Within days of Iran's election of virulently anti-Zionist Teheran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran, after he vowed to continue Iran's nuclear program and called Israel an "illegitimate" state, Iran's nuclear ambitions will be the focus of Tuesday's meeting of the Knesset Forum on the Middle East.
Despite the fact that Iran "probably won't [use its nuclear weapons against Israel] immediately, a nuclear Iran coupled with the regime's deep involvement in terrorist networks creates a dangerous and unstable situation," Col. (ret.) Dr. Eran Lerman, Director of the Israel/Middle East Office of the American Jewish Committee and a former senior IDF intelligence officer, told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the Forum's gathering.
"Iran has an operational terrorist presence on our border in the form of Hizbullah, and it has penetrated deeply into the Palestinian arena through the Islamic Jihad, which is under its control, and through certain members of the Fatah," Lerman said. "The Iranian threat is a function of the regime's publicly declared commitment to the annihilation of the State of Israel, a declaration that is accompanied by statements that reflect the most vulgar form of anti-Semitism."
The Forum, a nonpartisan parliamentary group sponsored by the Center for Near East Policy Research and the Jerusalem Project for Democracy in the Middle East, was created to address critical issues for Israeli security in the region. Top experts attending Tuesday's hearing at the Knesset include Dr. Jerome Corsi, author of Atomic Iran, who is slated to focus on the strategic implications of Iranian nuclear power and his own work in Washington with the Iranian opposition.
Iranian-born Menashe Amir, Director of the Farsi Department of Voice of Israel Radio, will be speaking about the political realities in Iran after the election of Ahmadinejad. Amir runs a radio show that broadcasts to more than a million listeners inside Iran and to dissidents in other parts of the world, including North America and Africa.
The last speaker, Dr. Ephraim Asculai, Senior Research Associate of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies and formerly a member of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, will speak on the technical aspects of Iran's nuclear program.
The Forum was intended to allow MKs access to top-notch academic expertise from within the parliament. "It is a luxury for a Member of Knesset to be able to attend an academic conference at a university," Forum founder MK Yuri Shtern told the Post. "The idea was to bring that closer, making members more knowledgeable and covering issues not covered by mass media, certainly not covered with the needed depth."
Forum member MK Michael Eitan told the Post that Knesset members have a problem of overload. "We are one of the smallest parliaments in the world. When you take away the MKs serving as cabinet ministers, faction heads and those holding other full-time positions, you're left with about 70 full-time legislators. Divide that into 17 committees, all the subcommittees, add 50 to 60 lobby groups, or even more, and there simply isn't time."
Knesset Members have not been the only ones to take advantage of the opportunity to hear experts brought in by the Forum. From its very beginning, the Forum opened its doors to the foreign diplomatic corps in Israel. According to Shtern, the responses have been surprisingly positive, with ambassadors and other top diplomats attending Forum meetings. At the first hearing on the education curriculum in the Palestinian Authority, which was held at the Knesset in January 2005, the representatives of over 25 states were in attendance.
Forum coordinator Michael Gribov told the Post that the Forum "is unique not only because it provides information to Members of Knesset and members of the international community, but also because it engages the international community with policy-makers, decision-makers and experts in Israel."
"The issue of Iran is a good example. The way we approach this issue, and the way the United States and Europe approach it, is that Iran is a global concern because proliferation has global consequences. That's something we seek to address," Gribov said.
"There is no other briefing of its kind," Shtern said. "This has become a unique contribution of the Knesset to Israel's international relations."
The eight Knesset members who make up the Forum represent seven political parties that span virtually the entire range of Israeli politics: Dr. Yuri Shtern (National Union), Michael Eitan (Likud), Chemi Doron (Shinui), Eti Livni (Shinui), Ephraim Sneh (Labor), Avshalom Vilan (Meretz-Yahad), Yitzhak Levy of (Renewed National Religious Zionism) and Yitzhak Cohen (Shas.)