Asked who would be better president for Israel: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, a former top foreign affairs adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Yiddish joke (in translation) while pondering a serious response.
“Personally – and I say this from the depth of my heart, as someone who has spent much of his life fostering the special relationship between Israel and the United States – it is a vital necessity to the future of Israel, of Canada and of the civilized world that the U.S. is run by responsible adults,” said Col. (res.) Eran Lerman, until recently deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council in the Prime Minister’s Office. He earlier directed the American Jewish Committee’s Israel office.
Lerman is now a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, an independent think-tank affiliated with Bar-Ilan University, founded by Thomas Hecht of Montreal in 1993.
Lerman’s dry wit could not ease the chill of his masterly tour d’horizon of the Middle East, which he gave at a private gathering at the residence of Israeli Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman on March 10. Among the guests was Jocelyn Coulon, senior policy adviser to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion.
The need for mature leadership in the U.S. administration has never been greater if Lerman’s assessment that the Middle East today represents “a catastrophe of the first order” – that is only getting worse.
Iran tops the list of greatest danger, according to Lerman, ahead of even ISIS.
The regime seeks nothing less than complete “hegemony” of the region and its network of confederates in terrorism, such as Hezbollah, continues to expand its global reach, he said.
Yet, the West seems unable to see through Iran’s “thin veener of democratic practices” to the fact real power still rests with the tyrannical Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“Iran is on the war path across the region,” he warned.
The nuclear deal with Western powers has only emboldened its sense of being an international player, he added.
“The world ignores the role of Iran in the Syrian slaughter, the rape of Lebanon,” not to mention its unabated goal of eliminating Israel, he said.
The region is ripe for predation. “Not only have regimes been overthrown [in the last five years], but states have been destroyed,” Lerman said. Besides Libya, Syria and Iraq, Yemen – “on fire” – and Lebanon – “hijacked by Hezbollah” – are on the brink of collapse, he believes.
Sanctions won’t cut it against Iran, Lerman indicated. “You are wrong if you think you can do to the Iranian regime what was done to Cuba. You shouldn’t confuse a half-dead communist horse with a man-eating tiger.”
The West is also mistaken in believing that religion is at the root of the turmoil and violence. Rather, it is ideologically driven, in his opinion. The camps wedded
to “totalitarian Islamism” are dueling among themselves.
Lerman warned against “tarring all Muslims with the same brush. This is not about Islam or Islamic civilization, but a perversion of religion.”
The other main ideological camp in the Mideast are “the forces of stability” in which he counts, of course, Israel, but also Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt, and Jordan. All of the stable countries of the eastern Mediterranean, including North Africa, the Balkans and even Italy, he thinks, are moving toward forming a distinct “geo-political entity” and the generic term “Middle East” will become increasingly meaningless, as is to speak of the “Arab-Israeli” conflict.
They are united by their common foe Iran, as well as ISIS.
However, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is distinct, Lerman said, and as in-tractable, with Palestinian governance split between the warring Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Besides the key issues of borders and security, what keeps resumption of peace talks unlikely is the Palestinians’ “refusal to recognize Jewish nationhood.
“They reject the idea that Jews are a people as entitled to self-determination as they are…It’s not that we need them to tell us who we are, but for them to realize they are not fighting a transient phenomenon. We will not vanish. This is a fantasy.”
Lerman also lectured that evening at McGill University, sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy.