Thursday, March 20, 2008

Conversation with Asaf Shariv

Israel's greatest danger is Iran, says Israeli diplomat

By June Sandra Neal
Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 in The Connecticut Jewish Ledger.

WEST HARTFORD--Consul General Asaf Shariv, Israel‚s highest ranking diplomat serving New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, visited the nutmeg state on March 17, to kick off its year-long Israel@60 celebration and meet with Jewish community leaders and government officials. His visit was co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford (JCRC), the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT) and the World Affairs Council.

Born in Israel, the 36-year old Shariv is the youngest diplomat to ever hold Israel‚s top consular post in New York. He joined the Prime Minister‚s office in 2002 as senior advisor to Ariel Sharon‚s Chief-of-Staff and assumed the post of Consul General of Israel in New York in August 2007. Immediately prior to his appointment, he was the Director of Media and Public Affairs to Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon. He was also the spokesman for the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Mossad), the Atomic Energy Committee, the National Security Committee and the Counter-Terrorism Unit.

As a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1990, Shariv was a reporter and senior editor for BaMachane, the official weekly newspaper of the Israeli military. In 1993, he became Acting Editor-in-Chief and managed a team of 30 reporters, editors and producers. Following his army service, he worked as a deputy editor at Globes Newspaper.

While he was here, the Ledger had a chance to sit down and speak with Shariv one-on-one.

Q. Israel‚s 60th anniversary of statehood is clearly a time of much pride and joy. However, as Charles Dickens put it, this seems to be the best of times and the worst of times, with great achievements and equally great threats to the country‚s security.

A. We are doing well. Our economy is larger than that of all our neighbors combined. Our friendship with the United States is strong and our relationships with European countries have never been so good. Vice President Dick Cheney, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, United Kingdom‚s Prime Minister [Gordon] Brown, Germany‚s Chancellor [Angela] Merkel are all visiting Israel. Most are coming to see how we can save the Annapolis peace process. But the situation on the ground is not helping. In August of 2005, when [Ariel] Sharon began the disengagement, he said, „The world says occupation is the reason for terrorism. We will show that is a lie.‰ And since we left, there has not been one day without Kassam rockets firing into Israel.

Q. How are the residents of Sderot faring?

A. The population of Sderot has decreased from 33,0000 to 20,000. The ones who are left are those who are poor and can‚t leave. We‚ve had two children hurt: one lost his leg, the other lost his arm. But nobody hears about this. They starting shooting at Ashkelon; now there are a quarter million people under attack.

We will hear from other countries that we need to speak with Hamas. But we cannot negotiate with Hamas. The only alternative is what we are doing now. The world says our reaction is not proportional. What if Mexico launched rockets at the United States? How long would it take the U.S. to retaliate? It is true, we are stronger. We have to be. We don‚t want to go to war but we will defend ourselves.

Q. What is the greatest danger facing Israel right now?

A. Iran and the nuclear bomb. Iran is at the bottom of the ninth inning. We know the National Intelligence Estimate is wrong [claiming that Iran has ceased developing a nuclear weapon]. And they don‚t have to use it to cause trouble. Just the threat of using it will make many Israelis leave. And just imagine if Al Qaeda gets the bomb, if Hezbollah gets the bomb.

Q. Is the danger from Lebanon also great?

A. The situation on the northern border is the most serious. Hezbollah and Syria have agreed they will never go to war again against Israel alone. [Hezbollah General Secretary Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah has announced he is ready to go to war; they are crazy to avenge the assassination of [terrorist] Mugniyah. I honestly don‚t know who did it, but we were blamed. But as your state department announced, the world is a better place without him.

Q. A sticking point among the U.S. presidential contenders is when to get out of Iraq. How do you see this issue?

A. If Iran takes over Iraq, it will be a superpower.

Q. In these brief sixty years, Israel‚s list of achievements, aside from the miracle of a Jewish homeland, is breathtaking. Such things as the development of a no-radiation diagnostic instrument for detecting breast cancer, cutting edge skin graft techniques for burn victims, the new all-electric car, have meant a better life for people all over the world. Would you agree that in terms of achievements Israel is like the Little Engine That Could?

A. The Jewish state is smaller than New Jersey, but our achievements per capita surpass most countries. We hold the largest number of patents per capita in the world. [Outside of Canada and the U.S.], we have the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies. 24% of our workforce holds university degrees, third in the industrialized world. We developed the cell phone and voice mail and most of Windows NT and XP were developed in Israel. Per capita, we have the most museums, the highest number of PCs, and we publish the most scientific papers. We are one of only eight countries to launch a satellite. 85% of our trash is handled in an environmentally-friendly manner.

We have the second highest number of new books. Our economy is bigger than all the economies in the area combined and we are a superpower in homeland security.

And our intelligence forces help [democratic] countries all over the world.

Q. How would you describe the relationship between America and Israel?

A. Israel is the only democracy in the [mid east] region. We share America‚s values. We speak fluent English and Americans come to Israel and feel comfortable there. We elected the first woman prime minister nearly 40 years ago. When the tragedy of 9-11 happened, people all over Israel cried. We share a bond that will not be broken.

June Sandra Neal is a freelance writer.

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