Embassy Row: The best and the worst

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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.

Mubarak had upheld the 1978 Camp David Accords that established formal relations between Israel and Egypt.

Israel last month fought an eight-day war against militants in the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas terrorists dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the eradication of Jews worldwide.

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.

“We left Hamas greatly impaired,” Mr. Oren said.

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.

“We think it’s tragic that the people of Gaza don’t have better leadership,” Mr. Oren said of Hamas. “They are not interested in any future except future conflict.”

Israel also worries about the 21-month uprising in Syria, where President Bashar Assad may resort to chemical weapons to crush a rebel army.

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.

After detailing the threats to Israel, Mr. Oren pivoted to promote developments he cited as evidence of “the best of times” for Israel.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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