On the Issues Episode 33: Ambassador Warren Clark

Ambassador (ret.) Warren Clark is the former Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace. Clark began his career in the Foreign Service in Aleppo, Syria and has served in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Canada, and at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Following his retirement from the State Department he worked as a private consultant and received a Master of Theological Studies degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. Clark speaks French and eastern Arabic.

ABM: I am Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to this episode of ‘On the Issues.’ My guest today is Ambassador Warren Clark, former Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode.

I think you’re terrific.

WC: I always enjoy talking to you, Alon.

ABM: The pleasure is mine. Thank you so much again for taking the time. So, go ahead, please, I didn’t mean to interrupt you about what you’re doing today.

WC: Well, just what I started to say. You talked about the enormous sea change in our politics, the gulf in the middle between these two—the growing polarization between the parties, which unfortunately is now being reflected too in foreign policy. And so many people that I know were surprised by the outcome of the election last November, a year ago.

ABM: Of course.

WC: And so I’ve asked myself, how come we’re surprised? So it’s very interesting how our politics have changed to have this, to increase our awareness of this enormous gulf in the middle, between the two political extremes in the country. And I think there are historical reasons for that, economic reasons, and it’s not all obvious, but clearly we’ve lost the kind of consensus even for foreign policy. Foreign policy used to be a more or less consensus kind of approach. And we’ve lost that, and so I’m trying to find out, or trying to read, or trying to understand, help other people understand why we’ve ended up in this very awkward situation.

ABM: So, what’s your take? I mean, just so that— I was like so many millions shocked when he was elected, and I always struggle with the one issue, and that is, we didn’t see how he managed, and by what means he made that appeal to his so-called base and was able to capitalize on it without much being talked about it before, throughout—

WC: That’s right.

ABM: Throughout the process, throughout the campaign.

WC: That’s right.

ABM: This is really is a big puzzlement for me. Please, enlighten me.

WC: Maybe this is the genius of Trump, is that he’s able to identify issues that really touched people and motivated people.

ABM: And coming from a so-called billionaire.

WC: Yes.

ABM: Appealing to the poor and the despondent and the despairing.

WC: Yes. Well, I guess part of the— I’m no expert in this area at all, but part of the understanding of Trump is that he’s not from the establishment in New York. He’s from Queens, he’s from the outside. And so he doesn’t have all of that Wall Street kind of background on these issues. So he identifies much more quickly with people who come from modest backgrounds, the so-called white workers—electricians, carpenters, plumbers, [unclear] workers of various kinds—many of whom do not have a university degree, and they have felt ignored and left out of the political process for a long time. Everybody points to the fact that wages have been stagnant for almost 30 years now for this group, and that the government programs, the appearance of government programs, Medicaid for example, helps the lower, lowest maybe 30 percent of the income distribution. But then you’ve got the next 50 percent of the income distribution that doesn’t benefit from these Medicaid and other programs for the poor. So someone mentioned the other day that part of the genius of – talking about medical issues – part the genius of Franklin Roosevelt was that he made Social Security apply to everybody. But as soon as you put on a means test such as Medicaid, then some people are going to benefit and some people are not. And if you’re just over the line, earning an income of forty-five thousand dollars or something and you get no benefit from Medicaid, you’re not happy.

ABM: Yeah. I mean this is what Senator Sanders has been saying about healthcare. That is the only way to do it. I mean, I happen to agree. I lived in England for a while. And it’s not a perfect system in terms of national healthcare, but it works.

WC: Yeah.

ABM: Yes, you’re late, it takes you sometimes two, three weeks before you can get an appointment, especially for something serious. And if it’s urgent, you could end up going to a private doctor if you must, and have the means. But you also know you are safe. You have a national healthcare system that is functioning, that is working, and why is it? I mean, I’m sure you’ve looked into that. Why is it that we are not thinking in those terms? Republicans are not thinking in those terms. I think Democrats will be more inclined to go for a national healthcare system. Why do you think that?

WC: Well you know, again I’m no expert in this, but you can go kind of deep into the American character, about— Our history has given us certain values. I mean, people talk about self-reliance. They talk about the influence of the frontier on the American mentality.

ABM: Yeah.

WC: Where you were supposed to be independent. You were supposed to be self-sufficient. You went out and sort of fought for your land from the Native Americans. And so, it’s interesting. I lived in Canada for several years. In Canada, the government are the good guys. The government brings you services and security. When the West, Western Canada was settled, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police went first, and they established law and order. And then the settlers came, then the farmers came, and the police were there to protect them. In the West, in the American experience, of course after the civil war, it was the reverse. There was no law and order. So your gun was—

ABM: Was your law.

WC: Was your law.

ABM: Yeah.

WC: And it was another 10 or 20 years before there was a courthouse and a legal system that you could have any faith in. So it’s a different kind of tradition and mentality.

ABM: Culture, yeah, different kind of mentality. But 2017 was an eye-opener in so many different ways. I’ve been concentrating largely on the Middle East in terms of my thinking, writing, preaching the gospel of peace and security. But I couldn’t help it. As a result of this election, I started to tackle our domestic problem, given what Trump is doing. Incidentally, I still have a hard time to say President Trump, so— I really mean it. I cannot use the word president before his name.

WC: In our church, we have a time at our church service when we offer prayers, for people who are sick and so forth. We also offer prayers for those in authority, for the government, and for the president of the United States. And for the first time that happened after the election—no, after the inauguration—the person saying it burst into tears.

ABM: You’re kidding.

WC: To say it, she couldn’t bring herself to say President Trump, it was very difficult. So that shows how, to me, it shows how kind of out of touch we are here in this blue bubble of Washington—how out of touch we are with all those red states, all those people in other parts of the country.

ABM: Which was amazing. Whoever was able to work with him and help him to identify specifically the three states, the key, where the focus was there, when in fact Hillary Clinton just took it for granted that Pennsylvania is going to go with her, so she could seal the election. It is really amazing. To me, this is an amazing lesson—

WC: Yeah.

ABM: In American domestic politics, which is really very, very interesting. When you watch, especially CNN, not that CNN is the source of the truth, the Gospel. But you have some time very interesting guests who are supporters of Trump. And to me it is absolutely puzzling that they try to justify everything. But none—they’re learned, very able. Some of them occupied very important positions in various Republican governments, administrations, but they cannot find a fault in whatever he’s doing.

WC: They’re very defensive.

ABM: How was he able—? I’m not talking now about those who are uneducated, disenchanted, unhappy, that have been left to themselves, but these people are, they know, they understand.

WC: Yes.

ABM: They’ve been congressmen and senators, all kind of people. And they put it with a straight face. They defend every single step, every single word he’s saying. How is it possible; I mean to what extent these biases have taken such deep roots, in such a short period of time?

WC: Well yes, related to that I think is that, if he says something outrageous or he does something outrageous, his base doesn’t seem to be greatly affected. Because they think ‘well, you know, OK, it’s embarrassing that he did this or he said that.’ But that he’s doing the right thing of trying to disrupt Washington, they’re trying to change the way the government works, and specific things like tax reform and immigration, he’s moving in the direction they want him to move in. And so they’re willing to tolerate a lot of kind of noise and static, that seems very, to the rest of us seems to distract very much from what he’s trying to do.

ABM: I mean for them, these lies, I mean 24 hours a day. The New York Times on this, The Washington Post actually identified that on the average, he lies three, four times a day from the time he came to office. Can you imagine? That is like 1,200 times he’s lied.

WC: I think his supporters, it doesn’t bother people. It doesn’t bother his supporters because well, you know, he often says what he kind of wishes was the case, instead of what is the case. But again, that’s kind of, on the surface it doesn’t seem to bother people because they think he’s moving in the right direction. So you know, it’ll be very interesting to see what happens this year. I think this is going to be an extremely interesting political year.

ABM: Absolutely.

WC: You know, apart from the whole Russian investigation question, the FBI right now problem, so many women for example have seemed to be mobilized because of the president. And of course sadly a lot of women did not vote in the last election, in 2016.

ABM: I think they probably will be more inclined to vote this time around.

WC: They’ll be much more inclined to vote, and we saw that in some of the by-elections in Alabama and other places, and more women are now being urged to run for office. So I think there’s going to be a counter reaction, and a lot of it will be from women.

ABM: Yeah, yeah. And I think probably the Democrats also are going to be more energized this time around.

WC: Oh definitely.

ABM: I mean mathematically speaking it’s entirely, it’s possible for then Democrats to recapture the House as well as the Senate. I mean, that will be something to see. I think you’re right, 2018 is going to be even more than just that. It’s going to demonstrate to what extent the American public—is the American public moving, in which direction is it moving? What is moving the—I mean, the economy continues most likely to flourish.

WC: Yes.

ABM: Now.

WC: He’ll take credit for that.

ABM: So everybody—yes, he’ll take credit, he’s already taking credit for it. So everybody’s saying it’s the economy stupid, it’s the economy, it’s the economy. Well, the economy is going to be fine. Will that still be the main force that is going—

WC: Traditionally it has been. Traditionally, the economy has been the key.

ABM: You’re absolutely right, it’s been the key. Will that now remain the main force, given the fact that everything else they don’t like? And that is to me the most important thing to watch for, not to speak of course of our foreign policy, that is, his foreign policy, which to me is even more alarming than anything else that’s happening.

WC: Right. Well, on the subject that you and I are so interested in and have followed for a long time, namely the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s a very interesting example to see how he operates, and to try to read his mind as to how he’s approaching it. And you know, I think as most people have thought in the beginning, that well, this conflict seems to be intractable, and maybe a person like this who’s coming from the outside with fresh views. It doesn’t seem likely, but maybe it’s possible something will really happen. And I think we’ve seen that’s not the case.

ABM: Unfortunately he made things worse in my view.

WC: And then of course he gave some of the assignment to his son-in-law, who also is I’m sure a fine person but had no experience in this issue. And you can—years ago I worked for Jeane Kirkpatrick at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Jeane was a wonderful person. She was an academic intellectual, but she had no experience in government. She didn’t know how the State Department worked and how bureaucrats work, and how when you’re sending a message, you need to consult with a bunch of people to make sure that nobody is going to contradict you. But in time she kind of learned that ‘OK, this is how you do it.’ And the president doesn’t seem to have learned much about how to build consensus, or whether he should build consensus on given issues. And for example, I think the president in some ways is very interesting, his approach. He often or maybe almost always tries to leave himself an exit, a way out. And on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, especially on the Jerusalem issue. You know, his initial statement was well—on moving the embassy—well, we’re going to move the embassy to Jerusalem but we’re not taking any position about the final boundaries of the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, or the boundaries for the Palestinians. Well of course his statements that he would move the embassy changed so much, because that had been one of the few possible incentives. One of the few for the Israelis to come to an agreement, one of the few cards the Palestinians had, and he just threw that card away.

ABM: He gave it away without demanding anything in return from Netanyahu, which is sad, sad day. I mean this is one—this is such a big thing for Israel, such a big thing. He could have gotten significant concessions.

WC: I mean, everybody knows de facto West Jerusalem is the capital. That’s where the Prime Minister’s office is, that’s where the Knesset is. We all know that. But we also know that if there is ever going to be an agreement between the Palestinians and Israel, there’s got to be something motivating the Israelis to come to the table. Certainly you have this enormous asymmetry, with a very prosperous, strongly allied Israel, with a very poor Palestinian state, and the Israelis are enjoying a good prosperity for the most part, and the Palestinians are not. So that, apart from all the limitations on their livelihood, of travel restrictions and many other kind of restrictions, so that the Palestinians have very strong motives to come to an agreement to relieve these pressures. Whereas the Israelis have very little motivating them I think to come to an agreement.

ABM: Yeah, well, like exactly what you said, the fact that Israel is so prosperous, so powerful, you know economically powerful, socially, technologically, just about in every single field. The economy is thriving. So they have there no incentive to change the status quo. What is also interesting is that having been able to achieve this level of success while the continuing threat so-to-speak going back 70 years from the day of inception. So for them, actually maintaining a certain level of threat or sense of insecurity is strong motivation for all Israelis to rally around the cause. That is, we cannot trust the Palestinians. We have to continue to be, remain vigilant, very strong because— And then having been able to develop this system, the apparatus, both militarily and technologically as well as in terms of intelligence to be able to control the Palestinian. To control specifically violent resistance. There’s some violence, but there’s nothing—more Israeli people are killed on the highway every single day than what the Palestinians are killing Israelis through the whole year. So they have created a situation where they can manage. The management of the crisis becomes the norm now. That is the scary situation. In the interim, what’s happening is they’re continuing expansion of the settlements now practically with no brakes. Nobody’s telling them anymore anything. New realities are created and the two-state solution is becoming very, it’s rapidly vanishing, disappearing. And from the Israeli perspective, it’s a success story. Look what we’re doing. We don’t want a Palestinian state in the West Bank, it’s not going to happen because we’re creating new facts on the ground. On the other hand, I don’t know how many Israelis including the government itself are asking themselves the question, ‘OK we’re succeeding now, we’re controlling the situation, where are we going to be 10 years down the line?’ And there is no answer that I could find anywhere in Israel. Do you know where you’re going to be 10 years down the line? And there’s a great deal of wishful thinking. You know, Palestinians will leave because they’re putting pressure. But they don’t understand this is simply not going to happen. And then out of despair, and when you have nothing left to lose, in my view it’s going to explode, even though tens of thousands of Palestinians can get killed in the process. But for them it’s going to be a small price to pay if they can, because once there is this kind of eruption, it will no longer go back to the status quo. They would want a permanent, definitive end to the conflict. That’s—I mean that’s one end of it. And the second end, from my perspective—

WC: Excuse me, when you say an end of the conflict, are you talking about some form of a Palestinian state?

ABM: They will demand a solution.

WC: Yes.

ABM: A permanent solution. What kind of contour that’s going to be the contour of the solution, one cannot tell. But there’s no question they’re going to be demanding a Palestinian state. I mean, that is one thing. The other problem is that they themselves have been contributing to their own problem by sticking to their old, old, old narrative going back now 50 years, at least since 1967. They have never understood that you cannot simply resist. You have to come up with new ideas. Resistance to the political, occasionally it’s erupting into, becoming violent resistance. It has never really worked with the Israelis because it only galvanized the Israelis to oppose it and get better at it. And then you have Hamas on the other hand, who constantly continues to threaten Israel, continues to demand all of Palestine, rather than part of it, also playing into the hands of the Israelis. So when I speak to the Palestinians, I tell them, you are making a terrible mistake. You are now the victim. Yes, you are the one who’s been displaced. Yes, but you have to also understand you cannot defeat Israel. Your resistance, be that sometimes peaceful, political, and/or violent, did not work. You’ve got to change your strategy, you know, renounce violence. I mean, Hamas still today refuses to renounce violence, and they’re playing into the hands of Netanyahu and his bunch. And when you have an American administration that sees no wrong as far as Israel goes, simply no wrong, successive American administration from day one have basically supported Israel. Some put a little bit more pressure than the other, the greater the biggest pressure came from President Obama for awhile, to force, to halt the expansion of the settlements, but he ended up giving Israel thirty-eight billion dollars in military aid over 10 years. So there was no, the United States has never taken a single coercive, a single measure to force the Israeli hands, when in fact it’s the only country that can exact any kind of concession from Israel. And the Israelis know that, and the Israelis tell us. As long— America for us is number one two, three, four, and five. And that’s what matters to us the most, knowing also the United States is not going to put that kind of pressure in order to get any kind of concessions. That is— So, as I see it now, America here has contributed to the impasse just as much as the Israelis and the Palestinians have contributed to it.

WC: There was a period I think in the early 90s, after the first Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the United States looked as though it was the sole power in the world. And Secretary of State Baker organized the conference in Madrid that led to ultimately to the Oslo Accords, and that actually moved the whole process forward quite a bit. And we recognized that the PLO, and you may remember that the PLO and Arafat signed a letter with, exchanged with Rabin on the White House lawn which explicitly not only recognized Israel—

ABM: Oh yeah.

WC: But recognized Israel’s right to exist.

ABM: Yeah, yeah.

WC: So you know it’s really very I think insidious when some years later, Netanyahu comes up with the idea well, they must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. So he never mentioned the fact that they already have recognized Israel—not only recognized Israel, but its right to exist. And if you start saying well, you [must] recognize Israel as a Jewish state, what does that mean for the non-Jewish population? What does that mean for civil rights, for human rights? That’s never made clear, and it certainly looks as though it could lay the groundwork for a long-term state where you have two sets of laws for two sets of people.

ABM: Oh, which already exists.

WC: Which already exists.

ABM: I mean Israel itself—

WC: I know it’d simply be giving legitimacy to that system a system that already exists. We don’t want to use the ‘A’ word, but you know, it’s moving in that direction.

ABM: No, but the truth of the matter is Palestinian-Israelis are discriminated against, there’s no, I mean, everybody knows that. And as far as the West Bank is concerned, there are two systems, two separate laws. One is applicable to the settlers, and one for the Palestinians. And so you don’t want to use the word apartheid, but it’s a de facto apartheid, at least now I think is becoming ever so more closely to be identified.

WC: I think we also have to recognize that the PLO and the Palestinian State really went a long way in the early 2000s, after the death of Arafat, that the Palestinian Authority, at the insistence of George W. Bush, cooperated with the United States and with Israel on security in the West Bank. Abbas has said he’s against violence. And during the three Gaza wars in ‘08, ‘12, and ‘14, the West Bank was quiet. And that’s because they were being sat on not only by the Israelis, but by—

ABM: By the Palestinians themselves.

WC: By the Palestinians themselves. So I think the Palestinians can say they have in good faith cooperated a great deal with the United States and Israel, especially on security matters. And of course they’ve got nothing in return. And Abbas, it puts Abbas in an extremely difficult position because he can say, ‘look, we’re cooperating on security. Israeli security people are all over the West Bank. But in return, we’re going to make progress towards a Palestinian state.’ And he has not been able to deliver that.

ABM: Yeah, what the Israeli argument about that, and you hear it all the time, and that is what happened in 2000, the Second Intifada. You see for the Israelis, the Second Intifada—and I’m not justifying it, you know my position, but for the Israelis, the Second Intifada was nothing short of a major turning point. That is, if there was any trust left with the Palestinians, that trust, it totally evaporated.

WC: And it killed the peace movement in Israel.

ABM: Yeah, it killed the peace movement. So when you have 130 terrorist activities that took place in 2000 alone, over one thousand Israelis got killed in these terrorist activities, it really changed, it destroyed the peace movement, exactly what you said, and it instilled serious doubt and distrust of the Palestinians, and they have not recovered from that to this day. And that is something—when I talk to the Palestinians, I say to them, you’ve got to understand the Israeli mindset. You’ve got to understand the mentality. The occupation is not acceptable, is unjustifiable. I’m totally against it, but their actions are making things considerably worse. If you made a mistake in 2000, acknowledge it. Say it was a mistake, we made a mistake. But we don’t want to make the same mistake again. Once it is acknowledged, you disarm the extremists in Israel, who continue to say we gave them, we did this. You remember before 2000, the relationship was actually, after the Oslo Accords, Israelis and Palestinians been going back and forth, Israelis go to the West Bank, they gamble, they buy, they shop, and come back to Israel. This is how coexistence is going to look like. Jerusalem in the ‘80s was incredibly peaceful. But that’s what I’m saying is, what happened is that the mistake each party has taken has been compounded, and it created a such deadlock right now, that it is impossible to unravel. Then comes Mr.—

WC: And it’s been impossible for either side to recognize the narrative of the other.

ABM: Exactly. Exactly. And then comes Trump, And he adds another measure. This is a guy who said, oh, I can resolve, you know, this is going to be the deal of the century. OK, if you are resolved to make the deal of the century, ok, what is the kind of approach, strategy you’re going to take to be able to bridge the gap, if you know anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So he goes with Jerusalem, says well I’ll just remove the question of Jerusalem off the table and that is going to be step one. And then he freezes, because the Palestinians refused now to resume negotiations, he freezes the financial assistance to the Palestinians, which is even more outrageous. And he, you know, this is the sad, sad commentary. Expecting the Palestinians to crawl to get the money.

WC: You know, Arafat and the P.A. do have a political constituency. There were elections a long time ago. And they have to, to a degree, reflect public opinion among Palestinians in the West Bank. And of course there was there was terrible outrage about the announcement of moving the embassy, because it seemed to them that that was the end of any role of the United States as a mediator. So I think the United States is indispensable, it’s going to be absolutely necessary if anything is going to happen. It may be necessary but not sufficient to make things happen. But you know, I think the Palestinians can also say to themselves that there is no point in sitting down and negotiating anything now. That is, as you say, the distrust on both sides is very strong. But beyond that, the prime minister of Israel ran against the Oslo Accords in the mid 1990s. And in the last election, the night before the last election, he said there’s not going to be a Palestinian state while I’m prime minister.

ABM: Exactly. Exactly.

WC: So you know, what is the point of sitting down and negotiating the idea of a Palestinian state with someone who has said that this is not going to happen?

ABM: No, not under his watch, no question. But in the same token I also feel strongly that not just the Israeli government has to be different one to be able to negotiate, but you also need the fresh faces, fresh individual, a Palestinian with courage, with vision, who’s not wedded—

WC: And there seems to be nobody coming up.

ABM: Someone, we need someone who is not wedded to the past. Somebody who’s exempt, exempt himself from ok, what was, was. We have a different, we have to look at the situation somewhat differently. And there is no one in the horizon. The one who could do that is in Israeli jail, which is really most, most unfortunate. I’m talking about Marwan Barghouti.

WC: Yes, of course.

ABM: Yeah, yeah. I think to myself, what has changed since we’ve been talking about it 20 years ago. We’re only adding another layer of problems and difficulties, and the problem with delaying it right now. Now that resumption of the negotiations isn’t going to produce anything, continues Israeli entrenchment in the West Bank.

WC: Yeah, you know there was a, I don’t know how much credibility you give to it, but there was a leak I guess from Saeb Erekat about the purported Trump plan, and the administration immediately said ‘oh, well ‘ that’s not our final version of the plan.’ But they had said they were coming up with a plan. And the terms that were leaked would never be accepted, couldn’t possibly be accepted by anybody with any political credibility with the Palestinians. I mean in 2009, the two sides were rather close in a number of areas. And apparently Olmert was offering to hold onto only 6 percent, and Abbas had offered 2 percent. And the idea was well, maybe there’s a compromise in the middle. Well, this talked about Israel holding onto 10 percent of the West Bank, so they’re going absolutely in the opposite direction. And it’s hard to believe that there could ever be a deal without East Jerusalem, that the Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem being part of a Palestinian state and part of the Palestinian capital. And the talk about the capital being in Abu Dis, or—

ABM: Also Silwan, which is very close to Jerusalem.

WC: Well, Beit Hanina, Beit Hanina, which has also been mentioned. I think that’s really a nonstarter. There’s really not going to be a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians have some part of East Jerusalem.

ABM: You see, what is very interesting, the reaction. Of course they share this information with Jordan, with Saudi Arabia, with Egypt. The relatively mute reaction from the Arab states, which was really, a year ago I would have said no, going to be a major outburst, it didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen, and this is another area where Netanyahu’s capitalizing on, and that is the closeness that has been evolving and developing between Israel and the Arab states.

WC: Right, trade and investment.

ABM: Especially with the Gulf and with Saudi Arabia in particular because of the common enemy. And so the Saudis see Israel more of an ally, even closer, more important than even the United States in the sense, this is in the forefront. That is, if anyone is going to confront Iran, it’s not going to be, more likely Israel than it’s going to be the United States. That’s how Saudis actually look at it. So what’s happening in Israel today, as they see it, the Arab States basically put the Israeli-Palestinian [conflict] on the back burner. They are no longer putting any pressure on Abbas to make a move to make concessions, anything like this. And Israel, Netanyahu is building, is capitalizing on the shifting political winds in Israel—I mean, in the Middle East—and the threat that Iran presumably is posing on the entire area. So that’s another. How would that change? So it’s not enough for Israeli and Palestinian governments to change. You’re going to need to change, have other changes, specifically any Israeli government will continue to be concerned about Iran. Could be from—

WC: And Syria, too. You’ve got Hezbollah right there on the border.

ABM: And now they have that. So changing the government is necessary, but in and of itself will not be enough. You need to resolve the question of Hezbollah, the question of Iran’s support. That is why I am saying the conflict is becoming ever more and more intractable because of the changing geostrategic conditions in the region itself. That is making things considerably more, worse than they are.

WC: But even if you have a hypothesis of a de facto alliance between Israel and the Gulf Arabs, Saudi Arabia, Egypt being more or less out of the game, there’s still a lot of tension with Hezbollah, with Syria, and through them Russia, because Russia sees Syria as a client state, it has for a long time. So they’re not particularly wedded to Assad, but they’re wedded to Syria as being a client, their little piece of turf on the Mediterranean. And so somehow that is going to be hard to come to an accommodation without figuring out how to address the Syrian conundrum, I think.

ABM: Yeah, you are right. I think there is, there’s Lebanon, there is of course Syria, even in Iraq to some extent, it is important to calm things down in Iraq. And then you have of course Iran, who is not going to settle on anything other than maintaining its position. I mean, Netanyahu just went to visit Putin.

WC: Isn’t that interesting.

ABM: A couple days ago. What was the subject matter there? Israel will not allow an Iranian base in Syria under any circumstances. And we will take action whether Russia likes it or not. And he was pleading with Putin to convince Iran not to even try, because Israel will not allow it to happen. So you have now a direct issue that needs to be resolved. Iran is determined to establish a permanent base, and Israel is determined not to allow that to happen. So where is the focus going? And that suits the Saudis very, very much, because they have their own stake in Syria. And so they want to make sure that Iran does not stay in Syria as well. So that’s another layer. Other than the nuclear threat, there’s the geostrategic threat, which concerns Israel as well as the Saudis in particular. So you have another layer to this conflict, and of course the Israelis are not sleeping well as long as Hezbollah has a hundred and fifty thousand plus rockets. And now the main concern, the second issue that concerns Israel is the factory that Iran built in Lebanon to build a new generation of missiles.

WC: Oh, they have a factory.

ABM: Yeah, two factories, and Israel has identified the location. And I think it would be only a question of time when you’re going to see—

WC: Yeah.

ABM: Bombing of these facilities, these new factories, only when. But if this is going to instigate any attack by Iran, by Hezbollah against Israel using rockets, we’re talking about a massive, massive, massive conflagration between Israel and Hezbollah.

WC: But if there was prior—maybe this is pie in the sky—if there is progress towards an accommodation with Israel and the Palestinians, would that take pressure off?

ABM: Great deal.

WC: Coming from Hezbollah?

ABM: Not just Hezbollah, Iran as well. See, Iran today is saying as long as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, they have they have the reason to talk and—

WC: But if you take that conflict away—

ABM: If you take it away, you are really usurping away from them the reason to stop. What have you got against Israel. As a matter of fact, you start talking about the relationship between Persians and Jews, which was wonderful.

WC: Very old, it’s an old story.

ABM: Old, old story. But there was an excellent relationship.

WC: Yes. Yes. Under the Shah.

ABM: Throughout the centuries, under the Shah, and going back 2,000 years for that matter.

WC: Yes, yes, yes.

ABM: So that is what the Israelis just don’t understand. You want to mitigate the conflict with Iran, deal with the Palestinians. You want to mitigate the conflict with Hezbollah as well, deal with the Palestinians.

WC: Absolutely.

ABM: They don’t get it.

WC: You and I are completely agreed on that.

ABM: I think we’ve been agreed on everything we’ve talked about. Alright.

WC: Good.

ABM: Thank you so much, I think we had a good time. It was fun.

WC: Thank you. I enjoyed it.