BAKS in Jerusalem: Germany-Israel Strategic Forum 2016

Tuesday, 25. October 2016

For the fourth time, German and Israeli politicians, government officials and scientists held talks on common security problems with the focus “Growing instability in the MENA region and in Europe”.

Traditionally, the holiday of Shavuot is marked by an all-night Torah study session to celebrate the fact we received it on this day.

Tourist attractions in Jerusalem – Every year thousands of visitors flood the Wailing Wall at Shavuot. Picture: Daniel Majewski/CC BY-SA 3.0

The timing of the dialogue in Jerusalem – arranged by the Federal Academy for Security Policy, the Forum of Strategic Dialogue and the European Leadership Network ELNET – could not have been better. The Middle East is falling into chaos: States dissolve and are replaced by constructs such as the “Islamic State”.

A flow of refugees and the rising Islamist violence are immediate consequences, both for Europe and the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). Russia alters international borders in Europe using violence and launched a military intervention in Syria. Iran and the Golf monarchies heat up the deep conflict within the Islamic world from different sides. Moreover, the Turkish government utilizes the failed coup attempt to override fundamental democratic values.

The essential conclusions of the debates can be summarized in seven points.

Initially, German-Israeli relations are as strong as they have rarely been – not only on political, but also on economic and scientific issues. Occasional disagreements – for instance the labelling requirements of Israeli goods as a consequence of EU legislation – could be resolved. The longstanding German public criticism towards Israeli politics concerning the Palestinians has weakened. Despite differences in perception, Israel is increasingly recognized as the only democratic, prosper and stable “island” in a region marked by degenerating state orders.

Contrary to frequent assumptions that dealing with the long-term Israel-Palestine conflict is the key to peace in the whole region, there existed consensus that the conflict rather has its own dynamics. If the crisis could be unexpectedly solved overnight, the violent disintegration of state structures in the MENA region would continue. Domestically, the chances for a two-state-solution are assessed differently. While some Israelis still believed in this option, others regarded it as unrealistic. They pleaded to refrain from using the term “solution”. The question of settlement expansion was also discussed controversially.

Apart from all efforts of violence containment in the pressing conflicts in Syria, Libya and Iraq, a warning was voiced against the deliberate attempt to find “solutions”. Such claims would be illusory and thus disappoint expectations. Crucial interventions – whether military, political or economic – are said to be hardly possible. Due to the West’s reluctance to intervene, decisive crisis management attempts could not be expected. Hence, those communities will rather face the consequences of refugee movements and Islamist terrorism than fight their root causes.

The German participants explained their view on the refugee crisis in autumn 2015 and described how the massive migration to Germany could finally be canalized and limited using gradual steps. Tremendous efforts have been made to improve Germany’s domestic security. Nevertheless, potential for improvement remains both in Germany and in Europe. So far only five EU members significantly contribute to the shared EUROPOL databases. In several cases European countries are said to have rejected Israeli intelligence featuring personal data of Palestinian suspects with terroristic backgrounds because these data were of “occupational origin”.

Both sides were concerned about the current course of Turkey. Apparently, president Erdogan aspires to go down in history as the great reformer of Turkey by dictatorial means. In contrast to the real reformer Atatürk, he lacks a long-term vision. There exists a strong risk that in the end Turkey’s democracy will be definitely destroyed without any sustainable model that could build the future.

Through its actions in Europe and MENA, Russia attempts to demonstrate that its role as a global power is not lost. For this purpose Russia violently alters international borders and breaks applicable laws. Currently, Moscow seizes every suitable opportunity to show its “foreign policy muscle”, while profiting from the weak U.S. leadership, especially in MENA. In the long run Russia will not be able to keep up with its own power ambitions, because it has failed to undergo economic modernization within the past decades and continually experiences economic declines. In the medium-term, handling such a “declining power” is more complicated than dealing with a stable actor. Israel attempts to arrange itself with Russia’s actions, but has determined three red lines: No terroristic attacks from Syrian territory towards Israel, no Russian arms delivery to the Hezbollah, and no Israeli acceptance that Iran or Hezbollah could ever be part of the solution for Syria.

In Iran further developments are difficult to assess. On the one hand, the regime still supports violent Islamists in the whole region and continues its nuclear ambitions. On the other hand, the country faces enormous economic and ecological challenges, which question future developments. Additionally, the regime maniacally fears the infiltration of “Western” values – characterized as “more dangerous than nuclear bombs” by government officials.

In particular, the intensive one-and-a-half days of debates showed broad consensus that the Western value community remains an indispensable element in international politics and that Israel embodies a main pillar of this community.

Author: Editorial staff