Last Updated: Tue Aug 28, 2012 08:12 am (KSA) 05:12 am (GMT)

Israel and Iran jeopardize the neighborhood

Linda S. Heard

Iran must be exposed by the international community as the premier terrorist support state that it is, and everything should be done to prevent Iran, the world’s most dangerous regime, from developing the world’s most dangerous weapons,” says Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, according to Israel’s Channel 10, “is determined to attack Iran before US elections” with or without Obama's go-ahead.

“The Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous tumor. Even if one cell of them is left in one inch of land, in the future this story will repeat,” recently announced the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, adding, “With the grace of God and help of the nations, in the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists.”

It’s about time that Israeli and Iranian leaders quit behaving like schoolyard bullies engaged in a belligerent war of words and faced up to their responsibilities towards their citizens, neighbors and the world at large. Venomous threats and insults not only pollute the atmosphere they propel the hands of the Doomsday clock closer to midnight. They have set the entire region on a knife edge anxious about the day when vicious words will result in war, a conflict between two mighty military powers with a terrible humanitarian and economic cost.

Blame also falls on the US and Russia which have neglected to use their substantial influence over Tel Aviv and Tehran respectively to halt this madness. Instead of embracing their natural roles as big brother mediators, they’re busy heaping insults on one another over the impasse in Syria and obstructing each other’s efforts toward peace. Those nuclear-armed powers wielding vetoes in the UN Security Council should act in concert to keep our one world safe based on higher moral principles, not selfish economic and geo-strategic interests, when there is so much at stake. I won’t bother including Great Britain when it’s focused on far more important things such as how to extract a lone Australian, charged with nothing, from the Ecuadorian embassy.

Putin and Obama should stand together to tell the two sides to put a lid on their mutual invective and store their rattling sabers at pain of being abandoned to their own devices sans trade agreements, weapons deals and military/civil aid. If they chose to be partners instead of protagonist, together they could guarantee the security and sovereign inviolability of both Israel and Iran to quell legitimate fears. I can’t blame you if you think that sounds idealistic, naïve even. After all, big powers have always operated out of self-interest. It would be a better world if they came together but let’s be pragmatic. A major conflagration in the MENA region involving not only Israel and Iran but potentially also Hezbollah, Syria, Hamas, Turkey, Iraq and, possibly Egypt that is slowly gravitating toward Tehran, would be gravely detrimental to Washington and Moscow as well as their regional allies. Haven’t two world wars that destroyed the lives of millions upon millions taught them anything at all?

We, the people, aren’t exempt from taking responsibility either. Is there anybody out there who seriously wants their countries enmeshed in a bloody conflict, one in which the chance of weapons of mass destruction being unleashed is high? That would require us to climb out of our entrenched political positions and climb off our nationalistic high horses long enough to petition our leaderships to utilize every diplomatic tool to calm the situation.

In the great scheme of things it doesn’t matter which side is right or which is wrong. And don’t be fooled into thinking that this contretemps is all about whether or not Iran’s uranium enrichment program is geared toward nuclear weapons. Even if it were, nukes are useless other than as a deterrent because when used against countries able to retaliate in kind they equate to self-destruction. He won’t admit it, but Netanyahu’s fears revolve around Tehran’s emboldening of states and non-state actors in the vicinity around Israel with extremist ideology, cash and weapons; concerns that are shared by many Gulf states. For its part, Tehran is ultra defensive because it has been punished by US and EU-imposed trade, economic and oil industry sanctions and, given years of non-stop Israeli threats, is alert to those threats being realized.

Of course, we’ve been listening to Netanyahu’s blistering verbal attacks on Iran for years, so there is a temptation to dismiss them as nothing more than posturing. The difference is that this time the Israeli security establishment and public appears to be taking them seriously. Israeli intellectuals have signed a petition urging fighter pilots to disobey government orders to strike Iranian nuclear sites. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan — echoed loudly by many of his former colleagues and politicians such as Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz — has denounced Netanyahu’s Iran policy on the grounds that an “an Israeli bombing would lead to a regional war and solve the internal problems of the Islamic Republic of Iran” by galvanizing Iranian society behind the leadership.” Anti-war demonstrations have been taking place in Israel’s major cities with protesters chanting “We don’t want another war” and “Don’t bomb! Talk!”

Earlier this month, another former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy and Gen. Aharon Ze’evi told the Jerusalem Post that they anticipated an Israel strike on Iran within weeks. So if Netanyahu and his fold are once again crying wolf, they risk losing their credibility.

At the nub of this discussion is the fact that neither Israel nor Iran are going anywhere; no amount of devastation can erase them from the map. They should exchange their military muscle-flexing for dialogue; they don’t need to be fast friends, what’s required is mutual toleration. My advice to the Iranian and Israeli people is this for what it’s worth: “Exchange your egotistical loud-mouthed firebrands for people with wisdom who have your well being and the future of your children at heart.”

(The writer is a columnist at the Saudi-based Arab News, where this article was published on August 28, 2012)

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