When an Arab Spring turns into an Arab Winter

  • Dekel
“One day your enemy could be your partner and another day your partner could be your enemy,” said Brigadier-General (res) Udi Dekel (pictured) during his public address on Tuesday on “Israel in a changing Middle East environment”. It took place under the auspices of the Israel Centre in Johannesburg.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Apr 29, 2015

Dekel, a former head of the Strategic Planning Division in the Planning Directorate of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces and currently director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, spoke to a capacity audience at the Abe Abrahamson Auditorium at Beyachad.

Dekel, who was head of the negotiations unit with the Palestinians under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the Arab Spring, with its ambitions of establishing more democratic governments in Arab countries, had degenerated into an Arab Winter. This was with a military government taking over in Egypt and political Islam taking over in countries such as Libya and Tunisia.

Elsewhere the revolution had changed direction, with an underground “tectonic movement” now emerging in the open with ISIS and Sunni/Shia conflict spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and Iran.

ISIS had a strategy to take over the entire Middle East and establish a big caliphate, taking Islam back to its golden age. It also exported terrorism, such as lone wolf attacks in several countries.

ISIS had no rules of the game, no international standards and no responsibility towards civilians, he said.

The international community had decided it was better not to get involved too directly in combating ISIS because the end-game rules were unknown.

“They also decided it was not so bad with bad guys killing other bad guys.”

The international strategy was to establish a coalition to dismantle ISIS using air attacks, but without boots on the ground. The only country that understood that it could achieve greater influence through boots on the ground was Iran, through its various proxies and Iranian forces.

Israel understood that there was a new Middle East with new rules. Events in the region spilled over into Israel, but it was better for Israel to initiate than respond - protection, such as Iron Dome, was not enough.

For Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the destination was still two states for two peoples, but this was difficult to achieve at present because Israel had no partner.

Every time Israel and the Palestinians had arrived at final negotiations over the past 15 years, “the Palestinians had decided either to reject the Israeli offers or to run away from the negotiating table”.

The Palestinians would prefer the international community to get Israel to accept the Palestinian rules of the game, she said.

If permanent status negotiations with the Palestinians were not on, other transitional initiatives could be considered by Israel, including going back to the 2004 Road Map, building Palestinian capacity, so that it would not end up a failed state, but have effective functions and be stable and accountable.

There were now also possible multilateral options, including the countries of the Arab world, which could support both Israel and the Palestinians. Creating such a coalition could help deal with the problems of the Middle East.

“Israel can take some steps to try to shape a two-state reality by moving forward unilaterally,” he said.

Referring to issues relating to the West Bank, he said: “We cannot solve the problem of individual terror, but we can solve the problem of terror organisations.”

The international attitude to settlements could change if Israel declared it would build only in the established settlement blocs and not in isolated settlements, but this was also a significant internal Israeli political issue.

Five years ago Israel and Palestine were regarded as the most important issue, but today it was understood that Israel was not the problem.

Israel was creating connections with local communities in Syria.

“By doing such positive things we can build more partners for Israel, but this is a long story,” Dekel said.




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