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Israel threatened by nuclear Iran, Inbar says

John-Paul Witt | Friday, February 9, 2007

Israel is more secure than it’s ever been, but the country still faces major threats, professor Efraim Inbar said in a lecture Thursday night at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.

Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, outlined Israel’s position in terms of its immediate surroundings, the Middle East and the world.

“The resilience of the peace process is striking, the reluctant acceptance of Israel by other Middle Eastern countries,” he said.

The peace process has only succeeded, he said, because Israel is able to present a “credible military threat” to its neighbors and deter them from taking action.

“Israel has been successful in fighting wars because they are understood as wars of no choice,” Inbar said. “Israel is only 50 miles wide and is vulnerable from all sides.”

The greatest threat to Israel today is a nuclear Iran, Inbar said. Nuclear weapons would give Iran the capability to destroy Israel before Israel could defend itself.

“I am amazed at [the] lack of response in [the] free world to Iran’s hostility toward Israel,” Inbar said. “Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran.”

Students pressed Inbar to elaborate.

“Diplomacy and economic sanctions will probably fail,” he said. “Israel is considering shutting down Iran’s nuclear program by force if the Americans and the international community cannot convince Iran to stop its weapons program through negotiation.”

Inbar said Israel understands it is not the Iranian people who are its enemies, but the regime.

“The elite in power are determined to continue to build their nuclear program,” he said. “Iranians will have to give up their cars and use donkeys, fine, as long as the regime stays in power.”

For Israeli security, peace with Egypt and Jordan are the most important local factors, Inbar said. He also credited the United States as being “Israel’s strongest ally.”

“There is close military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel,” Inbar said. “After [Sept. 11], Americans began to understand the violence the Israelis confront every day.”

Israel is mired in a “low-level conflict” with the Palestinian people and their elected government, the group Hamas, Inbar said.

“Hamas has a clear agenda – gain strength and remove Israel from the map,” he said. “It was a mistake on our part to allow [Hamas] to participate in [Palestinian] elections.”

The war between Israel and Lebanon last summer also drew questions from students, especially because of the large number of civilians killed by the Israeli offensive.

“There was no excessive use of force in Lebanon,” Inbar said. “If Israel has to choose between Israeli lives and bad publicity, Israel’s choice is clear.”

Inbar said the ultimate hope for security in the Middle East cannot come from outsiders, although U.S. intervention is sometimes necessary to keep the peace.

“When it comes to the Middle East, outsiders can do little,” he said. “They have good intentions, but we will continue to conduct our business our way – the ability of outsiders to do good is very limited.”