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Ambassador Michael Oren and “Power, Faith and Fantasy”

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UPDATE: The transcript of my interview with Ambassador Oren from Monday is here. One of many interesting exchanges concerned the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the unrest in Syria:

HH: I’m talking with Ambassador Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, historian, former professor at Yale and other places on the East Coast. Professor, last two times I’ve been on Hannity’s show with my friend, Bob Beckel, Bob has said, and I’m pretty much quoting here, Hewitt, don’t worry about the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, nothing to worry about. What’s your reaction to that statement? I know Bob’s probably a friend of yours as well. But what about the general lassitude that people, or indifference that people are showing to the Brotherhood in Egypt?

MO: Well, I think we have to again be very cautious. I know there’s been a tremendous amount of reports about, that the Brotherhood has split along ideological lines, there’s a more moderate wing, a less moderate wing. But our sources inform us that the Muslim Brotherhood often adopts flexible positions in order to adapt to a certain political environment, or a certain political reality, when their ultimate goal remains the same, and that is crating an Islamic, a unified Islamic state, under Islamic law, throughout the entire Middle East and beyond. We know this because there are branches of the Muslim Brotherhood which aren’t in any way moderate, such as Hamas in Gaza. And Hamas in Gaza not only wants to destroy the state of Israel, and according to its covenant, destroy the Jewish people throughout the world, but it wants to replace Israel with a Palestinian state that will be an Islamic extremist state, and will serve as a basis for expanding that state throughout the Middle East. And these are organizations that threaten not just Israel, but threaten all pro-Western governments in the Middle East. They want to upend the entire existing order. So again, we have to exercise great caution when looking at the Muslim Brotherhood. There’s also a Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is not moderate even in its fa?ade. It’s extremely radical.

HH: You bring up Syria, and it’s the day on which the regime okayed, promoted and probably organized attacks by the mobs on the U.S. and French embassies. No one has been injured at the U.S. embassy, and the mob has now retreated. What’s your reaction to these events? And what does it tell you about the regime in Syria?

MO: Well, we see the regime in Syria as the devil we know, and we don’t prefer that devil, certainly. We see Bashar Assad as the type of incarnation of the devil. He has promoted murder in Lebanon, had a stranglehold on Lebanon. He has maintained a very strong alliance with the murderous regime in Tehran, in Iran. He is widely reported to have tried to develop nuclear weapons of his own. He’s provided 50,000 rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon, 10,000 to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Perhaps maybe the only redeeming quality about him was that he and his father kept a quiet border with Israel for about forty years, but he doesn’t even do that anymore. He’s sent, now, Palestinians to try to break through our border in a violent wave. So there’s nothing redeeming about this individual, nothing redeeming about his regime. And were that regime to pass from the world, I guarantee you no Israeli would be particularly sorrowful about it.

HH: Secretary of State Clinton said today, Mr. Ambassador, that, “from our perspective, Assad has lost legitimacy. He has failed to deliver on the promises he has made. He has sought and accepted aid from the Iranians as to how to repress his people.” Are you surprised by that statement? And what do you think she’s signaling, because the Obama administration has actually been quite quiescent in the face of Syrian repression in the last two months.

MO: I think that the administration is taking an increasingly strident position vis-?-vis the situation in Syria. And I think the message is clear, either that he democratizes, or that he steps aside. I mean, it’s hard to say that he is a dictator, a violent dictator. His regime has been maintained through brutality, through suppression. His father came to power through a very bloody coup, and he has repressed any attempt to democratize, including thirty years ago when his father killed as many as 20,000 people in one city, in Hama, in a single afternoon, who were protesting for democracy. It’s hard to say that a regime like that ever had legitimacy, and from where.

HH: Is there any sign, Mr. Ambassador, that Syria, in an attempt to relieve pressure at home, will use Hezbollah as a cat’s paw, or will encourage any kind of violence along the Israeli border from Lebanon?

MO: It hasn’t happened yet, Hugh, but we are vigilant. We are watching it very carefully. We are watching very carefully the transfer of arms from Syria to Hezbollah. And we cannot entirely eliminate the possibility that if Bashar Assad is pushed into a corner, he’ll do anything, and I mean everything, to get out.

Read the whole thing.

Michael Oren is Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, as well as an accomplished historian and author of the recently revised and reissued Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present. He was my guest today, discussing among many topics the attack by the mob on the American embassy in Damascus, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the relations between Israel and the Obama Administration. The transcript will be posted here later today.

Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present


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