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Quick Takes: IPF’s “Middle East Security Forum”

Ralph Seliger
October 27, 2017

by Ralph Seliger

I WAS VERY gratified to attend the “Middle East Security Forum” at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El, sponsored by the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) in conjunction with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS). Full videos of all five sessions are now available online and well worth viewing:

The plenary session featured Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia (now retired from his career as a diplomat but still active as a speaker), Efraim Halevy (an ex-head of the Mossad) and Michele Flournoy -- who would have been Hillary’s secretary of defense. For me, the most significant takeaway was al-Faisal’s confirmation that the Arab Peace Initiative is flexible -- with final borders for Israel and a new state of Palestine, refugees and security arrangements all subject to negotiations.

The session entitled “Syria, ISIS and Regional Instability” was interesting for its depiction of the complexities on the ground in Syria, with so many forces -- internal and external to Syria -- battling for influence and ascendancy on a regional checkerboard. Israel is especially concerned with the southwest corner, where the Assad regime, Hezbollah, an al Qaeda group, and a unit of the Free Syrian Army are in contention near the Golan Heights. A key point I took from the panel is that Turkey is apparently in league with an al Qaeda group on Syria’s northern border. This jibes with what I’ve read in Meredith Tax’s book on the Syrian Kurds (A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State), that Turkey used to play footsie with ISIS -- allowing cross-border movements of recruits into Syria and their wounded being treated in Turkish hospitals.

Finally, the panel on Iran was brilliantly argued and analyzed, with a very civil level of disagreement. None of the participants, not even Fred Kagan (who is very much a neocon critic), applauded Trump for decertifying the deal and throwing it to Congress. Some of the discussion went over my head, with references to provisions that sunset at different intervals. But it’s well worth watching.

The IPF was founded in 1993 with a push from Yitzhak Rabin, when he was dismayed to discover that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was not very helpful in supporting the efforts of his government to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The IPF was eclipsed to the point of near-extinction by the emergence and growth of J Street during the Obama years, but it has revived considerably.

While advocating the same agenda of a negotiated two-state solution for a mostly-Jewish Israel at peace with a new Palestinian-Arab state, the IPF is more centrist in its self-presentation and hosts a broader array of speakers at its public forums, including more on the center-right than J Street would tend to have.

IPF will be holding another “Middle East Security Forum” in Los Angeles on Sunday, October 29.

Ralph Seliger, a JC contributing writer, is a veteran editor, freelance writer, and blogger. He edited Israel Horizons from 2003 until 2011, when it was discontinued, and currently co-administers The Third Narrative website.