by Zalman Shoval
If America fails to acknowledge that the main threat to regional peace and stability also comes from Iran, its war against Islamic State will never succeed.
"It's not that Arab-Israelis aren't interested in the Palestinian issue," an Arab friend, with dozens of years of political and public service behind him, told me, "it's that more than anything, we, like the Sunnis in the Arab states, are troubled by the trend of Iran's regional expansion, which threatens us all." I was surprised, because from what we hear in the media, not to mention from Arab Knesset members, one could get the impression that nothing outside of the Palestinian issue is any concern whatsoever.
In contrast to my aforementioned friend, certain Israeli politicians and media pundits have been trying to diminish the Iranian threat recently, either because they truly believe what they are saying, or because they are influenced by the United States' official position on the matter, or because their goal is to take a swipe at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is identified more than anyone else with sounding the alarm bells over the Iranian nuclear threat. There are also those who tell us that Hezbollah, not Iran, poses the main threat, without mentioning the fact that the Shiite terrorist organization is an Iranian tentacle and does its bidding.
Some journalists, offering their own interpretation of IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot's statement that the nuclear deal with Iran comes with "risks and opportunities," have gone as far as to posit that he doesn't expect the Iranians to attempt a nuclear breakthrough over the next five years. According to their exegesis, while the chief of staff shared this assessment with Netanyahu, what he really meant was that due to the position Israel shares with most of the Sunni Arab world on the Iranian matter, certain opportunities for establishing practical diplomatic ties with countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have opened up to us -- to counter the Iranian threat. Eizenkot also intimated that during the first five years of the nuclear deal Iran will exploit the relative reprieve it will have received on the diplomatic front, along with the hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief added to its coffers, to sprint toward a bomb once that time period comes to an end.
Wendy Sherman, the Jewish American diplomat who spearheaded the negotiations with Iran, has not hidden her doubts over the consequences of the deal, either, and she has stressed that she also views Iran as a "terrible" country that does "despicable things" and encourages terrorism. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed recently that Tehran is liable to use its newfound financial resources to expand these nefarious activities.
Washington claims that although the deal pertains exclusively to the nuclear aspect, it has achieved its main objective of stunting Iran's race toward a bomb. But the leadership in Tehran interprets things differently. It says: While we have accepted certain temporary restrictions in regards to the nuclear matter, no one can tie our hands on anything else.
Perhaps as a way to divert just a little attention from the questions surrounding the nuclear deal -- Washington and its European partners are now upping their diplomatic and public relations campaign about their fight against the Islamic State group. Look, they are saying, we are fighting the real terrorist threat, and the ties with Iran are even helping us do so. It is insufficient, however, in alleviating the concerns of the Sunni Arab states, chief among them Saudi Arabia -- or Israel's concerns for that matter -- which beyond the nuclear issue are ill at ease over Tehran's unabashed desire to expand its sphere of influence in the region, which it is seeking to accomplish by expanding its conventional weapons arsenal and increasing weapons shipments to Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian terrorist elements in the Middle East.
Indeed, Tehran is increasing its presence in Syria and Lebanon without any obstacles whatsoever. The threat posed by the Islamic State group certainly should not be taken lightly, but defeating it is feasible on condition that the various parties fighting it (or claim to be fighting it) arrive at an agreed-upon position regarding the strategy and tactics that are required, and on the condition that the Sunni Arab states play a part in this strategy. None of this will happen if America fails to acknowledge that the No. 1 threat to regional peace and stability also comes from Iran.
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