Meanwhile, in the United States, neo-conservatives are primed with a decade-long program to attack Iran that they have conveniently grafted onto the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict.
Yet, the Sunni states and the neo-conservatives are mistaken in their analysis and in their strategic goals.
The Sunni states seem to hope that the Shiite world as a whole will be weakened through Israel's actions. But no magic Israeli bullet will eliminate the need of the nations in the region to come to peaceful terms with Iran, which grows stronger and more prosperous every day with every American misstep and every increase in the price of oil. Nor can the Sunni states avoid accommodating the significant, growing non-Iranian Shiite population in the region.
As for the neo-conservatives, their basic thesis on Iran can be found in an article by William Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard and London's Financial Times on July 16: "No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah. No Islamic Republic of Iran, no one to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. No Iranian support for Syria ... little state sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah."
But Hamas and Hezbollah are not puppets. They have control of their own actions and destinies. More importantly, the neo-conservatives' proposed action -- attacking Iran militarily -- is acknowledged by American military strategists to be impractical and potentially ineffective at this time. Even if the United States or Israel could successfully destroy the Iranian government through a military attack, this action would not curtail violence against Israel. More specifically, it would not destroy Hezbollah or Hamas.
Hamas was founded in 1987, but its pedigree predates the Iranian Revolution since its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, dates back to the 19th century. Iran has no control at all over Hamas' actions or its political agenda. The closest Iran comes to actually influencing Hamas is through financial support, provided based on a general open appeal from Hamas leader Khaled Mesha'al after Hamas won the election in Palestine.
Iran was instrumental in the birth of Hezbollah in the early 1980s, when it was the only defense available for the Shiite community. However, though Hezbollah uses Iranian arms, former CIA analyst and now Georgetown University professor Daniel Byman wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2003 that Iran "lacks the means to force a significant change in the [Hezbollah] movement and its goals. It has no real presence on the ground in Lebanon..."
In short, both Hamas and Hezbollah have their own history, their own reasons for existing, and their own agendas regarding Israel and the West. They are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with an Iranian agenda. Yet the neo-conservatives still say: destroy the state supporters, in this case Iran, and the offending groups will be destroyed in turn.
This spiel should sound ominously familiar to Washington policy makers. It was the precise formula promulgated by a major group of neo-conservative advisors, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, to then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996. They called for the overthrow of the governments of Iraq, Iran and Syria, on the theory that this would undercut support for groups opposing Israel. Again in 1998, many of the same neo-cons, along with Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, advocated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, in part to obtain security for Israel.
Washington should reject the neo-conservative agenda and instead reach out to Iran. Many Westerners may find it hard to believe that Iran could ever play a positive role in a conflict of this sort. Yet Iran craves the respect of the international community more than any other commodity one might offer, and relishes the idea that it might be offered a respectful position as a peacemaker. Iran has hinted in the recent past that it would drop its hostile posture toward Israel if relations with the United States were to improve.
Though the Islamic Republic does not directly influence the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas, they offer a way to talk to the two groups. Iran has been willing to serve as mediator in the past in the region, notably in working with Armenia and Azerbaijan, and has garnered bona fides for its efforts.
Vilifying Iran is not doing anyone any good. But talking to them and asking them for a little help might do a great deal to bring peace to the region.
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July 20, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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