All of the students in the new Institute for National Security Studies summer study program already have some security expertise under their belt and are currently earning their masters or doctorate degrees in the field.
By NOA AMOUYAL
An arms deal in the Golan goes awry, leading to the death of a senior Hezbollah official. Now, Hezbollah is out for blood and is mobilized along Israel’s northern border ready to strike. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country, Hamas succeeds in implementing a successful tunnel attack which leads to the death of two Israeli soldiers and two of its citizens.
This nightmare of a two-pronged attack against Israel’s borders was a war game simulation scenario presented to a group of students enrolled in the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) summer program.
For that one day, as students split into groups representing various countries, and acted out each country’s specific interests, this work of fiction was very much rooted in reality.
It is that real world, living in the moment expertise regarding Israel’s security that INSS hoped to teach students during the three week course which wrapped this summer.
“We understood that something is happening to the turbulent Middle East and anyone who studies the region and doesn’t truly understand Israel is missing a big piece of the equation,” Dr. Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at INSS and the program’s director told The Jerusalem Post.
To that end, students learn about Israel’s unique security challenges and how the brewing conflicts in the Middle East have wide-ranging implications on the ground here.
The study abroad program, called Israel’s National Security Challenges in the Changing Middle East, is part of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies and offers up to six credits that can be transferred to other globally accredited institutions.
All of the participants have some security expertise under their belt and are currently earning their masters or doctorate degrees in that realm.
Initially, the INSS team thought most of its students would be Jews working in the Israel advocacy arena. And while two of the 29 students did fit that description, most were not Jewish and hailed from some unexpected countries.
Abhishek Chapanerkar, a research intern at the New Delhi based Institute for Peace and Conflict studies, is an example of such. Chapanerkar, who is currently studying Farsi and Iranian foreign policy at the University of Tehran, was drawn to Israel for its ever-warming ties with India and because studying the complexities of the country was crucial to his work in conflict resolution.
Chapanerkar was particularly impressed by how each week was divided by the following themes: past and contemporary upheavals in the Middle East, terrorism and the rise of ISIS and Israel’s security challenges. To learn about each topic, the students need not rely on textbooks, rather they had lecturers with practical expertise like former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and INSS director Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin.
There aren’t many who can say their travel itinerary includes studying in Tel Aviv and then Tehran, but Chapanerkar has delicately navigated that nearly impossible feat. When asked how his fellow classmates in Iran feel about his last stint in Israel, he says many are genuinely curious to learn about the Jewish state.
“I talked with many native Iranians, as well as Lebanese, Turkish and French students. They expressed deep interest to understand Israel,” he said while speaking from Tehran.
That is, of course, the long-term goal of the program: making this next generation of security experts understand what makes Israel tick and that like that simulation exercise above demonstrates, a looming threat is only a few kilometers away in multiple directions.
“As an American, you don’t see how close the threats are. It’s such a small country, and there’s a potential threat in every direction,” Michael McGruddy, a masters degree student from Georgetown University said of the weekly field trips that took students to the Gaza envelope, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
“We thought this would be a good opportunity not only from an academic perspective, but a hasbara one as well,” Michael said. “When they saw with their own eyes goods being transferred to Gaza through the Erez crossing, for example, it gave them a new perspective about Israel.”
That is not to say everything went swimmingly. Every inaugural program has its snags, and Michael and his team are eager to iron those out as they plan the curriculum for summer 2018. Bringing students from countries that have specific visa requirements and high-profile lecturers with a busy schedules was not easy, as such they hope to start the enrollment process much earlier this year.
“This was a production,” Michael acknowledges.
“I was surprised by how normal Israeli life is, when faced with such adversity. While we see this on the news, we become somewhat numb to what’s happening, but when you’re there and see it unfold closely it gives you a new perspective,” McGruddy said.
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