Summary Tel Aviv Round Table, January 2008
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by Bidjan Tobias Nashat
The debate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv took place under the shadow of the NIE report and the recent US diplomatic engagement for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The majority of participants agreed that a US military attack on Iran would be highly unlikely in the near future and were mostly in favor of direct US-Iranian negotiations. A few participants pointed to the need for concessions to Russia and China to strengthen the international community’s resolve. Even though the linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear program was debated at length, the majority view opted against a direct connection and thus a directly positive result of a peace treaty. Much more emphasis was laid on the regional implication of Iranian and Shia hegemony with its ramifications for the situation in the Gulf States and in Iraq. It was, however, unclear whether Iran’s regional dominance is already the status quo and whether it would increase or decrease with a regional nuclear arms race.
Another interesting divide was the question of how to interpret the opaque Iranian political system and the impact of elections on its foreign policy. On whether Iran is a revolutionary state or a state with rational national interests, the participants tended to favor the latter view. The implication of a nuclear arms race in the region and an Iranian threat by the use of asymmetric warfare seemed to be of far more relevance than a direct Iranian nuclear threat to Israel. A remarkable fact was the suggestion by a few participants that the Israeli government should lobby the US for direct negotiations with Iran. The importance of the details of potential negotiations and the challenge of determining Iranian compliance with sanctions reappeared throughout the debate.