Interview with Yevgeny Satanovsky, President of the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies
Mr. Satanovsky, after a relatively calm summer, today we are again seeing a resurgence of Israeli-Palestinian tensions in the Middle East, a situation fraught with all sorts of implications. Would you agree with this?
The Israeli-Palestinian standoff is as typical a situation for the region as is Israel’s political infighting or the civil war in the Palestinian-administered territories. This is a fact of life, just as the fact that every day the sun rises somewhere near Japan and moves westward.
A “mop-up operation” was planned in the Gaza Strip for this summer and a military commandant was appointed. It became apparent that Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip only provoked a civil war there. Hamas no longer has the situation under control and, with a big war with Iran round the corner, Israel needs to mop up the sites where Iranian missiles are based. After all, the Gaza Strip is in effect a territory controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran, ruled from Teheran.
Those mop-up operation plans were eventually thwarted by the Freedom Flotilla, a brilliantly orchestrated Iranian-Turkish operation the implementation of which Turkey took upon itself. There’s no war, but the situation has not improved. Temperatures usually drop in the fall, and when the temperature is lower it’s easier to fight, and simpler to manipulate terrorists. I expect a serious Iranian-Israeli conflict to break out in the fall. Iran regards southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip as two of its most important footholds.
So the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is nothing but a prelude to some dramatic developments around Iran? And you do not exclude a military strike against Iran?
A war with Iran is still on the Israeli government’s agenda and it will stay there until the Iranian leadership recognizes the state of Israel’s right to exist. There was a time when Iran was one of Israel’s close allies, but today it has become its main and strongest adversary. Turkey used to be one of Israel’s allies as well, but now their relations are going from bad to worse.
It is impossible to predict with any certainty how events in the region will unfold. As of today, the likelihood of a military conflict breaking out is quite high. If the conflict fails to be resolved and the mutual recriminations continue, this conflict could lead to a nuclear catastrophe, since Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb in the foreseeable future. The George W. Bush Administration and that of the incumbent U.S. president, Barack Obama, have failed to nip Iran’s plans to build nuclear weapons in the bud.
But should that transpire, Israel will have the means to retaliate, won’t it?
In this context it would be appropriate to cite Golda Meir’s remark, that Israel holds no nuclear bombs, but will use them in case of necessity. In the event of a nuclear strike Israel will have no option but to retaliate in kind.
Recently Iran has been waging a proxy war against Israel, using the Arabs as its intermediaries. The two most recent military campaigns attest to this: the second Lebanese war and the Cast Lead operation in Gaza. These were actually Iranian-Israeli wars. Iran always tries to wage its wars on foreign soil and with minimal losses for itself. It doesn’t care that Arab fighters were killed in these hostilities – the important thing is that no Iranian lives were lost. Today Iran is also at war with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And in this case Israel is just a pretext for rallying behind Ayatollah Khamenei, who has proclaimed himself the main challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose recent re-election caused turmoil in the Islamic Republic. But Iran will never take on Saudi Arabia or Egypt in a one-to-one fight.
The Iranian leadership must understand that the use of nuclear weapons would be disastrous for their country. We are talking, apart from anything else, about huge economic and military damage. Can’t the Iranian side foresee all the inevitable horrible consequences of using nuclear weapons? And would you agree that behind these threats to carry out a nuclear strike against Israel there is only a political game aimed at gaining certain benefits?
This looks more like the European interpretation. The modern world put the era of religious wars behind it when people realized that taking an enemy’s life at the cost of one’s own was not worthwhile.
Iran’s rulers are all deeply religious. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sincerely believes that those who attack will win and that if they die they will go straight to Heaven. He’s convinced that it will take an apocalyptic event to wipe the “infidels” off the face of the Earth. In Iran, people’s beliefs are different. Likewise, we have every reason to wonder whether Nazi Germany was really aware it was fighting on two fronts and the risks that involved? Those who unleashed religious wars in Europe also believed in divine intervention, which would ensure their ultimate victory. Well, such a viewpoint has some logic to it.
Mr. Satanovsky, thank you for your time and comments.
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