Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy hosted a question-and-answer session on Israel’s regional security issues with Meir Dagan, former director of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, on Oct. 14. It was moderated by the Honorable Edward P. Djerejian, the founding director of Baker Institute.
Dagan said events of late in the Middle East are in the most turmoil he has ever seen.
“The Arab ‘spring’ of uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, throughout Egypt, Syria and beyond has brought misery upon many people,” Dagan said. “The fact that Israel has managed to survive this tidal wave crossing the Middle East is a never-before-seen phenomenon.”
Dagan said the Arab Spring had a positive impact on the Middle East.
“Although it is very hard to predict what will be the outcome of this, on the optimistic side, it will create opportunities for a shifting of ideals as countries reassess their situations, opportunities and challenges,” Dagan said. “This shifting has already brought about new unions among countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan uniting over common enemies.”
According to Dagan, leadership is the most important element to start with when fighting a terrorist organization like ISIS.
“In targeting the leadership, the psychological impact is much more powerful,” Dagan said.
According to Dagan, ISIS has already been successful because of money.
“ISIS is a smart organization,” Dagan said. “They have collected significant funds by taking control of oil-producing wells, an enterprise that yields between three and six million dollars daily, and collecting money through NGO’s under the facade of collecting money for charity.”
According to Dagan, dealing with ISIS requires dealing with its leadership, finance activities, military capabilities and the its soldiers.
“The soldiers especially create a problem, because they are happily recruited due to the financial security the position offers,” Dagan said.
Dagan said air power was not going to have the greatest impact on stopping ISIS.
“There is a necessity for troops on the ground who can complement what’s done in the air,” Dagan said. “The Iraqi army exists as men in uniform and riding in jeeps. However, as soldiers, they have no interest in protecting Baghdad. For this reason, I am not optimistic about the effects of air power.”
Dagan said the conflict in the Middle East stems from a dogmatic foundation.
“In essence, there is an ideological war of ideas in Islam right now, with ISIS as the extremist, acting as inspiration for the suppression of radical extremism,” Dagan said.
Dagan said the first priority of Jordan and Saudi Arabia is to protect their respective countries.
“Nevertheless, they are not willing to send the forces needed to deal with ISIS due to hostage exchanges and business with it,” Dagan said.
Dagan said though Israel is facing issues with both Iran and Palestine, the Palestinian issue is more urgent.
“Not representing the state of Israel or arguing for the prime minister, I do not want to see a two-nation state solution to Israel,” Dagan said. “If we were to have a two-nation state solution to Israel, Israel would lose its moral position around the world, and there would be a loss of moral identity within Israel. To motivate a population, one needs a flag of values that is maintained.”
Dagan said Iran’s political instability has impacted its trade.
“The view of Iran as a collapsing regime and an unstable political situation has led many countries to cease dealing with Iran in order to avoid being blacklisted,” Dagan said. “Iran’s main issue is their economy, which needs to be fixed before anything else, along with prioritizing Iran’s remaining in the same regime.”
The current power structure in Iran is not an accurate reflection of the Iranian society as a whole, according to Dagan.
“There is a small private sector in Iran who are the ones appointed to powerful economic roles,” Dagan said. “In the military, everyone will join hands and stand behind the regime.”
Dagan said all Israel can do is to leave the Iranian regime alone and let it collapse by itself.
“I think, in such a regime, to take a step such as be made independent by Israel would cause an uprising,” Dagan said.
Dagan said while business agreements have consequences for not fulfilling one’s end, political agreements want a good faith and a good impression.
“The Iranians will sign any agreement we want due to the lack of penalties for noncompliance,” Dagan said. “
Dagan said Israeli’s working relationship with the U.S. need needs change in some areas, while it is working well in other areas.
“There is currently dialogue on a daily basis among many different agencies with serious and candid conversations,” Dagan said. “In some, but not all areas, there is deep, close cooperation and dialogue.”