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Town Hall: Middle East Update

Speakers: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative, and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations, Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Robert M. Danin, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, and Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
July 22, 2014
Council on Foreign Relations

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HAASS: Welcome, everybody, to the Council on Foreign Relations on this warm July afternoon. About two or three weeks ago, I wrote a letter to the membership and I said I wished everybody a good summer and I said I would do my best not to interrupt it unless events forced our hand. And, alas, I am sorry to report that events have done just that.

We had all sorts of choices about what to focus today's meeting on, but we decided to focus it on the greater Middle East, which is not to say a lot is not going on obviously with Ukraine, Russia and the like, things are not going on in the Asia Pacific -- they are -- but, again, there's more than enough to fill an hour and 15 minutes in the -- in the Middle East.

Speaking of the Middle East, let me just say that I feel very good about something the Council just published over the last week or so. One of our info guides, if you go to cfr.org, you'll see the latest in the series. And this is on the Sunni-Shia dispute. You might have seen it as you walked in today, but it's part of our commitment to take what we've always done, which is hopefully smart, serious, analytical work and present it in new forms on all sorts of devices. And we've done just that with the Sunni-Shia dispute. So I heartily recommend it to people as a really useful background into one of the fault lines that has emerged in this part of the world.

We're also, as you can see, got some maps that will be made available. And up there, we've got one of just that, the greater Middle East. We've also got five real experts arrayed for you. And we will be hearing from each of them, and then we'll also save a significant chunk of time for you, for the members, because there's an awful lot of experts in this room and on the phone and beyond. We've got all sorts of people linked into this meeting -- as many people there are in this room in New York, we've got at least that many and then some who are listening in and watching.

I gather this is not being put out on the Internet live because of all the screens and the like, but we will put -- we'll post it later. So this is on the record.

The other reason I also wanted to do that was that I was -- the issues we're discussing are so important. And I -- again, I think one of the areas the Council can make a difference is by being an educational resource in the largest sense of the word.

Let me just quickly introduce the five individuals you see most or all of whom I think will be extremely well-known to those -- to all of you. Isobel Coleman is here with me in New York. She's senior fellow, has done a lot to develop the whole women and international program here at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently published a work -- several years ago, I guess, now -- about women in the Middle East and is in the late stages of completing a book about education and educational reform.

COLEMAN: And employment.

HAASS: And employment.

COLEMAN: Or lack of.

HAASS: Yeah, if it's a book on educational reform in the Middle East, it may be an article.

(LAUGHTER)

But -- I have to be careful. This is on the record. But, anyhow, Isobel is here in New York. Up on the screen, we see Elliott Abrams, who's had a distinguished career in government and all sorts of positions, and most recently wrote a book about the previous administration's efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We got Steven Cook, who is the house expert on all things Egyptian and all things Turkish and recently published a book about, really, the sweep of modern Egypt.

Rob Danin, who's worked at both the State Department and the White House, like Elliott, and has spent as much time, I would say, in the West Bank and Gaza over the last couple years as just about any other American, is working on a book, also, about the United States and the Middle East.

And last, but far from least, is Ray Takeyh, who is one of this country's real authorities on Iran. And somewhat lost amidst the attention, given the Israel, Gaza, Hamas crisis of the last few days and weeks, and also things in Ukraine, has been to use, I suppose to use a World Cup metaphor, the announcement of extra time for the U.S. -- not just U.S., but the Iranian nuclear negotiations in essentially a four-month extra time to continue the efforts to come up with an outcome that is acceptable to Iran, as well as to the rest of the world.

So we've got all that. I would just sort of say one last thing in the way of introduction. It's always hard to know when you're living in history. It's the kind of thing that's always easier in -- with the advantage of hindsight. But my own view -- and I hope I'm wrong here -- and the good news is, as many of you would agree very quickly I'm wrong with some frequency -- I think this is one of those times in the Middle East.

And whether your starting point, as it is for some, is 100 years ago, and essentially the Sykes-Picot map of the Middle East, or in something I've been writing about recently, whether your vantage point or historical starting point is Europe in the first half of the 17th century, and the three-decade-long struggle that concluded with the peace and Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, but essentially prolonged political religious struggles within and across borders, I think the Middle East is going through something like that. And if I'm right -- and I hope I'm not -- we're still in relatively early stages of it.

It's roughly three-and-a-half years since the so-called Arab Spring began. And it's quite possible that we still have much more history ahead of us than we have behind us, in terms of this part of the world sorting itself out and coming to some form of stability, which if you recall when Henry Kissinger would write about notions of stability require two things. It required a degree of balance, but also a degree of legitimacy, and by legitimacy was meant an organizing principle that was acceptable to the powers that be who were involved. And I would simply suggest that we have got quite a ways to traverse before we are able to come up to a situation that has a degree of balance and a degree of shared legitimacy or acceptability in this part of the world.

And the stakes are considerable for reasons whether it's still to do with energy resources, to do with terrorism, to deal with humanitarian issues, to deal with the American commitment to Israel, and to other states in the region, to deal with our desire to stop the spread of proliferation, what have you. So enormous stakes and also it's hard to exaggerate how difficult it will be to get it right.

Let's start, though, with the most immediate, which has been the Israel-Hamas-Gaza crisis. Elliott, why don't I just start with you, in terms of -- and then I'll turn to Rob -- just to sort of set the stage on exactly where things stand?

ABRAMS: Well, we're now in the -- towards the second week of conflict between Israel and Hamas. I would argue that the background to this is the immense pressure under which Hamas felt itself, its situation in Gaza becoming worse and worse, largely because of changes on the Egyptian side that is a real tightening of the border between Sinai and Gaza, a real sense of hostility on the part of the Egyptian government, creating for Hamas' situation in which its hold on Gaza seemed to it more difficult to maintain, the economy getting smaller and smaller, public opinion seeming to be less enthusiastic about Hamas, not too many, pardon me, great options for Hamas.

And so they chose to shoot a lot of rockets into Israel. There was an immediate effort by Egypt to get a cease-fire, but it was a mere cease-fire, if you will -- "Just stop shooting" -- which would have given Hamas none of the gains that it seeks out of this conflict. And Hamas rejected it. It may well have been presented by Egypt, if you will, with malice of forethought, if I can put it that way, that is, they may not have expected Hamas to accept it, though they clearly wanted Hamas to accept it.

We're heading toward week three now -- pardon me -- and the fundamental conditions have not changed. That is, Hamas doesn't want to just stop. It wants some gains for what will have been at least two weeks of fighting. The Israelis and the Egyptians don't want to give them those gains; they just want the fighting stopped.

And I think the question that is now -- that is faced by Secretary Kerry, by others who are trying to work out a cease-fire is whether it is possible to come up with a formula that actually, A, of course, stops the fighting, does not appear to reward Hamas, but may actually make the situation in Gaza better for the people of Gaza. And squaring that circle of improving the situation on the ground in Gaza without allowing Hamas to take credit is going to be difficult.

HAASS: Rob, can I just come to you, but also ask one or two questions? One, is the Israeli condition simply to stop it? Or do the Israelis or many Israelis -- it's hard to say there's a single Israeli position -- would also seem to have a goal that would place real limits on militarization of Hamas? And could you say something about Hamas' conditions? I mean, what is it Hamas is looking for, beyond, if you will, an end to the use of military force by Israel here? What is Hamas looking for to satisfy itself?

DANIN: Well, first of all, on the Israeli side, the Israeli position is not static. It's evolved. At the beginning of the fighting, its position was it sought quiet for quiet. It just wanted to bring the missiles that were being fired into Israel to an end.

Increasingly, as Israel discovered that what Hamas had done is amassed a vast network of tunnels into Israel, not just under Gaza, and that this posed a real threat to Israel, and as Hamas has successfully infiltrated people into Israel, albeit those people have been intercepted and have not inflicted any casualties, but they've demonstrated that Hamas' capabilities have been -- had expanded even greater, Israel's commensurate objectives have also broadened.

So now Israel is seeking to really go after the tunnel infrastructure, and that's what precipitated the ground offensive. But in answer to your question, I mean, now, you know, what Israel will take or what Israel wants, as Israel's now had over 25 casualties, if anything, their objectives are broadening. There's a desire not to -- necessarily to return to the status quo ante, as has been the position up until now. That's still -- you know, I think now you have the beginnings of a real debate in Israel of, is this actually -- should this just be considered an operation to maintain the status quo ante or reconstitute it or, in fact, change the strategic picture at large? And I think if the fighting continues, then the debate will widen, not constrict.

As for Hamas, you know, neither Israel nor Hamas sought this conflict at this point in time. Clearly, Hamas had been rearming and had prepared itself for another round of fighting, as has Israel. But in terms of the actual fighting right now, Hamas was kind of dragged into it by rocket fire that was coming out of Gaza from Islamic Jihad. And at a certain point, Hamas decided to join the fray, not to rein it in, as Israel had hoped Hamas would do.

But Hamas has been severely challenged economically, politically, not just from Egypt, as Elliott pointed out, but also from the national unity government that it agreed to with Abu Mazen. They reached this national unity agreement, Hamas and Fatah. This -- in doing so, they relinquished some of their ministries in Gaza, and they accepted -- they expected that there would be some political payoff, some economic payoff, largely that revenues would start to flow into Gaza, that the 43,000 civil servants who fall under Hamas' budget would then start to be paid -- they haven't been -- so to a certain extent, Hamas was really cornered economically, politically, although what we see is that not militarily, and that -- therefore, you know, when it chose -- when it had the decision what to do about the rocket fire, it decided, OK, we'll go with this.

HAASS: Let me ask a question of both you and Elliott before we move on to other issues in the region, which is two questions. One is, other than Rob mentioning Abu Mazen, I haven't heard his name mentioned much over the last couple of weeks. So what are the consequences of a dynamic largely between Israel and Hamas for, if you will, Palestinian political life? What are the -- and, secondly, if you're John Kerry, if you were thinking about that, is the old Chinese idea that in every crisis there's also embedded an opportunity, is there opportunity here? Is there a way of thinking about this -- I guess a billiards metaphor would be a bank shot -- your immediate goal is to get a cease-fire. Is there a cease-fire-plus here? Is there any opportunity amidst this? And what might that look like?

ABRAMS: Well, I think there is. If you're going to improve the situation in Gaza, if part of what you're trying to do is think about, well, how could people and goods move in and out better so the economy would function better? You've -- part of the answer is the Palestinian Authority.

During the war, they're kind of irrelevant. They're just bystanders. And as you point out, they're hardly even mentioned. But as you begin to think about a way out of this, then I think the P.A. has to come in. Because if you think about, well, OK, in those passages between Gaza and Egypt, Gaza and Israel, what's the Palestinian kind of police force? What's the Palestinian authority? And it is the P.A. They'll have to be part of the solution to this.

And it does provide an opportunity. They've been completely out of Gaza since 2007. Here is a chance. Now, they were starting to get back in under this non-party technocratic government. Here's an opportunity to try to put the P.A. back into Gaza. Whether the P.A. is strong enough to take advantage of that opportunity I think is very much an open question. But I think in the peace negotiations, in the cease-fire negotiations, the P.A. comes back to having a real role.

HAASS: Rob?

DANIN: Well, in terms of Palestinian politics, you know, in the initial phase of this fighting, you know, clearly people were writing Abu Mazen's political obituary, saying that, in essence, you know, now that Hamas has reshifted its -- you know, to the center of Palestinian politics, given that it is now the decision-maker in this conflict, it has eclipsed the Palestinian Authority, that it's demonstrated that, you know, resistance is the path towards dealing with Israel, not through negotiations, and, you know, if this -- if there's a cease-fire tomorrow and we return to the status quo ante, then Hamas will emerge in a stronger position politically.

But that said, you know, and segueing to your second question, there is an opportunity here, as Elliott, you know, alluded to. And I think that's something that the -- you know, the secretary of state, John Kerry, recognized, it's something Ban Ki-moon recognized that. You know, and I think increasingly we're seeing in Israel, too.

You know, paradoxically, as the situation gets worse in the fighting for both sides, as I was mentioning, you know, there's a sense in Israel that a mere return to the status quo ante, you know, the quiet-for-quiet formula may buy a little bit of time, but strategically it's writing a prescription for the next round, and that in order to prepare for the -- for the next round or to avoid a next round, you need -- you need to address some of the fundamentals.

And that's where Ban Ki-moon is going. That's where John Kerry is going. And the danger here, of course, is that the conclusion will be the danger, I say, is that you'll go on the wrong track, and that's to try to go too precipitously towards a peace process, rather than try to deal with some of the fundamentals on the ground.

And here, you know, more for more. More on the Israeli side -- or to assuage Israeli concerns would be dealing with the security situation and may, indeed, entail some sort of international regime to deal with the tunnels, to deal with the massive armament. But Israel recognizes, in order to get more on the security side, it's going to have to give more on the economic side, along the lines that Elliott was saying.

And there, the pieces are in place. It's the access and movement agreement from 2005. It's the cease-fire from 2012. And most importantly, it's the -- it's the national unity government that was put into place. I think, you know, that was something that the United States actually welcomed quietly, because it saw that this was the way forward in trying to break the logjam in Palestinian politics.

And I think that now Israeli minds are a little more flexible on this point and could be convinced to not embrace the national unity government, but not oppose it. And that's all you need right now.

HAASS: OK, let me -- let's broaden it now, and now that we solved that, to Egypt itself, not Egypt in this context, but Egypt qua Egypt. Steven, Mr. al-Sisi has been president now for, what, is it two months, plus or minus? What is it we've learned? And I think from the outside, when people describe Egypt as once again a top-heavy state, if you will, Mubarakism without Mubarak, is that -- is that doing them an injustice? Or does that have, if you will, within quite a lot of truth?

COOK: No, I think there is a lot of truth to that. To start out just at a broader level, what we're seeing in Egypt is the reconstitution of an old order. There are some new changes -- obviously, new faces, but not as new as you might think. Most of this government -- and I suspect the government after a parliament is elected in the fall -- will be people who were officials in the Mubarak period.

So, really, in all of the historic change in Egypt over the course of the last three-and-a-half years, what we're looking at isn't terrible different from what came beforehand. There's something very, very familiar about what's happening in Cairo.

Certainly, thus far, Sisi as president has proved himself to be more decisive, more brutal, savvier than Mubarak, particularly Mubarak in his later years. He was, you know, quite elderly at that time.

But what's happening in Egypt is the re-engineering of the institutions and organizations of the state to prevent January 25th from ever happening again. And that's the way we should look at Egyptian politics going forward. And that politics is not necessarily going to be played out in the street.

We may see explosions of people coming out in the street to demand X or Y. If the Israelis, for example, kill a large -- additional large number of innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip, Sisi may find pressure from the street on that.

But, really, where the politics is going to be in Egypt is between Sisi, the military, the intelligence services, the judiciary, and the Ministry of Interior. That is where the future trajectory of Egyptian politics is going to play out. It's largely going to be one that is authoritarian.

This is not -- it doesn't seem to me that this is this interregnum, this reversal before we have a movement forward in democratic development. The effort, as I said, to re-engineer the institutions of the state to prevent something like January 25th from ever happening again will have an important impact on a future trajectory of Egyptian politics.

HAASS: Well, Steven, then let me ask the obvious follow-up. Can it work? If basically the idea -- if this is not a transitional arrangement, the prelude to a modernizing reformist moment, but this is the new normal, can it -- can it succeed? Are the millions of people -- I would expect that it -- who are fairly ardent supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, are they prepared to accept this? Are they -- is the regime in a sufficiently advantaged position where it can essentially impose its will? Can Egypt also succeed economically against that backdrop of that kind of a political system?

COOK: Well, Richard, in essence, you've highlighted all of the challenges now to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which is, one, a dedicated opposition, like the Muslim Brotherhood, that is not going to give it up. A mobilized population that is not going to wait very long for things to get better economically, he's undertaken a number of economic reforms, importantly, subsidy reforms that are quite painful. So there are these particular risks against the backdrop of, of course, terrorism not just in the Sinai peninsula, but also in the western desert, and the conflict next door, which is enormously important domestically for Egyptians.

The question is, can they succeed? I have my doubts, only because the population has been mobilized and because the economy is so bad in Egypt. The theory behind the Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presidency was that he would be able to do these very difficult things and he would -- he had the sort of gravitas to inflict pain on the population.

The question is, how long does he have? The subsidy reforms were important, but at the same time, they haven't done much in order to rebuild a social safety net that will help that vast reservoir of Egyptians who live on $2 a day. So -- although there is a process of rebuilding the old order, it's not as if there are no challenges in Egypt. And I think that, in the process, you're going to have these periods of political ferment and violence.

But overall, I think the balance of power is with the regime. They have the guns. They've been willing to use those guns. And if half of the population is opposed to what's happening, the other half of the population that has been subjected to pro-Sisi, anti-Muslim Brotherhood, anti-U.S., anti-democratic system propaganda over the course of the last year, those people are with the reconstitution of the old order. And you see that in particular in the commentary in the Egyptian press over what's actually happening in the Gaza Strip these days.

HAASS: OK, let's turn to -- if we had this meeting a couple of weeks ago, the focus would not have been the Israeli-Gaza-Hamas situation. It would not have been Egypt. It would have been Iraq and Iraq -- or Iraq-Syria, because it's increasingly artificial to distinguish between the two.

And what we were seeing was essentially, just to repaint the scene, was the ISIS, or the Islamic State, the Caliphate, whatever title you want to use, moving with great dispatch, Iraqi government forces essentially crumbling and disappearing, the Kurds taking advantage of the moment to extend their writ over Kirkuk and a larger de facto Kurdistan, Iran upping its support for, if you will, what was left of Iraq, neither the Kurdish part nor much of the northwest, but over kind of greater Baghdad and the south.

And the question then, Isobel, let me turn to you, have things stabilized there? Has this now -- is this kind of where we are? Because quite honestly, it hasn't been anything as much in the news, what, the last two weeks about -- it obviously was the preceding weeks, it may have gotten forced out of the news by other developments, but has this stabilized at all? Or am I missing something?

COLEMAN: Well, I think it's stabilized in its own pathological way. You've had -- I would say very breathless reporting about the ISIS move across from Syria into Iraq and how quickly they took territory and how quickly the Iraqi forces did fall. And at the time, it seemed like Baghdad was imminently going to fall. I don't think that Baghdad actually was ever imminently going to fall. It was a relatively small number of extremists in these militias.

And I think the rapidity with which they moved had more to do with the disgruntlement among Iraqi troops, among their leadership and their failure to hold firm, and, of course, Sunni tribes in the area who joined forces. What you've seen now is, of course, enormous reinforcements in Baghdad itself and around also some of the important Shia sites in the southern part of the country. And you've seen a lot of now internecine fighting going on between ISIS or the Islamic State and their Sunni tribal so-called allies who have now actually been going at it themselves.

Some of the big gains that they made, taking over the Beiji refinery -- in fact, they never actually got full control of it, and you've seen particularly the Kurdish Peshmerga make really -- you know, dig in around Kirkuk. And so I would say, yes, I think for now we're seeing some stasis in its own pathological way. And you're going to see more, I think, fighting going on between the Sunni tribes who supported this move initially, because, you know, the fighters for ISIS or Islamic State have committed atrocities in the neighborhoods that they've gone into, not only against Christians and Shia, but also against Sunni who've not followed their own extremist line.

I mean, there have been a lot of really atrocities that have been committed. So you -- this is not a natural alliance, I don't think. It was one of convenience. And is there the potential for them to say, OK, let's turn now towards Saudi or Jordan? There's the potential for that. Of course, the Saudis have moved tens of thousands of troops into place along their border out of concern, and so have the Jordanians to a lesser extent, but there is a lot of concern about, where will that move go next?

The other thing is, yes, they did pick up a lot of armaments along the way. The reports of them gaining somewhere close to $1 billion in hard currency, I think, has now been disputed. That has come out that maybe, in fact, the $400 million from the bank in Mosul didn't really get taken. So there's a lot of propaganda going on, and for now, I think you're seeing some regrouping, regrouping among the ISIS fighters themselves, regrouping in Baghdad with the Iraqis talking frantically with their so-called American backers, to the extent that the United States is still supplying intelligence and weaponry, and certainly the Iranians.

HAASS: I'm not sure if the question is for you or for others, which is, in the meantime has any of this dynamic affected the situation in Syria, the greater -- almost the widespread perception that ISIS or whatever we're calling it has emerged, at least in the near term, as the biggest concern, even more for some people than Mr. Assad and his support inside Syria? But has any of this changed? Or is Syria pretty much in late July 2014 kind of where it was three months ago?

COLEMAN: I would just say, it's had a blowback effect in two ways. One is that it has given enormous street cred to ISIS back in Syria. I mean, they look like winners, you know? They've got the momentum behind them, the wind in their sails, and it has also made a lot of people look at Bashar as maybe the lesser of two evils. So you've got both dynamics going on in Syria itself.

HAASS: OK, let me turn to Ray before we open up, which is to talk about the negotiations with Iran. Six months ago, when I looked at the calendar, I thought July 20th, this was going to be the dominant story. July 20th came and it was barley noticed compared to the things we've been talking about, as well as Ukraine. So, Ray, why don't you catch us all up by your sense of where we are and what -- how things could well play out over the coming four months of extra time?

TAKEYH: Thanks. I'll be brief. In November, I believe it was 24th, an interim agreement was signed on by the so-called 5-plus-1 in Iran that essentially put some caps on Iranian program in exchange for certain economic concessions. That particular agreement has stipulated that if there was no agreement by July 20th, then it would be renewed for another six months. And, of course, came July 20th, and it was renewed this time for four months to November 25th, which would be anniversary of the signing of the agreement.

If you go back now to November up to December, the supreme leader gave an interesting speech in which he laid out broadly his red lines for negotiations. And those red lines that were stated at that time were that no facility would shutter and no nuclear resources would be exported out of the country and, of course, there would have been no suspension as is mandated by the several Security Council resolutions.

If you look at everything that has happened in the past year, the Iranian negotiating team has maintained discipline and stability to those red lines. The joint plan of action that was agreed to in November broadly conformed to those red lines.

And when those red lines were not upheld this past July, then you had an extension of the talks to perhaps narrow the gaps somehow. But I think if you're looking at it from the Iranian perspective, they believe that they have already made their concessions, which are, you know, they have agreed to cap their program for a period of time, they have agreed to a sunset clause, where upon a final agreement, they would not expand their program for several years, so they're not necessarily suggesting that they're in line for further accommodations, given all the steps that they have taken.

And this is going to be the subject of deliberations for the next four months, whether those particular red lines can be adjusted or somehow some kind of a technological formula devised to accommodate them while minimizing the risk of proliferation.

HAASS: So what are the real -- what have we learned over the past half-year about, in particular -- about Iran's program? Like, what do we see as -- it's always hard to know to what's a bargaining position as opposed to a real fallback, but what do you sense of the real now issues or issues -- areas of contention?

TAKEYH: I think, as been reported, that Iranian enrichment capacity and also, I suspect, the duration of the agreement. It's important to suggest that the interim agreement is likely to be succeeded by another interim agreement of a longer duration. Whatever comprehensive agreement is signed onto will likely to have a sunset clause, and obviously, Iranians will want to limit the sunset clause and the 5-plus-1 will likely have a longer one. I think that's going to be another issue.

And also, the pace and scale of sanctions relief. I don't think Iranians understand the sort of anatomy of the sanctions regime. Not too many people do. It's very complicated. But they probably want a more accelerated timeline for relief of economic pressure.

HAASS: How do we -- if we were having another meeting, which we probably will in four months, is it not likely that some version of -- you know, we don't have a penalty kick shootout, but, you know, the extra time will have come and gone and then we'll essentially been into -- is it not likely that then the issue before us, whether it be to have, if you will, the second extension?

TAKEYH: The fear is that Iranian negotiations have entered the realm of the Palestinian peace process, mainly that the process goes on, but the final status issues remain elusive. And that may not be as sad as it sounds. Perhaps this issue is more susceptible to a series of interim agreements as opposed to a comprehensive final solution.

HAASS: Have we learned anything about the power of President Rouhani and about the distribution of power within Iran in the course of all this?

TAKEYH: As far as I can tell, some of the cleavages that were anticipated are overstated. I view this Iranian government as largely a consensus government. And they seem to have arrived at a consensus position about what they want to do. At least in terms of public commentary, I really don't perceive much distinction about the way Hassan Rouhani speaks about Iran's nuclear aspirations and those of the supreme leader. The supreme leader tends to be more caustic and more mocking and more denigrating of the United States than Hassan Rouhani, but they have different audiences. But in terms of actual deliberations on the nuclear program, the distinctions aren't obvious, in terms of public commentary, are not obvious.

HAASS: One last question on Iran. In the case of Ukraine, on a daily basis, we're confronted with the reality of fairly significant discrepancies, say, between the U.S. and European positions about how to deal with -- with Russia. What is the nature of Western or international cohesion these days on the Iran question?

TAKEYH: I think they'll become more obvious if there's a collapse of the talks. So long as the Iranians and the Americans are negotiating and want to continue to negotiate, some of the differences in the coalition are not going to be apparent, but I suspect if there's a collapse of the talks and both parties are trying to -- trying to gain public attention and public support, then you maybe see some of the differences between them.

HAASS: OK. I'm going to open it up in a few minutes. I want to go around to each one of the five experts we got and basically give you the following wildcard opportunity. If there's any subject that's been mentioned to which you'd like to add, feel free. If there's any subject which has not been mentioned which you'd like to raise, feel free. So why don't we go in the same -- why don't we start with Elliott?

ABRAMS: OK, thanks. I just think one comment. As I think back to previous rounds between Israel and the Palestinians, whether it's Gaza 2008, Gaza 2012, or the Sharon and the intifada, there's a pattern. The United States starts out quite supportive of Israel, but we're getting very heavy European and Arab pressure, stop the fighting right now, lots of demonstrations in cities in the Arab world, phone calls going back and forth. I remember 2000, the Saudis -- Saudi king essentially threatening the whole relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia because we were not leaning on Israel heavily enough.

It's interesting to see that that is not happening. The Saudis and Egyptians, for us usually the most important Arabs, hate the Muslim Brotherhood now. They're pretty content to see Israel striking at this piece of the Muslim Brotherhood. I suspect that you're going to need to see a lot more casualties in Gaza before those governments start leaning on Washington.

And there are no -- if you think of the demonstrations, thus far, Cairo, Riyadh, there really aren't any. You've had some demonstrations against Israel in Europe, but those have tended to be not so much pro-Palestinian as just anti-Semitic, to the point where the British, French and German foreign ministers have now issued a joint statement of remorse, I would call it, about the anti-Semitism being shown in these demonstrations. Well, that means that they are also going to be less forceful in publicly or privately leaning on the United States, leaning on Israel to stop.

I think that's a very different dynamic than the one with which we are familiar from Europe and from the Arab world in past Israeli-Palestinian confrontations.

HAASS: Thanks. Steven?

COOK: I'm going to go outside of Egypt and Turkey and talk a bit about Iraq, having been in northern Iraq in mid-June, and I think that the -- I certainly agree with Isobel that there is a certain pathological stability that has developed in Iraq over the course of the last few weeks, but I think that we should look quite hard at what, in fact, the Kurds are up to here.

They are not committed to a unified Iraq, which they call a fiction. And what they're doing is, they are going through the political process in Baghdad to prove to everybody that they are not to be blamed for the breakup of Iraq. And when this political process comes to an end, without -- without anybody's satisfaction, the Kurds will ultimately make moves to go their own way. They've already done that.

And there's a number of factors that, you know, favor them. One is the fact that they've already opened up a channel of exporting their oil. There are challenges to that, but one can imagine a resolution to that problem. The Turks have made their peace with the idea of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq. And, in fact, Masoud Barzani and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan have this interesting symbiotic relationship where in this situation, Barzani can make Erdogan the king of the Turks and Erdogan can make Barzani the king of the Kurds, where the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq really helps them both politically.

There are other problems related to the Kurdish economy. All of those things one can imagine a resolution to. I think the one thing that's really militating against the Kurds right now is their own internal politics. And they're having a fight right now over who they'll nominate to be the president of Iraq, believing that there is no Iraq and that this person actually will never be the president of Iraq, but they're still having a fight over it.

But I think that we should be -- I think that we should be very clear about what the Kurds are talking about. They talk about a pre-Mosul period and a post-Mosul period. And they believe that they are not part of Iraq that post-Mosul they have nothing to do with Baghdad.

And, by and large, they're right. They don't share people. Kurds of a certain age don't share Arabic language with the rest of the country. Those three provinces that make up the Kurdistan region of Iraq were, you know, pasted on to Iraq in 1925 by the League of Nations and the Brits. There is a certain inevitability here. I don't know what the date is going to be, but there is a certain inevitability to Kurdish independence in Iraq, and I think it's coming sooner rather than later.

HAASS: Rob?

DANIN: Well, I think one of the most interesting things about the conflict that's taking place between Israel and Hamas is how it reflects or how it's one dimension of a larger regional conflict that's taking place. And I think it's one of the challenges that Secretary of State John Kerry faces in trying to bring about a cease-fire, is there's a regional quest for supremacy and for -- to be the regional hegemon, if you will. And yet that quest is not resolved yet.

And, you know, in times past, the secretary of state may have gone into one place and been able to deal with one power of, say, Egypt, in the past, but in this conflict, it's not clear that Egypt alone can bring this about or bring about, you know, a resolution of the conflict. I think Steven's written about this even.

You know, now Egypt is one address, but it's one of many. Turkey is trying to play a role here. Qatar, by virtue of its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, has its own (inaudible) in here. And so what it reveals is a real cleavage in just the Sunni world between those forces that support Islamist governments and those that want to return to some sort of more secular, nationalist type of approach.

And so, you know, some of the meta picture is, you have, you know, here on stage, you have the conflict between increasingly the sectarian divide taking place in the Middle East between the Sunnis and the Shia. And then within the Sunni world is still this cleavage between the old order and the old attempt at secular nationalism and then this new force of political Islam.

HAASS: Ray?

TAKEYH: Picking up on what Steven says, perhaps a bit differently, one of the things that has surprised me about Iraq is the surprising resilience as a nation-state. Every time Iraq goes through tribulations, people take to the op-ed pages want it to separate into three entities on the theory that three Iraqs are better than one.

(LAUGHTER)

But if you kind of think about it -- and I do agree that nationalism perhaps is an -- which anchors global politics is a diminishing force in the Middle East, but surprisingly enough to me, there is something about maintaining a loose federal, messy, untidy structure in Iraq that seems to have an appeal to a large constituency in that country, irrespective of the conflicts that they have in trying to maintain it.

I think Kurdish separatism will have substantial challenges ahead of it, should this come about, but there is something about Iraq that Iraqis want to maintain, for whatever sort of reasons.

HAASS: Isobel, you get the last word before we open it up.

COLEMAN: Well, I would go back to where we started, Richard, with you setting the scene. And I would agree that we're at an inflection point, an historical inflection point in the Middle East. And the tendency is to get nostalgic about the old order, because it was much more stable than what we've got today, but we must remember that the old order had its own (inaudible) and that the harsh authoritarianism of a Gadhafi or a -- you know, the Bashar regime in Syria or Saddam Hussein in Iraq had all of its own issues and problems, and the sectarian issues that have been mentioned, the made-up borders and countries in the region, all of these things have been problematic for a very long time, and they are now exploding center stage in a very real and very distressing way. It's going to take a very long time to work through all of this.

And I think there are some big questions in the region today, political questions, that have not yet been answered. Certainly, the sectarian issue and the role that Iran and Saudi Arabia are playing in supporting those sectarian divides for their own political reasons, their own power play between them, and, of course, the winner-take-all mentality that has dominated the region politically.

We've seen it in every regime across the region. And all of the countries we're talking about that are so unstable today and in such flux, you -- I don't think you can have a stable winner-take-all result here. I mean, Steven was talking earlier about, you know, going back to the old model in Egypt, and how long can that last for? Well, we'll see.

But what Maliki proved in Iraq is that winner-take-all doesn't work there. What the Muslim Brotherhood proved in Egypt is winner-take-all doesn't work there. And they need to emerge on the other side of this with some new type of political system, and we're not there yet, and I think it's going to take a long time to get there.

HAASS: OK. Let's open it up to our members in New York, Washington, and on the line. Just wait. We'll do it normally. Raise your hand. We'll get a microphone to you. I'll start with Cy here in the front, and we'll do a little bit of New York, a little -- is someone -- who's going to call on people in Washington? Do I have a volunteer?

(UNKNOWN): I'll volunteer.

HAASS: Cy?

QUESTION: Hi. I'd like to just comment on what Elliott just said with respect to a lack of -- on a relative basis -- pressure coming from the Arab street. I think the greatest pressure I've been seeing in the last several days is really internally generated within the administration.

I mean, you've -- I see a sense of (inaudible) I mean, reaction to the casualties on the street, frankly, to be greater from the president and John Kerry than I do from some other places. As a matter of fact, the E.U. just announced -- it's just over the wires -- that they're looking for disarmament of all -- of Hamas and all other groups within Gaza. That's not coming from the United States; it's coming from the U.S.

And I think there is a general reaction that's been greater than I would have expected from the administration with respect to those civilian deaths. So I'd just like you to react to that, anybody (inaudible)

HAASS: Rob or Elliott want to run with that?

ABRAMS: Look, there is a question of, you know, was this the auspicious moment for the secretary of state to wade into it? You know, when you're at a time when you have rapidly mounting casualties and no clear endpoint, I think it's hard to resist that. I mean, I think we created to a certain extent this administration of the situation where it was sort of all-or-nothing. Either John Kerry goes in or we stand passively.

I mean, I think one of the issues I've been harping on is that I've been -- surprising degree to which we have not had sort of a, you know, senior administration officials below the cabinet level who've been out in the region that traditionally deal with these kind of crises. You know, it's called crisis management, and it's part of what the United States does. It's not just conflict resolution. And increasingly, it looks like in this instance, you know, Secretary of State Kerry wants to conflate the two.

But I think it's -- you know, it's natural that, you know, when you have such rising casualties in a very concentrated area where -- you know, where one of, you know, America's allies is very actively engaged, that it's going to be very difficult to resist the urge to get involved.

HAASS: Let's get one more from New York, and we will -- gentleman in the back. I can't see that far. I don't have my glasses on, but...

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, Joe Bartlett. We've been comparing the current situation to one five years ago, 10 years ago. This is a serious question, although it sounds like a wisecrack. What has changed in the last 3,000 years, the tribes feuding in this area, has there been any significant, I don't know, one-of-a-kind change in the atmosphere in this particular area of the world?

HAASS: Is there anything that is qualitatively different about this? I mean, you know, Middle East and the words crisis are probably fairly completely glued together on a Google search. Is there anything that's qualitatively different about what we're seeing now?

(UNKNOWN): Well, the context changes. Let me put it that way. Once upon a time, the context is the competition between the British and French and Russian empires. More recently, it is the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and that infuses all local conflict. That's gone.

And now I go back to what we were just hearing. It's really -- partly it's the Sunni-Shia split or, put a different way, as someone said today, in -- I guess it was the Israeli press -- it's a cold war between Iran and the Saudis or Iran and the Gulf Arabs, cold in the sense that, like the U.S. and the Soviets in the Cold War, they're not fighting directly. They're not killing each other. Other people in the region are fighting, but their interests are very much at stake as they see them.

So I think the -- the context really changes, and it matters to us, because, you know, the -- whether Soviets rise or fall in those days, whether Iran becomes a hegemonic power in the region matters to the United States and to allies of ours, like the Saudis or Jordanians or Israelis.

(UNKNOWN): I think there's one other important context change here, and which is that we are looking at something different -- absent the threat of interstate conflict in the region, which is something that had colored the politics of the region up until very recently. There is -- who are the Israelis battling? They're not battling another state. They're not battling a combined force of five armies. There aren't Arab governments -- Arab states going to war with Arab states or even Iran. They're fighting it out in Syria through proxies.

There was a time where we didn't talk about -- there was no such thing. It didn't -- it didn't comprehend -- it wasn't comprehensible to have the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But those are the actors now who are seeking to overturn the regional political order, not Nasser through, you know, the voice of the Arabs. It is -- it is these groups, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. And they're all in conflict with each other at the same time.

HAASS: Why don't we take a question from our nation's capital?

(UNKNOWN): Way in the back.

QUESTION: Hi, Paula Stern. And you got to where I wanted to hear comments from our experts, and that is the role of Iran as a hegemonic power. We talked about it in the context of the negotiations, the nuclear negotiations. There's been some suggestion that there has been some behind-the-scenes discussions on these other hot spots and crises and the role that Iran plays.

Can -- can we imagine a time when Iran will become, if you will, a more constructive player in the Middle East, either during this period of the negotiations that they're having with the U.S. and, by the way, the other countries -- Russia included -- or is that just a dream that I might have?

TAKEYH: I guess I'll say something about that. Picking up on what Elliott and Steven said, there is a cold war descending on the Middle East. And it's an unusual one, unlike the 1950s and '60s, which pitted states against each other. These are cold wars where individual states, Iran and Saudi Arabia, in this particular case, are trying to appeal to populations.

One of the peculiarities of the Middle East states is their domestic populations are often a national security threat. The Saudis are concerned about the Shiites because of their attachments prospectively to outside powers. There's the unusual composition of the Syrian -- or even in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And so all these countries in order to project their power believe they have constituencies available that they can make common cause with, Lebanon being the case in point. So long as this politics of the region is as unsettled as this and there are abilities to project power, I think they're all going to do that.

One of the unusual things about the Middle East today that (inaudible) kind of alluded to that's different from the Middle East of the past is erosion of state power. Middle East governments were usually economically incompetent, often repressive, but they had command of the territory that they ruled. They don't have that command anymore. They don't have in command Libya, Syria, the Lebanese never have command of their territory, Iraq and Yemen and so on. And that essentially creates a lot of opportunities for actors to expand their power in this unsettled region.

HAASS: Hey, Stanley?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) all through this discussion, I've not heard anything about the United Nations. Maybe I'm hard of hearing. Are there any useful capacities remaining in that organization, considering the list of conflicts which each of you and Isobel and so thoroughly laid out?

HAASS: Well, Elliott used to oversee the international organizations bureau of the State Department, I believe. If you were in your old job, what would you be asking the permanent representative of the United States to be doing?

ABRAMS: Well, if I were in that job, I would do what I did when I had it, which is try to get a different job.

(LAUGHTER)

On the humanitarian side -- on the humanitarian side, there's still plenty to do. If you think of -- for example, think of Jordan, 1.25 million Syrian refugees, the role of organizations like the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, World Health Organization, is helpful. UNRWA, the Palestinian agency in Gaza, is going to, I think, become more and more controversial when there's a cease-fire. But I think the question that as asked really goes more to the political side. There's Ban Ki-moon in the region. What can he do?

Politically, I'd say not terribly much. I mean, if you think of the stature of some previous secretaries general -- Kofi Annan, for example -- it was higher. They had a larger political role. I think what will probably happen here is that when a deal is done, a cease-fire deal, negotiated by whoever, Qatar and Turkey, Hamas, Israel, Egypt, maybe with the help of the United States, then it is sealed in a U.N. Security Council resolution, but I doubt that the U.N. is going to have much of a role in reaching the cease-fire.

HAASS: Any disagreements in terms of the U.N. -- or the Security Council's ability to deal, if you will, with high politics here? I don't hear a lot. OK.

Harry?

QUESTION: This is a two-part question. One is, I would love to hear somebody articulate for me, what is our policy towards the Middle East now? And I ask this from the perspective that recently found energy independence, plus a lack of interest in the general American population about wanting to get involved in all things external, are those two factors dramatically changing our policy towards this whole region?

HAASS: Anybody want to take that on? Energy self-sufficiency plus growing American aversion to foreign entanglement, particularly when it involves military force, where does that leave Mr. Obama, Mr. Kerry, and all that?

COLEMAN: Well..

(UNKNOWN): I'll take a crack.

HAASS: Let Isobel first.

COLEMAN: I was -- I was just going to say, I think we should be careful about overstating energy independence. Yes, we have had a profound energy revolution in this country. We will go from being a net importer to within a decade even being a net exporter of energy, but we're still a long way from there.

And we will always be dependent on the global energy economy, energy -- you know, petroleum is an international commodity and prices are set globally. And our allies in Europe and in Asia, Latin America, will be as dependent as we are in many ways on the global price of energy. So the Middle East as a major energy producer will continue to be hugely important. So I don't think personally that we're walking away from the region because suddenly we've got fracking going on in North Dakota.

The second part of your question about the disinterest of Americans with getting involved, I mean, yes, we have enormous fatigue after more than a decade of troops on the ground and fighting going on in countries that, as we've been talking about today, have some very deep-seated issues that -- to not necessarily be resolved by the United States.

That said, there is a need to remain engaged, and particularly when you see how small problems -- not that the civil war in Syria was ever a small problem for the Syrians, but from an American perspective, you might have looked at it as an isolated issue, has the remarkable potential to become very big problems that are harder to deal with.

HAASS: Harry, I'd just say one or two other things. One is, you know, the president's reintroduction of American forces in an advisory role into Iraq is something that he has political and constitutional discretion to do. He has called for, what, $500 million of support for Syria. Most of the pressure from Congress on Syria has come from doing more, not -- not doing less.

I think the -- there's not a lot of desire for anything large again in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the idea of doing something small, I would expect already we're probably doing counterterrorism missions in, what, a dozen countries in the Middle East, some version of drones, special forces, training, advising, intelligence support? This is -- we're going to be doing that probably in dozens of countries around the world, parts of Africa, parts of the Middle East. This is -- this is kind of what we're going to do now.

And, again, as long as there's certain limits to the degree of American involvement -- and that's both the scale of it, as well as the visibility of it -- I actually think this or future administrations will have a relatively free hand to continue to stay involved in this -- in this part of the world.

I also think there's larger strategic arguments now, which -- you know, we're not talking about today, which is the desire to do more in other parts of the world, particularly Asia. But there's very little about that that would have to be either/or. The kinds of forces we would introduce more in Asia, say, air and naval forces, it's slightly different than what we're talking about here.

So -- and even the total levels of military spending are so modest, but any standard over the last 70 years. So actually, I think -- my own hunch is at the moment, at least, there aren't massive constraints being put on. And the argument that because of energy -- I think Isobel is right. Just because we have energy self-sufficiency doesn't mean we have energy independence.

The one thing, though -- it does give us a little bit of cushion and probably something Ray -- I don't know if he disagrees -- it actually has helped us a bit with Iran, but has probably had a certain downward effect on oil prices, which is in some ways made the sanctions a little bit more robust vis-a-vis Iran when they might otherwise have been.

Let me get somebody else out of Washington.

(UNKNOWN): Can I...

HAASS: Oh, sure.

(UNKNOWN): Can I, Richard, just to add one point on that, it's interesting to me that -- that in that conversation of Secretary Kerry's on TV where he didn't know the mike was on, he said to an assistant of his, I've got to be out there. We've got to be out there.

It's interesting, because there was no real explanation of why he has to be. The other -- say, the British, French foreign ministers, not out there. He felt he had to be.

Picking up on Rob's point, it's interesting. You know, I probably would have said, no, go send Bill Burns, deputy secretary, former assistant secretary for the region, or send your assistant secretary. When things have gelled more, and you're sure you can achieve something and bring it home, maybe, and then go to the Security Council, then you go. And I think his reaction, you know, that I've got to be there actually reflects 5 or 10 or 25 years ago more than it does the current situation.

(UNKNOWN): In Washington, we've got a bunch of Redskins who want to ask questions. And we'll start with Odi Aberdeen (ph).

QUESTION: I have a question for Elliott, but, first, I have a comment about...

(UNKNOWN): Who are you?

QUESTION: I'm Odi Aberdeen (ph). I keep hearing the word Arab Spring, so-called Arab Spring, but for most Arabs, they don't know what the spring is, in Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia. I think what we should be calling...

HAASS: Odi (ph), you have to speak into the microphone or we're not going to hear you.

QUESTION: OK. I think what has happened in the region in the last three years, I call it Arab fires. You have fire in Syria and Iraq and Yemen and Libya, and that's how to describe. My question to you, Elliott, it seems to me now that the Arab League, the U.S., Egypt, Saudi Arabia want Abbas to negotiate a cease-fire. And I think the Israelis have agreed to that.

Now, let's assume they do have a cease-fire tomorrow. How can Israel empower Abbas to make him emerge a stronger Palestinian leader? Because at the moment, if you look at the Arab media, at the Arab press, you see these horrible pictures that have created what I call empathy for Hamas. And (OFF-MIKE) going to Riyadh and to Doha, and I think after the cease-fire, there's an opportunity to empower. Now, what can Israel do?

ABRAMS: Well, I would say, take out this negotiation over a new set of rules about Gaza and negotiate with him, that is -- and this would be true for Egypt, as well as Israel -- the various passages, what rules can be established -- as I think Rob said, we tried this in 2005 and it failed, but -- we, the Americans, did -- but make him the person you negotiate with about who will -- which forces will be there, how will they work with perhaps international advisers? What will the rules be? Where will you go to get visas and so forth? Make the address the Palestinian authority and (inaudible) bring it back into Gaza, staring with the Gaza's borders, and then moving inside, as well.

More can be done in the West Bank clearly on the economic side, but I think -- I think the countries you mentioned -- and I think including Israel -- do increasingly see this as an opportunity to make him the person with whom the international community is negotiating. And that will -- you know, if he can bring benefits to the people of Gaza, that will help a lot.

(UNKNOWN): But that, it seems, dependent upon two other actors -- Israel and Egypt. And Egypt is going to be very, very difficult here. They're going to insist that Abbas and Abbas' people control those borders. Hamas isn't going to give it up so quickly, in addition to the fact that I think that Hamas does, as Odi (ph) points out, benefit from this conflict. After all, they are the Islamic resistance movement.

And by dint of demonstrating their resistance while Abbas is in Riyadh and Cairo negotiating -- and who he represents in this conflict is entirely unclear. I think the Israelis need to give Abbas a big win, and the Egyptians are going to have to come a little bit off of where they are on Hamas, but it doesn't seem like they're going to be willing to do that.

In fact, one of the problems in getting to a cease-fire is the Egyptian position. One of the problems that Hamas has had has been the Egyptian position. They are not the mediator that everybody talks about; they are a party to this conflict. They are seeking to bring Hamas to heel, if not more. Their goals are broader than the Israeli goals.

(UNKNOWN): I think that's right. And I would just say the -- the way it works on the ground is, if we can all agree in principle we'll have these border posts open, people and goods should be able to move easily, there will be an inspection system to make sure that people who are known terrorists are not moving in and out, and to make sure that weapons, arms are not moving in and out, Israel would agree to that, President Abbas will agree to that, Egyptians will agree to that, but it doesn't do much for Hamas, which is going to depend on the ability to move its people and weaponry in and out.

So, I mean, they're not going to say that, but when you try to put this wonderful plan that we're all in favor in, when we try to put it into actual practice, it could break -- it can break down very easily, I think. And, in fact, if one were betting, one would say, give it three months and it will break down.

HAASS: (OFF-MIKE) we've got time for one or two more (OFF-MIKE) microphone heading your way from your 6 o'clock.

QUESTION: Steven Blank (ph). We talk about Israel in this meeting doing this and doing that, negotiating this and negotiating that. But that strikes me as still a big question. To what extent is any Israeli government or now a complicated government constrained by the changing nature of the -- of the -- what we might call the Israel street, the rise of fundamentalism in Israel? Can an Israeli government actually do these things that we've just talked about in terms of more or less rational negotiations in reaching agreements?

HAASS: Well, particularly this Israeli government, given its composition, given its origins -- Rob, why don't you start -- is this Israeli government able and willing to do some of the things we've been talking about?

DANIN: The short answer is yes. I think one of the things that's been striking in this over the last few weeks is everyone expected, you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu heading a right-wing government, constrained by all sorts of forces within his party and to the right. You know, everyone expected that would mean or translate to a very extreme Israeli position.

That may be how it looks internationally, but that's not how it plays out in Israel today. What Israel has done by Israeli terms has been to pursue a strategy of graduated escalation, not massive escalation, not massive retaliation. By Israeli standards, Netanyahu has been very measured, judicious, and slow to accelerate the Israeli military hand.

If anything, now the pressure that's coming his way -- and it's not coming just from the right. It's coming from military analysts, military strategists who are saying, no, you need to go much heavier. So at the same time, there's also an appreciation for, I think, increasingly that the strategic objectives may be unrealistic within some payback. So I think, in short, there's a lot of latitude for whatever kind of deal he wants to make.

HAASS: Including one that he would make potentially -- I guess the word I would use is generous or creative proposals to Palestinians on the political side? Or is that a bridge too far?

DANIN: It all depends on what he and Israel gain accordingly. You know, I think increasingly there's a debate -- it's either going to be less for less or more for more. Less for less means that there's a return to the status quo ante, that -- and if so, if that would mean that -- that the Palestinians and Hamas in Gaza retain their military capabilities, their rockets, their tunnels, whatnot. Then, no, you won't see any flexibility from the Israeli position.

However, if it's accompanied by a much more ambitious approach that seeks to disarm Gaza, seeks to replace Hamas with a more legitimate and representative government, then, yes, then there will be much greater openness to a different kind of security regime towards allowing the sort of agreements that Israel has already accepted in principle, be it the various cease-fires of the past, be it the access and movement agreement. All we're asking for is them to be implemented at this point. Israel is already a signatory.

HAASS: OK, on that happy note, let me just say that we've got about six weeks to go under Labor Day. And I hope no one in this room takes it wrong, but I hope not to see you again.

(LAUGHTER)

But I'm hoping the avalanche of news slows. If it doesn't, however, whether it's this set of issues, something to do with Russia, Ukraine, or something else, we will once again put out word. In the meantime, what I think you've also seen today is the breadth and depth of the bench here on one of the most important parts of the world.

So let me thank Elliott and Steven and Rob Danin, Ray Takeyh, and Isobel Coleman for the work they continue to do to help us better understand the all-too-turbulent Middle East.

So, thanks very much.

END

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