Two Very Different Views of Iran and the Middle East

Here are two very different views of Iran and the Middle East:

1)  The first is from a conservative blog and discusses a book written by an Iranian, Reza Khalili, a CIA spy who was a member of the Revolutionary Guard of Iran.  He is convinced that either the US (the preferred option) or Israel must attack Iran and that the Iranian people are hoping for such an attack.  It is important to note that he does NOT advocate an invasion, but rather an attack on the Revolutionary Guard.  He also points out that most Iranians essentially love the US and are not unfriendly to Israel.  He opposes an invasion, because NOBODY wants their nation invaded.  He is of the opinion that Iranians cannot stand the current government, but they have no power to overthrow it.

2) The second is by a left-wing Israeli journalist, Uri Avneri.  He is of the view that there is very little the US or Israel will or can do about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.  Israel’s and Jews’ connection to Iran goes back several thousand years, and the positive relationship cannot be preempted by the group of crazies that now run the country.  The effect of an attack by Israel would shut down the world economy, and the US will never allow Israel to do that.  And, given Iraq and Afghanistan and the US’s own economic woes, the US is in no position to attack either.  Obama is pushing Israel on East Jerusalem, because he wants Israel to make a choice between its building policy in the Jerusalem environs and a strong sanctions policy against Iran led by the US.  If Israel pursues its current settlement policy, then the US will not pursue the sanctions.  This is the choice that the US is presenting Israel.

At for the Khalili interview, I am not sure that an attack on Iran, which would include both the nuclear sites and the revolutionary guards without an invasion, would lead to the overthrow of the current government.  There’s a lot of wishful thinking there, and I don’t necessarily buy that.   It’s possible, but, even if the current government falls, the new government will very likely pursue nuclear weapons, although it will take them longer if the nuclear sites are destroyed.  Khalili is no doubt correct about an invasion and the long-term negative impact of such an approach.   Yet even a targeted attack on the Republican Guard and the nuclear sites could produce a understandably self-protective reaction on the part of a broad cross-section of the Iranian people.  You might hate your oppressive government, but you don’t want foreigners to do your own work for you.  That just makes people angry.  I do believe that Khalili is correct about the religious views of the Iranian leaders–that they believe that the use of nuclear weapons will initiate the public return of the twelfth mahdi and a worldwide victory for Islam.  Many in the West find this hard to imagine, but all we have to do is listen to late night radio and hear what many in the conservative Christian community believe.  It’s pretty much the same thing, with victory coming to Christ and Christians instead of the Mahdi and Muslims.  We should take very seriously the religious views of Iranian leaders, because they actually believe what they say.

The second piece is correct in its analysis of the US view of the Jerusalem situation.  I believe that the Obama administration and many US foreign policy analysts (including those from a variety of prior administrations) believe that progress on the Israel-Palestinian conflict will give the US more leverage in dealing with Iran.  Whether this is actually true or not is another matter (whatever the merits or flaws in the Obama admin’s position on settlements).  Arab governments are terrified of Iran regardless of Israel, and progress on Israel-Palestine will likely not change the behavior of the Iranian government and of those who fear it.  The Middle East is much more complex than Israel-Palestine, and the US should not be fixated on that as some kind of cure-all.  It might buy some time, but that will end quickly.   We are dealing with governments in the Middle East that, except for Israel, are, for the most part, corrupt dictatorships (often despised by their own people, as in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia), and that makes the situation volatile no matter what happens with the Palestinians (For Arab countries, see most recently the democracy report card of the Arab Reform Initiative: , where Palestine, by the way, scores rather low).

This is a very difficult environment.  I have no idea what the solution is.  My own sense is that Israel will attack if it appears that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons, even if the US opposes such a move.  This could have profound consequences for the US-Israel relationship and, of course, for Israel.   That is why Israel has spent a lot of time cultivating its relationship with both India and China, both economically and militarily.  In the end, this is an existential question for Israelis.  Given the holocaust and the near decimation of world Jewry, Israel is acutely aware of what the consequences of Iranian nuclear weapons would be.  Israelis will take enormous risks to prevent that from happening.  The best possibility right now might be the continuation of covert operations to slow down Iranian progress on the nuclear front, but that can only work for so long.  The effectiveness of sanctions is doubtful.

In reality, no one has a clear answer.  The best approach is for those of us are observers to try to understand the complexity of the dynamics at play and the different points of view of the people and nations involved.  At the same time, any kind of open dialogue is preferable.  This is a time when the lines of communication need to be open and when people of different backgrounds need to be talking with one another, even if there is very little apparent progress and even if they are not talking about the Middle East.  Sometimes just talking about gardening or sports builds the foundation for real understanding.  And I know that this may sound pollyannish, but we need prayer and meditation to surround this region with imagery of peace and light.

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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.

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