The European Leadership Network (ELNET), the Forum of Strategic Dialogue (FSD), the German Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik, and the Bundeswehr Cyber Innovation Hub (CIHbW), partnered together to gather senior policymakers and experts from Germany and Israel for the 11th Germany-Israel Strategic Dialogue.
The dialogue addressed: ‘The Hamas-Israel War and after’; ‘German Israeli Defence Cooperation after the Zeitenwende and Hamas-Israel War’; and ‘Great Power Competition in the Middle East: Europe’s Role’. The discussions were conducted under the Chatham House Rule.
The dialogue was preceded by a special welcome dinner hosted by ELNET-Germany, with a keynote speech by MP Michael Roth, Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Bundestag. Welcoming remarks were given by Carsten Ovens, CEO of ELNET-Germany and Amb. Ekkehard Brose, President, Federal Academy for Security Policy.
The dialogue was chaired by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, Chair, ELNET’s Forum of Strategic Dialogue; former Head of Israel’s Military Intelligence; former Director of the INSS. Participants included senior officials from German and Israeli ministries of foreign affairs and defense, chairs of parliamentary committees, politicians, as well as former diplomats, experts, journalists, and civil society representatives from Germany and Israel.
Below is a summary of the topics addressed:
The Hamas-Israel War and after
- Israel remains focused on its military goals of fully dismantling Hamas and the return of all hostages, believing there can be no return to the status quo ante on either southern or northern borders, and mindful that it is engaged in a wider regional struggle with Iran.
- Whilst for some Israelis talk of ‘the day after’ is currently superfluous, there are Israelis and Germans who argue that destroying Hamas demands a diplomatic process that must start now.
- Whilst some see the PA as unfit to govern Gaza, others argue that ways must be found to strengthen it and stress the importance of not closing the possibility of a two-state solution, which EU states are keen to work towards.
- The ‘day after’ within Israel will include a major national inquiry and seismic political change.
- German participants affirm Israel’s right to defend itself whilst stressing the need to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
- The effective use by Iran/IRGC of proxies raises the question of how Tehran can be held accountable for its actions, as well as the urgency of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.
- It is important to put the Abraham Accords back on track including normalization with Saudi Arabia, which Iran is keen to undermine.
German-Israel Defense Cooperation and the Zeitenwende and the Hamas-Israel War
- The conflicts in Europe and the Middle East prompt new strategic thinking about how democracies deal with threats from their enemies and have exposed the limitations of soft power strategies in managing conflict.
- The Russian invasion of Ukraine exposed Europe’s enormous military reliance on the US and associated vulnerability.
- The digital arena is constantly evolving, and the enemy adapts quickly to exploit new technologies in developing new threats, e.g. artificial intelligence.
- The current conflict has exposed many flaws in Israeli thinking that must be addressed, but also demonstrated significant Israeli capabilities, including in missile defence.
- There is scope to deepen the nature of the strategic relationship between Israel and Germany in the face of the evolving threats, yet attention must be paid to the complex attitudes towards Israel within European societies.
Great Power Competition in the Middle East: Europe’s Role
- The Israel-Hamas conflict has exposed in varying degrees the alignment of Iran, Russia and China.
- Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia increasingly sees the Middle East as a venue for competition with the US that goes beyond territory and relates to the future of world order.
- Though China has been cool towards Israel since October 7, its interests in the region are more nuanced. Nonetheless its actual diplomatic influence still appears limited.
- Since the Ukraine invasion, European energy sources have shifted from Russia to the Middle East, heightening EU interests in promoting regional stability and advancing the Abraham Accords.
- There is a question of how the West in its current configurations, i.e. NATO and the EU, can support Israel in the evolving Middle East struggle.
- Given the stance of Russia it may be time for Israel to shift to a more committed policy in support of Ukraine.
Conclusions and Recommendations
✓ There is an urgent need to build a consensus between Israel and its Western allies on a political future for the Gaza Strip and the wider Israeli-Palestinian arena, and to maintain the basis for advancing the Abraham Accords process at the regional level.
✓Although Hamas’ responsibility for the outbreak of this war is beyond doubt, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip should be addressed.
✓German diplomatic weight is critical to shaping a balanced and effective EU policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian arena and wider region.
✓New approaches are required to make Iran accountable for its war by proxy strategy, and to develop a coordinated strategy to prevent Iran’s nuclear breakout.
✓More generally, the conflicts in Europe and the Middle East demand different approaches to strategic threats from autocratic states, where containment, deterrence, or soft power failed.
✓There is scope for greater cooperation between Israel, Germany and other like-minded states, both in terms of more structured Western support for Israel in its regional struggle and in terms of Israel sharing defence expertise based on lessons learned and technological innovation.
✓There is a need for Germany and other European states to combat antisemitism and educate regarding the history of Israel and the Middle East.
✓Israel should consider how it can respond to Russia’s support of Hamas and Iran with a more committed stance in support of Ukraine, aligning itself more closely with Western allies.
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.