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ISRAEL & THE AYATOLLAHS
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
March 24, 2006

March 24, 2006 -- SOME claim they've found the perfect solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions. It's simple: Israel attacks the Islamic Republic to destroy much of its nuclear infrastructure, setting the bomb project back by a decade, time for a more responsible regime to emerge in Tehran.

This would please the Europeans, because it would remove the spotlight from their appeasement policy, which is partly responsible for the crisis. They could shake their heads in a "told you so" gesture at the mullahs, and feel glum about their ability to stand above dirty games played by "immature powers" such as the Islamic Republic and Israel.

Also happy: The Americans (who clearly lack a policy on Iran - indeed, can't even agree on a diagnosis of the problem) and the Arab states, now shaking in their sandals at the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Russia, too. Hostilty to its neighbor is deep-felt in Iran, which lost territory to Russia in bitter wars with the czars. By the middle of this century, Iran's population will outnumber Russia's. A nuclear-armed Islamic Iran would emerge as an even stronger player.

In short, a great many countries have a direct interest in preventing Iran from going nuclear - yet none is prepared to dirty its hands in the matter. Hence all the talk about Israel taking action.

Yet Israel would not top any list of countries that might be subjected to Iranian nuclear bullying or attack.

Israel has a small air space to defend and is well equipped to destroy missiles launched from Iran. Any nuclear attack by Tehran's terrorist agents in Lebanon and the West Bank, meanwhile, would also kill large numbers in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

Yes, the anti-Israeli discourse of Iran's rulers is as virulent as that of Hamas and other Palestinian radical groups. But that discourse is partly prompted by the regime's desire to hide its Shiite identity so that it can claim the leadership of radical Islam, both Shiite and Sunni.

In fact, regardless of who rules in Tehran, Israel and Iran have common strategic interests.

If Israel had never appeared on the map, the energy of pan-Arab nationalism movement, which dominated Arab politics in the post-war era, would have been directed against two other neighbors: Turkey and Iran. To a certain extent, it was anyway. Even today, the Arab League claims that the Turkish province of Iskanderun is "usurped Arab territory" and regards the Iranian province of Khuzestan as "occupied Arab land."

And Arab Sunni Islamism is an even more deadly threat to Iran. It was Arab Sunni Islamism that destroyed the Shiite holy shrines in Iraq in 1802, and returned last month to do so again in Samarra. The same movement is behind the cold-blooded murder of several thousand Iraqi Shiite men, women and children since 2004.

To Arab Sunni Islamists, Iranians are gabrs (Zoroastrians); Shiites, including Arab ones, are rafidis (heretics) who must be "re-converted" or put to death.

Both pan-Arab nationalism and pan-Arab Sunni Islamism are as much mortal foes for Iran as they are for Israel. Neither nation will be safe unless the twin monsters are defeated and the Arab states democratized.

Were Iran to "destroy" Israel, at a huge human cost to itself, it would only be realizing the dream of its own mortal enemies. This is why there is virtually no popular support in Iran for an anti-Israeli policy that goes beyond rhetoric or limited support for Iran's clients in Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

Thus, Israel has no reason to assume a responsibility that far stronger powers don't wish to face.

In fact, part of Israel's problems stem from the failure of its successive leaders to steer the country clear of other people's quarrels.

In successive wars during the Cold War, Israel destroyed the Soviet-built arsenals of several Arab countries. That helped protect Washington's Arab allies against aggression by pro-Soviet Arab powers - and thus kept the the Soviets from gaining indirect control of the region's vital oil resources. Israel, however, was "rewarded" by not being allowed to translate its military victories into a political settlement that reflected its national interests.

In 1980, Israel knocked out the French-made Iraqi nuclear-weapons center, even though Saddam Hussein was making that bomb to drop on Tehran. The Israeli action helped the major powers avoid catastrophe in a region vital to their interests. Israel's reward? Being described by Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris, as "a criminal state."

To be sure, Israel should make it clear that it would retaliate with double force against any attack. But it should also remind those urging it to act that the Islamic Republic's policies, including its quest for nuclear weapons, represent a threat not only to Israel but to many other nations in the Middle East and beyond.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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