Amb. Dore Gold addressed India’s Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) on March 29, 2022:
There is something interesting about appearing at a conference like this. First of all, I want to thank the organizers for inviting me, for creating an Israeli role. I think today we are fully engaged in the world system much more than we ever were before and that’s a very positive development. It is also a positive development that our normalization agreements have emerged with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, with Sudan, and with Morocco, and this is just the beginning and I hope it goes much further.
We had a visit to Jerusalem of the foreign minister of India several months ago and in the diplomatic protocol it’s a nice thing to provide some kind of gift which a senior politician can bring home with him. We have a section of my research institute which deals in old photographs and we found a photograph of Indian cavalry coming into the gates of Jerusalem with General Allenby, the commander of British forces, looking at the entrance of these troops. And the photograph reminds you of the important Indian role in what you might call regional stability back at the time the end of World War One. So I, of course, gave the foreign minister the photograph. It made my point and it turns out of course that India’s role across the Middle East region was huge. We often call it the British Empire, but the role of India in stabilizing Mesopotamia and in the agreements that the British viceroy in India had with the many states of the Persian Gulf, that role was critical.
And the question that arises is, is India going to return to have a role. Is it going to be the same role. I doubt it, but it’s something one should be aware of because a role is a reflection of interests. Today in the Gulf region there’s a very large Indian community in the millions and I’m sure Indian governments feel a sense of responsibility in protecting these people.
Now it’s no secret that we in Israel have a difficult relationship with the Iranians which we did not seek. Let me stress, we did not seek that difficult relationship. But if you study the statements made by the Iranian leadership, you reach the conclusion that it has an extremely hostile attitude towards the State of Israel. And what it does is it requires us to prepare for what Iran may be doing. Everyone is talking about the Iranian nuclear program and the role of the JCPOA in perhaps addressing it. I don’t think it addresses it adequately. But the other side of the Iranian role in our region is Iran’s support for insurgency organizations, largely Shia militias that have been active across the entire region.
One of the unfortunate and I stress unfortunate consequences of the last JCPOA from 2015 was that when sanctions were lifted from Iran, the money that became suddenly available for the Iranian treasury went to these insurgency organizations and it led to an escalation of violence. It led to an escalation of the number of organizations that were challenging the previous status quo. And of course we had to deal with Hizbullah, we had to deal with Hamas, both of which received direct Iranian support. And our southern neighbors, the Saudis, had to deal with a huge escalation by the Houthi forces in Yemen, including missile and rocket attacks not on military sites but on civilian sites including the center of their capital. Riyadh. So we have had an enormous instability introduced beginning in 2015 by Iranian-backed militias. And any resolution to the conflict in the Arabian peninsula is going to have to address that challenge.
And we do not have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, but we understand what they are facing because we face it all the time in a different form, whether it comes from Hamas or in the past when it came from Hizbullah, so Im hoping that our stabilization of the Middle East region will include an effort to come to some solution to this challenge that we all face.
Let me just say that that challenge is not just limited to the areas that border Israel. People often ask how is it that Morocco, which is off on the Atlantic Coast, how did Morocco become part of the Abraham Accords? The factual background of Moroccan participation in this alignment in the Middle East occurred because the Iranians were supporting directly the forces in the Western Sahara through the Iranian embassy in Algiers. Therefore they became identified by the Moroccans as a source of regional instability in North Africa. So these are the regional circumstances that we all faced and we’re hoping that we can bring about a change in Iranian behavior, a change in the behavior of these various insurgency organizations, and with the stability that could result, we are hoping that we can create a different order for the Middle East.
With respect to India, India was a great power back at the time of World War One, even though we still had the shadow of the British Empire over us. And India’s role is growing as a great power in the Middle East in the protection of Indian interests, not in the protection of Israeli interests or any other interests. So these are the facts of what is going on now in our region and there is no way to avoid the reality of India’s very important role which we respect. And we hope through dialogue we can present each other with what we are learning about the risks to our vital interests that are becoming ever evident in the current situation.
The Middle East has become much more complicated, but that doesn’t mean that we all have to pull back and not comment on how the region is evolving. I believe that the Middle East is obviously in some places very explosive and it requires if we talk about a new world order or a new regional order. It is a consensus among all of us that certain behavior of countries is unacceptable and certain behavior of countries should be promoted. Now the problem we have with Iran is not because we want to impose ourselves on the region. It’s what we hear from our various partners in normalization. They face the same problem. They face a problem which might even be worse because we have a very strong deterrence posture when Hizbullah operates against us. But other countries don’t necessarily, and that’s why I think we have to share our impressions.
I opened up a channel to a Saudi think tank in 2015 and we met in Rome, Italy, and I laid out Hizbullah’s strategy to the Saudis. At first they didn’t really want to hear about it, but over time they understood that this could be applied against them through the Houthis in Yemen, and that’s exactly what happened. So what I am suggesting is that we have to draw this fundamental distinction in international diplomacy between countries that engage in aggression and countries that engage in defense.
And what we are finding is that the aggressors are still out there, the aggressors will undermine our stability and our security, and if together we take a common position, we can limit the latitude of the aggressors to undermine us. That would make a great contribution to international stability, and I say that as a former ambassador of Israel to the United Nations.
I mentioned already that I discovered when I was engaged in diplomacy with Moroccans that Morocco faced a problem of Iranians who were using their relations with Algeria to undermine the security of Morocco through the Western Sahara. Therefore, if we created this overarching concept of the Abraham Accords, it might help them because it would make the Iranian initiatives in the Western Sahara radioactive. That’s what we have to do.
China is a country, because it is a great power, which we should have relations with. A number of years ago I was invited by the Central Committee of the Communist Party to give a series of lectures in Beijing and I quickly understood the gap that was opening between Israel and China. My question at these meetings was very simple. If we are working hard to improve our bilateral relations, how come you don’t do anything in return? How is it, and I said that as a former ambassador to the UN, that you vote consistently for anti-Israel resolutions that have no basis in fact? And don’t you think you should try and improve that?
Well, the Chinese were not interested, of course, and I saw that we had a very big problem with them. We also know from our recent history that the Iranian nuclear program began with the transfer of Chinese technology to Iran. So these are fundamental issues and I don’t see how we resolve them quickly. I think it’s important to again find allies and know who your allies are and India is an ally of Israel, and we will respond to that special relationship in a special manner.
Iran is threatening to erase Israel from the map. Pakistan is not. But I wouldn’t go running after a relationship with Pakistan as long as Pakistan is hostile to an important ally like India.
Just stay strong, use deterrence, and try and show understanding for the ideas of the other side. But I study Iranian statements. I put a group together in my think tank to study the fatwas that are coming from Iran with respect to the Jewish people, with respect to the State of Israel, and we have to understand who we’re dealing with.
Many of us believe that the Iranian people are ultimately friendly to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people. We even followed the doctrines of Shia Islam. We have had very positive relations with Shia, for example, in southern Lebanon. So I don’t think that we want to paint all Shiites with the same paintbrush as hostile to us. This comes from Ayatollah Khamenei and his various doctrines which influenced an elite, which includes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC. It presents a challenge to our security, it presents a challenge to the security of Bahrain, of the UAE, of Saudi Arabia and many other countries.
Let them clarify what their doctrine is. If their doctrine is hostile to us, at least we know what we’re dealing with.
A few years ago I had to have eye surgery and I went to Hadassah Hospital to have that done. My doctor was a Palestinian Arab trained in Jordan. The eye, which is the most sensitive part of your body, if you think of where you’re going to have surgery, do you want to really have your eye operated on by someone who belongs to a national grouping that might be hostile to you? It shows the confidence that we really have in each other. If you go to Hadassah Hospital and you go to the emergency room – and when you come to Israel I’ll take you there personally – you will see Palestinian doctors taking care of Jewish patients and Jewish doctors taking care of Palestinian patients. And those who use the word apartheid against Israel may be very fashionable at Berkeley, Amherst or Cambridge, but they are totally distorting the reality that we live, and my eyes attest to that. So I ask you to study the issue before you speak on it.