Barak visits; speaks on geopolitics

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

The United States must reach out to Russia and China to build deeper ties in order to solve the major threats to international stability, Ehud Barak told an audience of close to 800 people at Saint Louis University last week.

Barak spoke at SLU on Thursday night during a talk sponsored by the student programming organization, the Great Issues Committee.

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Barak, who served as prime minister of Israel from 1999 to 2001, said as “the going gets tougher in the world arena” with the threats of terrorism, rogue nations, and nuclear proliferation, world leaders need to be focused on the gestalt, or overall picture, of how domestic policies work within the framework of the increasingly interconnected global economy.

“The United States needs to make a specific effort to reach out to other world leaders,” he said. “The challenge will be to share power and build relationships,” while remaining the world’s strongest superpower, Barak said.

The war in Iraq is an example of the United States’ need to build global partnerships, Barak said.

“In Iraq, there is no exit strategy and the situation continues to deteriorate,” he said. If democracy is established in Iraq, power would likely shift to the Shiites, who might turn to partner with Shiite-led Iran, or break the country down into separate areas controlled by Shiites or Sunnis, who could partner with Sunni-led Syria.

“It seems the choices, both of them, are bad,” he said. “Forming strategic partnerships with Syria and Iran would be a serious mistake, because I believe that would mean partnering with the enemy.”

“The real partners for the U.S. are the Russians and the Chinese. If we cannot begin this paradigm shift, we don’t stand a chance of winning,” he said.

In a similar sense, Barak said, building closer diplomatic relations with the Chinese and the Russians is the only way to deal with the governments of North Korea, which already has nuclear weapons, and Iran, which hopes to develop nuclear power in the near future.

“The Iranians are determined to develop nuclear weapons, which will become a serious threat to global stability,” Barak said.

“The real risk is not that they will drop a bomb, but that immediately nuclear technology will spread — and that at the end of the road, it will end up in the hands of terrorists,” he said. “Russia could be crucial in convincing Iran to dismantle its nuclear power.”

Although dealing with Russia or China would require concessions on issues like Chechnya or human rights, the benefits — putting an end to the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea — would outweigh the costs, he said.”My proposal is to see clearly the priorities, without losing moral clarity,” Barak said.

Although Barak’s speech focused on geopolitics, he also discussed Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Barak said Israel is as a “microcosm” for the problems faced by the United States, and by the world as a whole, because it has dealt with terrorism, nuclear proliferation and rogue states close to home.

Barak noted that over 25 years ago, in1981, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered an attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear power plant, which Israel suspected was being used to develop nuclear weapons.

And terrorism, Barak said, is something Israel has dealt with for a long time.

“The struggle [against] terrorism won’t be an easy one. I speak from personal experience,” he said.

Barak told stories from his 36 years with the Israel Defense Forces, including the raid he led in Beirut in 1973, targeting Palestine Liberation Organization leaders responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games, and the 1972 raid at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, of a Sabena airliner which had been hijacked by terrorists.

Barak said that although the past year was one of disillusionment for Israelis, with the election that brought Hamas into leadership positions in Palestine, and with the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, there is reason for hope.

“The good news is that Israel has remained and will stay for the foreseeable future the strongest nation state for 1,000 miles around Jerusalem,” he said.

“Most Israelis understand the Middle East is tough neighborhood. We would love to have the Canadians as our neighbors,” he quipped.

However, Barak said during peace talks at Camp David in 2000, he found little willingness from Palestinian leaders to seriously negotiate. He said peace between Israelis and Palestinians would remain elusive until a strong Palestinian leader comes forward.

“I think we have not choice but to wait for a leader to emerge on the Palestinian side with the character of [the late Egyptian President Anwar al] Sadat,” Barak said.

During a short question and answer session after his talk, Barak was asked if Israel’s need for security outweighed Palestinians’ rights.

“We fully recognize the right of Palestinians to have an independent state. I jokingly call them the Jews of the Arab world. But as a society, their leaders are either blind or haunted by their hatred of Israel,” he said.

“You have to look with open eyes at the situation. What Palestinian leaders are interested in is not correcting ’67, but ’47: the founding of the independent Jewish Zionist State,” he said.

“We will never be apologetic about our ability to protect ourselves from terrorism,” Barak said.