FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Joe PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Empowering women: Israeli bid to curb Islamist extremism
, October 28, 2006
Israel is encouraging women to take more prominent roles in the Arab world, according to the former head of its intelligence service, Mossad.
Speaking to the University of Western Australia's Institute for Advanced Studies this month, Ephraim Halevy said for a besieged nation like Israel it was important to look to and assess an array of issues that, on first inspection, were unlikely to appear to be of strategic relevance.
He highlighted the question of the role of women in Islamic societies, and said the fact that this segment of nearby Arab states was socially, economically and politically disenfranchised was significant to Israel.
For that reason Israel was doing what little it could in encouraging the broad enfranchisement of half the populations of its neighbour and regional states.
Although not claiming transference of power between sexes would inevitably assure Israel's long-term future it was nevertheless an aspect of those societies that could assist in ultimately mellowing Islam's warlike proclivities.Policy centre
Halevy headed Mossad between 1998 and 2002 and became head of the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies within the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's School of Public Policy in 2003.
He said one project being undertaken within his centre involved detailed assessment of the role of woman across Islamic lands with some of the researchers undertaking the analysis and research being Turkish, Moroccan and Palestinian women.
"We must look for a ray of light in the Islamic world in the hope of seeing where it is going," Halevy said. "A change in the role of women in their societies is important. If women become more significant this would be a sea change."
He said that four years ago women in Morocco were permitted to be ordained as clerics and that turnaround had gained the support of that nation's religious and governing elites. "Great things are happening. Few realize that the stock exchange of Iran is basically run by women and that the Iranian medical profession is in the hands of women."
Two of the Islamic signatories of this year's milestone declaration calling for fundamental reforms within Islam, and titled, The Manifesto – Together Facing the New Totalitarianism, are women. One, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who hails from Somalia, was until this year a member of the Dutch Parliament.
"We clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred," the Manifesto says.
"Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman; the Islamists' domination of all the others."
According to Halevy it was most likely that any fundamental policy turnaround that occurs in Iran would come from within rather than via global politics.
Halevy has persistently argued that Iranians, and Iranians alone, must determine the nature of their government and he believes that ultimately Iran will not remain a theocratic state run by extreme religious leaders who are all males.
The School of Public Policy was established to help prepare coming generations of Israeli leaders and researchers in the public sector, with the view towards improving Israel's quality of governance.
Halevy, who was born in England in 1934 and migrated with his family to Israel in 1948, gained a master's degree in law from the Hebrew University and in 1961 began his career with the Mossad, where he worked for 28 years. He was its ninth director between 1998 and 2002 and the second head of Israel's National Security Council.
Although not claiming Israel had won its 33-day war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon he said it had been a major setback to Iranian ambitions which sought to impose Iranian power upon the western Mediterranean region and beyond.
According to Halevy two issues now face humanity – acquisition and access to weapons of mass destruction by "rogue states", and international Islamic terrorism. "The combination of both these factors means we are all meeting a formidable capability and in this Israel has a role," he said.
Nor was the entry of some of those like North Korea who are involved in this fight necessarily newcomers. He said North Korea had begun combating Israel at close quarter during the 1967 Six Day War, so nearly 40-years ago.
"In 1967, when Israel had destroyed the entire Egyptian air force, Egypt called out for help to ensure that its skies were protected," he said. "Two North Korean air force squadrons were quickly dispatched to Egypt, along with Soviet ones. And within six weeks we could listen to the North Korean communicating between each other."
Early this year he released his book, Man in the Shadows
, which canvasses Middle Eastern political developments since the late 1980s.- Joe Poprzeczny