A toxic Iranian ménage à trois
ANNO BUNNIKThe debate on how to tackle Iran’s nuclear ambitions is once again dominating the political arena in Israel and the United States following the assassination of a nuclear scholar in Teheran. With the Mossad most likely behind the targeted killing, it seems Israel has chosen covert warfare as the preferred tactic in hindering Iran’s progress in acquiring nuclear capabilities.
Questions are currently being raised in Washington and other Western capitals over whether to support covert warfare and even military intervention. But before others get drawn into a potential devastating regional conflict, it would be wise to review the three parties involved.
The regime in Teheran strives to become the “top dog” in the region. Boosted by the fall of its main adversary, Saddam Hussein, the Shiite regime feels strongly that now is the time to emerge as the most dominant player in the Middle East.
Moreover, the regime seeks to uphold the idea Iran is under threat. With the 2009 green movement revolts in memory, the regime seeks to unite its people in the face of foreign enemies; primarily Israel and the U.S. It needs this specter of near-war and will continue to feed it with bold statements and displays of power in order to legitimize its own crippling, authoritarian rule.
As the Middle East is reshuffled by the current Arab Awakening, it is unmistakable that countries should distance themselves from Teheran more and more.
Israel, although a democracy, is far from a beacon of peace and justice. The country is engaged in a decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories and the current right-wing government seems more interested in pleasing its settler community than reaching out in peace to the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestine papers, released last year by Al-Jazeera, elucidate that the Palestinian Authority was eager to come to an agreement. It offered to give up pretty much all of its desired future capital (east Jerusalem) in exchange for a peace deal, which was rejected by Israel. As the settlement growth is still continuing at rapid pace, it is apparent the Benjamin Netanyahu government is more interested in consolidating support from the ultra-orthodox Shas party than in peace with Palestinians.
In addition, it is no longer a secret Israel has acquired a significant stockpile of nukes: estimates range from 75 to up to 400 warheads. This was a well-known secret for years until two years ago, when a document from a meeting in 1975 between Shimon Peres and the South African apartheid regime was revealed when former Defense Minister Peres offered to sell nuclear weapons “in three sizes.”
Supporting a nuclear power entrenched in military occupation and resisting peace is not the kind of partner any state should seek to engage with.
The U.S. is also struggling with its own moral leadership. The Arab Awakening has revealed the U.S. has always nurtured dictatorships in the Middle East, under the guise of “regional stability.”
Its continuous support for Israel has alienated the Arab street from President Barack Obama. Recent polls by the Arab American Institute Foundation indicate 90 percent of the Egyptian people believe Obama has not met the standards he set in his Cairo speech three years ago. Even in Arab states aligned to the U.S., a large majority of the population does not agree with current American policies. From Morocco to the United Arab Emirates, less than 10 percent support Obama’s policies.
Entangled in Guantanamo, supporting dictatorships and unable to assert itself as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama is clearly struggling with positioning the U.S. as a moral leader in a time of crisis.
All three parties concerned are severely flawed. Iran is clearly worse than Israel and the U.S. in regards to dealing with its own people, but that does not make its adversaries great partners by default.
The Arab protesters who are defying dictatorship by taking to the street show an equal loathing of Iran, Israel and the U.S. And for good reasons.
Other countries would be wise to follow the example of the protesters and stay out of this toxic ménage à trois.
Anno Bunnik is a political analyst from the Netherlands working as freelancer for several institutes based in The Hague.