Can America Block Iran´s Drive for Regional Hegemony? (JCPA) (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor Vol. 10, No. 36 April 10, 2011)
JCPA-Jerusalem Center Public Affairs
JCPA-Jerusalem Center Public Affairs Articles-Index-Top
-In the Arab-Israeli conflict, the addition of a religious layer to
the conflict is new. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah are all
religiously-based. When one speaks and acts for God, there is no
-Iran is a nation of merchants, and it needs the world and its
financial system. This gives leverage to those who want to do
something about its nuclear plans. If there is leadership, resolve,
and persistence, with more sanctions, and more partners in the game,
there is a chance that Iran will have to rethink its policy. Europe
can do more. The volume of trade between certain European countries
and Iran remains quite heavy.
-In the end, this battle will determine the standing of the United
States and its power and role in the world in the 21st century. I
believe that America has enough power to reinvent itself economically
and restore the power that it had, but the perception that Iran is
spreading is just the opposite.
-Israel is part of the camp that America has been leading for the
last 70 years in terms of values, way of life, and democracy. It is
important to us that this camp not lose its power in the world, and
that is why a strong America is a very clear Israeli interest,
regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans are in power.
The Paradigm of War Has Changed
Compare the United States with its arsenal and al-Qaeda; of course
the United States is much stronger. The Israeli army is much stronger
than Hizbullah or Hamas, but the wars with Hizbullah in 2006 and
Hamas in 2009 did not end in unconditional surrender of the other
side. Success does bring deterrence, but not surrender.
Years ago it was important to know what was happening with your
neighbor because he could attack you, but Manhattan was attacked from
Afghanistan. The whole world becomes a potential enemy or ally. The
modern technological era has reduced the importance of borders for
barring information, people, or missiles. Nations can no longer
control the flow of information. People are much more powerful, while
states are less so. This also means that the bad guys become very
potent as well.
This has meant a change in the nature of war. Wars are now fought
where everybody sees them in real time on television. This puts
limits on what you can do in an open world today. The stronger side
becomes weaker because everyone can see what he does, while the
weaker side becomes stronger because everyone can see what is done to
him. It does not mean that the strong side is bad and the weak side
is good, but it changes the nature of war.
The players also now include non-state actors. Most threatening to
some Arab regimes is the Al-Jazeera television channel. Other
important actors that are not states include the Taliban, al-Qaeda,
Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, and Hamas.
Another new factor is a return to religion in the Muslim world, as in
other parts of the world. If you ask people how they identify
themselves, in the past you would hear many people speak of their
Arab identity as their first identity. Today more people will say
that they are first of all Muslim. The Taliban, Islamic Jihad, al-
Qaeda, Hamas, and Hizbullah are all religiously-based. When one
speaks and acts for God, there is no compromise. In the Arab-Israeli
conflict, the addition of this religious layer to the conflict is
new. Egypt´s Nasser never said that he fights for Allah against the
Jews, nor did the Syrians or Jordanians. Now one hears from Iran,
Hizbullah, and Hamas that there cannot be a non-Muslim state here.
The Iran-America Conflict
The most important conflict that is developing in the world today is
the Iran-America conflict over the nuclearization of Iran. If Iran
does go nuclear, this will have implications for the world order as
we know it. First, it may spell the end of the Nuclear Non-
Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime. Some countries, such as Egypt,
have said that if Iran goes nuclear, they would too. Others may do it
without saying it. In a world in which more countries are going
nuclear, rather than giving up on nuclear weapons or playing within
the rules, the ability of the superpowers to intervene will be harder
and perhaps non-existent.
The alliance between the West and the Arab Gulf area states has been
based on those states giving access to oil - a key element in the
world economy. At the same time, the West/America is leading the
defense of those regimes against radical movements. Those countries
have been concerned with Iranian nuclearization, which would mean
Iranian hegemony, coupled with the declared Iranian policy of
exporting its revolution. If America and the West cannot protect
them, they might go along with Iran. Think of a world where Iran and
its allies have such an influence over the price of oil.
Out of the 1.4 billion Muslims, the vast majority want, like every
human being, a good life and stability, although not necessarily
democracy. Yet in all these societies there are minority groups that
want to destabilize this way of life and create something new and
more religiously observant, as they understand it. They are fighting
a battle against Western ideas, such as equality of women, and
against basic freedoms, such as freedom of speech. All of them are
looking at the Iran-America conflict to see who will win. A victory
for Iran is a victory for all these groups. Think of how arrogant
Hizbullah may become if Iran wins over America. Think of how arrogant
Hamas will be vis-ŗ-vis the PLO.
Iran has added the religious element to the conflict in a very
detrimental way, playing its hand through the proxies it has in this
area. Hizbullah is a unique phenomenon, a Lebanese party that is
also Syrian and Iranian. Hizbullah leader Nasrallah calls himself the
personal emissary of Iran´s Supreme Leader. Here you see more
evidence of a change from a national to a religious identification.
Nasrallah is an Arab and Lebanese by nationality, and a close friend
and military ally of a non-Arab, non-Lebanese, Persian Iranian called
Ahmadinejad, fighting against other Arabs and Lebanese. This is
because Nasrallah and his followers are first and foremost Shiites,
which is more important to them than all the other components.
Iran and Syria support Hizbullah with weapons systems, intelligence,
training, and an ideology of delegitimizing and liquidating Israel.
Hizbullah has 50,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel from the
north, more than any other country in the world. Hamas and Islamic
Jihad in Gaza, which are Sunni, have more than 5,000 rockets aimed at
Israel, some of them from Iran and Syria.
Preventing Iranian Hegemony
What is the exact point at which we say that Iran is nuclear? Every
day of enrichment, Iran gets closer to its goal. Every day in which
they build more missiles with which to launch warheads, they get
closer. Every day they proceed with the weaponization process, they
get closer. It has not happened as quickly and as successfully as
they wanted it to happen, but the world needs to act so that the
world order is not totally undermined by an Iranian nuclear
capability as well as its possible hegemony within the Muslim world.
This ongoing battle between America and its allies and Iran is of
major importance to all of us. We should not ask others to fight for
us. However, if there is real world interest in stopping Iranian
hegemony and its nuclear capability, then they may do something about
it in time.
As the Iranians continue with their nuclear plans, they defy the
West, the UN, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran is an
ancient nation with a proud history and culture. It is a nation of
merchants, and it needs the world and its financial system. This
gives leverage to those who want to do something about its nuclear
plans. Last year we began seeing some steps that were quite
important: UN sanctions, EU sanctions, and U.S. sanctions.
If there is leadership, resolve, and persistence, with more
sanctions, and more partners in the game, there is a chance that Iran
will have to rethink its policy. The United States has been quite
successful in getting the Russians on board for the UN resolution.
Somewhat reluctantly, even the Chinese got on board. Europe appears
determined in declaring the importance of putting an end to the
Iranian attempt to go nuclear, but Europe can do more. The volume of
trade between certain European countries and Iran remains quite
heavy. An organized world has the ability to act in a concerted
manner to make it clear to Iran that it needs to change its policy.
In the end, this battle will determine not only the standing of Iran,
but, to a large extent, the standing of the United States and its
power and role in the world in the 21st century. Iran says that
America is an empire of the past, and that the American economy, the
bedrock of American strength, is weak. I believe that America has
enough power to reinvent itself economically and restore its power,
but the perception that Iran is spreading is just the opposite.
Israel did not need WikiLeaks to know what some neighboring regimes
think of Iran. In meetings with an important American politician who
was in Israel after having visited six or seven Arab countries
regarding the Palestinian-Israeli issue, he said that on average each
meeting was 10 percent about the Palestinian issue and 90 percent
about Iran. If the countries which oppose Iran get weaker, it is
better for Iran. Egypt was one of those countries which stood against
Iran with the West. We do not want to see the strengthening of the
radical axis and the weakening of the moderate axis.
The role of the free world is to support the Iranian opposition. Not
that support will immediately bring them victory, but support is the
main source of their confidence in the possibility of victory. Many
people who lived in the Soviet Union and fought against the Soviet
regime to let the Jews out have said that as long as nobody in the
world knew about them, from the time of Stalin to Brezhnev, there was
little chance of success. When the world started to know and react,
the Jews knew there was a chance of success and this reinforced their
A Strong America is a Very Clear Israeli Interest
It is important that Iran´s perception does not gain a hold on the
thinking of people in the Middle East and around the world. If
America takes an openly stated, clear lead and coalesces with its
natural partners in this campaign, this can improve America´s role in
the world order that all of us want to see. Even though we all have
different state interests, we are part of the camp that America has
been leading for the last 70 years in terms of values, way of life,
and democracy. It is important to us that this camp not lose its
power in the world, and that is why a strong America is a very clear
Israeli interest, regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans
are in power.
Negotiating with Syria?
Syria is the main political ally of Iran in the Arab world. I am one
of those few Israelis who think that we should negotiate with Syria,
not that I like what the Syrian regime is doing. Will there be an
agreement in the end? I know what they want from me, but what I want
from them is a full peace, like Jordan and Egypt. They must stop the
support of terror organizations, including Hizbullah, and cut away
from the Iranian axis. It is an open question whether we can get all
of this. It has to do with the strength of America and Iran. There is
not just an Israeli-Syrian closed circle; there is a bigger circle of
power relationships that needs to be taken into account.
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY