Senior politicians, academics and intelligence and law enforcement officials gathered Sunday at the Waldorf Astoria in New York for the launching of the Strategic Dialogue Center, a think tank affiliated with Netanya College in Israel. The center organized a conference on global terrorism and asked the panelists to provide an answer to the question: “If this is World War III, how do we win?” The privately funded center will be opened officially in June and is planning to hold similar conferences and publish policy papers.
The center’s executive board is stacked with “formers.” There are former heads of state — Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union, Abdurrahman Wahid of Indonesia, Frederik de Klerk of South Africa — and former prime ministers: Ehud Barak, Carl Bildt of Sweden, John Major of England and Mustafa Khalil of Egypt. There’s even a former crown prince — Hassan of Jordan — as well as an array of former top intelligence and security officials such as former FBI director Louis Freeh and former CIA chief James Woolsey.
Professor Moshe Amirav, former adviser on Jerusalem to Barak at the Camp David summit, will direct the center. The president of the board is former Mossad boss Danny Yatom — although, to be fair, Yatom was recently elected to the Knesset.
While all conference participants agreed in calling for enhanced international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, diverging views on Iraq were on display. Woolsey, whose name has been floated by the Pentagon as a government adviser on Iraqi reconstruction — he is still awaiting final word from the White House — offered a rambling defense of the neoconservative agenda to promote democracy in the Middle East, essentially through an American-led effort. By contrast, Sweden’s Bildt, who headed the civilian administration in postwar Bosnia, warned that constructing a regime was much more difficult than dismantling one and that the United States should reach out to the United Nations and the international community to share the burden. Barak, for his part, took the middle ground, arguing that the reconstruction would require a much more “subtle” and “nuanced” approach than the military assault. He said the work should be done by a coalition of “sensitive people” that would also include Iraqis and the international community, though not necessarily the United Nations.
Israel is worried that Libya has a nuclear program as advanced as Iran’s.
“We are watching Libya and Iran for nuclear programs,” a former Israeli minister at the conference told the Forward. “Libya and Iran are as advanced, and Libya even maybe more than Iran.”
The Israeli assessment is that Iran will have a nuclear device by 2005 and a nuclear weapon shortly thereafter.
The official said the United States had privately conveyed intelligence information on Libya to Israel a year and a half ago according to which Muammar Gadhafi’s regime was well advanced in developing a nuclear weapons program.
“The Americans asked us to keep quiet about it, and only three or four people in Israel knew about this,” he said. “Then [Assistant Secretary of State] John Bolton said it publicly and Sharon repeated it.”
He added that there was also information about Pakistani cooperation in building Libya’s nuclear capacity, although not on a government level.
While panelists were discussing the future of Iraq at length, one person in the audience was acutely aware of Iraq’s painful present. Dilshad Barzani, the German-based representative of the Kurdish Democratic Party headed by his brother Massoud Barzani, had something else on his mind when, in mute testimony to the longstanding links between Kurds and Israelis, he shook hands with Israeli officials.
He had just heard news that a tragic friendly-fire incident had taken place in northern Iraq. An American plane dropped bombs on a convoy of American and Kurdish forces, killing at least 18 people and injuring dozens. Among the injured was Wazih Barzani, one of his five brothers. Dilshad Barzani told the Forward he was cutting his American visit short and rushing back to Germany where his brother was being flown to receive treatment for head wounds.