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“Israel Needs to Stop Being so Negative”

July 16, 2015
Roland Elliott Brown
6 min read
“Israel Needs to Stop Being so Negative”

Carlo Strenger is a professor of philosophy and psychology at Tel Aviv University, and a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism at the World Federation of Scientists.

A commentator for Israel’s leading liberal newspaper, Haaretz, he publishes a blog, Strenger than Fiction, and is the author of several books. He has also written for the New York Times, the Guardian, and Foreign Policy.

IranWire spoke to him about yesterday’s nuclear deal between Iran, the US and other major world powers.

What is your reaction to the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries?

Well, I haven't gone through the 160 pages and all the appendices in detail, but I think it was clear that any decent deal at this point was better than no deal, because the sanctions regime would no longer have worked. Russia and China were on their way out. So on a very pragmatic line, it was important to achieve something.

From the parts I have read, I think it's a fairly decent deal, in terms of ensuring that the previous breaches of confidence that Iran has committed on the issue — and we shouldn't forget that Iran has been playing with the international community for quite some time in this respect — will not be repeated, at least not easily.

This being said, we need to realize that Israel is by far not the only country that is very shaky when it considers the possibility of a nuclear Iran. Saudi Arabia, most of the Gulf States, and Turkey, are extremely apprehensive about this. We all hope that if Iran fails to abide by the terms of the deal, it will not trigger an arms race.

I want to say something on a larger scale, though. I see President Barack Obama's relentless pushing for a deal with Iran as guided by a very positive thought, which is that Iran needs to be integrated into the international community, and that the status quo is not only catastrophic for Iran's population — and I want to make a clear distinction between the population and the regime — but is one of the main sources of tension worldwide at this point.

We shouldn't forget that Iran has played a role in events ranging from the bombing of Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires to many events in the Middle East, including sponsoring a number of terror organizations. Obama hopes that once a more positive dynamic with Iran evolves, this will benefit everyone. I can see the logic of this view, and I am basically in favor of it. But I am also cautious.

You talk about President Obama basing his view on a positive idea. What do you think underlies Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's deep resistance to this deal?

There are a number of very interesting profiles that have been written about Benjamin Netanyahu. This is a man who has a very strong Manichean worldview, you know, the forces of good versus the forces of evil. He is marked by a view that his father, the historian Benzion Netanyahu, maintained throughout his very long life, that Jewish leaders throughout Jewish history have made terrible mistakes by not recognizing dangers to the Jewish people, and that the results were absolutely catastrophic.

Mr. Netanyahu is guided by a fear that the next holocaust is around the corner. I think he actually believes that. It's not just a manipulation. He sees Iran as the prime existential danger looming over Israel and the Jewish people today. 

Now, there are many good reasons to be wary about Iran's intentions. You may remember that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a few days ago that even if a deal is reached it doesn't mean that Iran will not continue to fight the United States. And the destruction of Israel happens to be a core value of the current Iranian regime. 

But Mr. Netanyahu's extreme one-sided view has led to negative results for Israel. He let his relationship with Obama and the White House deteriorate to the point where Israel had no say in what was going on in the negotiations. If Netanyahu had handled the situation differently, Israel might have been able to influence the negotiations to deal with certain core interests of Israel, for example, Iran's sponsoring of terrorist organizations. But because of his very black and white point of view, he has mishandled the situation badly.

Now that the deal has been done, what options does Netanyahu have, and what options is he most likely to pursue?

One option he has is to try to torpedo this deal via the US Congress. I very much hope, for the sake of Israel's interests, and for the sake of Israel’s relations with the US, that he does not do that. Obama has said that if Congress tries to torpedo the deal he would apply a veto, so it would just be a terrible mistake. Israel needs to stop being so negative toward the Western powers that have negotiated this deal, and in quiet ways make sure that its vital security interests are taken into account via the implementation of this deal.

Israel should also be very vigilant — I have to remind you that Israel has stopped many Iranian shipments to terror organizations in the area — but I think it should also adopt the position that you will find with many leading Israeli commentators, and take into account that there are forces in Iran that are very, very different from the hardliners that are currently calling the shots and also defining the official rhetoric.

The urban population is much more open to the world, is very interested in a rapprochement with the West, and probably has very little interest in the regime's confrontational approach towards its neighbors, towards Israel, and towards the West.

I do not think that Israel, or the West, or anyone, should meddle in internal Iranian affairs and try to change the regime. It's up to the Iranian people to handle this. But we should at least be open to the possibility that the Iranian elites — I’m not talking about government forces, but financial, cultural, and intellectual elites — might push toward a more mitigated Iranian stance. Israel should keep its eyes open. It should keep in mind that this enmity that started with the 1979 revolution does not need to go on forever.

Is Israel more or less secure because of this deal?

I am not a defense specialist, but I can tell you what I hear from colleagues who are much more involved in this than I am. Most of them are cautious, even extremely wary, but most of them also think that this is a deal might actually be constructive. Within Israeli security circles, people are less worried about the possibility that Iran might attack Israel frontally in a nuclear attack if Iran does go nuclear. They are much more worried about Iran using its proxies, as they have done so far, usually Hezbollah, in introducing nuclear devices into the Middle East. 

So I cannot tell you that Israel is completely safe. I frankly think that Iran, if it really puts its mind to it, is probably even now capable of constructing a nuclear weapon very quickly. I hope that the Iranian regime will realize that it's in the interests of the Iranian people not to do so.

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