The European Leadership Network (ELNET) and ELNET’s Forum of Strategic Dialogue (FSD), together with the Delegation of the EU to Israel, gathered 32 senior policymakers and experts from the EU and Israel to discuss the geopolitical implications of the Ukraine-Russia war; challenges and opportunities in the Middle East; and prospects for deepening the EU-Israel relationship. The discussions were conducted under strict Chatham House Rule, meaning no quotation or attribution.
Keynote speakers included MEP Antonio López-Istúriz White, Chair of the European Parliament Delegation for the Relations with Israel and Member of the Foreign Affairs and Security and Defence committees; and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya’alon, Former Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.
The dialogue was chaired by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, Chair, ELNET’s Forum of Strategic Dialogue; Senior Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center; former Head of Israel’s Military Intelligence; former Director, INSS. Participants included senior officials from the European External Action Service, the European Commission, NATO, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, the Israel Defense Forces, Israel’s National Security Council, and Prime Minister’s Office, politicians, as well as former officials, experts, journalists, and civil society representatives from Europe and Israel.
The dialogue was preceded by a special dinner on “Abraham Accords, relations with Egypt, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the role of the EU” with the ambassadors of the UAE and Egypt in Israel, the Head of Liaison Office of Morocco in Israel, and Gilead Sher, Senior Fellow, Rice University’s Baker Institute. After the dialogue, the EU participants also received a briefing on Israel’s fifth election by Dr. Emmanuel Navon.
Below is a summary of the topics addressed:
Geopolitical turmoil and instability
- The global agenda and the context for EU-Israel relations has been transformed by the Russia-Ukraine war. The new NATO Strategic Concept signals the end of the post-Cold War assumption of stability, and a new framework of great power competition not only with Russia but also China.
- Whilst NATO’s response to Russia’s invasion has been determined, and Israeli officials stress unequivocal alignment with the West, there are underlying differences among Europeans and Israelis about goals. Whilst some see a strategic imperative to inflict a clear defeat on Russia, others caution against backing Putin into a corner. Israelis debate how far their interests align with their values in supporting Ukraine given the need to maintain working relations with Russia.
- There are wide concerns about Putin’s erosion of taboos around nuclear weapons, heightening risk of their use by Russia and an escalatory cycle, and signaling the dangerous potential of nuclear blackmail by Iran should it acquire nuclear weapons.
Challenges and opportunities in the Middle East
- Waning chances of a renewed JCPOA have left a vacuum as Iran moves towards breakout capability. Europeans remain committed to the pursuit of an agreement despite the wide protests and demonstrations and the deliveries of drones to Russia. Israelis face a dilemma as to whether a weak renewed deal would be better than no deal. Absent a diplomatic solution, Israel faces the unenviable choice between an Iranian nuclear bomb and a military operation to prevent it.
- Europeans are increasingly warming to the Abraham Accords, though remain keen to see the normalization process harnessed for the benefit of the Palestinians. Europeans also warmly welcome the Israel-Lebanon maritime agreement.
- Regarding the recent Israeli-Turkish rapprochement, Israelis stress this will not come at the expense of alliances with Greece and Cyprus.
- The war in Ukraine challenges the stability of weaker Middle East states through food insecurity, and Europeans are engaged in supporting these states and maintaining grain exports.
Prospects for the further deepening of the EU-Israel partnership
- This is a hopeful moment for EU-Israel relations following the renewal of the Association Council. Escalating geopolitical and regional challenges expand the scope for potential cooperation, including in the fields of defence and security; research and technology; and climate change.
- It is increasingly clear how Arab-Israeli normalization can directly benefit the EU, including through trilateral agreements addressing energy, water, and food security.
- Negative perceptions of the EU in Israel are a shared concern and Israelis call on the EU to not allow the Palestinians to be a barrier to cooperation.
- Furthermore, the looming Israeli election and prospect of Netanyahu’s re-election along with his coalition partners is a source of uncertainty for EU-Israel relations.
Conclusions and Recommendations
✓The EU and Israel should develop Partnership Priorities to guide their enhanced cooperation, including in the fields of: defense and security; climate change; cyber threats; global health; and defense of democracy against radicalism, authoritarianism, populism and violence. The parties should work to overcome the barriers to agreeing Israeli participation in Creative Europe.
✓ Israel can be an important partner to the EU and its members as they expand and upgrade their defense capabilities in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
✓ In parallel, the parties should establish a structured strategic foresight dialogue to develop shared proposals to shape medium and long-term trends.
✓ Israel and the EU should further consider how to harness the opportunities of Israeli-Arab normalization, especially in the fields of energy, the green transition, water, and food security.
✓ Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, cooperation should focus on maintaining the viability of a two-state solution in a political context in which a conflict ending agreement is currently impossible. This should include addressing the stability of the PA, the question of transition from the leadership of Abbas, and investment in the Palestinian economy.
✓ The acute crisis in Europe should not distract from the Iranian nuclear threat. Some Israelis propose that Europeans should threaten to make use of the “snapback” mechanism in the JCPOA.
✓ Israelis and Europeans should work to improve the perception of the EU in Israel by drawing more attention to the depth of cooperation including in trade, research, transport, and security.
Strategic Dialogues offer the opportunity for parliamentarians, opinion formers and academics to engage and share knowledge on some of the most important challenges facing Europe and Israel and indeed globally. Discussions are of great value, candid and held under Chatham House rules.