Adrian Hamilton: Israel is just using Iran to stall progress on the Middle East

Israel is not Iran's primary concern, or target, and never has been

Share
Related Topics

It is sometimes said that if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran did not exist, the Israelis would have to invent. him. What better proof do you need of the dire threat that the country faces than a man who says the state of Israel should be expunged from the map of the Middle East?

Iran obsesses Israel. Talk to any Israeli, listen to any speech by an Israeli politician, examine the security policy being developed by the new government of Benyamin Netanyahu and Iran is always there – a looming menace threatening the country with nuclear attack and driving on its surrogates Hamas and Hizbollah to harry the Jewish state

The reason for this obsession is obvious enough. While Iran may not threaten Israel directly with armed invasion, its development of nuclear technology poses a particular challenge to Israel's security as the sole nuclear power in the region. Add to that Iran's support of Hamas and Hizbollah and it is easy to see how it could be seen as the overriding cause of Israeli concern. However real those fears may be, it is also true that it suits Israel to build up Iran as the great danger to its existence. With the fall of Saddam Hussein, it has needed an enemy formidable enough to justify its continued retention of secret nuclear weapons and its claim that security must override all other considerations in its policy towards its neighbours, the more so now the US is moving towards direct talks with Iran, and putting pressure on the new Israeli government to enter substantive talks with the Palestinians.

Indeed, in his visit to Washington this week, the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, very specifically used Iran as the counter to those pressures. Yes, said Peres, preparing the way for the visit of Netanyahu later this month, we will talk to the Palestinians but you will have to help neutralise Iran in exchange. As a "grand bargain" it is a clever piece of politics. As an actual way forward, President Obama would be wrong even to consider it. Wrapping up Iran and Palestine in this way would only make a solution to either that much more difficult. Iran may indeed pose a problem of regional security.

Even if you do suspect Iran of the worst of intentions in developing nuclear technology – and it vehemently denies any wish to produce nuclear weapons – its motivations seem far more driven by its fear of military attack by the US and encirclement by hostile Sunni Arab nations (George Bush gave it plenty of cause to worry on both counts) than any ambition to assault Israel.

Ahmadinejad certainly finds it useful to ramp up the anti-Zionist rhetoric as a means of proclaiming Iran's Islamic credentials in the Arab street. Iran also finds it useful to help fund and arm radical movements in the region, partly for the same reason. But Israel is not its primary concern, or target, and never has been, even under Ayatollah Khomeini, while to accuse Hamas and Hizbollah of being just proxies for Tehran is completely to misunderstand the nature of these groups and create a convenient excuse for not coming to terms with them. If Obama and the West are to engage with Iran, they will have to do so on its own terms. Entangling the issue with Israel's demands will simply prove counter-productive.

Nor is the association very helpful in dealing with the Palestinian issue. At the moment, America and Israel are on a collision course. Netanyahu's government has drawn back from the concept of a two-state solution and shows no sign of changing tack on settlement building or any other of the contentious issues. Obama's administration on the other hand is insisting that Israel should stop settlement expansion and pursue talks with the aim of setting up a separate Palestinian state.

There was nothing in Shimon Peres's speech this week to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee that suggested Netanyahu's government was ready to make any great concessions to the Palestinians. But then there was nothing in Vice-President Joe Biden's address to the same assembly to indicate that the US administration is prepared to pull back on its demand for an end to settlements and the two-state solution. Throwing Iran into the mix is not going to help. It merely confuses the issue to Netanyahu's benefit.

If nuclear proliferation in the Middle East really is Israel's primary concern, perhaps it can take a leaf out of Obama's book and offer to put its own nuclear arsenal into the discussion. It would certainly put the ball back in Iran's court if it did.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence