#FCBBCA Israel and Iran: Countdown to war? – The report

December 14, 2012

By Jim Treadway

Will 2013 see an escalation in tensions between Israel and Iran?  The Frontline Club in association with BBC Arabic brought together an expert panel to decipher the drumbeat of war and predict what 2013 may hold.

Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow began by telling an audience at LSE’s Sheikh Zayed Theatre on 12 December, that the consequences of military strikes would be “unbelievably catastrophic”.

From left: Meir Javedanfar, Azadeh Moaveni, Jon Snow, Abdel Bari Atwan, and Scott Peterson debate war and peace between Israel and Iran in the Sheikh Zayed Theatre at the London School of Economics.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in chief of the London-based Arabic newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, opened the debate by stating he feels war is imminent.  Iran is tripping into the same fate that awaited Iraq during the last two decades, he said:

“When I say the comparison with Saddam Hussein and Iran, it is because the Israelis…want these weapons actually to be exclusive to the Israelis so they can scare the people from the Middle East and they can actually expand as they like…

The Israelis are preparing themselves…  The war against Gaza, which lasted about eight days, it was to test the Iranian missiles [from Hamas]…to test the Iron Domes, which [are] supposed to actually intercept all kinds of missiles…from Iran in particular.”

Toward this agenda, America supported Israel, Atwan said:

“[The U.S.] doesn’t want any regional superpower to possess nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction in order to threaten [its] domination of the oil fields in the Gulf. That’s facts…  Saddam Hussein tried to do so, and he paid the price – his regime [was] deposed. The Iranians are repeating the same mistakes in the eyes of the Israelis and the Americas.”

Israeli-Iranian analyst Meir Javedanfar disagreed:

“It’s not because we don’t want the Iranians to have nuclear weapons. It’s because of this regime…  [It] has called for Israel to be eliminated, time and time again… [It] has put its hatred into action. We saw in the Second Intifada, 700 Israelis were killed by suicide bombings paid by Iranian money, half of it at least… You would not want that regime to have a nuclear weapon.”

Moreover, Javedanfar added:

“I don’t think there will be war…  We see that the sanctions and the diplomacy are [already] hurting the Iranian regime very badly…

[And] I don’t see Ayatollah Khomeini having the confidence to tell his officers that, ‘tomorrow we’re going to kick out all the IAEA inspectors, we’re going to take that enriched uranium…and we’re going to make a bomb with it,’ because the moment he does that, that’s the moment he’s going to risk an American attack.”

Other panelists Azadeh Moaveni, former Middle East correspondent for Time magazine and Scott Peterson, journalist and photographer, agreed with Javedanfar that war seems improbable.

Javedanfar thought injustice in Palestine, rather than nuclear saber-rattling in Tehran, was ultimately Israel’s greatest danger:

“Israel’s security? You know what? We can beat the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime doesn’t scare me. [But] if these guys, the Palestinian people, don’t have a state, that is an existential threat to the security of the state of Israel.”

The panel mostly agreed, with relief, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been particularly vocal in antagonizing Iran, seems somewhat isolated on this issue within Israel itself.

When the topic turned to sanctions against Iran, echoes of Iraq reemerged.  Moaveni argued that they destroy goodwill and are excessively cruel.

“It is becoming impossible to be middle class anymore in Iran,” she said. “This is the slow dying of the Iran middle class…  Do we want to impoverish another major Middle Eastern middle class the way we’ve done [in Iraq]?”

Snow ended the discussion by highlighting the need for the West to engage Iranians with the respect he thinks they crave.  And to resolve tensions, he offered his own alternative:

“When you spend time on the streets in Shiraz, in Tehran… you meet young people who look west.  This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the region.  These people look remorselessly west… And, you go around, and you ask people, and they want ipads!  That’s why I’ve always said:  if you want to bomb Iran, bomb it with ipads…  That’s what people want…  They want life. And they want joy…  It isn’t as if they crave a prayer-mat.”

Watch the full event here: