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Annual Gandel Symposium Presents Complex Picture of Threat from Iran

EXPERT PANEL DISCUSSES ISLAMIC REPUBLIC, PRIVATIZATION OF WARFARE, AND DANGERS OF ENDING ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN TALKS

On May 18, 2014, Tel Aviv University hosted the Gandel Symposium, an eagerly anticipated event of the annual TAU Board of Governors Meeting sponsored by Australian supporter John Gandel. As in the past, this year's conference provided insider insight into ever-changing Middle East geopolitics.

Moderated by Prof. Meir Litvak, Director of TAU's Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, the panel featured Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen, Commander of the Israel Defense Forces Northern Corps; Shaul Mofaz, Knesset Member and former Defense Minister; and Dr. Liora Hendelman-Baavur of TAU's Department of Middle Eastern and African History.

This year, the discussions focused on "metamorphosis": how evolving versions of previous threats still bear existential implications for Israel. Discussing the "privatization of warfare" — of homemade weapons and homegrown terrorists — Maj. Gen. Hacohen told the audience that "before, only states could create well-formed military organizations," but now "everyone has the potential to become a strategic threat." Conventional counter-strategies of the past no longer apply in a situation in which terrorist groups, such as Hamas, have moved their infrastructure underground, out of the firing range of the Israel Air Force.

CERTAIN INSTABILITY

According to Mofaz, the ousting of five Arab leaders in three years has created more and more areas of "ungoverned statehood," a situation which encourages terrorist groups determined to destroy Israel, such as Hezbollah. Mofaz also said that Iran is playing a "two-faced game" by negotiating with the West to reduce sanctions while continuing its uranium enrichment program. The US and Iran are invested in "soft power," easing sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for halting uranium enrichment. The result is that Iran remains a nuclear threshold state, maintaining nuclear technology for "civilian purposes" but with the ability to leap to military capacity with ease, he said.

The US use of "soft power" with regard to Iran makes the situation even more complicated for Israel, which would be the first target of Iran's nuclear agenda. "Israel should be involved in the negotiations," said Mofaz. "And Israel should be prepared for all options. But Israel must be very careful, it must have the legitimacy and support of Western countries to use force because of what will happen the day after. ... In the end, we will win — but at what price?" Mofaz also referred to the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, saying the US failure to reach a deal could be found in its unrealistic "all or nothing" approach.

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