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Monday, July 28, 2014

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The world must stop Iran, advocacy expert tells students

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Neil Lazarus

OTTAWA — Stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is an issue facing not only Israel, but the entire world in the coming year, Israeli advocacy expert Neil Lazarus told 30 students at Carleton University last week.

Lazarus, who lives in Israel, is an internationally acclaimed expert in Middle East politics, public diplomacy and effective communication training.

He led a seminar Oct. 24 on the Iranian nuclear threat while in Canada on a university speaking tour that also included a presentation in Toronto. The Carleton event was organized by Ottawa’s Israel Awareness Committee (IAC).

Lazarus challenged the students to change their perceptions of the Middle East, noting that it’s important to view the Iranian nuclear threat or any other crisis in the region from a broad perspective.

“How to stop a country – which sees itself at war with the West and at the same time calls for the destruction of the ‘Zionist entity’ – from getting the capability of doing so poses the question which the world has to face for 2013,” he said in his presentation.

“An attack on Iran may set them back only two to three years,” Lazarus said. “Then what? Any attack on Iranian nuclear sites either by Israel or America would with all certainty lead to some sort of regional conflict. You would have Iran responding and attacking Israel, and its allies would join in, which includes Hezbollah.”

The threat posed by Hezbollah may be even graver than that of a nuclear Iran itself, due to the thousands of rockets that Hezbollah can now launch into Israel in under a minute, Lazarus said.

He emphasized that the Iranian threat can’t only be evaluated from an Israeli perspective, but must also be viewed in terms of its effect on the entire Middle East and the rest of world.

“What’s happening now in the Middle East is so dramatic, it will change the very nature of global politics,” Lazarus said. “One of the issues of Iran becoming a nuclear country is that a nuclear Iran threatens the hegemony of America in the Middle East.”

Lazarus touched on the effects of the Arab Spring, which he described as less of a move toward democracy, as it’s often portrayed, but rather more about the toppling of dictators, many of whom were supported by western powers.

“The irony is, as the Middle East becomes more democratic through the Arab Spring, it’s actually becoming anti-western in many ways,” said Lazarus, arguing that if democracy is to succeed, politics must be seen as “the compromise between ideology and pragmatism.”

Lazarus said that as the father of twin 17-year-olds who are now less than a year away from being conscripted into the IDF, he feels a sense of optimism that peace will soon be achieved in the Middle East.

“When people talk about Israel not wanting peace, they don’t know us,” he said.

Travis Godfrey, a first-year journalism student, said he was impressed by this sense of hope conveyed by Lazarus throughout his lecture.

“The feeling of optimism that he has and believes, even though the situation is so precarious right now, shook me the most,” said Godfrey. “War could escalate and thousands of lives could be lost, but he still has hope.”

IAC citywide president Zane Colt said this was the second straight year Lazarus has visited Carleton, and his message helps promote dialogue on campus.

“[Our goal] is making the dialogue surrounding Israel not scary or taboo,” Colt said. “We’re allowed to have dialogue, to challenge and be critical. We welcome it.”

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