AIPAC speakers: A nuclear Iran is Israels next big worry

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The estimated 4,500 audience members at this week’s Bay Area AIPAC events came to bury Yasser Arafat, not to praise him.

Nary a tear was shed over the former Palestinian Authority president’s demise. Yet any window of opportunity for a democratic Palestinian state will be rudely slammed shut if neighboring Iran gets the bomb, according to Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr, the featured speakers at the San Francisco, Oakland, San Mateo and Sacramento events.

In fact, predicted Kohr, within the next year Israel’s prime minister will be faced with a decision as difficult as any ever faced by the Jewish state: A preemptory attack against Iran may save the lives of millions, but would almost definitely cost the lives of thousands or more via terrorist retaliation.

“Iran has a terrorist network on a global scale. They operate in Europe, Africa, Asia and throughout the Middle East. They operate in North America,” he said at the Monday, Dec. 13, luncheon at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

Kohr told the roughly 1,300 present at the San Francisco luncheon that Iran is already the top financial sponsor of terrorist groups in the West Bank and Gaza.

“Just a few weeks ago, the No. 2 person in Iran, [Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, called upon all Muslim nations of the world to use nuclear weapons on Israel. He asserted such an attack would annihilate Israel but only cause Muslim nations some damage. This was the first and most bold statement by a leader in Iran about what the purpose of those weapons might be. And if there’s anything 9/11 taught us, it’s to take radicals seriously.”

Israel needs the United States’ help in quelling Iran’s nuclear ambitions, said Kohr. But, noted Reed, the ongoing military commitment in Iraq has severely limited the nation’s military options. What’s more, Iran is twice as large as Iraq and more than three times as populous.

“One of today’s painful ironies is we are witnessing the emergence of a nuclear state that is comfortable supporting terror while we are burdened fighting the insurgency in Iraq after finding no weapons of mass destruction,” said Reed, a senator since 1996.

The specter of a nuclear Iran looms over the real possibilities of change stemming from the Jan. 9 Palestinian elections.

Reed noted that Israeli “good will” in the months leading to the elections — easing of movement restrictions and gestures such as allowing East Jerusalem residents to vote in the election — “could pay dividends in January and in the days ahead.”

The election gives Palestinians the

opportunity to “move forward or continue to be wedded to violence. We must insist they move forward.”

He said Israel must “be prepared to engage in direct talks. For the last several years, it was apparent that talks with Arafat were unproductive. [Now] there must be a willingness to meet with leaders on the other side willing to undergo the arduous and lengthy task of securing peace in the region.”

Kohr, who spoke dramatically and forcefully at the S.F. event, was at his loudest and most assertive when he defended AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, against allegations it has been illegally spying on the United States on behalf of Israel.

“Nothing is more antithetical to what AIPAC stands for than these allegations. Nothing makes us more angry than to be accused of having dual loyalties,” he said before a crowd that included Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, four Northern California Congress members, Mayor Gavin Newsom and dozens of consuls generals and other dignitaries.

“Many people ask me how this [FBI investigation] could happen. I tell you honestly, to this day, we still don’t know. Because the government has not yet told us what this is all about. Much of what we get is from the press.

“We have,” he shouted, “nothing to be ashamed of.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.