Almost the entire nation of Israel is obsessed with Iran and the threat the future nuclear-armed state would pose to its existence. Most believe Ehud Olmert’s dubious claim that Iran will have nuclear weapons within a year or so (which no one outside Israel and the White House believes).
No doubt, the Iranian clerics do their damnedest to instill such hysteria with their stupid threats and anti-Semitic bellicosity against the Jewish State. But Israelis literally believe that Iran is out to get Israel and that it will succeed in doing so unless their country and the world stand in the way. A vast number of Israelis believe that some day, and it will come soon, either Israel or the U.S. will have to attack Iran. Some Israelis believe the goal should be only to wipe out the nuclear plants. Others believe the goal should be regime change and hence favor a full invasion of the country. And then there are those who advocate a nuclear attack on Iran.
In truth, there is nothing unusual about such views. Many neocons hold precisely the same ones. But the difference is that in this country such views are in the minority and it will be difficult for George Bush to attack Iran without paying a huge political penalty–one which hopefully he is not willing to pay given his severe political weakness.
All this by way of introducing some sane and rational policy analysis of Iran-Israel relations by Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel’s former foreign minister under Ehud Barak:
The “Iranian syndrome” is Israel’s present fixation. For years, Israel has been telling the world about the Iranian danger, demanding that the international community ostracize the ayatollahs’ regime and enlisting it to fight Iran’s nuclear program. But, like previous preventive strategies, this one is not likely to succeed either.
…The limitations of Israel’s deterrence, as exposed in the war in Lebanon, did not help to stop the Iranian race toward nuclear power. There is also no chance that the international community would follow the U.S. into an all-out confrontation with Tehran, or even impose sanctions in it. America lost its ability to form international coalitions in Iraq, and it lost its legitimacy for independent action as well.
The question today is not when Iran will have nuclear power, but how to integrate it into a policy of regional stability before it obtains such power. Iran is not driven by an obsession to destroy Israel, but by its determination to preserve its regime and establish itself as a strategic regional power, vis-a-vis both Israel and the Sunni Arab states. The Sunnis are Iran’s natural foe, not Israel. The answer to the Iranian threat is a policy of detente, which would change the Iranian elite’s pattern of conduct.
…Never has the Middle East been more dangerous and volatile than it has been since Saddam Hussein was toppled. The U.S., in destroying Iraq as a counterweight to Iran, is directly responsible for Iran’s current strategic edge, as well as for its audacity.
The U.S. also holds the key to returning Iran to a path of negotiations and international cooperation. But to do this, it must make a decision that would be difficult both for itself and for Israel: It must conduct an open dialogue that would recognize Iran’s regional importance. This would moderate its demeanor and ultimately lead to a gradual change in its regime.
Ben-Ami notes that “saber rattling” emanates from both Iran and Israel and that it satisfies comparable political goals on both sides:
The saber rattling by Israel and Iran is convenient for both. For Israel, presenting itself as the democratic West’s front line in the war against fundamentalist terror and the ayatollahs’ regime is helpful in mobilizing the world against Iran’s nuclear aspirations. But the international community’s capitulation in the face of Iran’s determination has proved just how dubious this approach is.
As for Iran, its venomous attacks on Israel and the Jews are its way of mobilizing the Islamic world to support the Iranian regime and its regional aspirations. To the “Arab world,” Iran is an enemy. But in the Islamic world that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is fostering, Iran has a leadership position. Iran is not so much an enemy of Israel as an enemy of any Israeli-Arab reconciliation process, which would ultimately enable the Sunni Arab world to direct all its forces against the real enemy: Shi’ite Iran and its pretensions to hegemony.
Wisely and sanely, Ben-Ami warns Israeli policymakers away from their tried and true reliance on military force in similar such situations in the past. It won’t work this time he reminds them:
Neither sanctions nor even military action can disperse the doomsday cloud hanging over the region. Only divesting Iran of nuclear arms as part of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab settlement could do so.