Ehud Barak, former prime minister of Israel, graced Baltimore with his insights on the state of the global arena on Oct. 25 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall as a part of Stevenson University’s Baltimore Speaker Series.
Touted as a man “who over a half-century career became Israel’s most decorated soldier and held the nation’s trifecta of top positions,” according to The New York Times, Barak has been dedicated to the peace process since the start of his 36-year career in the Israel Defense Forces.
Barak served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001 and defense minister from 2007 to 2013. He served as a negotiator of the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and is credited with ending the violent occupancy of southern Lebanon by Israel in 2000. He has been commended for his proposals for a peace deal with the Palestinians at Camp David that same year, although unfortunately, the negotiations were unsuccessful.
Barak also was a key player in the June 1976 Entebbe Operation for the rescue of passengers on the hijacked Air France plane that was forced to land in Uganda. His dedication to the peace process and influence on the world’s geopolitical landscape led Foreign Policy magazine to name him 13th among its 100 Global Thinkers last year.
Barak’s speech, interspersed with anecdotes from his military and political career, addressed a variety of intertwined factors in the world today. Topics of focus included the rivalry between the United States and nations such as Russia and China, as well as numerous issues in the Middle East.
“None of the geopolitical centers of gravity can take on any major challenge on its own,” he stated. He cited the war on terror, explaining that the United States has been attempting to eradicate terror groups, yet each it has combatted still remains.
He asserted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is still in Damascus, and he noted the success of ISIS in recruiting and training terrorists through YouTube videos and encryption, as well as its effectiveness in “inspiring lone wolves.” But militarily, he said, ISIS is “a ridiculous force,” which could be defeated if it were confronted by a serious force on the ground.
“In the Middle East, within a short five years, the Arab Spring turned into an Islamist Winter,” Barak said. “Nation-states collapsed and centuries-old conflicts re-emerged. On the global arena, the world order is deeply shaken.”
Barak said that even the United States, “the only real remaining superpower, not only in freedom and liberty, but militarily and strategically,” would not be able to overcome the difficult challenge of terror unless the international community unites.
As he’s done throughout a regional tour that included a stop in Pittsburgh last weekend, Barak predicted the ultimate disintegration of Syria as a nation, as well as the disintegration of other countries in the Middle East, with smaller, tribal units arising from the rubble. Turning to Israel, “an outpost of the Western way of life,” Barak compared the Jewish state to “a villa in the jungle.”
Barak’s biggest word of warning to the audience was that “the United States is seen around the world as weak and weakening.”
“Objectively,” he continued, “it has nothing to do with the reality, but perceptions are working against you these days, and as a result, you are rivals with China and Russia.”
He explained that this conflict would not result in a physical clash any time in the future, as “China is so far behind the U.S. militarily that they don’t even think in physical terms.” However, he explained that both China and Russia “will inevitably turn their sights to the last region in the world where the U.S. made its folly.”
“Never underestimate the meaning for the Far East of the way you leave the Middle East behind you,” Barak said as a final word of warning.
Barak predicted that in the future, America will have a symbiotic relationship with the Far East and hopes that under this umbrella, world leaders will have the opportunity to sit face to face behind closed doors, and “the world will understand that America can be relied on as the force that will back you at the moment of truth.” JT
Toby Tabachnick, contributed to this article with reporting from Pittsburgh.