When former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak stopped by campus in December, the security—bomb-sniffing dogs, metal detectors, and a crew of well-tailored bodyguards—was what one would expect for a visit by the president of the United States. Intense person-by-person inspections sent a line snaking across the Green and slightly delayed the start of Barak’s Salomon Center speech, which was sponsored by the Brown Lecture Board.
In a wide-ranging talk that drew a few dozen protesters, Barak touched on everything from commanding Israel’s elite special-forces unit to supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But the common theme was terrorism, including the global war against Al Qaeda and Israel’s struggle with Palestinian suicide bombers.
“The choice is clear,” he said. “Destroy world terrorism or be destroyed by it.”
Barak said the battle against terror was “just in its opening chapters” and would claim many more victims before its end. “The greatest risk now lies in inaction,” he said.
Barak rejected the notion that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was the source of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. He also accused Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat of embracing terrorism after his rejection of the peace plan negotiated at Camp David by President Clinton.
“If it was about occupation we would be well into the solution,” Barak said, interrupted by applause. “And the fact that we are here means it is about terror.”
Although he mourned those killed on both sides of the conflict over the past two years, Barak said the violence did awaken Israelis to the geo-political realities facing them.
“It’s not the Midwest; it’s the Mideast,” he said. “We’d prefer to have the Canadians as our neighbors, but unfortunately you have them.”