Israel may be surrounded by hostile nations that want to destroy it, but its ambassador in Washington still holds out hope for the future.
Ambassador Michael Oren cited Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” on Tuesday, when he spoke with reporters at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor at the Hay-Adams Hotel.
“To paraphrase Dickens, this is the best of times and the worst of times. I’ll start with the worst,” he said.
Mr. Oren then offered a tour of terrorist threats that face Israel from Egypt’s Sinai Desert in the southwest, to the Gaza Strip in the west, to Lebanon and Syria in the north, and Iran far to the east — but armed with missiles that can hit Israel.
The overthrow of Egypt’s autocratic leader, Hosni Mubarak, last year led to a “power vacuum” now filled by the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Cairo and various terrorist groups in the Sinai, he said.
Hamas and ally Islamic Jihad fired more than 700 rockets at Israeli civilian targets over the summer and spring before Israel retaliated with massive airstrikes that destroyed Hamas military and government sites and killed top Hamas leaders.
He said the Israeli government, which supports the creation of a Palestinian state that respects Israel’s right to exist, regrets the Hamas takeover of the coastal region, which Israel had occupied until it withdrew troops in 2005.
Mr. Assad is “ruthless and reckless” and maintains a “strategic alliance” with Iran, Mr. Oren said. He called Syria part of a “strategic arch from Iran to Lebanon,” ruled by pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants who often try to provoke Israel into war by firing rockets into northern towns.
On Iran, Mr. Oren said international sanctions have hurt the economy but have had “no impact” on its suspected nuclear weapons program. He said Iran will “spark a [nuclear] arms race throughout” the Middle East if it is allowed to develop the bomb.