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Stop Threatening, Start Talking

ALFAZ, Spain, Apr 10 2012 (IPS) - We are currently witnessing the worst features of the state system: trading insults and threats, sanctions, readiness to use extreme violence, forward deployment of U.S. troops in Israel as hostages to guarantee U.S. involvement in a possible war, disregard for common people and the effects of warfare in the Middle East and the world.

Stories of polarisation and escalation, the materials with which wars are made, fill the media. Absent is the far better option of sitting down, with mediators, talking and searching for solutions.

There are indeed multiple underlying conflicts. The U.S. and Israel, both nuclear weapons powers, are concerned that Iran might develop its own. But the U.S. lived with Soviet and Chinese nuclear bombs for a long time before they learnt to talk. Israel has lived with Pakistani nuclear options. So why Iran, with no proof of Iranian nuclear arms capability?

One answer was given by Egypt’s Mohamed El Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency: the West wants regime change, and uses the nuclear issue as a pretext. Iran (and its president Ahmadinejad), also wants regime change – in Israel, a “world without zionism”, likening it to the regime change in Iran after the Shah, in the Soviet Union, in Iraq after Saddam Hussein.

He never said “wipe Israel off the map”, and signed the Riyadh declaration about recognising Israel if Israel recognises the Jun. 4 1967 borders.

These two issues are used to justify sanctions “to create popular discontent and hate so that the Iranian leaders realise that they need to change their ways”, according to some U.S. intelligence officials. But this has failed again and again: people suffer, but turn more against the direct sources – Israel, the U.S., the EU, the United Nations – than their own rulers; even the opposition leader Hussein Mussawi is under house arrest (Der Spiegel, 6/2012).

U.S.-Israel may wish to return to the days when Iran under the Shah was the U.S.-appointed custodian for the Middle East, intervening in Oman, and other places. To use a Shia country for order in a Sunni region says much about the level of intelligence. The people of Iran, Shia as well as communist, have rejected the Shah regime and the CIA-MI6 coup that brought it into power in 1953, for 25 years.

For Anglo-America, this may be a routine matter, left to the intelligence boys with their contempt for Arab and Muslin regimes. But for Iranians – left, centre, right – it is a deep, traumatising humiliation. To believe it is forgotten speaks badly of the perpetrators. An apology might work wonders.

Then comes the third issue: Israel’s general conflict with Arab-Muslims, with its conflict with the Palestinians being only a part. For Israel – the only nuclear power in the region, neither Arab nor Muslim – to pose as a regional superpower is a clear nonstarter. But they do.

What are the scenarios being discussed? Iran, one of the world’s biggest oil exporters, threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz. This would have severe consequences, also for food supply if biodiesel is the alternative. The West should not underestimate Islamic solidarity across the Shia-Sunni divide. An attack may even unite Syria with Hezbollah, Hamas and others. Not even the Saudi position should be taken for granted.

Regime change in Iran and continued Israeli expansion as the Middle East hegemon is not a viable future. It will produce strong anti-Israeli forces who will find the point of ultimate vulnerability. Any victory for precise bombing before Iran becomes “invincible” will be very short-lived.

With issues such as these, is there any way out?

Of course there is. Remember the horror scenarios of nuclear war during the Cold War in Europe and how the Helsinki conference of 1973-75 pointed to a viable course of action. It was sabotaged by the U.S., which wanted to deploy medium range missiles in Europe. Still, it dampened tensions, and prepared the end of the Cold War in 1989.

The first step for mutual accommodation is a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East, modeled on Helsinki, starting with the U.N. conference for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East planned for 2012.

Who could be the Finland of the region? The new and the old forces in Egypt, if the entrenched military are not too afraid of any peace that might block the Camp David flow of money? Taking on this task would guarantee centrality in the region for a long time.

All three issues would be on the agenda, with possibilities:

* a Middle East nuclear free zone, with Israel and Iran included;

* joint supervision for fair and free elections, so that the people decide the regime;

* for the Israel vs Arab-Muslim states issue: a Middle East Community of Israel with neighbour countries, modeled on the 1958 Treaty of Rome for Europe, with an Organisation for Security and Cooperation. All of this would be consistent with the spirit of the Arab spring, which also briefly touched Israel. Economic cooperation for shared development could be added.

When Israelis were asked, Wwhat would be better, for both Israel and Iran to have the bomb, or for neither to have it, 65 percent of Israeli Jews said neither. And a remarkable 64 percent favoured the idea of a nuclear-free zone, even when it was explained that this would mean Israel giving up its nuclear weapons.”

Would Iranians answer the same? Probably. Maybe they all want to survive? Let them decide!


(*) Johan Galtung, Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, is author of ‘50 Years – 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives’ (

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