As senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin served as the former prime minister’s spokesman during the second Intifada and the Gaza withdrawal. He remains a frequent commentator on the Middle East for Arab-, Hebrew-, and English-language media.
Gissin will address “The Iranian Threat: Global Terrorism and Nuclear Weapons” on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Congregation Etz Chaim in Livingston, in a talk sponsored by the Jewish National Fund. “The greening of Israel through the JNF can also bring about the greening of the whole Middle East following the Arab Spring,” Gissin said.
On Nov. 18 he spoke by telephone with NJ Jewish News from his home in Netanya.
NJJN: What will you be speaking about in Livingston?
Raanan Gissin: I will look at the world metaphorically in terms of Israel dealing with four seasons. First of all, the Arab Spring and the change in the old order that is now falling apart. Many aspects promise not now but in the distant future to be positive changes for the Middle East. The immediate result of these “Facebook revolutions” may be more hostile regimes on our borders, like in Egypt and Syria, and tribal war in Libya, which is going to create a great deal more uncertainty.
But it may create more opportunity for countries like Iran, which are trying to make inroads in the Middle East. But Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt has been holding up, despite efforts to dismantle it.
Then you have the Israel Summer of the young and the restless in a world dominated by people below the age of 24. They want change now, and they have Facebook and the social networks to help them form a solidarity that was previously unknown.
Following the Israel Summer is the Global Economic Autumn caused by the collapse of the economic order. But Israel has been able to ride the storm because we prepared our economy to meet these challenges.
Then there is the Iran Winter. That is a major challenge facing everyone. The major concern is a combination of an ideology which wants to create a new world order, coupled with a bomb that changes the balance of power in the Middle East. If left unchallenged, Iran can become the mega-spoiler of this world today.
NJJN: How should Israel and the West deal with that possibility?
Gissin: I disagree with the statement that the only real option is an air strike. It’s good to have that option on the table. But the real answer to what happens in Iran lies inside Iran. If we can inject a little of the Arab Spring into the Iranian Winter — the same kinds of challenges Arab regimes are facing, and there are a lot of groups inside Iran opposed to the [current] regime — then a lot of our fears can be alleviated. Developments inside Iran might forestall and prevent development of the bomb…. There are a lot of things that can be done covertly, and a lot of things that can be done through the new public diplomacy and the new media.
NJJN: What role should Israel play in dealing with the Iranian government?
Gissin: Israel is more threatened than other countries but we have a large range of options here, and we have to convince the United States that once the engagement policy fails we have to look at other options. I’m sure Israel is preparing a contingency plan and has the capability to do it. From a broad strategic perspective, would that be the preferred action? I think that there is a broad consensus in Israel that says the answer is “no.”
NJJN: How would you characterize the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu?
Gissin: There is no reason these two can’t cooperate. We must make every effort to continue a good relationship with President Obama, whether or not he is going to be a one-term president or a two-term president. He will still be in the White House at a critical time when we need to have cooperation between Israel and the United States, not hampered by personal political considerations.
NJJN: Do you see any possibility for a peace agreement with the Palestinians?
Gissin: We should prepare not for the best possible contingency but for the most workable contingency, which is a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians. The people on the ground will be able to live normal lives in a region that is going through so many upheavals.
NJJN: Are you optimistic about seeing that?
Gissin: I am saying that eventually it is going to come about, but it is not going to be with some big ceremony on the White House lawn.