Rising tensions between Israel and Iran are just a bluff and Iran’s bigger concern is the deepening instability in the Arab world, key Jordanian journalist and regional political commentator Salameh Nematt told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Speaking after a roundtable discussion on the future of the Middle East at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, Nematt told the Post that Iran’s biggest threat “comes from the countries immediately surrounding it, especially those in the gulf region.”

“Israel is the last thing on the list for them but they need to keep up the hostility against it in order to prove their credentials to the Arabs,” he said.

Nematt, a former Washington bureau chief for the Al-Hayat international Arabic daily and former international editor and contributor at The Daily Beast, said he was sure that if Iran was eventually faced with real confrontation from Israel or the international community, it would most likely “back down quickly from the cliff.”

He also said that he believed that the Israeli government would back down from all-out war.

The award-winning journalist, who was joined at the session by other top policy strategists and security experts from Israel and the world, said he believed that Iran could find a way to be pragmatic and was not, ultimately, “suicidal.”

Recipient of the Alfred Friendly Press Award and the Eliav-Sartawi Middle Eastern Journalism Prize, Nematt said he was not concerned that his presence at a high-profile conference in Israel would draw criticism in Jordan. He said that the two countries have a peace agreement and that it is not the place of the Jordan Press Association, which often takes a harsh stance against Jordanian journalists meeting with Israelis, to be above the government.

“The Jordanian government meets with Israelis, so why should the press association have a problem with it?” said Nematt, who was personally invited to the three-day event by President Shimon Peres, who established the annual gathering of high-profile experts some four years ago.

Asked whether he thought there was a danger – with all the changes taking place in the region and in light of the stalled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians – that Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan could be in jeopardy, Nematt said it was unlikely.

“Most people in Jordan are too concerned with the country’s internal problems,” said Nematt, describing how most of the protests in the Hashemite Kingdom are focused on high prices, lack of political reform and the fact that the king is not acting fast enough to make changes.

Nematt was joined at the discussion by 12 of the region’s key strategists and experts, including government military adviser Amos Gilad and Efraim Halevy, one of the architects of the Jordan-Israel peace agreement.

Shalom Turgeman, who was formerly a foreign affairs adviser to prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, moderated the session.

While there was little consensus from the group on where the region is headed – especially against the backdrop of threats from Iran, turbulence in Egypt and on-going unrest in Syria – Turgeman is now charged with drafting a statement or policy on the future of the Middle East. The group also discussed the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians in terms of finding a solution to the conflict.

The only point everyone agreed upon is that any number of scenarios for the Middle East is possible and despite the outcomes, the world needs to find a way to work with Iran.

Most of the experts expressed encouragement from this week’s talks in Moscow on Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which showed that the international community is starting to take a joint position on the issue.

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