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talking politics

Bibi and Ahmadinejad: Feeding off each other


he Israeli media is abuzz with the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Haaretz stunned us all with a Netanyahu quote from a “closed” meeting: “If a committee is set up to investigate the attack on Iran, I’ll say I’m responsible.” The prime minister does not fear committees of investigation, and now we all know he is determined to attack Iran. This issue has come up so frequently recently – war must be on the horizon. After all, there’s no smoke without fire.

The important word here is “closed.” The leak is of course intentional, and found its way straight into the Haaretz headline. Here we should recall Anat Kam and Uri Blau, and even Uzi Arad, who were suspected of serious leaks of state secrets and investigated mercilessly, while whoever it was who leaked from this “closed” meeting and the brave journalist who wrote the piece are immune from all suspicion.

The further one reads, the clearer it becomes that the attack on Iran has no takers. Four cabinet ministers are opposed, including Eli Yishai, Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Moshe Yaalon. Indeed, all the heads of the security services, from the Mossad and Shin Bet to Military Intelligence, think that attacking Iran would be insane, and that we must wait to see what the rest of the world will do. Opinion polls show that ordinary citizens have reservations about this attack, while influential journalists such as Shimon Schiffer and Aharon Barnea have cautioned repeatedly against it. The Chief of Staff is busy showing analyses which Netanyahu isn’t interested because he believes they’re merely ass-covering tactics. So he says, “I’m responsible.”

No less important, the Americans continue to express their steadfast opposition to an Israeli attack. In “closed” meetings they affirm their commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, reiterating guarantees that Iran will not get them. The Americans are also firm in their position, rock solid since the first Gulf War in 1991, that the security of the Persian Gulf is US business and that Israel must not interfere, because the issue is linked to the security of Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich states. It will be recalled that during that year, Israel absorbed Scud missile attacks on its cities while then Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir sat tight.

Between Aleppo and Iran

The fight for Iran’s future in the region is currently being waged in Damascus and Aleppo (Halab). The Saudi, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and US axis (note that Israel is not a player here) is up against the Russia, China and Iran axis, which supports Assad. His downfall would certainly weaken Iran, which would lose its only Arab ally. Because of its support for the massacres in Syria, Iran has seen its standing among the Arab peoples sink to an all-time low. The last thing the US and its allies need is an Israeli attack on Iran, which would strengthen Arab support for Iran once again, perhaps even saving Assad’s regime.

And what about Iran itself? The Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a religious edict which asserts that developing nuclear weapons is strictly forbidden according to Islam. The Americans are encouraged by this declaration, but all are still troubled by doubt: Do the Iranians interpret this prohibition as all-encompassing, or can one arm oneself with nuclear weapons if faced with infidels who have such weapons themselves, such as the Jews, or even in future the Wahabi regime of Saudi Arabia? We have no clear answer to this question, and the opinions of religious figures on political issues are worth no more than the opinions of the average politician. But Iran denies the Holocaust and aspires to wipe Israel off the map – hence Netanyahu’s fear that the easiest way of destroying Israel is to nuke it. That’s why we’ve been subject to Netanyahu’s words, which illustrate his famous explanatory powers: “Better to cope with conventional rockets than an atomic bomb.”

The chicken crisis and the atom

Thus, through easily-understood sound bites like “Ahmadinejad = Hitler,” “A nuclear Iran means Auschwitz,” and “Better to cope with rockets than an atomic bomb,” Netanyahu intends to conquer public opinion, both local and global. But his words are inaccurate, to say the least. Iran, the state which threatens Israel’s existence, is struggling with a serious economic crisis and trying to solve a far more acute problem: the lack of chicken.

The chicken crisis tells the entire story. Iran, the would-be nuclear power, suffers deep social and economic problems. The development of nuclear weapons is indeed an existential need, but only for the Ayatollah regime, not for the Iranian people. The nuclear program is intended to defend the regime against its own people more than threaten other states, even Israel. But the bomb cannot bring the Iranians a supply of chicken – or bread, or even fuel at reasonable prices. The existential threat to the Iranian regime, like the threat to Assad’s regime, is the Iranian people themselves.

If so, why does Ahmadinejad repeatedly threaten Israel? Because it’s the fashionable thing to do. Because such threats enable him to compete for public opinion at home and throughout the Arab world, at the expense of his immediate enemies – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates. Ahmadinejad is not the only one using Israel as a public relations tool. Attacking Israel is the bon ton, while expressing support for the Palestinians is a kind of insurance policy for these regimes. Israel, for its part, makes their work easy: the Occupation, the separation wall, the Gaza siege, the settlements, the targeted assassinations, the checkpoints – these are all excellent material for a ruler trying to avoid democracy and social justice.

How is Netanyahu different from Ahmadinejad? He uses the same tools: he too is trying to ensure his regime’s survival and is willing to adopt any means to do so. Bibi formed an extreme rightwing government so that he could avoid progress on the peace front; he is unwilling to deliver democracy and equality to the state’s Arab citizens; and he cannot and does not wish to bring social justice to his own people. Bibi prefers settlements to peace, and tycoons to the poor – and that’s why Iran is his preferred agenda. Iran is Bibi’s decoy, just as Israel is Ahmadinejad’s. The two leaders feed off each other and lead their people to ruin.

So can we calm down and sleep easy? The answer is no! We cannot count on Ahmadinejad – he will do anything to save his regime. Bibi and Barak, for their part, have proved that they too are willing to do anything to stay in power. The only way of assuring our existence is to get rid of Bibi in Tel Aviv and Ahmadinejad in Tehran. The social justice movements in Israel and Iran have a decisive role: to bring down these two leaders in the framework of the same demand: “Peace and social justice.” As we’ve said many times: Tel Aviv and Tehran – the same revolution! "end"

  • Translated from the Hebrew by Yonatan Preminger
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