Southwest Asia Speakers at UM Draw New Urgency From Israeli Conflict


Wednesday’s 20th annual International Conference on Central and Southwest Asia at the University of Montana has gained new urgency after violence erupted in Israel and the Gaza Strip over the weekend.

Conference organizer Bob Seidenschwarz said Israeli Consul General Marco Sermoneta’s keynote speech Wednesday evening remains on the schedule, although its content is likely to change. Sermoneta’s speech was titled “Charting a new course: Israel’s engagement in the Middle East and Beyond.” Montana Commerce Department Director Scott Osterman will join Sermoneta for a facilitated discussion starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the University Center’s third-floor theater on the UM campus.

Hamas militants launched a surprise rocket attack on Saturday from both inside and outside the Gaza Strip on the cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and several smaller cities. The initial attacks killed an estimated 700 people and saw at least 100 Israelis taken hostage, reportedly including military personnel and American citizens. 

Israeli counter-attacks on the enclave of about 2 million Palestinians killed an estimated 560 people and wounded almost 3,000 as of Monday morning. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamín Netanyahu declared war on Gaza, and the United States ordered an aircraft carrier group to move close to Israel to discourage others from escalating the conflict. The U.S. also sent new military supplies to Israel.

The conflict erupted despite efforts by both the Biden and Trump administrations to broker better relations between Israel and its Middle East neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia. 

The two-day conference starts at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday with members of the Montana Army National Guard presenting on their activities in Central Asia. At 12:30 p.m., UM scholars Michel Mayer, Mehrdad Kia and Seidenschwarz will probe “U.S., China, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran: A new world order in the Middle East.” The afternoon panel features Learning Economy co-founder Jackson Smith on “Why I learn artificial intelligence and how you can too.”

Thursday’s slate starts at 11 a.m. with Concept Elemental founder Jennifer Warren speaking on “Chronicles in Energy and Geopolitics.” UM professor Ardi Kia speaks at 12:30 p.m. on “Central Asia: Myth and Reality.” At 2:30 p.m. UM professors Mladen Kozul and Michel Valentin discuss “Banlieues, police, violence and Muslim immigration in contemporary France.” Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Warren provide the evening’s keynote presentation on “Montana, international conflicts and energy crisis” at 6 p.m.

All events are free and open to the public. The conference is organized by the Central and Southwest Asian Studies Center at UM and the Montana World Affairs Council.

Source : Missoulian