Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Focus on Iran-Israel relations for a stable West Asia

From the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 until the Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, Israel and Iran maintained close ties. Actually Iran was the second Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel, as a sovereign state after Turkey. Israel too viewed Iran as a natural ally and a non-Arab power on the edge of the Arab world, in accordance with David Ben Gurion’s concept of an alliance of the periphery. After the ‘Six-Day’ war of 1967, Iran supplied Israel with a significant portion of its oil needs and Iranian oil was shipped to European markets via the Israeli-Iranian pipeline.

The Iranian revolution of 1979 to overthrow the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi became the point of conflict where Iranian revolutionists took a hard stance of anti-Zionism. Even post Iranian revolution, Israel helped Iran with logistical and military support during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980, despite Ayatollah Khomeini’s declaration of Israel as the ‘enemy of Islam’ and the ‘Little Satan’ (US being the ‘Great Satan’). Israel even convinced the Ronald Reagan administration to allow Israel to channel arms of US origin with it to support Iran against the barbaric attacks of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Israel also destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad, giving a strategic advantage to Iran over Iraq.

The relations started to turn sour with the statements by the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and his decisive anti-Zionist stance and by his successor Khamenei to consolidate domestic support which is otherwise on wane. The same goes for the other democratically elected authorities in Iran like the President, especially during the President Mahmud Ahmedinijiad’s term. He discontinued the velvet glove policy of former President Mohammad Khatami and instead adopted an offensive stance against Israel with openly nurturing Shia-Islamist group and political party in Lebanon, HEZBOLLAH. This infuriated Israel and the previously warm relations turned hostile with both sides attacking each other since then (Beunos Aires blasts on Israeli Embassy in 1992, 2006 Lebanese war, successive Gaza wars, 2010 assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, 2010 Stuxnet worming in Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant, 2012 Bulgarian bombings by Hezbollah militants to the latest 2015 explosions in Jarmana, near Damascus). Since decades, Israel has been accusing Iran for supporting Hezbollah and Syrian Government to perpetuate anti-Zionist propaganda and war to threaten the peaceful existence of Israel, whereas Khamenei has accused Israel of supporting JUNDALLAH in Balochistan (West Pakistan), a Sunni militant group targeting Iran.

The bonhomie relationship which turned to a ‘fire and sword’ hostility for each other needs to cool down for a peaceful West Asian future. The responsibility of the same lies with the immediate governments, to blend the public mood and extinguish the fire of suspicion to bloom the flower of peace between the two old friends. The world must realize that the deep mistrust between these two rivals is fueling the fire in the West Asian region and allowing the other non-stakeholders to take disproportionate advantage of the conflict to strengthen their illegitimate power structure. Wahhabism emanating from West Asia is a major global threat which is riding on the wave of conflict between Iran-Israel. US President Barack Obama made a good start with Iran through the nuclear deal, which was opposed by Israel and Saudi Arabia alike. But to my Israeli friends, I must suggest that they should exploit the opportunity of improving the relations with Iran during the term of moderate Government of President Hassan Rouhani in Iran. They should understand that Ariel Sharon believed it was important to "leave a small window open" to the possibility of good relations with Iran in the future. Simultaneously, it is the duty of the Rouhani Government to ensure peace with Israel by exploiting the huge public mandate acquired by his political party in the recent general election in Iran, by keeping the radical forces at bay.

Stemming of confrontation and unilateralism to accommodate compromise, negotiation and collaboration (especially between Iran and Israel) is the need of the hour for the West Asian political conflicts. Suspicion and deep hostilities amongst the rivals have already burnt the entire West Asian subcontinent from the last few decades. This opportunity to accommodate conflicting views and dispatching of medieval confrontations might lead to a peaceful coexistence of people in the West Asia. Shall India be the plank to bridge the gap between the two rivals? If yes, then how?

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