You can’t invite an arsonist to help put out a fire

The first step to mobilizing moderate forces in the Middle East in an effective coalition against the violent fanaticism of the region’s terrorist groups and their state backers.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in Tehran (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in Tehran
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Experience shows that employing one group of radicals as a counter-balance against another is ill-advised. This has been the hard-learned lesson in numerous arenas around the world, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. The Soviet period in Afghanistan and its aftermath comes to mind as a case in point.
Radical Islamist forces and their state sponsors may collaborate with Western powers in the very short term in order to confront their rivals. But ultimately they will not veer away from their aggressive agenda which pits them irrevocably against the West and everything it stands for. To hope otherwise is wishful – and perilous – thinking.
Iran, in particular, exemplifies what happens when a fanatic ideology is adopted by the machinery of state.
The implications are felt by Israel of course, as well as by the many moderate elements in the region that fear Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and bear the brunt of the regional insurrection which it fosters.
The leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a few days ago once again called for Israel’s elimination, writing that Israel “has no cure but to be annihilated.” This latest outburst, just ahead of the November 24 deadline for the talks on Tehran’s nuclear program, is a clear signal of Iran’s sinister intent with regard to Israel.
The Iranian leader’s statement was issued against a backdrop of open indications that his regime is continuing with the military dimensions of its nuclear program, in defiance of its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Western powers.
Echoing statements made by IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano in recent weeks, the agency’s latest report, released several days ago, underscored that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of nuclear payload for a missile.”
Such careful language communicates the rapid development of nuclear weapons technology which continues apace in Iran, in parallel with its stalling tactics at the negotiating table.
Even as it continues with its race for nuclear weapons, Iran persists in stirring up regional unrest by training and financing terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas and by backing violent Shi’ite factions, for instance in Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen. Moderate Arab regimes understand only too well the threat posed to them by these Iranian proxies and by Iran’s regional ambitions in general.
Thus, Iran cannot be usefully enlisted to assist in the fight against Islamic State, just as Iran’s ally the Assad regime cannot be helpful in curbing the advance of Islamic State, Jabhat a-Nusra, al-Qaida or the many other terrorist entities running rampant throughout the region. Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood cannot serve as a partner in the fostering of democracy and human rights. States and organizations that themselves train, finance and equip terrorist groups and that foster regional instability cannot be expected to serve as reliable partners in defeating radicalism.
The first step to mobilizing moderate forces in the Middle East in an effective coalition against the violent fanaticism of the region’s terrorist groups and their state backers is to realize that there is no artificial distinction between “good” radicals and “bad” radicals.
Introducing confusion into the ranks of the moderate elements, by relying in any way on the prime instigators of regional instability – Iran and Syria – will weaken the moderate camp and impair its ability to mobilize against the radicals.
The right approach is to establish a determined regional coalition of moderates which will confront all the radicals, including Iran, Syria, Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and their myriad affiliates. In such an anti-radical regional coalition, Israel would definitely be willing to play an active and effective role.
Unrealistic in the past, the dramatic developments in the region have made such a coalition of the moderates a matter to be seriously considered. If moderate Arab governments consider their true interests and try to think past traditional stereotypes, they will discover in Israel a reliable – and indeed indispensable – partner in the struggle to ensure the defeat of those radical forces that seek to set the entire region ablaze.
Moreover, regional cooperation of this kind could prove to be a key trigger in moving toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been obviously deadlocked at the bilateral level.
On the other hand, we oppose the idea of legitimizing certain radical elements as a means of confronting others. Not only will such a strategy not work, it will play into the radicals’ hands, emboldening them and making it far more difficult to confront them down the road. This is especially true with regard to Iran that continues to call for Israel’s destruction while blazing ahead with its nuclear weapons program.
If you invite an arsonist to help put out a fire, don’t be surprised if the fire spreads.
The writer is foreign minister.