By Benjamin Kweskin

Iran is Israel’s biggest existential threat in a region where even the Saudis appear to be warming up to Israel and the Russians’ attitudes seem to have changed, said Jonathan Adelman, a University of Denver professor who spoke Wednesday night, March 30, at Temple Emanu-el in Sandy Springs during a Friends of the Israel Defense Forces event.

Temple Emanu-el Rabbi Spike Anderson welcomed the crowd to a “fiercely Zionist Reform congregation that has a cogent history of activism.” The congregation sent 34 people to the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington in March, reportedly the largest synagogue delegation in Georgia.

The rabbi began with a midrash about how the Israelites engaged in battle with the Jewish people’s eternal enemy, Amalek, after their release from slavery. “The soldiers in the IDF are doing the physical battle,” the rabbi said, “while we (Diaspora Jews) are the ones holding up Israel.”

A visiting IDF speaker, Gilad Pasternak, is one of 30 international students at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor. He was wounded in the leg during Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza, while a close friend was killed. He thanked FIDF for its physical, psychological and emotional support.

“We in the IDF are not only fighting for Israel, but for the Jewish people in general,” he said.

Garry Sobel, the chairman of FIDF Southeast, outlined FIDF’s mission and 35-year history in supporting Israel’s soldiers, then introduced Adelman, who said the Saudis have softened their views on Israel not necessarily because of ideological shifts, but because they also view Iran as their biggest enemy.

Predominantly a Russia specialist, Adelman focused on Russia’s role in the Middle East and reminded the audience that Israel was founded by secular socialists who came from the Russian Empire.

He said Israel has warmed up to Russia because of the apparent semiwithdrawal of the United States from the Middle East. Adelman said Russia today is not the Soviet Union, and its re-emergence in the region is more calculated after its quagmire in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Today, Russia seems to respect Israel. Adelman said that after the United States, the place Russian diplomats want to be stationed is Israel. When he asked Russian diplomats why, they said, “Israelis are not Jews.”

Briefly touching on a wide range of issues within the Middle East, Adelman said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted at militarily assisting Israel’s eastern neighbor if ISIS comes closer to threatening Jordan. Adelman said Syria is no longer a threat to Israel because of the Assad regime’s weakened status and preoccupation with the ongoing civil war.

Asked about the future relationship between Israel and Syria, Adelman said Syria could be partitioned into three to five statelets, with the regime likely maintaining control of coastal areas as well as the three largest cities. He added that there could be a small extremist state and a Kurdish entity in the north (Syrian Kurds declared a federal region in March).

Adelman said such a partition would “serve Israel and Russia’s interests.”