Think-tank director is optimistic about Israel-Syria talks

Uzi Arad, the former director of intelligence for the Mossad, is tight-lipped when it comes to the inner workings of the famed Israeli secret service.

"Why should I talk about the Mossad?" the husky-voiced Arad asked in an interview in late January. "Military contingency plans should be discussed in private, not debated in the op-ed pages.

"Mossad can't get into the game of setting the record straight," he continued, wagging a finger in the air. "If someone claimed that the Mossad orchestrated Elvis Presley's death, we wouldn't deny it."

When asked if that meant there might be a sliver of hope that the King is still alive, Arad took the Fifth.

"No comment."

But Arad, who discussed the Israel-Syria peace process during a visit to San Francisco and other cities on behalf of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, also had plenty to say about other issues. Including a "virtual think tank" that he thinks is a harbinger of Israel's future.

The think tank, called the Institute of Policy and Strategy, is located at Herzliya's Interdisciplinary Center. Arad, who "retired to academia" after more than 25 years in the Mossad, serves as the institute's director. He talked with several potential investors during his U.S. visit, and touted the IPS as a unique solution to a variety of problems.

"Almost every institution in Israel is dominated by politics," Arad said. "Non-partisan groups are a rarity. But we have academics, business people and policy experts from the extreme left to the extreme right coming together under one roof to solve Israel's pressing problems."

That "roof" is more figurative than literal, as the institute intends to tap the brightest minds in the business, from California to Cairo. "It's a mobile, electronic policy center, whose goal is to foster advancements in the strategic, educational and technological industries," Arad said.

Education is a key focus of the IPS, he added, decrying the current inequities in Israel's' educational system. "It's heartbreaking when you see so many Israeli youths with keen minds who are deprived of a good education due to poverty.

"Israel's most precious resource is its human capital. And if they are uneducated, Israel cannot hope to survive."

On the topic of the Israel-Syria peace talks, Arad was generally optimistic, going so far as to predict a new agreement between the United States and Israel as a result of the talks.

"The Golan will eventually be included in any package for peace," Arad said. "That is the inevitable, sad truth. But in order to convince the Israeli public of that necessity, they have to feel safe.

"And not only just safe," he continued, "but safer than before."

In that regard, Arad said there was a "good possibility" that the United States and Israel would sign a treaty guaranteeing Israel's safety.

"That means that automatically, in writing, if Israel would be attacked, the U.S. would respond without hesitation," he said. The treaty would also guarantee increased technological and military support.

When pressed about a timetable for significant progress on the Syrian talks, Arad predicted that "with any luck" it would happen within the next couple of months. He also said it was important to start the procedure of formalizing relations with neighboring Arab countries, before finalizing peace with Syria.

Ultimately, according to Arad, any peace treaties must be flexible enough to withstand the "vicissitudes of the area."

"When you build a house, you don't build it expecting a light summer breeze. You build it for that rare storm that rages every few years.

"Who knows," he continued. "In 15 years, Libya may have a thriving democracy and Egypt may have a dictatorship."