Israel doesn't fear an Iranian nuke, but the rise of a Persian economic powerhouse

Israel doesn't fear an Iranian nuke, but the rise of a Persian economic powerhouse
6 min read
17 Dec, 2021
Israel does not fear an Iranian nuclear weapon, what it truly fears is a regional economic rival who could upend the status quo in regards to the Palestinians, writes Richard Silverstein.
Israeli Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi takes part in a candle lightning ceremony with Israeli soldiers on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in occupied Jerusalem on 29 November 2021. [Getty]

Trita Parsi, the co-founder of the Quincy Institute, just published an incisive essay last week criticizing US President Biden's policy toward Iran, and its obsequiousness to Israel.  Parsi argues that the US made a major strategic mistake at the beginning of his term when it delayed re-entering the JCPOA agreement for several months, during which Iran's moderate government was toppled and replaced with a hardline clerical regime.

During this period, Biden was attempting in vain to negotiate with Israel an understanding which would allow them both to be on the same page regarding the proposed nuclear deal. But the US discovered, to its chagrin, that no deal would ever satisfy Israel. The result, Parsi argues, is precious lost time. 

But perhaps there needs to be a realization that the US should sever itself from the possibility for a shared understanding with Israel regarding such an agreement. It should instead pursue its own interests without regard to Israel's threats (against Iran) and complaints (about the JCPOA agreement); because Israel has engaged in manipulation, projecting a doomsday scenario regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions. Nor has it ever offered a reasonable or pragmatic approach to nuclear negotiations with Iran.

"Israel is accustomed to reigning supreme in the region -- both militarily and commercially. What it wants, it gets -- either by negotiation,  threat or force"

Parsi mentions a recent New York Times article that makes several shocking claims regarding Israel's position. First, Israeli intelligence sources maintain that Iran currently has a covert nuclear military program whose goal is to produce a nuclear weapon and missile delivery system: "Israeli officials...believe that Iran has continued a clandestine effort to build a bomb since 2003."

This astonishing assertion flies in the face of NSA and CIA reports which assure us that Iran ended such a program in 2003, nor has the IAEA made such a claim. Why would the NYT publish such an unsupported claim? Why would the Biden administration put any credence in it? Yet, we continually act as if every Israel says is true, and everything Israel does is legitimate.

Second, the NYT story says that Israel is demanding the right to continue sabotaging Iran's nuclear infrastructure even after a nuclear deal is reached: "Israeli leaders say they want a guarantee from the Biden administration that Washington will not seek to restrain their sabotage campaign, even if a renewed nuclear deal is reached."

To make such a commitment is basically to permit a toxin to slowly poison the agreement and eventually destroy it. But does the Biden administration have the will and conviction to say "no" to Israel, and put some teeth in it if Israel defies it?  So far, this seems doubtful.


This brought to mind a question: what are Israel's real interests in transforming Iran into an existential threat? It claims, of course, that its main fear is an Iranian bomb. Even though Iran does not have one, has sworn it will not make one and ended its nuclear military program in 2003. For this and many other reasons, I am sceptical of this claim.

Israel also claims, to dramatize the world's fear of Iran, that it is the "world's worst state sponsor of terrorism;" and that it arms proxies like Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iraqi Shiite militias throughout the region; and that its ultimate goal is to create a "land bridge" through Syria to the Mediterranean. Iran, in these wild-eyed scenarios, is an aggressive expansionist state seeking Shiite hegemony.

While it is true that one of these proxies, Hezbollah poses a direct threat to Israel on its border with Lebanon, neither Iran nor its allies pose an existential threat to the Israeli state.

What Israel fears is an Iran that is economically and commercially unleashed to realize its full potential. If agreements can be reached regarding these issues, and all economic sanctions are lifted, Iran would become, almost overnight, an economic powerhouse. Its population is highly educated, technically advanced, and has entrepreneurial spirit and acumen. Besides, Iran would have enormous potential to exploit its oil resources, which would power economic and infrastructure development.

Israel is accustomed to reigning supreme in the region - both militarily and commercially. What it wants, it gets - either by negotiation, threat or force. Though there have been military threats Israel faces, it has never confronted a nation that is both a fierce military and economic rival. That is a development Israel's leaders seek to avoid at all costs.

If the Biden administration was wise, it would see the benefit of an Iranian state serving as a deterrent to Israeli hegemony and aggression. If the US wishes to lessen its commitments to the Middle East to pursue its interests in Asia, it must address the power imbalance in the former. An Israel rampant means continued destabilization and security threats. An Israel whose ambitions were constrained by a serious competing rival would create a balance of power, and the stability the region has lacked for nearly a century.

Not to mention, that the US and Iran would have much to offer each other in the fields of technology, scientific research, and entrepreneurial innovation. In some sense, America owes it to the Iranians - through our 70 years of meddling in their affairs from the 1953 Mossadegh coup till today - to make things right.

Iran serves another important interest for Israeli leaders. One of their primary goals is to maintain the status quo with the Palestinians. They have for decades engaged in the charade of supporting a two-state solution while doing everything in their power to duck any commitment to it. The ensuing stalemate has created tension and ongoing wars with the Palestinians.

"This is not an abstract issue. For as long as Israel remains mired in this toxic status quo, the region remains a powder keg on the brink of explosion"

Israel has milked this conflict for all it's worth, with claims that Palestinians are untrustworthy, corrupt, violent and terrorists. This eases the pressure that Israel might feel from western states like the EU and US, to seriously negotiate a long-term solution that would involve territorial compromise.

Another key element in Israel's strategy is to create a bogeyman, an external existential threat that would resonate with foreign states and relieve any pressure to compromise. As long as there is such an Iranian threat, Israel can point to it and divert all attention from the Palestinian issue.

Iran is a manufactured issue. A useful excuse for inaction. A means of avoiding painful compromise. Israeli strategic policy has always been based on such cynical considerations. When will the world see through them and stop coddling Israel? When will it exert sufficient pressure and pain to force Israel to do what it resists with all its might?

This is not an abstract issue. For as long as Israel remains mired in this toxic status quo, the region remains a powder keg on the brink of explosion. Any spark, even the slightest one, could set off a regional conflagration. It is in the world's interest to intervene before such a tragedy happens.

Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog and is a freelance journalist specialising in exposing secrets of the Israeli national security state. He campaigns against opacity and the negative impact of Israeli military censorship.

Follow him on Twitter: @richards1052

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.