Israel’s ambassador to the United States warned that Israel’s “deepest concern” was Iran’s nuclear program and its efforts to develop long-range missiles.
In a July 6 conference call sponsored by The Israel Project, Michael Oren also said his government and the Obama administration were in talks on drafting “a common platform for moving the peace process forward.” The document, he said, aimed to combine administration positions, security guarantees for Israel, and a rejection of the Palestinian insistence on the “right of return” for refugees.
Oren said the document would be presented next week to members of the Quartet — the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia.
He said if a consensus is reached, “we hope it will dissuade” the Palestinian Authority “from pursuing their current course” of reconciling with Hamas and seeking unilateral recognition of its statehood by the United Nations.
The Israel Project, an American NGO that promotes Israel, did not release a list of participants or invitees on the conference call. Oren spoke for about 20 minutes, but did not take questions from listeners.
His comments on Iran came near the end of the call, which was replete with largely pessimistic appraisals of what he called “complexities in the Middle East that have reached an all-time high.”
Iran is developing missiles that “can get anywhere in the Middle East and even parts of southern Europe, and within five years or 10 years they will be even able to reach the eastern coast of the United States.”
Oren, raised in West Orange, complained that while the world’s attention is focused elsewhere, the Iranians have been providing arms and money to the Syrians and are “producing enriched uranium at a rate which is very impressive.”
“The Iranians are literally stealing bases while the people in the stands are looking elsewhere,” he said. “We hope that despite the great distractions going on in the Middle East, the international community will regain its focus on Iran and work swiftly and decisively to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear military capabilities.”
The ambassador said his country “sees both risks and opportunities” in the democratic potential of the “Arab Spring.”
But he complained that “governments in Lebanon, Iran, and Gaza — largely secular and pro-democracy — were highjacked by extremists who transformed those regions into terrorist strongholds,” with Lebanon and Gaza “becoming launching pads for firing thousands and thousands of missiles” at Israel.
Oren said “nobody knows what is going to happen in Egypt, but it appears to be very chaotic there.”
He said Bedouins in the Sinai Peninsula have been attacking the pipeline running between Egypt and Israel that supplies Israelis with 40 percent of their natural gas.
“It is not only a violation of our agreement with the Egyptians but a problem environmentally and economically,” he said.
Adding to the “chaos,” he said, was the presence of well-organized Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt whose “commitment to the peace process is very much in question.”
Also troubling Oren were statements made by Ahmed Ezz El-Arab, a vice chairman of Egypt’s secular Wafd Party.
According to a July 5 Washington Times article, El-Arab claimed that the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were “made in the USA,” the Holocaust is “a lie,” and Anne Frank’s memoir is “a fake.”
Oren said Israel “sees some opportunities” in Syria. “If that regime were to fall, we see benefits. We see a loosening of the Syrian grip on Lebanon. We see a potential unraveling of the alliance with Iran. There could be benefits if Syria focuses on its internal well-being and not on fomenting terror.”
Oren said “we are at an extremely crucial junction in our relationship with Turkey,” which has backed off from its military ties with Israel in recent years and moved closer to Iran, Syria, and Hamas.
“We haven’t given up,” he said. “As I speak there are efforts and talks under way in an attempt to get our relationship on a better footing.”