Event Reports

PhD study group "Security and Development in the 21st Century" visits Israel

by Aylin Matlé
The Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) Israel hosted the KAS PhD study group "Security and Development in the 21st Century" in late October. The purpose of the study trip was to familiarize the fellows with Israel's security challenges. The group met with representatives of civil society, the academy and (former) members of the Israeli security establishment.

The study trip began with an introduction by Dr. Alexander Brakel, head of the KAS office in Israel. He gave the group an overview of the current domestic and foreign political situation in Israel. Dr. Brakel pointed out that the study group had entered a conflict zone. Therefore, the assessments of both Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors (the group spent part of the study trip in the Palestinian Territories) had to be evaluated against the backdrop of the Middle East conflict. 

On the first day of their stay in Israel, the group travelled to the south of the country, to the Gaza Strip border. There, the members of the group first met there with representatives of EcoPeace. The organization has been pursuing an environmental and sustainable agenda in the Middle East for 25 years and wants to contribute to peace-building in the region. At Zikim Beach, EcoPeace representatives pointed out that large quantities of polluted wastewater flow from the Gaza Strip into the sea, which leads to massive problems - also for the neighboring Israeli communities. Afterwards, the group met with a representative from Sderot, a community in close vicinity to the Gaza Strip. He mainly spoke about the way the inhabitants of the Israeli South deal with the security threat posed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who regularly fire short-range missiles at the border region. In order to put the illustrative explanations and presentations into a theoretical framework, the group met with scholars from IDC Herzliya later in the day to talk about Israel's anti-terrorism defense. The researchers talked, in particular, about the threat posed by Hezbollah on Israel's northern flank.

In addition, a former National Security Advisor delivered an assessment of Israel's current security strategy. The speaker explained that Israel's security strategy has been a success since the country was founded. Thus, the country is currently not exposed to any existential threat. Nevertheless, he pointed to the challenges posed by Iran and the still unresolved conflict with the Palestinians. In connection with the second challenge, he advocated for a two-state solution.  The former security adviser also underlined the danger that continues to emanate from Israel's northern border.

After the members of the group had been informed in theoretical terms about the security threat in northern Israel, the second part of the study trip led to this very region. On the border with Lebanon, the doctoral students met with the CEO of the non-governmental organization Alma. She first gave the group an overview of the history of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The Alma representative then took the group along the border - which is officially a ceasefire line - to illustrate how close Hezbollah positions are to Israel. The second part of the program in northern Israel led the group to Shams Majdal. There, the PhD students met with representatives of the human rights organization Al Marsad. The organization deals with the Israeli annexation of the Golan, which has lasted since the 1967 Six-Day War and formerly belonged to Syria; the annexation is not internationally recognized. At present, less than 30,000 Syrians live on the Golan, compared with an estimated 140,000 before 1967. Today, the Syrians face more than 26,000 Israeli settlers. The representatives of Al Marsad also addressed the problems of the region, which was suffering from the repercussions of the civil war in the neighboring country: The war divides the Syrian community on the Golan into pro-Assad and opponents of the regime.

The group also met with a scholar who is intensively engaged in Iran's threat to Israel's security. He pointed out not only the danger of an Iranian atomic bomb, but also to the detrimental effects of Tehran in the region, for example by supporting proxies like Hezbollah. The study trip ended with a conversation with a former member of the Israeli military to discuss the security implications of a two-state solution. According to him, the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians represents the greatest security threat to Israel.