Israeli envoy discusses region in Rutgers visit

Israeli envoy discusses region in Rutgers visit

Consul general meets with faculty, president, and Hillel students

Israel needs to keep open all options on Iran — including a military move — even as it continues to work toward a peaceful solution.

That message was delivered by Ido Aharoni, Israeli consul general in New York, during an April 11 luncheon sponsored by the Hillel Center for Israel Engagement at Rutgers University.

“We don’t have the luxury of allowing Iran to become nuclear,” said Aharoni. “It’s not Denmark. It’s not Sweden. This is a country that is threatening Israel with destruction and refers to the United States as the great Satan.”

In light of that threat, Aharoni said, Israel believes a combination of options, including “crippling, binding” international sanctions and “a credible military threat” should be on the table to pressure the Iranian leadership.

The speech was part of a day-long round of meetings for Aharoni at Rutgers in New Brunswick. He met with about 70 Hebrew-language students at the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, with Rutgers faculty members, and with Bildner center staff and later had a meeting with university president Richard McCormick and Richard Edwards, interim vice president for undergraduate education.

Bildner associate director Karen Small said she and her colleagues talked with Aharoni “about the way our Jewish studies program teaches about Israel [and] about our academic offerings and cultural programs. We’ve had 20 visiting scholars from Israel.”

Small added that all the encounters with Aharoni were “really good opportunities for staff, students, faculty, and the administration at Rutgers University to talk and cultivate relationships with the Israeli consulate.”

At the luncheon, held in the student center on the main campus, Aharoni spoke of concerns over Iran’s threats and the so-called “Arab spring,” Israel’s desire to live peacefully with its neighbors, and the need to generate tourism on a scale similar to that of Europe’s capitals.

‘Strong democracies’

Aharoni said a nuclear-armed Iran “would tip the balance of power in the Middle East” and, beyond the threat to Israel, would undoubtedly touch off an international arms race that would further destabilize the Middle East and threaten many areas of the world, including the United States.

“What would have happened if Saddam Hussein would have had nuclear capability when it invaded Kuwait?” he asked. “Think what would have happened six or seven months ago in Libya if Muammar Kaddafi had nuclear weapons.”

Aharoni also spoke of upheaval in various countries of the Arab world. He said the linkage of the “Arab spring” to the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a misreading of the situation. “It has nothing to do with the Palestinian people,” he said. “We can’t think the Middle East suffers from one problem. There are tens of active military conflicts in the Middle East. The Israeli-Arab conflict is just one of many.”

Those conflicts, he said, “center on the non-democratic values of terrorist organizations and governments such as Hamas, which indiscriminately lobs rockets at Israel.

“We have to understand that at the end of the day democracy is all about the values you stand for,” said Aharoni. The situation requires more Western involvement to resolve chronic problems hindering the adoption of such values, he said, including granting rights to women.

“We want to be surrounded by real and strong democracies,” he said. “We believe a strong Middle East is a more stable Middle East.”

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