Sunday, August 5, 2007

Dr. Michael B. Oren speaks on Terrorism, Israel, the future

As promised, I wanted to report on a lecture the 200 members of our Israel tour group heard from a famous person--not a movie mag celeb but someone who is an expert in the field of mid-east relations, author (Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East) and professor Dr. Michael B. Oren (left).

The auditorium was filled, and throughout the talk completely silent, save for the sibilant scribbling of pen on paper. Dr. Oren addressed facts about the conflicts in the mid-east, content he'd tried to communicate when invited by our President and State Department to offer advice. He warned us that some of the facts were not what we'd wish to hear. But nonetheless, the US as a nation would have to face them.

First off, he said each of the governments of mid-eastern countries are basically "a family with an army," and the way we must deal with them is to make a strong impression. While "Sadam Hussein needed to not get away with defying the UN," at the same time, we should not try to make Iraq a democracy. Instead,he believes a "Shiite strongman" will ultimately hold together the country, not American efforts--but still, "we cannot detach from the mid-east, because the mid-east will come after you."

Secondly, we also can't separate from our need for oil, and so we're forced to continue to buy oil from that part of the world. We must realize that at the heart of the conflict is "a clash of cultures," much broader than just eliminating Muslim extremists. We must "speak their language and know their culture."

To do that, we need a new "lexicon about terrorism," something we've never had to understand before. These are fighters with no uniforms, no negotiators to make treaties and no intention of abiding by traditional codes of war. "We must understand the theology of a world civilization that wants to take over and kill ours--run by doctors and lawyers" (per the British plotters recently). "This is not about democracy, but about theology--we must support moderate Islam, but covertly, because if we do it openly then the moderates will be discredited."

Dr. Oren's third fact concerns Iran: "Sanctions and dialog won't work," he cautions. "Iran will nuclear-ize," and its leaders have said publicly they're willing to "sacrifice 50% of its population to get rid of Israel [should there be a nuclear showdown]." Dr. Oren believes that "once Iran gets the bomb, every country will [get it], changing human reality." Therefore, we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; there's "no way to avoid a major collision with Iran." Israel's entire existence is at at stake, given their proximity to Iran, but Israel lacks the planes to take out Iran's bomb-making sites. Dr. Oren believes that the US is best equipped to make the kind of surgical military strike required, and it needs to be sooner rather than later.

Regarding the Palestinians and Israel: He said that the press misled the public regarding Bush's recent speech on the topic. Upon actually reading it, "Bush gave a very pro-Israel speech," including no return to pre-1967 borders, and no opening the doors to Palestinian refugees, whose numbers "would make Israel a de facto Palestinian State." Also, no "land for peace," but rather, "from the Palestinians, peace for land."

He doesn't think Palestinians can "create viable, transparent institutions; they're in chaos." For Palestinians, the goal is a "one state solution," meaning the end of Israel.

"Israel is a miracle; it started with nothing and is among the fastest growing economies. It's the most high tech" even while last year fighting a war with Lebanon, Dr. Oren says. "The US puts relentless pressure on Israel," he notes, "as if Israel is responsible for the attacks on it."

Dr. Oren explained that in the 30s and 40s, Jews bought up Israeli land, "fair and square," giving lie to the Arab's assertion that they were driven off their land by Jews who wanted to create their new state. In fact, in the 1880s, Israel already had a Jewish majority, which continued to grow; the new state was proclaimed and immediately, on May 14, 1948, the Arabs tried to destroy it.

So, what's my reaction to Dr. Oren's points? Though alarming, I've heard them before, and my experiences in Israel have only confirmed that we're dealing with a religiously-driven cult, which means nothing logical or negotiated can deter them. They want the end of Israel--and, in their best fantasies, build a world ruled as a kalifate, under Muslim law, where everyone recognizes their god. What this does is underscore that we're not only fighting for our lives, but fighting for our eternities. These are bad guys, and they have no scruples because they believe they're doing what god wants them to do.

It seems wrong, but I do think America must abandon its wartime morals and practices and start imagining the passion and tenacity of a religion in which those who are "not them" must be converted or murdered. There there is no room for "peaceful co-existence" with anyone else, even Muslims of a variant branch. Non-Muslims are sub-human "infidels."

This is a case where, every day as we continue to live our lives, they plot to end our lives. Dr. Oren's talk was clever, articulate and scary. But I think it's extremely important, which is why I'm reproducing my notes here in my blog. We should anticipate what we as a nation need to do, and pursue what is necessary--because meanwhile, we are being pursued. I only pray our leaders are up to the task.

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