a number of things. First of all, they did not shoot down the drone. In fact, the drone had technical problems and fell on its own. There are many, many versions to the story of the drone. Moreover, the US never asked for it and they do not expect I back even if they did, not under these circumstances. How much in fact they can dessert about the technology is still an open-ended question because it’s not something they can decipher over a day or two.
Could this be used as a reason to precipitate some sort of military invasion into Iran to get this drone back?
Honestly, I don’t think so. I don’t think this is something that the US or anyone else needs to create in order to justify an attack. This in itself doesn’t justify an attack. I think all options should be first exhausted before anyone can think of attacking Iran.
There was a conference that ended on Sunday in Austria. Ehud Barak said Israel is calling for more prompt and crippling sanctions.
With or without such a request – or demand you might want to say – coming from Israel the US and the West know too well – and I think even the Russian recognize that – Iran will not sit down and negotiate in earnest unless the sanction becomes crippling. If a peaceful solution to be found this has to be the way to go about it. And I think Russia can play a significant role in diffusing all of this because your foreign minister has come up with an idea of quid pro quo – if the Iranians negotiate in earnest, the sanctions can be eased up. I think Russia can take the lead now and create negotiating rules of engagement to see to this kind of resolution. But otherwise the US and the West are left with no option but to continue as best as they can to escalate sanctions in order to make them seriously bite the regime in Iran.
How do you see Russia’s role, say Russia does begin to play a more pronounced role as a mediator? Can Russia do that without inflicting economic injury on itself regarding peaceful nuclear programs that are currently ongoing?
Again, I think the opposite is true. The best way for Russia to protect its interests in Iran is to find a peaceful solution. Russia has been with the Iranian peaceful nuclear program involved since day one. They have a much better relationship and a much better opportunity to talk directly to the Iranians and make them understand that the US and Israel mean business. If the Russians don’t believe the US means business they won’t do it. I think Russia ought to believe that, at one point or another, the US and/or Israel would have to do something more. I think that can be avoided provided Russia can take the lead now and start talking seriously with them and tell them, look, time has come that we found a real solution. Iran never said it was seeking a nuclear weapon, so it has already built a way out. All they have to do now is sit down and negotiate in earnest. Russia’s best interests can be served now by working closely with the P5+1. It’s part of that. It’s part of the Security Council. The negotiations are being conducted with Russia and not without Russia. But I’m saying now that Russia has been given a greater opportunity to play an even more significant role, instead of merely protecting Iran – and that’s not helping with the situation – that is to go to Iran and say we really want to protect Iran, we really want to protect what you are doing, but you have to sit down and negotiate. I don’t believe that Iran would give up on its nuclear program unless it feels that, as I said before, that either the negotiations will be crippling or an imminent attack will take place.
IAEA resolution on Iran: questions remain
Interview with Alon Ben-Meir, one of the leading US experts on the Middle East and a professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University in the US.
’d like to ask you some questions on the IAEA resolution on Iran. They are calling for an intensification of dialogue with Iran to bring about an "urgent" resolution to all outstanding issues.”
I think the urgency emanates from the fact that the report the IAEA came up with last week was clear and in fact alarming on a number of fronts. Number one, from the report we discern that Iran has been experimenting with triggers for a nuclear weapon. It has built a chamber to experiment with nuclear explosives. It has been adjusting missiles to place on them a cone that is only suitable for nuclear delivery. The evidence is clear from their perspective that Iran has moved towards acquiring the technology to produce a nuclear weapon, hence the call for an urgent dialogue. And I think you might say, John, that this is quite consistent with what even the Russian foreign minister has been saying all along – that the solution to the Iranian nuclear problem arose with continuing negotiations, and we should establish some kind of quid pro quo: the Iranians answer all the questions, allow unfettered inspections any time IAEA wishes and begin to fully cooperate, then, against this type of steps, the West would begin to ease their sanctions against Iran. I think it’s a very reasonable approach on the part of Russia, except that Russia itself, in particular, more than any other country, needs to make sure that this kind of give-and-take approach takes place with real sincerity, real credibility. Now they are merely talking about it. So, I think that is the urgency. Russia is in a perfect position because it was Russia that built nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes in Iran and Russian scientists are in Iran helping Iranians with their peaceful nuclear program. But the Russians are in a much stronger position to play a bigger role in trying to bring about a constructive dialogue.
Last time we spoke you said they were going to present some really concrete evidence. What was that? Was it released?
It was released. The report is quite clear that the evidence that was presented – I mentioned some of it to you – has been gathered from a number of sources and has been verified accordingly, which means that when you have such evidence coming from one sources, you want to make sure it is actually credible and true, so you will look for other sources. And when you have two or more collaborating sources that attest to the same evidence, then you know it is credible and you know it is real. And this is what I think IAEA has done at this point. The Director General of this organization is a cautious man. He is not making this type of accusations without any evidence. And I think it should be taken quite seriously.
How is this resolution by IAEA going to affect Israel’s position?
When you speak about Israel and anything it says or does, that has to be understood in the context of the history of the Jews, specifically in the wake of WWII. I know I talk too much about it, but I think it’s a unique situation because the Israelis have this fear of being extinguished by some sort of enemy. In WWII, it was the Nazi Germany. Now Iran has been occasionally talking about its desire to extinguish Israel altogether. So the Israelis take this type of threats seriously. Having said that, I do not believe that Israel will act unilaterally unless other pieces fall into place. There are three in my view. Number one is that the sanctions are not slowing any of Iran’s programs. Number two - that the US has basically ruled out the use of force. And three - that Iran has in fact reached the point of no return, as the Israelis call it. If the Israelis conclude that these three pieces are in place I dare say that it will take unilateral action.
Is this a truly sincere intended diplomatic solution by IAEA?
I must honestly tell you, since their report came out, I spoke to a number of people from a number of states involved in 35, a number of Europeans – in fact, the last one took place the day before yesterday – and they don’t have a doubt about the fact that the IAEA report is by and large very accurate, that Iran has been hiding its nuclear program and that it has to come out clean. We aren’t suggesting however that Iran is intending to use such a weapon against Israel and wipe Israel off the map. What we are saying is Iran having a nuclear weapon, from the assessment made by different countries outside the regions, could create serious repercussions, because Iran is ambitious and wants to become a regional hegemony. With a nuclear weapon it could assert itself differently. This is not something that only Israel will not tolerate. The senior Arab states, in particular the Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and others, will not tolerate that. So this is not just an Israeli issue, it is a Middle Eastern issue. That is why the Israelis show a great deal o concern. This is going to get out of control and nuclear arms race will begin in earnest. At that point in time, everything could be up in the air. Russia has a tremendous amount to gain by playing a significant role in bringing about serious negotiations and allowing Iran to come out clean. That is an open situation and I think it should be taken advantage of.
It seemed by some of the reports that IAEA is now the tail wagging the dog.
In this case people write all kind of stuff, but I don’t think they understand how the mechanism really works. Only the nations involved can take action.
"No one wants another war in the Middle East"
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a Middle East Expert and a Professor from the Center For Global Affairs at New York University.
I’d like to ask you a few questions today regarding the IAEA report which is to be released on Wednesday.
It is not information that has been, from the Iranian and Russian perspective, credible.
Is it possible that this is a build up to an Iranian invasion?
The talk today is mostly focused on the possibility, not the probability, but the possibility that is my take unilateral action against Iran. The Israeli officials are not suggesting that, as they are saying, its option is on the table but we always prefer a negotiated arrangement. I spoke to one Israeli official today who said to me that truth is that this campaign should be led by the United States, not Israel, and this is only the last option; the last thing we want to have is another war in the Middle East. The report that is to come out on Wednesday has already a number of important points that have been leaked. And these issues, these points are very consistent with previous information gathered from the multiple sources as well as very credible and this is what I mentioned to you. A couple of these points, for example, are clear evidence that Iran has high explosive and Nutrient physics experiments, clear evidence that it revamped the ballistic missile cone to accommodate a nuclear weapon. That is going to be in the report. They also coordinated effort to process Uranium for military-oriented activity. This also would be in the report. And they have been very hard at work on researching and developing a nuclear bomb triggers and the last thing they also have that Iran has actually built a large container for the purpose of carrying out a test of exclusive applicable to nuclear weapon. So they have a lot of this information. Now one thing they mention is of course that much of this information has come also from the United States intelligence, Israeliintelligence but also from a file that was actually smuggled from Iran, a computer, by the wife of significant scientist.
A computer file?
Yes, and it is called “Laptop of Death” file. And in it there are scores and scores of information that again entered and explained by the Iranian expert. So, there is no question from the IAEA perspective that Iran is trying to acquire the knowledge for producing the nuclear weapon, which does not necessarily mean that it has one or acquired one at this juncture.
Is there anything pointing to a Russian connection?
Obviously, Russia is concerned. Russia does not want this report to be published now because the Russian authority including the foreign minister suggested strongly that the solution to Iran (and it agreed actually, that the West has concern and this concern should be addressed) that Iran should be more comprised in trying to answer the question but the solution continue to rest on continuing negotiations.
Russia stopped delivering, even defensive technology to Iran, at the request of the West and its very unbelievable to think that Russia was at the same time providing them with nuclear weapons technology. I find that very hard to believe!
No, no one is really saying that Russia is delivering the technology. We are talking about that one nuclear center from the Soviet scientist Danilenko. It is a different story. But the problem we have today is that as the result of this publication of this report there will be an effort to try to rush it up more sanctions against Iran. The question is whether Russia will be disposed to considering that or not. Based on the information that it is going to be Russia, too, that is going to receive [the report] from the IAEA, it is going to be disposed. Further concern is whether Israel itself is going to use this information to say “see, we told you so”, that Iran is pursuing with the nuclear weapon and it is only a question of time when they will master the technology completely to be able to fire the system and to have also a delivery system. For Israel it will constitute an existential threat. The matter of act, I would like to remind you, that a little 9 or 10 months ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to see your President Medvedev and he provided him with information about Iranian nuclear technology. This incidentally was one of the reasons that Russia agreed after some negotiation with the United States not to supply Iran with S300 air defense system. So Russian authorities actually are aware that something is not right about the program, but they also believe that they really don’t have anything to do with it and nobody is actually accusing Russia to have direct involvement. The solution lies in negotiations with Russia rather than with the U.S. military force. But I think, I had a conversation today when I knew we were going to talk about this with someone from the States department and I can’t mention him but, you know, he said, cooperation with Russia is always needed and necessary. They are really not pointing fingers at Russia. I have not heard one person saying that. The cooperation is needed and necessary. There is one thing happened that has also been received by very fresh intelligence as recent as few two or three weeks ago that further confirmed with extreme credibility that actually Iran has gone a little beyond that, for example, they have conducted the computer modeling of a nuclear weapon for all intents and purposes and they also mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon.
Where is the evidence of that?
They are going to produce it with the report. It is not just being said.
I think it would be great for everybody involved, on both sides of this, to finally see some really hard, concrete evidence.
I’m sure, as the report has not been released yet, these are all leaks that we have received from the report. Russia will be probably one of the first one to see it. And then, from my perspective, to be honest with you, I think very strongly that Russia has played and continues to play important role now to try to defuse the tension with Iran. It is a significant player. It can be extremely positive - it is positive player. And I really think, that this might, if nothing else happens, at least produce a new momentum to try to reach an agreement with Iran rather than create a new crisis and I think, Russia in this respect, in my view, can play a significant role in creating that new momentum in a positive way perhaps to move toward some kind of solution.
Gaddafi: The End of the Era
23 October 2011, 10:32
Interview with Alon Ben-Meir, US expert on the Middle East and the professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
Since the revolution started, I think, two messages have been received from rebellions and from the Gaddafi government. Both were sort of committed to see this conflict to the end. And in fact they did exactly that. They have seen it to the end. The rebellions insisted on keeping the momentum and they’ve been able to capture one city after another in the aim of preventing the capturing of Gaddafi and his family and then they had been able to do so. Gaddafi himself said he will fight till the very bitter end and he actually did the same and now he was captured and killed and that is really theoretically will put an end to rebellions in Libya.
Ok, he was captured and killed. That’s kind of a problem because he should have been captured and tried.
They didn’t want to make Gaddafi’s murder. The decision to bury him in some unknown place – it’s probably better to put an end to the Gaddafi era.
Do you think there is some problem with him being killed like this? Do you think there are things he might have said the West doesn’t want coming out?
The truth is that he himself in his various broadcasts when he was able to broadcast by TV and subsequently through the radio constantly encouraged his followers to kill whoever is against him and I think at this juncture it’s an estimate of a more than 50 thousands we don’t know exactly the number but at least 50 thousands died in this rebelliousness in part because he used a brutal force in order to fuel the rebellion. So from their perspective it is due to him and his execution was exactly what he deserved. That’s how the Libyans see that.
Countries cannot commit extrajudicial executions whenever someone’s a really bad guy, no matter how horrible they are.
We are talking about rebels, tens of thousands of them died in this campaign and from their perspective justice has been served, they did not need to prove anything. From the very beginning there are the United States as well as the French and the British that have committed themselves to see this campaign to the end.
So this was the end they wanted, wasn’t it?
Not just by themselves, but with the support of several Arab states especially Qatar and Arabs that have come there. So this wasn’t the question only of the Western desire to end the Gaddafi regime.
So would you agree with me that this was the end they wanted? I mean from the beginning this was not about protecting the civilian population but it was about getting and killing Muammar Gaddafi?
I think the idea was to protect the civilian population. And if this meant to kill Gaddafi in the process, so be it. I think that’s the approach that has been taken.
Had Gaddafi gone on trial what things do you think he might have been able to shad light on that the West may have not wanted to come out?
You know, at one point going back in number of years when he agreed to give up his program of weapons of mass destruction, when he agreed to cooperate on the question of international terrorism, it was actually subsequently received by Western countries. There is no question. But when rebellions started and he demonstrated his ruthlessness and willingness to kill anyone who opposed him. That’s when the time has changed against him, by the way. So I think it is quite understandable. My concern here is – certainly Libya is probably not exactly an example that can emulated elsewhere. Let’s talk for example about Syria. Assad is using also brutal force but the United State or Britain or France haven’t yet even implied they will be willing to use any force against Bashar al-Assad. This is where we have sort of double standard in terms of selecting where they can actually interfere or not interfere.
Ok, why in your opinion is there double standard? What’s a standard?
The reason is – for example, Syria occupies by far more pivotal space and role in the Middle East.
You don’t see a pattern here with Hussein, he was killed, Osama Bin Laden, he was killed, I mean these people could have been captured. Hussein, ok, he was put through some sort of a trial but in the end he was killed, he was not allowed, I think, to say a lot of things he could have said. You don’t see a pattern here?
I really don’t think so. I think if you watch his videos and if you watch his radio broadcast, he was very clear, he gave order to kill the men and destroy anyone who was opposing his regime. So he himself indicted himself directly by his own orders to kill without mercy anyone who opposed him. That is why I think the world and the Libyan people see him he received what is due to him.
Ok, you think justice has been done for the Libyan people?
I think from the Libyan perspective justice has been done.
What about the Libyan people who supported Gaddafi because I mean there were still really despite the fact that the West might not want to hear this, there was millions of people who actually loved Muammar Gaddafi?
I am not sure there were millions but there were certainly some who benefited directly from him. I think the bigger issue today is not what will happen with this particular group but what will happen to Libya – if the death of Gaddafi is going to actually usher in a new era of freedom and democracy in Libya or we are going to see a country that is going to evolve into a new conflict between the various tribes, various groups of interests. We don’t know that. Right now everybody is celebrating the end of an era but no one can suggest that Libya is going to move smoothly toward freedom and democracy and stability.
What do you think as our expert? What’s your opinion – where is Libya going?
I think the order there is extremely challenging, extremely complicated, I think the rivalry between the various groups continues to exist. I wish that that was not the case but it is the case and I am hoping Libyan people may decide, and it is only a small possibility, that now they will have the opportunity to build a new society and look for a new future and a new dawn. But again this is a very factional society and I think the other head is still extremely dangerous and challenging and we may still see significant conflict before we see any signs of real stability.
Are US Accusations Against Iran Reasonable?
19 October 2011, 15:58
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Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a Middle East expert and a professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
Israeli Agression: A War That Makes No Sense
10 October 2011, 13:10
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a Middle East Expert and Professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
Recently you wrote a piece called The Inevitability of Coexistence, in which you detailed some of the things that could or should take place for the Israelis and the Palestinians to understand each other better. What can Palestinians and Israelis do to foster better understanding between their peoples?
One thing I was trying to convey to Israelis as well as Palestinians is that they must realize no matter how much longer this conflict continues and how many more people can die or how many wars can take place, one reality cannot change: they are stuck between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River and they have to coexist in one form or another. That’s one point I wanted to make. The second point I wanted to make is that prolonging the conflict cannot necessarily improve either side’s position, as there are some elements in Israel who say: the longer we continue this, the more settlers will go there, the more advantages we can gain. And some Palestinians, like Hamas and others, also are saying the same thing, namely that the continuation of the conflict could considerably improve their position. I’m saying: no, the continuation of the conflict will worsen their position rather than improve it, because certain realities, which they can no longer change, already exist on the ground.
Say, if you had one minute to summarize for the Israelis the main things they do not understand about the Palestinians, what would you say?
I would say to the Israelis the Palestinians are our reality. They live in the West Bank, they live in Gaza and some 1,450,000 of them live in Israel proper as Israeli citizens. They are going to live there till the end of times. And that means that Israel cannot and will not by any means dislodge the Palestinians from this territory. This is a fact of life. The Palestinians themselves need to accept the reality that Israel is there. So the Palestinians also need to understand that Israel is the reality. It will not accept en masse any return of Palestinians refugees because that would obliterate Israel as a Jewish state. So they too have to accept the fact that this is the reality with which they must live and then ask themselves the question: what kind of coexistence do we want to have? This is really the essence of it and no one – and I suggest it – no one could convince me or you or anyone that you can change this fact on the ground short of full catastrophe. In terms of demographics, the Jewish community in Israel is fairly small – it’s about 6 million right now. If you put all Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza and Palestinians, who live in Israel proper together, there will be more than 6 million, which means, if a single state were created, it would have almost overnight a majority of Palestinians, and Israelis would basically not be able to govern themselves. Israel was created as the last refuge for the Jews, considering the persecution, expulsion and culminating with the Holocaust. Israelis are not in a position or have the mindset to consider anything else but remaining independent and the last refuge, called the Jewish State of Israel. Russia, the UN and the US have to continue doing everything possible to persuade both parties – or pressure, for that matter, – both sides to sit down and negotiate and start borders. That’s where they have to start – borders. If they start with borders and consult the problem of this, many of the settlement issues will be resolved. They will also define the parameters of the Palestinian state. And they will also be able to deal with the other concern that the Israelis have, which is national security.
Why won’t the US push their position here as well?
This is an election year. Republicans and Democrats are using Israel in a way. Israel has become a sort of political football in American domestic campaign. So nobody wants to touch the subject because concern over the evangelical movement, which is very significant in the US and includes millions of people who would support Israel blindly. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats want to lose that constituency. I’ll submit to you something that we probably haven’t mentioned before and that is: I do not believe that either Netanyahu or Mahmoud Abbas have the mandate today to make a deal even if they could, because the moment they make a deal, any kind of deal, the government in Israel would collapse and Mahmoud Abbas would probably be pushed out of power, if not harmed.
Regarding the Palestinian bid for recognition, pronunciation of Israeli’s occupation as being illegal, could you give us a few details on where that might go and what is going with the Palestinian bid right now?
Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request to the Security Council to recognize Palestine as a state. The Security Council is now looking for more information. The US has already said it would veto such a resolution should it come to the floor. And now everyone is basically playing for time, during which the US and the rest of the Quartet are looking to negotiate to find out if the two parties could sit down and resume negotiations. That is where we stand today. If the Palestinians don’t get recognition from the Security Council it is most likely that they will turn to the General Assembly where they have a guaranteed majority and in that case they will have an observer status state and say they are a full-fledged member in the UN General Assembly.
I talked to the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Dr. Riyad Mansour. One of the key things he said is that Israel just wants to negotiate for the sake of negotiations. Would you agree with that statement?
Certainly. This government – no one is saying Israel, but this government – certainly does. I do not believe that the Netanyahu government is committed to negotiating a two-state solution at this juncture. And I have to agree to some extent with Riyad. They have this type of political campaign going on and the Republicans are capitalizing on every single opportunity to criticize the president. He is too becoming quite concerned, avoiding putting any overt pressure in Israel at this juncture.
Palestine and Israel should choose quality of coexistence
22 September 2011, 17:04
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a Middle East expert, talks about possible scenarios and impact of the Palestinian bid for statehood.
Can you fill in our listeners on what are the latest developments in the Palestinian statehood bid and what is going on there on the first day of negotiations?
This far, the president of the US, as you well know, spoke today. He made references to the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians. He, however, didn’t say anything about what the US may or may not do in the Security Council. We know however that President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority will speak to the General Assembly on Friday and some time, probably next week, next Monday or Tuesday, there will be formal submission for bid to the Security Council to recognize the Palestinian state.
Why the Security Council?
This is a choice that Mahmoud Abbas basically decided to do. He could have gone to the General Assembly, but in the General Assembly, with a majority vote, he can only obtain observer status state, not full member state, whereas in the Security Council, should they pass the resolution and then pass it on to the General Assembly, the Palestinian state will be accepted as a full member. But that is not likely to happen because the US has already said they are planning to veto such a resolution in the Security Council.
Has the US or Israel submitted or will they submit an alternative resolution? I hear some reports say Israel was preparing something.
I hope so. The truth of the matter is that I, as well as many others, have been advocating an alternative resolution to be submitted by the US because, if the US submits such a resolution, specifically with the support of the EU or, I should say, with the support of the Quartet, which includes Russia, such a resolution would certainly be passed at the UN Security Council, provided this resolution would be specific in terms of four or five basic requirements, namely: the fourth party should be instructed to negotiate borders, to settle the future of Jerusalem as a capital for two states, to ensure Israel’s national security and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, which will have to be base on compensation and on resettlement into their so-called “homeland” in Gaza and on the West Bank.
How many countries are supporting the bid and, if you can, can you name them?
In the General Assembly, if the Palestinian Authority decides to the General Assembly, they would probably be able to gain at least 130, maybe 140 votes. That would be more than enough. Actually, this would represent at least two thirds of members of the UN general Assembly. So there is no question, should a request be submitted there, they will receive their recognition. But it should be remembered that it’s going to be an observer state, rather than full member state. If the US decides to veto such a resolution, this could really undermine the US influence in the region, it could create major problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians, because you never know what might happen on the territories. So to simply veto the resolution is not really a good idea. But it is important to mention that the US could also, instead of vetoing this resolution, ask for further verifications in terms of “we need more information” about what is the idea of it, where it is going to lead to, certain modifications that they may want to introduce, that could certainly take days, weeks and even months. So, in doing so, the US could prevent itself from vetoing the resolution and claim for more time, and during this period, try to reinstitute negotiations between the two countries. I’m concerned, of course, because this is a political season in the US and it’s probably not likely that President Obama will take this kind of a posture.
What do you see in a year or two or three from now?
They can either be recognized by the UN General Assembly as a member state – and in that case, not much will really change on the ground, the occupation will remain pretty much the same, the Israelis have threatened to take some measures, for example, withholding taxes from transferring to Palestinian Authority. At a time Israel also suggested it should annex part of the West Bank territory as a result of the Palestinian move. So we don’t know, in fact, how the Israelis will behave. However, on the other hand, the rising expectations of the Palestinians after this resolution and then realizing that nothing is changing on the ground could instigate some serious violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So no one can really predict with certainty what is going to happen on the ground. So, to answer your question in more general terms, the time has come for the Israelis and the Palestinians both to drop all preconditions, sit down and start negotiations on the basis of what can constitute a state. It cannot begin unless you begin to discuss, first and foremost, borders. I want to conclude by saying it is extremely sad that the situation has got to the point where it is today, instead of the two parties agreeing between themselves, perhaps with the guidance of the Quartet or the US for that matter, and sitting down to negotiate what I call “the inevitable”. The inevitable is that the Israelis and the Palestinians are stuck, as I mentioned to you before, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River and they really have no choice, whether they like it or not, but to coexist. They must now choose the quality of that coexistence: do they want to kill each other to the end of times or do they want to live in peace, harmony and prosperity? This is the choice that they will eventually have to make, and I hope that sense and reason will prevail and they will sooner than later decide to sit down and negotiate such an outcome.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University
15 September 2011, 18:02
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a Middle East expert and a professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Unfortunately, we have some more distressing matters to discuss. Can you fill us in on the situation between Turkey and Israel? In particular statements regarding supporting the Kurds by certain elements in Israel?
Unfortunately, we have some more distressing matters to discuss. Can you fill us in on the situation between Turkey and Israel? In particular statements regarding supporting the Kurds by certain elements in Israel?
I think it is unfortunate that both sides have engaged in heated rhetoric and that is certainly not going to be helpful, because when you make statements such as this ‑ be that supporting the Kurds on the part of Israel or escorting naval forces from Turkey – sooner or later they need to back up what they say and if they do not, they will lose some of their credibility. I can tell you that from what I know probably none of this will happen but, nevertheless, this type of statements is extremely unhelpful and could further deteriorate the relationship between the two countries.
Are there any internal political reasons that this is happening at the current time? Are there elections going on?
There is no doubt. In Israel, of course, this is a coalition government that includes various parties of the coalition, specifically Israel Beiteinu led by Lieberman and Barak with Independence Party, of course, Likud, and so on. They do not necessarily see eye to eye on many issues and let me give you an example – for the last few months we have been making a supreme effort to get some kind of a qualified Israeli apology in order to smooth the relationship between the two sides. Whereas Netanyahu agreed in principal, Lieberman resisted that he would never agree to an apology because Israeli soldiers behaved in a manner that they should have behaved; the same thing happened with Barak. So, when we have a discord within the government, it is very difficult to come up with a cohesive approach which is necessary, specifically when you have this kind of problem, this kind of tension. The same thing happened with Turkey; Erdogan have just come out of the election, he feels emboldened by the vote – he is now elected for the third time – and he feels that this is an opportunity now to assert himself in a regional scale. I think again they two were having some serious assessments as to how far you can go without seriously damaging the bilateral relations between the two countries.
Some of the press reported that the Foreign Minister Lieberman stated that Israel might possibly arm the PKK, as well as supporting the Armenian anti-Turkey lobby in the United States? How much credence would you give to that statement? Do you think he really said that?
I really do not think that Israel will act on either of these two fronts. I believe also that Israeli ongoing effort, even as we speak, to try to calm down and reduce the level of rhetoric because this is going to be very important. Some Israelis say, for example, that Erdogan has not really major successes in other foreign policy initiatives. For example, the relation with Armenia is not great, the relation with Greek is not going to a resolution towards the Cyprus, the bilateral relations with Syria have collapsed, bilateral relations with Iran are based on mutual suspicion, and with Iraq they are not necessarily great either. So, Turkey in spite of the effort to have no problems in its neighborhood they have not really made significant foreign relation achievement.
Do you think these tensions right now are a flash-in-the-pan or will things seriously deteriorate and tensions escalate?
No, I think this is quite serious and the only way to stop the escalation is by turning down the rhetoric and to begin making serious efforts to try to mend the relationship, because I honestly believe that Turkey understands fully well that regional stability depends on full cooperation between Turkey and Israel and if they do not make an effort to reconstitute these bilateral relations,there is no way that Turkey can achieve its objective, specifically in dealing so much in the Arab and the Muslim world.
You said “its objective”. What exactly is Turkey’s objective?
I think Turkey and specifically Erdogan is seeking to become a leader in the Muslim and the Arab world, but many of the Arab states still remember the Ottoman period and whereas the Arab street may be cheering Ankara, but the Arab government does not necessarily follow the Arab street – and this is where Turkey may be making a mistake.
Turkey just agreed to host NATO anti-ballistic missile elements on its territory. Does this have any relationship to Turkey’s loud statements in the past few days?
No, this is just another example whereas they would like to have good bilateral relations with Iran but by hosting that Iran is bitterly complaining because it knows that this missile is basically aimed against it. You know, what has started as the Arab Spring is going to be a long and a cruel winter and we have to keep that in mind.
So, you see this escalating?
I see no resolution to many of these protests in Yemen, in Syria, in many other countries; this ongoing crisis is going to take sometime, years, until we see that some of these things will set up. So, let us not think that matters will settle very quickly; the Arab spring is over and now we are going to enter a long winter.
23 August 2011, 17:31
Please, update the listeners on the situation in Israel and the truce with Hamas. Will the truce hold, in your opinion?
The truth of the matter is that I don’t think that either Israel or Hamas are interested in getting into a major, violent confrontation. It will not serve Hamas’s purposes at all, because they know they would be severely damaged and they have hardly recovered from the Israeli intrusion two years ago. For Israel, this is coming at a very bed time because they want to focus on the United Nations as the Palestinian authorities are going to the UN for recognition. They want to deal with that.
Right, next month.
They’d rather continue to project the two peoples separate and they cannot be reconciled between the two. And from that I can draw a good suggestion: we really don’t have a party for negotiations. But going into Gaza by force would unite the Palestinians against Israel and that’s not that Israel would like to have at this point.
Can you tell our listeners about the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC)? Apparently they were responsible for sending all of the bombs.
Yes, they are the very hard-liners. They don’t necessarily share Hamas’s strategy, certainly not in every respect. From that perspective, this is a good time to disrupt everything that is going on. But Hamas is not in the position to restrain them or they don’t wish to do so – sometimes they use them as a pretext. At this time Hamas understood the severity of the situation and it is not imposing a tremendous amount of pressure on them in order not to provoke Israel again.
Does it appear they are connected with Hamas directly or what’s the connection there?
Let us say that there is a guess or another that it’s possible to an extent that Hamas is a global extremist in a sense and their strategy is continuing an impeded violence. From their perspective, this is the only way where Israel will eventually make the necessary concession or undermine Israel completely. So, this is the path they’ve taken. Hamas is actually more strategic in a sense – they understand their weakness better and they are not interested in doing crash at this time, when they need to gather more popular support, not less support.
Last time we talked we said that there was possibly an Egyptian connection. You had mentioned it was because security has deteriorated in Egypt, along the borders.
What we saw is the quick rapprochement between Egypt and Israel. Both countries understood that a conflict between the two countries would be ill-timed and catastrophic, so they want to avoid absolutely any confrontation and quickly apologized for the inadvertent death of three Egyptian soldiers and the Egyptian government basically called the matter closed and decided to cooperate and that is a possible way because they know this is not a good start for any revolution to have a conflict with Israel.
What will happen to Israel if he UN does in fact recognize Palestine?
I mentioned to you earlier this is a piece called “initialization of self-destructive policies”. And it is devoted to Israelis and Palestinians. And if you take a quick look there are a lot of uncertainties here. You just have to come to the conclusion. But both sides have done basically nothing to actually demonstrate their true desire to make peace – neither Israelis have been able to do that or want to do that, nor have the Palestinians been able to do that, in spite of the great progress they have made. And I can tell you some details. Here Netanyahu, on the one hand, speaks about his readiness to enter into negotiations unconditionally, then he said the Palestinians had to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and then he said that Jerusalem is not negotiable and then he said the rebel forces would have to stay in the West Bank – all of these conditions being put forward when in fact he is asking the Palestinians to enter unconditionally and even refusing another temporal freeze of the settlement to show some kind of goodwill. So, the Israelis have been pursuing these self-destructive policies throughout roughly ten years of Netanyahu. The Palestinians have made wonderful progress in the West Bank in building institutions and infrastructure, government, tremendous cooperation with the Israelis. They should have continued to put pressure on the US to pressure Israel. But that’s not happening. They don’t have a real partner who are willing to actually sit down and say let’s talk about borders, let’s talk about security – the hardcore issue, in which most parties are very interested. But Netanyahu is not. In my view neither are the Palestinians in the position to do anything when their house is not in order.
You say both nations have been proceeding with self-destructive policies?
Exactly. This is what they have been doing systematically. And then the third “partner,” the US, has initiated ill-thought ideas like demanding a freeze of the settlement without understanding the dynamics of the settlement issue in Israel itself, like demanding for example to sit down and negotiate borders. This is where the negotiations are to start when you speak of two-state solution of borers. Let’s define the borders to come talk about security. If you defined the borders, half of the issue with settlements would be resolved because 70% of the settlement is along the 1967 borders, and everybody knows there will be some land swap and all of them would be within Israel. So, you need to speak about the issue that could lead to the resolution to an array of important issues, like security, like the refugee and, of course, Jerusalem. But there is no readiness on the part of either side to say OK, if you want to continue to build settlement, go ahead, but let’s talk about borders. Put the pressure and then, as it is, they have support of the international community. Israel now has the unequivocal support of the US because Obama himself said let’s talk about the borders and security and the Palestinians did not go for it and drop the idea of a temporal freeze of the settlement.
19 August 2011, 16:28
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, Middle East expert and professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
You’ve heard about the events in Israel. Do you think these terrorist acts were organized by Hamas and what’s the possible Egyptian connection here?
There is a connection – it is the loosened security, and this without a question has contributed to those who infiltrated or helped the infiltrators to go to the cross from Sinai into Israel. That’s unfortunate because during the Mubarak the security in that area was much, much tighter and it was difficult for any would-be terrorist to penetrate. So, in that sense, you may say the Egyptians have indirectly contributed to it, though not actively participating, but contributed to it as a result of the loosening of security arrangements that have existed there for some time. That being said, there is no doubt that Hamas must have had some connection to these acts because it would be very difficult for any group to arrange these three simultaneous attacks without some kind of coordination.
Do you think these were Hamas sympathizers?
You know, the puzzling thing about it is that it’s not in Hamas’s interest to provoke this kind of action against Israel because they know and should expect that Israel will retaliate and retaliations going to be quite serious, in my view. There is certain puzzlement as to whether Hamas was directly involved or simply looked in other way and allowed other extremist groups to do their bidding. And the Israeli intelligence is actually trying to figure out who are exactly perpetrators here. But, regardless that, it’s a despicable act, a terrorist act without any question when you aim to kill both civilians and military personnel. But having said that, Israel should take proper measures to pursue those who haven’t been killed or captured and punish them in a proper manner. The Israeli government should not be using this incident as a pretext to continue to entrench and not engage the Palestinians into serious negotiations, because it would be easy for the Israeli government to use these incidents as an excuse to not moving to some kind of solution. And this is my concern, as a matter of fact.
Do you think this could lead to an all-out war in the region?
Not likely. I don’t believe it’s in anyone’s interest at this point to lead it to a major confrontation, although Israel will retaliate without a doubt and I think retaliation will be somewhat proportionate. And because it’s in no one’s interest – Israel, or Hamas, or anyone else – to allow it to escalate to a major conflict on the regional scale.
If, in fact, it’s a provocation, do you think it can have anything to do with Hamas’s recent asking Bosnia and Herzegovina to support the Palestinian bid for recognition in the United Nations?
The problem is that the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, although they presumably reached an accord a few months ago, is not really working. Because of that, as a matter of fact, you might say that certain extremist groups within Hamas might want to continue disrupting any prospect to have this reconciliation achieve its objective prior to going to the General Assembly for Recognition. This is a possible element, but I don’t believe that Hamas and Fatah will be able to see eye to eye and agree to a full reconciliation before they go to the General Assembly or to the Security Council for that matter.
What do you think about President Barack Obama’s statement today regarding Assad’s stepping down?
It took some time for the Obama Administration to finally come to the conclusion that Bashar Assad is not listening and probably won’t listen and that the time has come for him to leave office. There was a considerable discussion between the US and Turkey. Turkey has insisted for a long while that Assad should be given more and more time to undertake some reforms. The US went along with Turkey until a few days ago when finally Ahmet Davutoglu went to Damascus and came back basically empty-handed. Turkey pretty much gave up when he said there was no room for talking anymore, it was time for action. For me, It was a clear signal that there was also going to be a significant change in Washington, and it did happen. We pretty much expected it to take place.
President Obama said today he strongly urges Assad to leave power.
Yes, definitely. As I said, there was a considerable level of cooperation and coordination between the Obama Administration and Prime Minister Erdogan as far as Damascus and the Turkish government wanted to give Assad more and more time Obama Administration went along with that. And then they realized that after Davutoglu’s last visit – and he spent six hours with the President Assad – that obviously nothing was going to change and then the US finally concluded that the time has come for Bashar Assad to leave. Now the Europeans are following suit. This is more than symbolic because the US does carry significant weight, nevertheless, and many other countries, including additionally Arab countries will follow suit, that’s going to put, along with the sanctions, tremendous pressure on Syria.
What relationship do you see right now between Israel and Syria?
Israel is just keeping a watchful eye on what’s going on in Syria. There’s a low level of preparedness, just in case something goes wrong. I don’ think that Assad at this point is prepare to undertake any kind of adventure with regard to Israel, because that would be, without a question, a terribly losing battle for him. However, as I said, there is a certain level of preparedness in Israel, sending a clear signal to Bashar Assad “don’t even think about it”, because Israel’s actions are going to be quite decisive, should that come to pass.
2 August 2011, 19:25
2 August 2011, 19:25
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, a Middle East Expert and Professor from the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
I want to ask you some questions regarding the situation in Norway, in particular about islamophobia and the rise of anti-Islamic sentiments in Europe. Can you give us your insights into that?
Since 9/11, there is no question that the world has been focusing more and more on what is going on in the Middle East, because of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and, of course, the existence of various terrorist organizations, extremist organizations, Muslim, Islamic organizations. What happened for example in Oslo is something that reflects the kind of concern and sentiment that we are increasingly feeling towards Islam and Muslims in general. If we look at what happened in Oslo and this kind of things we enforce the notion that violence and Islam are synonymous. I can say with absolute certainty that a very, very large majority of Muslims, 99% of Muslims, are peaceful, they prefer to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors. But there is that small percentage of extremists in various countries, in Asia and in Europe, who are marginalized sometimes. But we must not generalize and say the whole Arab world or the whole Muslim world is extremist and they are killers, they are for violence instead of living in peace and harmony. For example, what we witness in the region today – and all westerners see what’s going on – it’s very easy for them to conclude that Islam is becoming synonymous with violence. Certainly, the Arab State for example have said nothing, so the Arab State, their leadership, ought to be able to distinct themselves and religion, Islam, from violence.
Is that the fault of terrorists committing acts of violence under the flag of religion or is that more the fault of the western media?
I think it’s a combination of the two. Western media, those who don’t investigate these matters carefully and thoroughly tend to generalize. They begin to equate Islam with violence. And Islam as a religion is not a violent religion. It’s a peaceful religion. But it’s very easy to generalize, because when you see so much violence taking place that is a major problem and it ca get only worse, as long as Arab leaders, Arab masses and the media in the Arab world do not begin to explain themselves much better and distance themselves, as I said before, from this phenomenon and condemn the violence.
We could say that the US is involved in a lot of violence in the world, so are we going to say the US is violent?
There is not doubt that the war in Iraq, in Afghanistan have facilitated a tremendous amount of violence. Many Arabs still hold the West responsible for colonialism, for exploitation the country’s resources and they have some legitimacy to that. So it is engulfing many of the Muslim and Arab states. And that’s has painted a very negative picture. You know it better than anyone else. And media are not exactly unbiased. Media is always biased. But as I said, the whole notion of islamophobia that you re referring to that fact that when these things occur it’s almost automatic in the minds of many people: if a terrorist act takes place it must have been committed by a Muslim. That is the immediate reaction. Nobody is actually trying to take measures to correct it and put it in the proper perspective.
Can I ask you a question regarding multiculturalism now? Is there anything Muslims can do?
You know, generally, the tendency is for any group of the same ethnic background to coalesce and live together and try to maintain their cultural heritage, language, just as anyone in Europe or elsewhere. Generally, the US is a little bit different. It’s a land of immigrants. Here you have minorities of all colors, races and ethnic backgrounds. They maintain their cultural habits and sometimes languages but they are also intermingled with other people within the American society because here it’s a country of immigrants. I’m not saying there is no discrimination but it is not as much as you would find back in Europe. There it’s very difficult for an outsider to intermingle to become part of the social setting in the European community. It’s the cultural tendency of the European community. Any country in European community is not a country of immigrants. You have the majority of indigenous people while in the US you don’t have that, there are peoples that continue to come to the US and that’s a big difference between the two.
There were Indian tribes, but they were all killed.
The key question: What do you think of multiculturalism worldwide and in Europe? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
Multiculturalism is the future. That is the Europeans, and the Arabs, and the Americans will have to learn to be more and more open to other cultures. It’s not longer possible to be in the world and apart from other nations. The same is certainly applicable to the Israelis and the Palestinians. I’ve been saying all along that the time has come for Israel to open up the borders and allow people to people, because coexistence is inevitable, be it in the Middle East or be that in the European community. It’s one of many choices. We have to learn to coexist. And it’s a process, a very difficult process but we have to learn to do so.
14 July 2011, 13:02
14 July 2011, 13:02
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben Meir, a Middle East expert and a professor from the Centre for Global Affairs at New York University.
There is no shortage of goods in Gaza, right?
Absolutely not. And I want to emphasize that even Hamas will tell you that there are no shortages of medicine or food in Gaza. And they began even to export some of their products through Israel. So that is really not the question anymore. Through the UN Israel is also allowing a tremendous amount of supplies of building materials as well, as log as materials are supervised and used for building housing and clinics and things like this, rather than bunkers. That’s the situation as of today.
I was leading up to the Freedom Flotilla 2. What do you think it was all about? Was it just a provocation?
I think it was a political statement. I don’t think it was necessarily meant to deliver any needed food, because Israel was very clear: whatever you want us to deliver, we will take it from the ships and deliver it through the crossing, as long as it is not weapons, and missiles, and ammunition. We are happy to deliver anything you want to deliver, including some building materials. And Israelis do not restrict the materials that go in, as long as it is not weapons.
Israelis are very fair in that regard. They would deliver anything. It would just have to go through the proper route and the proper channels.
Yes, to some extent. I wouldn’t say anything, because a blockade is a blockade. If you need permission to get anything imported, it’s an impediment. Nevertheless, we have to deal with a larger issue: how to reconcile Israel and Hamas. The two parties have to understand that they have to deal with one another comehellorhigh water. They cannot wish the other party away. Hamas will never be able to destroy Israel, and Israel will never be able to do away with Hamas. So the international community – Russia, Turkey, others – should be able to sit down with these two groups and say you cannot get rid of one another, you have to start talking. And that’s the only way you can resolve the blockade issue.
Do you think Freedom Flotilla was a provocation, or it was some sort of political move?
Yes, I think it was sort of provocation, because, as I said earlier, there are no shortages of food. That is basically trying to undermine the blockade, which is incidentally being supported by the US and the EU. It’s not like it was totally illegal, because Hamas has demonstrated – they had been firing rockets into Israel before the intrusion of Israel into Gaza – 6,000-7,000 rockets into Israel. Israelis don’t want to see repeat of that. They are trying to prevent Hamas from continuing the importing this type of weapons.
You’ve mentioned Turkey, and you’ve written an article on Israeli-Turkish relations recently.
My fear is that, considering the uprisings in the Arab world, the so-called Arab Spring, and considering the fact that the entire region is terribly unstable, these two countries are stable, and they have a common interest to try to deal with some instability around them. Take just on example – Syria. It borders Turkey, and Turkey has tremendous concern about the influx of refugees from Syria. They wanted to provoke Israel to do something in order to distract their attention from its own problems. Here, for example, Turkey and Israel would collaborate to prevent such a development from taking place. Turkey can play a significant role in dealing with Hamas and Fatah and try to dissuade Hamas from continuing to seek Israel’s destruction, which is only delaying the peace process, delaying any progress on the peace front. These countries can work together to reconcile their differences. And the sooner the better.
Do you see any double standard on the part of the US when it comes to Syria and Libya?
The US has been quite clear in the Libyan case. They said it clearly that Gaddafi has to leave, they also supported the no-fly zone and even going beyond that.
That’s the problem. They are going way beyond that. And that’s kind of a problem.
It could cause some problem. Right now, the EU determined that Gaddafi needs to go: he has been killing his people. People could disagree with the extent of the EU interference. But the US position is fairly clear in terms of Gaddafi.
Some people were saying Assad was killing his people, and that Mubarak was killing his people.
Bashar Assad is pretty much doing the same thing as Gaddafi has. The US hasn’t asked for his departure, because they are concerned about what will happen if Bashar Assad is forced out, how stable Syria will remain. That is the concern the US has in Syria. Moreover, Syria is in a much more sensitive area. There’s a problem with Iran, a problem with Israel, a problem with Lebanon, a problem with Turkey. Unlike Libya, which is isolated, Syria is a pivotal player in the Middle East and has to be dealt with somewhat differently.
So Syria could cause the whole region to explode?
Exactly, because the collapse of Assad’s regime could have serious repercussions. I’m not suggesting necessarily that he should stay in power, but there got to be a way by which to ease him out of power without necessarily a prosecution. You can’t just offer him that. He has all this support that he has, and one of the reasons he is unable to do so is that the people who surround him do not allow him to do that, especially internal security forces ad the military.
You say they are not allowing him to step down?
Absolutely not, because they will end up on the street as well. That’s the concern they have.
Interview with Dr. Alon Ben Meir, a Middle East expert and a professor from the Centre for Global Affairs at New York University.
I have some questions today regarding the situation in Egypt. Why have tensions escalated again?
There is general dissatisfaction with the way things have been developing since Mubarak’s departure. There is still a great deal of corruption going on, there is still little progress made on the economic level. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with progress on any kind of reforms that the military government was supposed to institute. So the people are not seeing a great deal of difference and they are demanding a much more accelerated evolutionary process in all of these areas, namely social, political and specifically economical.
Mohsen el-Fangari, the spokesperson for the military leadership there, said that the Military Council is not going to abdicate its rule soon.
I’m not in the least surprised. Although there is going to be an election some time, although I wish it was delayed a little bit to give secular parties a better chance to organize themselves, but no one should have expected that the military will abdicate their role. The military remains the most stable institution, the best developed one, and ultimately they guarantee the national security of the state. So it’s not likely that will relinquish anything. They will be pretty much watching how any civilian government will operate in the future. And I won’t be surprise if they interfere, should they feel that the new Egyptian government is not going in the right direction, as they see it.
What do you think about the military using tribunals to prosecute civilians?
It’s not common and it should not be common in Egypt as well, even though there is a military government. There are still civilian courts available, there are still civilian judges available, and that’s how it really should be. I understand the US attempted to make a very strong case with the Egyptian government to try to prevent this kind o things from happening, because that basically means that the military government by nature is going to be less concerned with following the normal procedure in terms of prosecution etc. And that’s why it would be best for the Egyptian government to leave these things and to prosecute civilians in a civilian court.
What do you think – I think it as in the news this morning – that the Egyptian government has ordered 125 Abrams tanks from the US at a cost of 1.3 billion dollars?
I think it’s most outrageous in that sense. The truth is that Egypt doesn’t need more Abram tanks or any kind of tanks for that matter. Egypt is not being threatened by anyone, including Israel, and it has no neighbors that can threaten Egypt in any manner, shape or form. This money should be spent on economic development rather than continuing to build up the military for absolutely no use. These tanks, at worst, will be used against civilians and, at best, they will be put in warehouses to rot.
Do you see any movement towards the Libyan situation in Egypt? Do you think it could explode into that kind of situation?
Not really. The main concern that Egypt should have and has had for some time is influx of refugees from Libya. But that doesn’t constitute a national threat for Egypt. Libya ahs never been a foe of Egypt and it doesn’t have the military capacity, by any stretch of imagination, to confront Egypt. And moreover, they don’t have any conflict that you can trace. So there is absolutely no need for any kind of such serious military equipment for Egypt when in fact it’s in dire need of economic development.
You’ve recently written an article, which was published in Jerusalem Post, regarding psychological dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I think was very interesting. Could you highlight for the listeners the main points you made in the article?
Very briefly, the parties including the US and other quartet countries that met yesterday were focusing mostly on dealing with issues, like territories, refugees, borders, security. All of that is very important, but in fact the underlying concern that had impeded progress in the past is other issues like the psychological damage of the conflict, like the religious damage of the conflict. So we need to address these issues. For example, why the Israelis feel the way they feel. It’s a result of their experience during the World War II and the Holocaust. And the Palestinians feel the way they feel due to what they call the Nakba, a catastrophe of 1948 when hundreds of thousands ended up being refugees. There was very little discussion and understanding between the Palestinians and the Israelis to deal with the psychosocial damage of this kind of conflict. They both dismiss each other’s concern in this regard, and that is one of the biggest impediments to peace. Another, by the way of example, is the future of Jerusalem. There is an affinity of the Jewish to East Jerusalem, just as much as there is affinity to East Jerusalem of the Muslims. There you have to do with such religious friction. You can’t have this matter resolved by just politicians. You have to have religious leaders from both sides sitting down and finding a solution, while being guided by the fact that the two peoples coexist in one way or another and Jerusalem has become a microcosm of that coexistence. But this is basically more of a religious issue. If you have religious leaders on both sides agreeing on the formula, it will have a tremendous impact on public opinion, as well as provide the government with political colours they need.
So you think the real solution of the problem should be found through a religious root?
In connection with Jerusalem, yes. In connection with other issues like borders and security, you have to deal with another psychological dimension of the conflict. There is zero trust between the two parties. And how do you deal with it when the two sides keep to the old narrative that doesn’t do anything but deepen the conflict, like the Palestinians insisting on the right of return. But that’s not going to happen. Israel is insisting on maintaining residual forces along the West Bank. That too will not happen. They need to sit down and discuss how to rebuild the trust instead of taking about the logistical matters, which should come later, rather than first.
Middle East Perspectives
Our guest is Dr. Alon Ben Meir , a Middle East Expert and Professor from the Center for Global Affairs at the New York University. We’re discussing the situation in the entire Middle East and particularly in Afghanistan.
Our guest is Dr. Alon Ben Meir, a Middle East Expert and Professor from the Center for Global Affairs at the New York University. We’re discussing the situation in the entire Middle East and particularly in Afghanistan.
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