It’s up to future college graduates to find solutions to difficult problems in the Middle East, foreign policy think-tank commentator Jonathan Schanzer told students recently.
Schanzer, who focuses on the Middle East as the vice president of research for the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has widely criticized the U.S.-led Iran nuclear deal and casts the power structure in Palestine as dysfunctional. His views frequently published and broadcast in news outlets, Schanzer kept to those critiques in his lecture earlier this month in the Olin Library Auditorium. Organized by Kenyon Students for Israel, the event was one of several on campus regarding the Middle East during the fall semester.
He also drew on his experience from his previous job tracking terrorist finances for the U.S. Treasury Department to describe where Islamic State (IS) gets some of its money: from taxes and racketeering. “The more territory they control, the more they’re able to extract funds from their own people,” he said.
Schanzer recounted events in the Middle East since the First Intifada in 1987, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Neither Hamas nor the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would lead a third intifada because both are trying to hold on to power, he said. “Hamas knows if they start another war with Israel they will likely get flattened again, making it that much harder to bring in goods and services.”
A former research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Schanzer has written two books on the Palestinian conflict: Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (2008) and State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State (2013).
He predicted that the deal to curtail the development of nuclear weapons by Iran, which he described as flawed, will allow the country to develop a full nuclear program in 12 years. He described the Iran deal as “probably the most significant thing to happen certainly during the four years that these students are in school, possibly in their young adult lives, maybe in their entire lives depending on the trajectory of this deal.”
Diplomats from the U.S., China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom reached the deal with Iran in July. The Obama administration maintains that the deal blocks pathways to nuclear weapons in Iran and establishes comprehensive monitoring of declared nuclear activity and suspicious sites.
Schanzer said Israel would be the country most likely to face the prospect of war with Iran. He called Israel a technological power, saying more cyber attacks with computer viruses are possible. “It’s quite possible that the next conflict in the Middle East could be one where Israel wins without firing a shot,” he said.
With the opportunity to speak to college students across the country, Schanzer said he wants to present information in a way that students might not see in the classroom. “I’m thinking not about things theoretically. I’m thinking about how to solve problems in Washington,” he said after the speech.
Other speakers and events focused on the Middle East during the fall semester include Phyllis Bennis on “Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terrorism;” a screening of and discussion about the documentary Encounter Point; an event to raise awareness and support of the Hagar Association: Jewish Arab Education for Equality; a faculty panel discussion on the crisis in Syria; and a talk by Sa’ed Atshan on "Development vs. Humanitarianism: International Aid in Occupied Palestine."
– Elana Spivack ’17