Wednesday 16 May 2012

Israel loves Iran (or does it?)

Michael Young

Talks between Iran and P5+1. Photo: Gettyimages.
The people of Israel are rightly becoming increasingly anxious. What lies in store for their country is far from certain – one week the headlines are that Tel Aviv is planning an imminent strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, the next week Iran has announced that it is prepared to enter into negotiations (which is normally followed by Israel playing down the suggestion that war is on the cards). As I stated in my previous article on the issue of the nuclear question, there are clearly many in the Israeli government that believe time is running out to halt the Iranian nuclear programme, and that a strike should be soon, regardless of the consequences. 
One group of Israelis, recognising this, have decided to act. The recently launched ‘Israel loves Iran’ campaign reflects the worry and uncertainty amongst ordinary citizens. It has gained momentum fast – their most recent video acquired over half a million views on YouTube within about 10 days. The message behind the campaign is powerful and all too often forgotten in war –‘we don’t even know you’. It is, of course, easier to judge opinion in Israel than in Iran, but it is certainly hard to see many Israelis supporting war, knowing that the consequences could easily be rockets from Iranian terrorist organisations in Palestine being directed towards them in response.  Whether or not the campaign becomes internationally renowned and effective may determine whether social networking could be used in this way to prevent war in the future.  
Whilst Iran may be in the later stages of Uranium enrichment, there IS still time to work with the regime and come to some sort of agreement. Sanctions are starting to bite and Iran is feeling the pressure – there are certainly signs that diplomacy could be working.
According to Reuters, A new round of talks are to be held in Turkey in April between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1). It’s been over a year now since the last of such talks in January 2011 broke down, and hopefully this spring will see some progress over the nuclear issue and not an Israeli airstrike as previously suggested by Leon Panetta. The fact remains that Iran does not currently possess nuclear weapons, and if Israel did strike then any weapons programme would be nothing other than delayed, simultaneously giving Iran a more conventional reason to detest the state other than anti-Zionism. Indeed, Iran would have more reason to pursue a weapon than ever before, making future confrontation highly likely. If talks are to happen, they have to happen soon – it was recently reported that later this year may see a conference in Helsinki designed to end the dispute diplomatically and perhaps even move towards a ban of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, but the fact that it is scheduled for December could be too little too late.
However, it has been well documented that Israel would have significant difficulty in implementing the attack successfully anyway, which could be a reason as to why it seems to have been recently relying on Mossad-led covert action instead. Iran’s nuclear programme is dispersed throughout the country at various underground sites – Fordo, for example, is 295 feet underground, and Israel simply do not possess the technology to destroy it. It would have to rely on a significant amount of help and firepower from the United States in order to annihilate Iran’s nuclear programme.
The UK is still waiting for sanctions to take full effect before it takes any further action, and the impact of sanctions will not be clear until either July, when they are comprehensively implemented, or if Iran gives in and concedes economic defeat before then, returning to the negotiating table. Yet with the ‘BRICS’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) recently suggesting that they are certainly not bound by sanctions against Iran, it is hard to see Iran having a severe problem shifting their oil in the immediate future. According to the FCO, Britain wants to restore good relations with Iran at some point, but not until the nuclear question has been solved. It has even set up a new website recently called ‘UK for Iranians’ with the objective of stimulating dialogue between the Iranian people and the UK to make up for the lack of an embassy in Tehran.
Any resolve on the issue is still far from imminent. Whilst the P5+1 states will go into any possible talks next month with only one objective – to get Iran to dismantle its nuclear programme – Iran might see this as an opportunity to gain some significant concessions in return. Tehran isn’t going to give up without a fight, especially as the West has dithered for some time now, allowing the programme to develop into an extensive, costly web of operations scattered throughout the country. Maybe the message that ‘Israel loves Iran’ will fully reach the Iranian people and the regime will be pressured to change course. Optimistic, to say the least. 

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