Israel-USA vs Iran: Talk Peace!

By Johan Galtung

The state system at its worst: trading insults and threats, sanctions, readiness to use extreme violence, forward deployment of US troops in Israel as hostages to guarantee US involvement, disregard for common people and the effects of warfare in the Middle East and the world. The options are harder sanctions, or war. The far better option, sitting down, with mediators, talking and searching for solutions, is absent. Polarization, escalation, the material of which wars are made fill the media. What a shame.

Indeed, there are multiple underlying conflicts. Take the nuclear issue: two haves against one have-not. But the USA lived with Soviet and Chinese nuclear bombs for a long time before they learnt to talk. Israel has lived with Pakistani nuclear options, referred to as “Islamic”, even with the bomb. Of course, the real, longer term goal could be that Pakistani bomb. But then, with no proof of an Iranian nuclear arms capability, why Iran?

One answer was given by El Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency-IAEA: the West wants regime change, and uses the nuclear issue. Iran, 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, and in Iraq after Saddam Hussein. He never said “wipe Israel off the map”, and signed the Riyadh declaration about recognizing Israel if Israel recognizes the 4 Jun 1967 borders.

The two issues are combined into sanctions “to create hate and discontent at the street level so that the Iranian leaders realize that they need to change their ways”, according to some US intelligence official. But this fails again and again: people suffer, but turn more against the direct source–Israel, USA, EU, UN–than their own rulers; even the “green” opposition leader in house arrest, Hussein Mussawi (Der Spiegel, 6/2012).

USA-Israel may be longing back to the Kissinger days when Iran under the shah was the US-appointed custodian for the Middle East, intervening in Oman, etc. To use a shia country for sunni order says much about the level of intelligence. The people of Iran, shia as well as communist, rejected the shah’s regime and the CIA-MI6 coup that brought it into power in 1953, for 25 years. Maybe the heart of the matter. For Anglo-America a routine affair, left to the intelligence boys, sharing their contempt for Arab and Muslim regimes. For Iranians, left, center, right, a deep, traumatizing humiliation. “One-nine-five-three” is heard when USA/Iran is brought up. To believe it is forgotten speaks badly of the perpetrators. An apology might work wonders.

Then comes Israel as the third issue, the Palestinians being only a part of the general conflict with Arabs-Muslims. To pose as a regional superpower, the only nuclear power in the region, neither Arab, nor Muslim, is a clear non-starter. But they do.

We could now list the scenarios. Iran is one of the biggest oil exporters in the world, closing the Strait of Hormuz (for which they no doubt have very elaborate plans) will have deep 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 does not bode a viable future. More expansionism, more vulnerability, until in the end strong anti-Israeli forces find the point of ultimate vulnerability, and pull the lever. Of any kind. Any victory for precise bombing before Iran becomes “impregnable” will be of a very short duration.

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

Of course there is. Think of the horror scenarios of nuclear war during the Cold War in Europe and how the Helsinki conference in 1973-75 pointed to a viable course of action, sabotaged by a USA wanting to deploy middle range missiles, but dampened tensions.

The first step for mutual accommodation is a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle and Near East, modeled on Helsinki, starting with the conference for a weapons of mass destruction-free zone, already called by the UN 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 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:

* for the nuclear issue: a Middle and Near East nuclear free zone, with Israel and Iran;

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

* for the Israel vs Arab-Muslim states issue: a Middle Near East Community of Israel with neighbor countries, modeled on the 1958 Treaty of Rome for Europe, with an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle and Near East-OSCMNE. This would all 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 “what 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 favored the idea of a nuclear-free zone, even when it was explained that this would mean Israel giving up its nuclear weapons.” (IHT, 16 Jan 2012).

Vox populi vox Dei. Would Iranians answer the same? Probably, we should know. Maybe they all want to survive? Let them decide.

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