Israel's Deputy PM Assesses Mideast Security Challenges

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Dan Meridor serves as deputy prime minister and minister of intelligence and atomic energy. On Nov. 29 at the law school, he warned of rising Iranian influence in the region, voiced his support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and raised questions about the future of armed conflict and international law.

On Nov. 29, the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations resolution calling for partition of British-controlled Palestine between Arab and Jewish states, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor addressed about 180 people in a packed UCLA law school auditorium about security challenges now facing his country. Trained as a lawyer, Meridor currently serves as minister of intelligence and atomic energy and has handled the justice and finance portfolios for previous governments.

"I would say that the most important conflict that develops now before our eyes, in the world, is … the standoff between Iran and the United States and the West on the nuclearization of Iran," said Meridor. The lecture was sponsored by the newly established Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies and cosponsed by the International Institute, the Center for Middle East Development and the School of Law.

If Iran eventually acquires nuclear arms, Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia would follow suit, ushering in "a change of the world order, with that part of the world with the oil in it … under heavy Iranian influence," Meridor said.

"Iran is not another state," he cautioned. "Iran has a revolution exportation policy, and they want to change the regimes in the Arab world."

While maintaining the official, ambiguous government stance about the existence of Israel's own nuclear arsenal, Meridor said that actions by Israel had never forced its Arab neighbors to seek nuclear arms, "because we never threatened their regimes; Iran does." Meridor alluded to revelations in U.S. diplomatic cables exposed by the organization WikiLeaks to back up his view.

Speaking broadly of the Middle East and the larger Islamic world, Meridor said that religious-based movements are increasingly threatening to supplant national movements in politics. The outcome of a series of internal struggles will strongly affect Israel's relations with neighbors and the possibility of arriving at negotiated solutions, he said.

"Just think of how arrogant Hezbollah is going to be if Iran wins. Or Hamas."

At the same time, Meridor said, Israelis must not resort to the "illusion that things can stay the way they are" in the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem, but continue to seek a final-status settlement with Palestinians.

"Both sides need to understand that they only way to solve it is partition, the same idea that was the basis of the UN resolution of 1947," he said, pointing to opinion polls indicating that Israelis strongly prefer a two-state solution that would preserve the nation's Jewish majority. The governing coalition led by Likud, Meridor's party, officially backs a negotiated two-state outcome in what he called "a major departure" for the party.

In his speech and interaction with the audience, the Hebrew University law graduate shared a concern that "a new paradigm of war" used by Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War and by Hamas prior to the assault on Gaza in 2008 left Israel without satisfactory options for self-defense.

By positioning rockets to launch from "rooftops, gardens, houses and cellars," militants in civilian dress create a moral conundrum, he said. To applause from the audience, he suggested that this practice should come in for consideration as a crime of war.

"Is it legitimate or not to attack the attacker, to try to prevent an attack by attacking the launcher, even if you know that civilians are there? This is the basic problem that I unfortunately didn't read much about in the Goldstone report," said Meridor, referring to the United Nations–endorsed report that accused both Israeli forces and Hamas militants of crimes against humanity.

In the search for solutions, Meridor said he drew inspiration from the "600,000 Jews in that land" at the time of the partition resolution, who ultimately established a state known for its capabilities in defense, science, culture and economy. In terms of regional security, he said, Israel's story has been a movement from isolation to "acceptance," confirmed in peace agreements with Egypt, Jordan and others.

"I think that, if you take things into perspective, the fact that there are challenges that look insurmountable, impossible, doesn't mean that they are insurmountable and impossible," he said.

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