Sunday, May 3, 2009

From the AIPAC Policy Conference: AIPAC In Depth

This is from a panel discussion moderated by Dan Senor at the AIPAC Policy Conference. Participants were James Woolsey, Jane Harmon, Robert Satloff and Ido Nechustan. These are fairly rough notes, but give some feeling for the highlights.

Question asked panel - basically, what to do about Iran. Are diplomacy and sanctions compatible?

Woolsey: Every president since Carter has tried diplomacy and it's never worked. We won't have any chance of success without damaging them severely economically. We need to cut off their imports of refined petroleum products.

Ahmadinejad's mentor was exiled by Khomeini, because Khomeini thought he was too radical.

Harmon: Congress has tried sanctions for twenty years. We haven't been sufficiently successful. Now there are new bills to prevent their importation of refined petroleum products. This is where they're vulnerable. There's a window, we should use sanctions to improve chances of diplomatic success. If diplomacy doesn't work, we'll need miliary measures.

Nechustan: There's a change in nature of adversaries, eg Hamas and Hezbollah. Imagine the implications of a nuclear Iran in the Middle East. What will be the effect on moderate Arab governments in the Middle East? It would be the greatest destabilization process ever. It's a danger not just to Israel, but to the entire world.

Senor: What is motivating countries like China and Russia?

Satloff: The Iran problem is a problem for states throughout the Middle East and throughout the world. We need to make the Iran problem the number one priority for governments in the world. The alternative is not acquiesence to Iranian nuclear weapons; the alternative is war. Make the other countries choose.

Senor: Who is in charge in Iran?

Harmon: There's a lot going on in Iran. The Persian population isn't a majority; it's a plurality. A good strategy is to work to separate those populations from the government.

We are not at war with the Iranian people, most of whom would like a different government. We should be talking to the religious leadership.

Senor: Hezbollah's missile arsenal has tripled.

Nechustan: Lebanon is an example of a terror organization taking over a country. Hezbollah is supported by Syria and Iran. It's built up its capacity tremendously since 2006, although it's deterred for now. It's all about rockets and missiles from within civilian areas aimed at civilians. This is an exemplar of the change in the nature of war. It's very difficult. Wars have to be more expensive and more difficult.

Senor: Hezbollah is also a growing political power; it has veto power in the Lebanese government. Hezbollah could win majority in Lebanese pariliament.

Woolsey: Rather than a political organization, it's a totalitarian organization, like the Nazis. They're maniacs. They're a very shrewd enemy. We're not going to make progress against Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Iran until we break their economic power, which comes from oil.

Aside from oil, the 23 countries export less than Finland. We need to do to oil what electricity and refrigerators did to salt.

We have to destroy oil's monopoly.

Harmon: I strongly agree.

Now, for the first time, many Arab countries fear a Shia crescent. It's very meaningful that Morocco broke off relations with Iran, as are Mubarak's action. The opportunity for us to finally produce a juggernaut around oil, the opportunity is there.

Senor: Can Syria be flipped?

Robert Satloff: Now people talk about land for Syria's strategic realignment. So far, Syria's given zero indication of any interest. Iran used to need Syria; now Syria needs Iran.

Just imagine the implications for Syria if Hezbollah wins in Lebanon. We shouldn't be under any false impressions regarding where the Syrians are heading.

Nechustan: Syria is still the capital for all Arab terrorist organiations

Senor: The Palestinian equation. Split between Abbas and Hamas. US goal is to have Abbas overall leader.

What are implications if Hamas and Fatah form a unity government?

Woolsey: That would be very bad. Fatah isn't so great, but it's not as fanatical as Hamas. The educational materials are quite awful in the West Bank, but Hamas' materials go the Protocols of the Elders of Zion one better. They teach Jews are responsible for both WW I and WW II.

Harmon: Our goal needs to make the PA a more capble partner for peace. We should strengthen Fayyad's hand.

Israel's future depends on the establishment of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.

Satloff: Have to force the Palestinians to make a choice: unity or progress. Leadership is what matters about the decisions to make peace.

Senor: Now we're talking about Pakistan. We've never had to do that before.

Harmon: If you really want to be depressed, go to Pakistan. The Taliban aren't just increasing their hold in Afghanistan, they're increasing their hold on parts of Pakistan.

The Secretary of Defense of Pakistan said having Sharia law in a province was no big deal. Iran is a problem for the next few years; Pakistan is a problem for the next six months. I worry a lot about Pakistan.

Senor: Wrap up. What will we be talking about next year?

Woolsey: Pakistan and Iran. This will dominate problems in the Middle East for years to come.

Nechustan: Never tell anything intelligent about the future. Two strains of major change: radicals, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the moderate train. We hope that arrives first.

Satloff: What I really worry about is the potential for a deep disagreement between the U.S. and Israel about how one really deals with a nuclear Iran that nothing has yet dealt with. If we are not totally on the next page, we may be dealing with the most serious face to face disagreement between US and Israel ever.

Harmon: There is more common interest than we sometimes realize. At next year's conference, I think we'll be celebrating progress in security for Israel and the end of totalitarianism.

Nechustan: We have great dangers. The need for a strong IDF and air force is very important. With the support of the US, the citizens of Israel should be grateful. With this support, we can look to 600 more years of living happily in the Middle East.

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