The outcome and ramifications of Israel's recent war in Lebanon are not limited only to the demoralization of the Israeli political and military establishments but also to the radicalization of parts of the Muslim world, specifically Iran. The Iranians gained in the eyes of their people and the Muslim world simply because Hizbullah survived. Victory for organizations like Hizbullah is survival, while victory for democratic countries, such as Israel, is complete destruction of the enemy. Even if one harms the enemy, little progress will be made, as such enemies breed offspring of similar and potentially even more virulent ideologies.
Unlike the war in Lebanon, the threat from Iran's nuclear program is not solely a threat to Israel and should not be perceived as such. Iran's development of nuclear weapons is a threat to the entire world and so must be dealt with by both the United States and Europe.
Iran will only respond to countries that have the means and capability of dealing effectively with Iran through diplomatic and, if necessary, military avenues. Military action against Iran is a task too large for Israel, especially in light of the Israeli military's performance in Lebanon.
It is essential for the US to engage in direct dialogue with Iran. The outcome of this dialogue will either be successful negotiations or failure, which will at least give the world a better sense of where it stands with Iran. The US must attempt diplomacy before any sanctions are placed on Iran. The US should take control of negotiations and establish a time frame and conditions under which negotiations will be held.
The reinvigoration of peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel is the foremost method of neutralizing the political and military threat from Iran. In the Muslim world, the issue of the Palestinians is the most emotional and sensitive of topics. If the Palestinians and Israelis were able to reach a peace agreement, it would stymie the Iranians' ability to radicalize their citizens against Israel. The citizens of Iran would not be open to an anti-Israel stance when the Palestinians have made peace with Israel. Peace between the Palestinians and Israel would disrupt the moral foundation of an anti-Israel position; in the minds of the populace, it would delegitimize the right of the Iranian people to preach an anti-Israel rhetoric.
Successful negotiations with Syria over the Golan Heights would also weaken Iran's radical position regarding Israel. However, because the issue with Syria does not carry as much emotional weight in the Muslim world as the issue with the Palestinians, it would not have as significant an effect as successful negotiations with the Palestinians.
In the current political climate, it is not reasonable that any of the parties involved will be able to reconvene at the peace-making table. A mutual recognition of the necessity for peace is the only way for the two sides to sit across from each other. However, in light of Israel's perception of the effects of the disengagement from Gaza and the political fall-out from the war with Lebanon, it is doubtful that Israeli society would be supportive of negotiations with the Palestinians.
The only way to breach the blockade of the Israeli mindset would be to reformulate the entire political system. The instability of the current system prevents the acting government from achieving its mandate. Potential changes to the political system in order to create more stability are being analyzed and discussed among Israeli politicians and academics.
The writer is head of the Center of Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Interviewed and brought to press by Ryan Nadal
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