Choose your enemy: Moscow or Teheran

A rejuvenated, cocky Russia does not pose an existential threat to the West; a nuclear Iran does.

October 27, 2008 20:17
2 minute read.
Choose your enemy: Moscow or Teheran

ahmadinejad making point 224.88 ap. (photo credit: )


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Whoever is elected US president next month will have to take a vital decision on how to deal with two clear and present crises: an imminent-nuclear Iran and an ebullient, post-Georgia Russia. The two issues are clearly interconnected: Russia under Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev will not allow - and will even thwart - effective UN sanctions against Iran until differences with a US-led alliance are remedied and the past East-West understanding is restored. That this interdependence affects the future of Israel and the entire Middle-East is also manifestly clear. Simply put, the next president of the United States will have to decide whether to jeopardize the isolation of the Iranian regime or somehow placate the Russians by, among other things, mothballing the idea of expanding NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia. This is the old realpolitik dilemma: choosing between two unpalatable alternatives and opting for the lesser of two evils. Which is the lesser evil? A buoyant power- and influence-craving Russia, waving its big fossil-fuel stick, is an unpleasant sight which many observers thought would not arise from its communist grave. However, a rejuvenated, cocky Russia does not pose an existential threat to the West. No one seriously suggests that if Ukraine is not included in NATO, Russia will invade it. The "near-abroad" region is seen by Russian hawks as part of their natural sphere of influence - but not as part of a renewed Moscow-controlled empire. Russia may be difficult to handle, but it is not by all accounts, the ogre of the Cold War era. ON THE other hand, a nuclear Iran will severely endanger the stability of the Middle East, encouraging non-Shi'ite states to follow suit, whereby the entire Middle East - that volatile half-crazed part of the globe - would go nuclear. A nuclear Iran - with its old-new unambiguous imperialistic aspirations - may unhinge the Trans-Caucasus half-Moslem new republics born out of the former Soviet Union. It could also have a negative impact - to put it mildly - on the substantial Muslim communities in Western Europe, seeking to incite them against their Crusader "oppressors" - i.e. their host states. In short, Iran, unlike Russia, poses a real threat to the peace, stability and welfare of many countries and to the very existence of the State of Israel. Moreover, the future prosperity and democracy of independent Ukraine and Georgia can be enhanced even without their incorporation into NATO, through membership in the European Union and through development of trade and cultural relations, as demonstrated recently in the EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev. No such alternative exists with regard to fundamentalist, fanatic and reclusive Iran. It is clear that the Iranian regime cannot be placated by favorable trade policies and economic incentives. Of the two crises, it is clear which poses a greater threat to the interests of the United States and the West. The message is plain: Russia is wrong about NATO. NATO is indeed a defensive pact among nations, which by international law and moral conventions Ukraine and Georgia have every right to join. But given the constraints of reality, the next American president would be well advised to give up this legitimate initiative in order to seek the crucially vital entente with Russia, without which a nuclear, imperialistic Iran will almost certainly materialize in short order. The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a former minister of education and MK, as well as the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law.

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