By Benjamin Kweskin

The greatest existential threat to Israel is not Iran but Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group largely financed by Iran, Ambassador Marc Ginsberg told an audience at Congregation Beth ShalomAtlanta Jewish Times on Thursday, April 16.

Unlike Iran, Hezbollah is sitting right on Israel’s border, and Ginsberg said Hezbollah’s military capacity, with 100,000 rockets, serves as a major deterrent to any Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran, with its “suffocating Shi’ite belt” expanding through the Middle East, is a bigger threat to the United States than to Israel, Ginsberg said.

Ginsberg spoke as an expert on the region at a Yom HaShoah program co-sponsored by Beth Shalom and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. From 1994 to 1998, he was the U.S. ambassador to the kingdom of Morocco, making him the first Jewish ambassador to any Arab country.

Ginsberg was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., spent some formative years in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, and is fluent in Arabic, English, French and Hebrew. He has advised presidents and presidential candidates, including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and has more than 30 years of commercial, legal and governmental affairs experience. He is a political analyst for several major media outlets and has written for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy.

He has personal reasons to see Hezbollah as the biggest threat to Israel. His brother was killed in Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and his mother’s home in Kibbutz Misgav Am was destroyed. He also proudly said his nephews are all accomplished IDF soldiers.

Ginsberg did not dismiss the Iranian nuclear threat. He said Iran hates Israel for three main reasons: for being an agent of the United States; for having been allied with the shah until his ouster in 1979; and for being on the wrong side of a theological divide.

As for the Palestinians and the threat of Hamas in Gaza, Ginsberg said Israel faces fallout if its security agreements with the Palestinian Authority unravel, and Israel could be forced to intervene in what are now Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank. He also said the recent decision by the International Criminal Court to accept Palestine as a member state will cause political and diplomatic strains that could be felt on the ground.

Those strains have implications for the IDF and thus for FIDF, whose executive director in the Southeast, Seth Baron, is a friend of Ginsberg’s and introduced him at the event.

Garry Sobel, the chairman of FIDF Southeast, said the organization was founded by Holocaust survivors and supports Israeli soldiers by offering scholarships and providing nonmilitary resources to army bases throughout Israel. FIDF also assists hundreds of families of fallen and wounded soldiers from the war in the Gaza Strip and supports lone soldiers, the thousands of volunteer soldiers from dozens of countries who travel to Israel without their families to serve in the IDF, including 30 now serving from the Atlanta metro area. Three lone soldiers attended the program.

Beth Shalom Rabbi Mark Zimmerman tied the program to Yom HaShoah, which he said was purposefully placed on the calendar in proximity to Passover. Rabbi Zimmerman said Jews have a special obligation to stand up for justice, and he offered a stirring prayer for the 6 million Jews slain in the Holocaust.

Ginsberg said that after Hezbollah and Iran, the biggest threat to the Jewish people 70 years after the Holocaust is faced on college and university campuses, which he said are inundated with left-wing, radical professors and organizations that are anti-Israel and demonize the Jewish state.

He urged the audience: “Speak with one voice on Israel, regardless of your political opinions.”