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Just wondering
Is Israel a threat to Iran?

August 16, 2001
The Iranian

Is Sharon still the prime minister of Israel? I haven't looked at the news lately, but I remember reading something about him limiting trips to Europe to avoid the possibility of being arrested. Apparently he is being sued on charges of crimes against humanity because of his central role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinians refugees in 1982. Of course, he should be held accountable. Why shouldn't he?

The list of Israel's crimes is long and well-documented. Every year Amnesty International and other human rights groups condemn the government for its gross mistreatment of Palestinians. Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territories and build new Jewish settlements on confiscated Palestinian land. These should all be condemned. I'm sure you can think of other examples of questionable to downright criminal Israeli behavior against Palestinians and neighboring Arab states.

But I'm wondering, is Israel really a threat to Iran? I know many of you are shocked that I even ask such a question. But just for the sake of argument, think about it for a second. Look at the map of Iran.

On the immediate right, we have Afghanistan where a band of ultra fundamentalists control the largest opium production in the world. Millions of unemployed, disillusioned Iranians are wasting away as a direct result of drugs pouring from Afghanistan.

A million or two Afghans have taken refuge in Iran during the past 20 years. Most escaped to Iran after the Soviet invasion of their country. Then came the civil war followed by the tribal rule of the Taliban whose archaic ideas of Islam say zekki to the version preached by our own ayatollahs. As a result, more Afghans escaped to Iran.

Further south, there's Pakistan. A nation ruled by a military dictatorship. That should worry us because not so long ago, Pakistan came out of the nuclear closet and proved that it too has The Bomb. Of course, Pakistan's main concern is India and the ongoing dispute over Kashmir.

But you never know. Conservative fundamentalists are a powerful force in Pakistan. You can't totally rule out the possibility of them taking power, declaring jihad over the minority Shi'ites and demanding independence for Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan Province. Sounds ridiculous. But in an unstable region such as ours, we have to at least think about these hypothetical scenarios.

Look south. There are a string of small Arab states, plus Saudi Arabia. You also have the U.S. navy. The only serious problem there is the dispute over the Tonb islands. Not a week goes by without some sort of complaint from the United Arab Emirates over Iran's "occupation" of the islands. Arab states back the UAE position.

Now that Iran and Saudi Arabia have signed a security agreement, it's less likely that the UAE or any other Arab state would go to war over the islands. But again, the possibility is quite real. Not long ago, Iraq used the Tonbs as one of the excuses to go to war with us. Consider this scenario: The Americans get into a serious dispute with Iran. They occupy the Tonb islands for "security" reasons. And then when they decide to pull out, they could hand the islands over to the UAE. Impossible?

To the left we have good old Iraq. The same man who began one of the biggest wars of the 20th century, caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Iranians and Iraqis, is still in power. Plus, Iraq is host to thousands of Mojahedin Khalq members who carry out frequent cross-border raids and claim responsibility for mortar explosions in Tehran. Is Iraq a serious threat? You tell me.

Right around the same region, there is the Kurdish question. The dream of creating an independent Kurdistan is in the heart of every Kurd, whether in Iran, Iraq, or Turkey. Kurdish fighters have been more active in Iraq and Turkey, but whatever happens there, will also affect the Kurdish population in Iran. Remember that the earliest Kurdish republic was established in Iran. That was more than 50 years ago and it only lasted a few years. But...

Further up we have Turkey. The government there often blames Iran (often wrongly) for its own internal problems with Muslim fundamentalists and Kurdish separatists. Turkish forces have, on more than a few occasions, entered Iranian territory (or carried out cross-border air raids) in pursuit of Kurdish separatists. Just as our rulers are fanatical about Islam, the Turks, especially the military, worship Ataturk -- the mother of all secularists. Is there a potential for conflict? You bet.

To the north there's the Caucasuses and Central Asia. And although Russia, after the demise of the Soviet Union, is no longer our immediate neighbor, it is still a major regional power; more powerful than any other state in our region.

Let's start from the northwest, where we have Armenia and Azerbaijan. Forget about the bloody dispute between those two states over Nagorno Karabakh. Armenia by itself seems to have no problem with Iran. Compared to Bahais and Jews, Armenians have fared better as a minority in Iran. So we wouldn't expect any trouble on this front.

But Azerbaijan is a different matter. Tehran and Baku are in a war of words over oil exploration in the Caspian Sea. Well, it's a little more than a war of words. Iran wants Azerbaijan to stop digging for oil in a disputed area of the sea. It has even sent navy ships there to scare off the foreign oil crews. The Americans claim Iran has also violated Azerbaijan's air space.

The stakes are huge. The Caspian region has some of the largest untapped oil and gas reserves in the world. The regional states have still not figured out how to divide the Caspian for the benefit of all. Every state is out for herself. Meetings after meetings have failed to produce an agreement on who owns what part of the Caspian. So the dispute with Azerbaijan could very well get ugly. AND the same problem may rise between Iran and Turkmenistan on the other side of the Caspian. Who knows where Russia is going to stand in all this, but don't count on her taking Iran's side.

There's also the (currently) minor problem of Azeri nationalism in Iran. The media in the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan use every opportunity to exaggerate "anti-Persian" and anti-Islamic Republic sentiments among Azeris in Iran, and "anti-Azeri" feelings among "Persian" Iranians. Baku would love to see a separatist Azeri movement in northwestern Iran. Could it take shape? No? Are you absolutely positive?

In the northeast, we have Turkmenistan. Other than the remote (?) possibility of ethnic disturbances among Turkmens in Iran, instigated by Turkmen brothers in the north, there's no obvious security problems over there. Khodaa ro shokr.

Now what about Russia? Is she a threat to our national interests? Russia still has the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons after the U.S. She still has considerable influence among former Soviet republics bordering Iran. She will probably be more sympathetic to their concerns in any serious (oil and gas, for example) dispute with Iran. Other than that, Tehran and Moscow are on pretty friendly terms these days.

Then there's Israel, way over there on the Mediterranean coast.

I cannot think of one thing Israel has done to threaten Iran's national security. Am I suffering from amnesia? There's been Israeli rhetoric about bombing Iran's incomplete nuclear plant in Bushehr. But what else? Spying against Iran? Probably. But so what? The Americans, the British, the French, the Germans and the Japanese, to name a few, have their own intelligence network in Iran. Do we feel threatened?

Pro-Israeli forces kidnapped (and probably killed) four Iranian diplomats and a photographer in Lebanon almost twenty years ago. Every effort should be made to find them. But does that justify why we are so strongly opposed to Israel? I just cannot understand this animosity. Is it because we grew up with anti-Israeli slogans and now it's stuck in our minds without really thinking about it?

You may say Israel is a threat to Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria. Okay. Why is that any concern of ours, to the point that it has become a key component of Iran's foreign policy? Why is Iran denouncing Yasser Arafat's attempts to achieve peace with Israel? Beh maa cheh? Like it or not, he is the legitimate leader of most Palestinians. Who are we to tell Palestinians what they should or shouldn't do? Wouldn't you laugh at a Palestinian if he told us what WE should or shouldn't do?

Virtually ALL Arab states have either accepted Israel's right to exist, are trying to negotiate some sort of peace deal with her, or established diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv. And then Ayatollah Khamenei makes speeches left and right about how Israel must be destroyed. Ajabaa! Let's assume every Iranian Muslim has a duty to help oppressed Muslims. What about oppressed Muslims next door in Afghanistan? What about oppressed Muslims in Algeria? What about oppressed Muslims in Egypt? Haalaa cheraa jaaye doori bereem?... What about oppressed Muslims at HOME?

We have all these pressing, REAL issues in our own country, and with so many of our immediate neighbors, and then we act like Israel is Enemy Number One. Please, someone, help me understand. Have I gone mad?

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Jahanshah Javid

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