There is an interesting piece in the Washington Post today by Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institute. Telhami gets it partially right when he writes:
“Many Arab governments are of course concerned about Iran and its role in Iraq, but not for the same reasons as Israel and the United States. Israel sees Iran's nuclear potential as a direct threat to its security, and its support for Hizbollah and Hamas as a military challenge.”
Telhami is on the right track inasmuch that Israel’s concerns are for Irans support for Hizbollah and Hamas (and also Syria which Telhami neglects to mention). However, Israel, contrary to Telhami’s assertion otherwise, does not see Iran’s nuclear potential as a direct threat to Israel’s security. Israel is very much aware of the reality that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and that the allegations against Iran with regard to its so-called nuclear weapons program is purely part of the propaganda and rhetoric that is being used as part of the effort to drum up support for an attack on Iran in order to bring about regime change. Regime change in Iran will isolate Syria which, in turn, isolates Hizbollah and Hamas and this is the endgame that Israel is after.
But here’s the other interesting bit that Telhami says: “Arab governments are less worried about the military power of Hamas and Hezbollah than they are about support for them among their publics. They are less worried about a military confrontation with Iran than about Iran's growing influence in the Arab world. In other words, what Arab governments truly fear is militancy and the public support for it that undermines their own popularity and stability.”
This is what the west doesn’t understand. When the media talks of this and that Arab nation being worried about Iran, most ordinary folk think that the media are referring to the entire nation without realising that in fact they are only referring to the governments of those nations, not the peoples of those nations. Most governments of Arab nations are not democratic. In fact, in many ways Iran is more democratic than many of the Arab countries that are close friends of the US and Israel. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, for example, all have governments in which ‘democracy’ plays no part. So when we read and hear of Bush travelling around the Middle East trying to drum up support from the Arab ‘nations’ to put pressure on Iran over its ‘nuclear weapons ambitions’, what we are really getting to know about is Bush talking to the governments of Arab nations – not the people of Arab nations. In other words, quite simply, the western world is being conned into thinking that the entire Arab world is against Iran when in reality it is only the non-democratic governments of the Arab world that are with the US on this and then only because it is in their commercial and political interests to side with the US. In this regard Telhami gets it right when he says:
“And even though Gulf Arab governments need the US military umbrella for their security, their publics view the United States as a far greater threat than Iran. It is a challenge for these governments to have to continually depend on an America whose foreign policy is rejected by their own publics and whose record in recent years has been more of failure than of success.”
Iran is not a threat to the Arab peoples of the Middle East; it is a threat to the governments of the Arab nations of the Middles East. Iran has already shown its support for the oppressed and persecuted peoples of Palestine and Lebanon. What the Arab governments of the Middle East fear is Iran being an inspiration for the peoples of the Middle East. For the US and Israel there is no choice but to ensure regime change in Iran but, while this may placate the governments of the Arab nations, it will do nothing except incur the wrath of all of the peoples of the Arab nations around the Middle East and with them Muslims around the world.
The final confrontation is yet to come – and it may well be a confrontation that doesn’t just involve the US and Israel against Iran, but one that could engulf the entire Middle East.