Friday, December 13, 2002 | return to: local


Sen. Evan Bayh stands with Israel at S.F. AIPAC lunch

by dan pine, Bulletin Staff

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The "absolute security of the state of Israel is the foundation on which any Mideast peace will be built," according to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana).

More than 1,000 Bay Area supporters of Israel turned out Monday to hear the staunchly pro-Israel senator, who spoke at a fund-raising luncheon sponsored by AIPAC's West Bay branch at San Francisco's Westin St. Francis Hotel.

In brief but pointed remarks, Bayh brought the crowd to its feet with his absolute support of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as well as his take on America's looming war against Iraq. The senator also spoke at three other AIPAC events in Northern California.

A member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Bayh maintained that Iraq undoubtedly possesses weapons of mass destruction, including well-hidden biological and chemical arsenals.

Even a limited biological attack on the United States with the smallpox virus, he said, could result in more than 1 million casualties.

"The best defense is a good offense," proclaimed the freshman senator, who voted with a majority of his congressional colleagues in October to give President Bush authority to wage war against Iraq.

As for the wider war against terrorism, Bayh noted that the United States and Israel are engaged in "the first post-nation state war," one that does not recognize any national boundaries.

Bayh described the "asymmetric nature" of the global terrorist threat, citing the fact that the Sept. 11 attacks cost al-Qaida a modest $1.5 million, while America lost countless billions of dollars in insurance payouts, increased security expenses and a depressed stock market, not to mention thousands of human lives.

He also warned of a "demographic time bomb," noting that more than 50 percent of the population of the Muslim world is now younger than 25 years old.

"Instilled with a radical interpretation of Islam and with no outlet for their frustrations, the seeds of hatred have been sown" among Muslim youth worldwide, he said.

The keynote speaker also blasted nominal U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia for remaining in denial about their role in fostering and financing radical Islam and its resulting terrorism.

Bayh, a former two-term governor of Indiana and the son of former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, described his lifelong affection for the state of Israel, beginning with a boyhood vacation there, and deepening with his many official visits as a governor and senator.

In an interview following the AIPAC luncheon, Bayh acknowledged that Israel "is in a difficult situation" should there be a war with Iraq.

"We will work with Israel to minimize the situation," he said, "by being aggressive in western Iraq to eliminate sites from which attacks could be launched and by sharing intelligence" with Israel.

While acknowledging any nation's right to retaliate when attacked, "Israel understands that Saddam [Hussein] would like nothing better" than to turn a war against Iraq into "an Arab-Israeli conflict, but I believe Israel will be wise enough to delay retaliating in the event of a conventional attack."

Should Iraq attack Israel with weapons of mass destruction, said Bayh, "that's a different matter and a different response might be in order. It's in Israel's best interest to have a certain amount of ambiguity as to what its response might be."

The senator also stated his support for increased foreign aid to Israel. "We have to make the kind of investments necessary to prevent loss of life," he said. "Israel is in jeopardy, they're a strong ally of ours, and I think there would be congressional support for further aid to Israel, particularly regarding security issues."

On the subject of the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, he said, "Yasser Arafat is no partner for peace. Not until there is new and better leadership within the Palestinians will there be a chance for peace."

Preceding Bayh at the luncheon was Sen. Barbara Boxer. The Greenbrae Democrat also drew a standing ovation for her unqualified support of AIPAC and for exhorting the United States to continue standing "shoulder to shoulder with Israel through thick and thin."


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