On Tuesday 30th May 2023, the Australian Institute of International Affairs NSW welcomed senior political analyst Dror Doron, who worked in the Israeli government for 17 years before moving to Australia. Doron gave an insightful look into his experience leading research and policy experts on geo-strategic and national security issues in the Middle East. His talk highlighted the similarities and differences in the foreign policy challenges faced by Australia and Israel in their respective regional spheres.
He began with an illuminating discussion on the similarities that can be drawn between both nations’ historical backgrounds and sense of identity, which must always inform strategic thinking. Notably both nations are “Western entities” connected to Europe and its liberal, democratic thinking. Moreover, both are “islands” that are not natural parts of the regions they operate in, due to differing values and histories. In addition, whilst both countries are independent, they have a deep reliance on the United States and must take Washington into consideration in their strategic decisions.
He then drew attention to the similarities in the changing military landscape that both nations face. He noted the declining importance of geographical space and the unknown nature of both countries’ future battlegrounds. Cyber warfare is a key threat to civilians during peace time. New kinetic capabilities can jump distances with ballistic missiles: in the Middle East, they are being used on a larger scale than ever before.
Another core similarity is the nature of the regional rivals confronting Australia and Israel. Both China and Iran are historical powers attempting to challenge the regional status quo and restore their ancient imperial influence, bringing them face-to-face with extremely different cultural and political systems – those, respectively, of Australia and Israel.
He suggested that the two countries face comparable problems: how to avoid escalation and direct military confrontation; how to determine and respond to the demands of their respective security challenges; how to deter threats in new areas such as cyber-security; and how to build regional coalitions against a common threat.
However (he continued) stark differences important for strategic thinking exist. Border security is a less imminent threat for Australia and the nature of the two countries’ diplomatic and economic relations is vastly different. For Australia and China there is deep economic integration and an existing diplomatic relationship. In contrast, for Israel and Iran there is a greater “enemy” construction and no economic or diplomatic relations. Thus, although there are similarities, the differences mandate a need for unique approaches to each country’s threats and strategic policy.
Prior to questions from the audience, AIIA NSW intern Bakar Mohamad (Western Sydney University) commented on Doron’s presentation in the light of his own experience as an Australian with an Arab and Muslim background. He resonated with the competing identity struggles that Doron revealed the modern Israeli state faces – “this dissonance occurs within me”. Drawing on his background as a psychology student, he shared the insights that underline the role of identity and the power of narratives to shape the realities within which foreign policy and strategy must operate. He agreed with Doron’s warning of the dangers of the self-fulfilling prophecies that surround enemy construction.
Questions for Doron then followed. Asked about the current Supreme Court demonstrations in Israel, Doron shared his perspective as an Israeli citizen: he sees the attempts to weaken the Supreme Court as a threat to the fundamental principle of the separation of powers. He noted that this is particularly pertinent given that Israel does not have a constitution. This challenge to Israel’s fragile democratic credentials, he argued, is the critical concern for protesting civilians.
Asked whether Chinese actions in establishing ports in a wide range of Pacific and other countries – whether with strategic or primarily economic objectives – had any parallels in Iran’s international activities, Doron acknowledged that there are many differences between China and Iran: the analogy should not be over-stretched. He drew a parallel between China’s essentially economic objectives in extending its stretch and the huge Egyptian army, which could be seen as a regional threat but in fact was fundamentally an economic program to meet domestic employment and infrastructure objectives.
Asked about the newly confirmed border between Israel and Lebanon and what it means for Israeli national security, Doron responded that, while sovereign and territorial independence is important, national security is a much wider concern. Considerations such as social coherence, education, energy and a longer-term view must always be in the back of a geo-strategic policy maker’s mind.
Report by Isobel Logan, AIIA NSW intern
Dror Doron and Isobel Logan