Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, speaking at the 2012 Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, expressed cautious optimism about the potential outcomes of the Arab Spring, saying that “we are in a very unique position that has never been seen before.”
Dagan was part of a panel discussing the Arab Spring, steps that regional actors could take to help ensure a peaceful transition to democracy, and the impact of these revolutions on Israel. The panel also featured, among others, former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and former senior Presidential adviser Dennis Ross.
Dagan, who has maintained a high profile since his tenure as Mossad chief ended, said that “the radicals in the Arab League are no longer there and a range of mutual interests that require regional cooperation provide an incredible opportunity for fostering peaceful relations.” Still, he acknowledged that the Arab Spring is far from over: “I am worried about Islamist parties with a radical agenda that will take power. It will present a big problem for us.”
Referring to the recent Presidential election in Egypt and claims that the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Morsi is slated for victory, he said that “in Egypt it was never important which way the votes go but who counts them.”
Former IDF chief Ashkenazi also weighed in on the monumental changes taking place in the Arab world, saying that “the storm sweeping the Arab world is of tectonic proportions. It happens once every 100 years and cannot be overestimated. This is not just a coup. I don’t know anyone in the defense establishment that predicted what happened there.” He said it was critical that Israel preserve open lines of communication with the Egyptian army: “It is practically the only channel…with Turkey as well.”
Discussing the importance of Israel maintaining its relative military superiority, Ashkenazi offered his solution to the controversial issue of national/military service for all Israeli citizens: “It has long been my belief that not everyone must be drafted. We should go by a principle of service for all, not enlistment for all.
“The IDF should get first pick,” he continued. “Whoever is not selected by the IDF will go to the Fire Services, Magen David Adom or other services…As for the haredim, it’s very important they join the army and then enter the work force. The Torah greats will decide who goes to yeshivot and the rest will join the army.”
Dennis Ross, talking about the role that the U.S. should play in the Arab Spring, said “we in the West are not the authors of this story, so we won’t be the ones to write it. But if we are asked for help, we should offer it, with ground rules – respect religion, minorities and free speech – if they don’t follow these rules they shouldn’t be entitled to help.”
The Presidential Conference will wrap up tomorrow, after hearing from the likes of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, Rabbi Michael Melchior, and journalist Caroline Glick.