What should worry Israel is that political events in Tehran are now being managed by one of the biggest and most belligerent enemies of Israel in Iran's political history, whose influence has started to expand in Gaza and the West Bank
December 15, 2005
Tel Aviv, ISRAEL -- Ahmadinejad's ability to shock the international community with his controversial statements has left many, including those in Iran flabbergasted.
Dr Ahmadinejad is an ideologue. He in not however, as many like to believe, an uncontrollable extremist who says what feels good, without thinking about the consequences. Since his first “Israel must be eliminated” speech, Ahmadinejad has had a target audience in mind.
The recent assault against Israel in which he called the Holocaust a “myth” also had a specific target, albeit a different one from his first verbal assault.
Many would be correct to think that his intended target is in the Middle East - although Israel was not the primary area of intended influence.
This time Ahmadinejad was applying his tried and tested electioneering for the other important countries of the region, who are about to start voting, namely Iraq and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The Iranian government takes both aforementioned areas as important spheres of influence. Having influence in Iraq and the PA can provide Iran with a strong bargaining position with the West in future negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, and also regarding issues of regional security.
Therefore the outcome of the elections in both countries are very important to Tehran's regional aspirations, and also its sense of threat which has heightened after the arrival of US forces in Iraq, and Israel's gradual acceptance in the region.
Although Iran has a relatively strong position in Iraq, especially in the Shiite and Kurdish quarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, there is one important area of Iraqi politics in which Iran is struggling, and that is the Sunni front.
The Iraqi Sunnis are a very tough crowd for Iran to please. They are and have been the arch enemy of Iran before, during and after the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980. Their hostility towards Iran has both religious and nationalistic roots. The Iraqi Sunnis have historically considered themselves as nationalistic Arabs with little time or patience for Iran, as it consists mainly of non Arabs (Persians) who are Shiites.
Nevertheless the Iranian government (as well as Washington) realise the importance of the Sunnis and their co-operation in the future Iraqi government. Therefore in a bid to attract their co-operation and participation in the new Iraq, Ahmadinejad played the only card which both parties share, and that is the anti - Israeli card. This is due to the reason that Iraqi Sunnis still continue to harbour strong anti - Israeli feelings.
Through Ahmadinejad's open and provocative stance against Israel, Tehran hopes for cooperation between Iran and Iraq's Sunnis. It is hoped by Tehran that such co-operation in the future will provide Iran with some sort of leverage over the Sunnis, in addition to its close relations with the Shiites and the Kurds. Such an eventuality would complete Tehran's circle of influence in Iraqi politics .
Ahmadinejad stated that “ today, the only messenger of true Islam and complete Islam is the Iranian nation ”. The use of the word Islam in Ahmadinejad's speech is part of Iran's efforts to be seen as the leader of the Islamic world which is a dimension of Iran's efforts to gain influence and support from Iraqi Sunnis.
Iraq is becoming the soft underbelly of George Bush and Tony Blair's political popularity. As far as Ahmadinejad is concerned, the sooner Iran completes its sphere of influence in Iraq, the higher the price it can extract from the West over its nuclear program.
The same also goes for events in the Palestinian Authority (PA). Tehran is well aware of the West and Israel's sensitivity to events there, and thus the more influence Iran wields over events there, the stronger Iran's negotiations hand will be with the West and Israel. Iran also views militant groups in the PA as its second strike capability in response to a possible Israeli attack on its nuclear sites.
Therefore it is no accident that Ahmadinejad made such an overt anti-Israel gesture on Wednesday 14 th of December 2005, the day when the head of Hamas's political bureau was visiting Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran.
The current lull in fighting between Israel and Hamas is not to Iran's advantage. Hamas' suicide operations, which wear down Israel's willingness to fight, are important psychological and military weapons, which benefit Iran.
Iran wants Israel to remain bogged down in conflict with the Palestinians, based on the logic that the more Israel is involved in attacks and counter attacks against the Palestinians, the less it has a stomach and willingness to enter a new conflict with Iran by attacking its nuclear sites.
Therefore taking recent Hamas's recent talk of not renewing its ceasefire into consideration, Ahmadinejad through his hostile speech provided a major boost in confidence for Hamas's anti Israeli stance.
Iran hopes that such boost in confidence will translate into more popularity for Hamas at the ballot box, and also re-start of Hamas attacks against Israel which Tehran hopes will initiate a new cycle of violence.
Judging by the comments made by head of Hamas's political wing at a press conference in Tehran, in which he said “ We view ourselves as being in the same trench as the Islamic Republic of Iran ” Hamas will reciprocate Ahmadinejad's gesture by strengthening its co-operation with Tehran.
What should worry Israel is that political events in Tehran are now being managed by one of the biggest and most belligerent enemies of Israel in Iran's political history, whose influence has started to expand in Gaza and the West Bank.
Meanwhile Western countries should be concerned that Ahmadinejad is planning to increase the sphere of his anti-Western influence beyond the southern neighbourhoods of Tehran and Basra into the Sunni triangle. If this happens the Iraqi quagmire could get a lot worse.
If it doesn't happen, it won't be due to lack of trying from Tehran.
Meir Javedanfar is a Middle East Analyst and the Director or the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company, meepas.com. He has been quoted and interviewed by the BBC, Radio Holland International, Haaretz Newspaper and the Boston Globe as well as a number of other newspapers and Radio stations. For rights to quote this article please contact email@example.com.