Remembering Emily Landau, a Rare Female Voice in Israel's Male-dominated Security Sphere

Security expert and frequent Haaretz contributor – who died Monday at 59 – was a high-profile critic of the Obama nuclear deal, but did not see war between U.S. and Iran as inevitable

Emily Landau, photographed in 2013.
Gil Eliahu

Prominent security expert Emily Landau, head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies – and a frequent contributor for Haaretz – died Monday following a long illness.

Landau, 59, a senior fellow at INSS, was chosen by Forbes magazine as one of Israel’s 50 most influential women in 2015, for her work on security issues. That year, Landau had made sharp, high-profile criticisms of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Subsequently, she remained an important source of analysis and commentary, warning of the dangers of what she regarded as the appeasement of Iran’s efforts to sow international discord and confusion about its ongoing nuclear ambitions.

Landau’s “vast academic and analytical research over the years earned her international renown, and was a major contribution to experts in Israel and throughout the world, particularly in the arms control community,” the INSS said in a statement. “The director and staff of INSS are deeply grieved over the loss of their colleague, and express their condolences to Emily’s family. She will be sorely missed at the Institute,” it added.

Daniel Shapiro, U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2011-2017 and a colleague of Landau’s at the INSS, told Haaretz: “Emily was an outstanding researcher and a wonderful colleague. Whether she agreed or disagreed with you, she deeply valued intellectual exchange and discourse focused on the most effective policies to promote arms control and ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself from a range of threats. She was devoted to her work, but no less to being part of a community of scholars working together in pursuit of facts, truth and successful policies.”

Landau’s specialty was nuclear proliferation, arms control and regional security dynamics in the Middle East, and she wrote and edited several books, including “Israel’s Nuclear Image: Arab Perceptions of Israel’s Nuclear Posture” (1994), “The Obama Vision and Nuclear Disarmament” (2011) and “Decade of Diplomacy: Negotiations with Iran and North Korea and the Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation” (2012).

She wrote numerous op-eds for leading publications in Israel and internationally. And as a rare female voice in the male realm of security studies, her outspoken, hawkish style made her a popular interviewee both for print media and television.

In her opinion pieces for Haaretz, where she was a regular contributor for a decade from 2009 until her death, Landau offered sharp and trenchant critiques of the Iran nuclear deal, expressing her conviction that only unrelenting pressure on Tehran would ever produce a deal that could rein in its nuclear program.

Back in 2013, she warned the West not to be taken in by the “moderate” image projected by new Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who, she stated, was just as committed to Iran developing military nuclear capacities as the regime’s more easily maligned “hard-liners.”

She wrote about how the threat of military force was likely to be the only effective way to force Iran to back down; called for the West not to underestimate the economic leverage it held over Tehran; about Israel’s fears that its security concerns would be overlooked; and then, once the deal was signed, noted that Iran had a built-in – and relatively painless – unilateral exit route.

Days before President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran deal in May 2018, Landau offered this analysis: “The U.S. plan for the day after leaving the nuclear deal isn’t clear. But the Trump administration understands what the Europeans don’t: The Iranian regime only responds to serious, sustained pressure. The only thing that has worked in the nuclear realm has been pressure on the regime – and it remains the only key to changing Tehran’s behavior.”

Her interview with Haaretz following Trump’s withdrawal offers perhaps the clearest expression of her views, with the benefit of hearing them in her own clear voice.

Landau pushed back against what she considered the false dichotomy of embracing Obama’s Iran nuclear deal or cheerleading for war, noting that this wasn’t the choice facing Trump either: The president should, after exiting the deal, push Iran toward greater concessions and greater oversight over those military capabilities relevant to its nuclear program.

In her final Haaretz op-ed, written in May 2019, Landau’s views were as composed and determined as ever, calling for America not to back down against Iran. Many of her points have added resonance in the current period of hostilities between the United States and Iran.

She opposed the feeling that a military escalation between the U.S. and Iran was becoming inevitable, warning that “fanning the flames of imminent war – in the media and among analysts – is a strongly ill-advised message.” She noted that Israel was not currently part of the escalation, but that “if miscalculations lead to military exchange, there could be serious implications” for the country.

Landau wrote that neither Iran nor the United States wanted to go to war. “Iran’s threats are a desperate attempt to push back against the U.S. and Europe. … Placing the threats in their proper context is important. That means underscoring that negotiations are the goal – and war is in no one’s interest.”

Landau taught nuclear strategy, negotiations and arms control at Tel Aviv University, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (from 2013), and the University of Haifa (from 2008).

She was born in Boston and moved with her family to Israel at age 14. After earning degrees from Tel Aviv and Hebrew universities, she joined INSS in the mid-1980s as a research assistant before rising through the ranks. She is survived by her husband and two children.