Special Guest: Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer
Daniel Kurtzer served as US ambassador to Israel (2001-2005) and to Egypt (1997-2001). Currently the S. Daniel Abraham Professor in Middle Eastern Policy Studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs, he joins us today to discuss Israeli-American relations, the future of Egypt, the Iranian nuclear program, and his love for the Middle East — a region, he says, where the “work never seems to be finished.”
1. Do you think Israel will always be an important US ally? ‘Strained relations’ have been in the news as of late, and over the long-term some analysts suggest it might benefit the US to distance itself.
The U.S.-Israeli relationship has experienced ups and downs over the years, but remains solid at the foundation. The two countries share common values and tend to see international and regional affairs in similar fashion. In each society, there is also a strong reservoir of popular support and understanding for the other. I expect that differences of view related to the peace process will continue between the U.S. and Israel, particularly over policy issues such as settlements.
2. President Hosni Mubarak was born in 1928. His life has not been an easy one and he has faced numerous assassination attempts. At some point in the near future, Cairo will be gripped with the succession question. What are the possible future scenarios and which do you think is the most likely?
The Egyptian Parliament amended the Constitution several years ago to clarify the process of succession. Each of Egypt’s successions since the 1952 revolution has been peaceful, and I would expect the same during the next succession. I don’t comment on succession politics or personalities; there is enough of such speculation in the press already.
3. What are your thoughts on the argument that a nuclear Iran would spark an arms race in the region?
There are four serious and far-reaching implications for the United States of a nuclear Iran. First, Iran is a state supporter of terrorism, and it cannot be ruled out that Iran would transfer nuclear weapons knowhow to terrorist groups under its influence. Second, Iran has stated openly its ambition to be a regional superpower, and nuclear weapons capability will give Iran the influence it needs to dominate affairs in the Gulf. Third, Iran’s president has threatened to use Iran’s power to destroy Israel, a threat which cannot be dismissed. Fourth, a nuclear Iran surely will spark the interest of other countries to acquire similar capabilities; this has already begun.
4. It has become conventional wisdom that if free elections were held in much of the Middle East, Islamist or Muslim Brotherhood-type regimes would come to power. Your take?
In many Middle East societies, the best organized groups are those that have been driven underground, where they have been forced to develop advanced infrastructures just to stay relevant. If elections take place in which these groups are allowed to participate, in the first instance, these groups tend to be the best organized and thus able to attract support on the basis of better organization. I believe this applies to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The real test of Muslim Brotherhood strength would come only in a second or third free election, after other groups and parties had had the opportunity to organize and compete for votes openly.
5. Whether it was serving in Cairo to Tel Aviv, at the Egypt desk or covering the Near East, your career has never taken you far from the Fertile Crescent. What about the region draws you to it?
The Middle East has fascinated many for centuries. The region stands at the geopolitical crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, is the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions, has a fascinating mix of cultures and peoples, and – for diplomats who thrive on conflict resolution – has a variety of conflicts that require solutions. The work never seems to be finished in this region. It is not a place where tuxedos and cocktail parties characterize diplomacy.