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A normal person does not blow themselves up in the street

Send us a hint
PHOTO: Jaanus Lensment

International terrorism can be defeated; however, it would require strong military, political, and intelligence cooperation between countries, Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein told Postimees during his two-day visit to Estonia last week.

Looking at the global political landscape, major changes happen every 25-30 years. They usually start in an unstable region somewhere. Prior to World War I, it was the Balkans. Then it was Eastern and Central Europe before WWII. Today, so-called gunpowder potential is highest in the Middle East.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War the world is faced with new and serious challenges: terrorism, aggressive behavior of undemocratic states, and new territorial anschlusses. Is an alliance of democratic countries, including cooperation between Israel and NATO, realistic in this kind of a situation?

I also do not like where the world is headed now. However, we have already forgotten that just 30 years ago, when half the world was under Soviet rule, things were worse still.

Many, myself included, nursed romantic views of the future in connection with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It seemed we would see a unipolar world where you would have all the positive forces on one side and all the terrorists, dictators, and other bastards on the other. It did not happen, and as we can see, modern countries still sport peculiar regimes and territorial claims.

Israel is prepared to cooperate with all democratic countries to make things better in the world and find balance again. Relations with the United States and NATO are very important for us.

It is very important that people realize terrorists cannot be divided into good terrorists and bad terrorists. Terrorism – whether Islamic, right- or left wing extremist – is absolute evil. Once this realization becomes prevalent, it will be possible to deliver a counterstrike.

Today France, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, and Israel are all sitting in their own boats trying to fend off terrorist attacks the best they can. If we could achieve effective military-political and intelligence cooperation, there would be reason to hope we could handle terrorism.

Looking from afar, it seems it is Armageddon in the Middle East. What is really happening?

Several years ago, processes appeared in a lot of Arab countries that some less than brilliant people started calling the Arab Spring, erroneously presuming that overthrowing a dictator would automatically result in democracy. History tells us otherwise.

The transition to democracy is difficult and painful in our region. A lot of countries were ruled by extremist Islamists, followed by more liberal forces that then gave way to the Islamists again. The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other.

The border dispute is especially sharp in Syria. Back in the day, British and French officers got together, and after drinking a few glasses of fine cognac and smoking excellent cigars, determined the borders of colonial empires in the Middle East. We will never see Syria the same again, and it is something regarding which the international public will have to display determination. While we can hide behind ideological slogans and say we cannot intervene and redraw the borders of sovereign states, I believe decisions that would help stabilize the situation in the Middle East need to be made.

It is important to support progressive forces in countries like Syria, find people in favor of positive change, and engage in a dialogue with them.

Nothing will change for the better by itself. Bandits and terrorists will continue to feel just fine until they are delivered a counterstrike.

There is, for the first time, talk of a US military base in Israel. Are changes in the Middle East security situation really so serious as to warrant such a decision?

Military cooperation with the USA is the most important part of Israel's security policy, especially as concerns intelligence and technological cooperation. No one expects American soldiers, pilots, and seamen to do the work Israel must do itself – ensure our security. Nothing like that is or will be; however US presence is vitally important in terms of stability in the Middle East.

Recent satellite imagery suggests Russia has moved Iskander missiles into Syria. Does Israel perceive a threat in these actions, and are you not afraid that weapons systems Russia has transported to Syria might fall into the wrong hands? War is chaos, and who knows what could happen…

What worries us is that Russian activities in Syria are pursued side by side with Hezbollah. Our priority is to keep Russian weapons systems from ending up in the hands of Hezbollah and Iran.

We will do everything in our power to avoid mistakes that could have dire consequences, including cooperating with the Russian armed forces. We are coordinating our actions with them as only a single mistake could prove very costly in situation where all sides are under a lot of pressure. How successful we will be, time will tell.

Israel has been a target for terrorists since the 1960s; however, we have not heard of the Islamic State having attacked Israel. How big is the danger ISIS poses to Israel?

The Islamic State is an indirect threat for Israel. Voices in Europe have been saying for decades that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a central problem for the Middle East and the world. In connection with events in the Arab world and the rise of Islamic State, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has taken a back seat and many have realized it is a local one.

IS has destroyed equilibrium in the Middle East, which is what makes it dangerous. Bashar al-Assad's regime is not that different from the Islamic State. Both are terrorists, they simply have different orientations.

We need to face facts: an international coalition to combat Islamic State is necessary, and only cooperation can help destroy the terrorist group. Before Islamic State, everyone was talking about Osama bin Laden. Once Islamic State is defeated, we can be sure a new terrorist group will take its place. And it will continue for as long as there is political Islam, which is something no one in the world wants to seriously address today.

How does Israel perceive its place in the Middle East and the world in the 21 century?

Israel has given the world a lot in terms of computer technology and medicine during the 21 century. Opinions can be heard in some countries that Israel should be boycotted. I would suggest these people start that boycott with themselves by throwing away their iPhone, their laptop, and medicines.

Israel serves as an important example in that it is possible to fight terrorism and outside aggression and remain a democratic country while doing it. A lot of European countries are currently faced with the challenge of keeping their human face and democratic values, while keeping Islamic State and other terrorist groups from destroying them.

Why does the Western media often portray Israel as the bully and Arabs as its victims?

Since the Second World War, there is a conviction in the world that those who suffer are always right. However, often it just isn't true, and truth is often not on the side of those who live modestly. Palestine knows this very well, and it's the card it has been playing for years. They do not take responsibility for anything, neither acts or terrorism nor anything else for that matter, simply because they lead poor lives.

We were told that the Gaza sector is suffering under Israeli occupation. Both soldiers and settlers were pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and it benefited neither the Palestinians not the Arabs. And when a Palestinian drives a truck into a crowd of people, we can hear voices that say they should be forgiven because they have it bad. A lot of things would change for the better were the world to abandon the conviction that everyone who is suffering from something is right.

Good or bad. Looking at the rights of Arabs in their autocratic states and in Israel, we curiously see there are more rights and freedoms in the latter. The standard of living is also higher…

I was once told: “Surely you understand how desperate the person who boarded a bus wearing an explosive device must have been? They were willing to blow themselves and others up because they saw no way out!”

I replied that I cannot understand people like that. I had it worse in the Soviet Union than the average Palestinian has it today. I received death threats, whereas they also threatened to kill my family. And yet I never once thought about taking a knife and killing that KGB officer's wife and children. The thought of blowing myself up along with others in the middle of a crowd never entered my mind, even though the KGB did everything it could to destroy my life. No normal person thinks of such things.

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