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Michael B. Oren Addresses JINSA Board Members

Michael B. Oren at the JINSA Fall 2008 Board MeetingMichael B. Oren at the JINSA Fall 2008 Board MeetingMichael B. Oren, a professor at Georgetown University and distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, spoke at the JINSA 2008 Fall Board Meeting on December 9, 2008. Oren is the author of "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present" (W.W. Norton 2007). He discussed the direction the new administration will take once Barack Obama is sworn in as America’s forty-fourth president. Although it may have appeared that the policies of Senators Obama and McCain were similar, they were in fact discordant on their views of the Middle East.

Once President-elect Obama takes office, the new administration will most likely go full speed ahead to tackle the negotiations. "We can expect a serious and robust initiative with greater international involvement to try to accelerate the peace process," Oren declared. He expects the initiative to include a larger role for the Quartet and for its Middle East Envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Obama's course in the Middle East will "embark on a more regional approach, not just bilateral negotiations," Oren announced to JINSA board members. It is possible that Obama will look towards the Arab League, the Saudis and even the Syrians to play a role in future Arab-Israeli peace talks.

Oren also touched on a number of other factors that might impact peace negotiations, such as the current United States financial crisis and the status of American forces in Iraq. "The path to Baghdad and Tehran, Jerusalem and Hebron, now runs through Wall Street."

Due to the financial crisis, the biggest priority for the new administration will be withdrawing American troops out from Iraq. This, in turn, means that the United States will need to make a regional agreement with Iran, which might lead the U.S. to put pressure on Israel in the public opinion arena. "If the administration pressured Israel to push back to the '67 borders, Israeli would be hard pressed to resist it," Oren declared. The ultimate danger in pressuring Israel into a peace deal is "Hamastan" on Israel's border.

Another direction the Obama administration might take is to impose a "third-party mechanism" in the West Bank. A third-party mechanism would be similar to a NATO-like force deployed in the West Bank to act as a sort of buffer between a new Palestinian state and Israel. The idea is not a new one, and one of its major proponents was in fact Yasser Arafat.

"Does the U.S. have something that Iran needs – recognition of regional hegemony?" Oren asked. Probably not, he ventured to guess. The accommodation of Iran can be done through "carrots and sticks." On the one hand, Iran continues its nuclear program while on the other hand, Iran takes part in brokering an Arab-Israeli peace.

Oren also stressed the danger of a nuclear Iran. "I strongly believe that Israel will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is willing to give up 50 percent of its population to carry out its mission of 'wiping Israel off the map.'"

The greatest fear of a nuclear Iran is transfer of nuclear technology to other states and terrorist organizations. This includes Hezbollah, and in essence, can create a "nuclear neighborhood" in the Middle East, Oren said. "An Iranian bomb is absolutely unacceptable."

The "carrots" the United States can offer Iran in exchange for shutting down their nuclear program are not incentive enough, however. Israel's military capability is robust, but it does not have the capacity to eliminate all of Iran's nuclear facilities. In addition, a strike on an Iranian target might have complicated repercussions not only in the region, but around the globe as well.

Israel has attacked two regional nuclear reactors in the past however, with little counter response. "The Mid East with a nuclear Iran is an untenable position for Israel," Oren concluded.

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