AIPAC 2013: Danger In The Middle East

ambassador-orenWelcome to TC Jewfolk’s coverage of the 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference. If you haven’t already, check out our Facebook page and Twitter feed. Throughout the conference we’ll be posting quotes, photos, videos, and more with live updates. We already have some great photos and a crazy video posted. On we’ll have feature reports from the conference.
The official theme of the conference is: “Shaping Tomorrow Together.” But based on what we’ve seen so far, we’ve rebranded it: “Danger In The Middle East!”
The conference started with representatives from the College Republicans and College Democrats. They opened with a strong message of bipartisanship, followed by a video emphasizing the point that it doesn’t matter who’s in Congress, or who’s in the White House; AIPAC has friends everywhere.
The feature of the morning session was two Foreign Policy Roundtables. The first was a one-on-one discussion with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. The second featured Former Deputy National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, Elliott Abrams, and Special Assistant to President Obama, Dennis Ross.
On Obama’s upcoming trip to Israel:
Ambassador Oren mentioned that this would be Obama’s first official trip abroad of his second term. He said it would send a strong message to the people of Israel that they are not alone, and that there’s an “unbreakable bond” between the two nations.
Mr. Abrams said Obama’s challenge is to persuade Israelis that deep down he understands the unique challenges that Israelis face.
Ambassador Ross said this is a time of enormous uncertainty and unprecedented challenge. This trip creates an opportunity for President Obama to connect with the Israeli public. He said that the United States and Israel have a common strategic interest in preserving the Palestinian Authority, so that the main political group among the Palestinians isn’t an Islamist one.
On Iran:
Ambassador Oren said, “We’ve seen years of diplomacy result in zero progress.” The regime is still the largest state sponsor of terror in the Middle East.  On their continuing development of their nuclear program he said the question facing Israel and the United States is not when Iran will get a nuclear weapon, but when it will be too late to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
On their upcoming elections: “Iran has elections, but they are corrupt and rife with intimidation and physical violence… At the end of the day we’re not expecting any great changes.”
Mr. Abrams said, “It looks to me like we’re negotiating with ourselves.” We make the regime an offer to end their nuclear program, they don’t respond, and a few months later we make another offer. He also said that Iran continues to build relationships with Syria and Hezbollah, as well as Russia and China. He seemed to intimate that it’s unclear where Russia and China will side when this is all said and done.
Ambassador Ross didn’t have anything interesting to add. However, he spoke at length on Iran when he came to Minneapolis to speak at the Cardozo Society dinner, which TC Jewfolk covered.
On Hamas:
Ambassador Oren had high praise for the Iron Dome. “It’s the first anti-ballistic system in the history of warfare to work in actual combat.” It takes down 85% of rockets fired from Gaza, but he said, “It’s a game changer, not a game ender.”
Mr. Abrams said that Hamas’s main concern right now is trying to figure out how to get into the Palestinian Authority government, as well as getting into the PLO (Yasser Arafat kept them out of it, and they have still never been a part of that organization).
He said that while Israel won’t negotiate with Hamas, Europeans might try to bring about a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. If that happens, he said, peace negotiations will be impossible.
On Syria:
Ambassador Oren said Israel’s main concern continues to be on any chemical weaponry and other “game changing weapons” from the Syrian regime that might find their way to Hezbollah. “We have a red line, and we’ll keep that red line.”
He emphasized Israel’s desire to see Bashar Assad removed from power. He said that Assad’s father was ruthless, but in many ways predictable. The son is ruthless and reckless; his departure would deal a “tremendous blow” to Iran and Hezbollah.
abrams and rossThe moderator inquired about the endgame for Assad.
Mr. Abrams mentioned that America has been slow to respond to the crisis, while Iran and Hezbollah have not. He mentioned the crazy fact that we’ve given millions in humanitarian aid to Syria during this war, but the aid went through the U.N. which administered it to the current regime. So there’s been an influx of aid in regime-controlled regions, but little in opposition-controlled areas. New Secretary of State John Kerry has just announced that U.S. aid will now go directly to the opposition.
Ambassador Ross said the only endgame is that he leaves. The U.S. and Israel want to accelerate his departure, while at the same time protecting against his departure resulting in Syria becoming a failed state. He also unequivocally declared that we must provide “lethal assistance.” This met with a big cheer from the crowd.
Ambassador Oren was asked at the end what the people in attendance could do to support Israel. “Continue doing what you’re doing,” he said. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is militarily and economically robust. It’s a country that has never known a second of non-democratic rule (which very few countries in the world can claim).  It is unreservedly, unabashedly pro-American.
Finally, he plugged Israel’s tourism industry, promoting Israel’s great beaches, world class food, and incredible history. “The country belongs to you like no other country. You don’t need a passport or a visa. Come join us in the State of Israel!”