Monday, December 11, 2006

Approach Israel-Iran relations with rational mindset

Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, is charged with one of the most salient jobs in the Israeli government. His key task is to formulate Israel’s relationship with Iran. While Israeli-Iranian cooperation has more historical precedent than most people realize, any compromises between the two states at the present time is unlikely. Lieberman took the post about a month ago, and his statements about Iran, as well as the Palestinian conflict, thus far foreshadow what we are likely to see in the coming months.

Lieberman’s strategic approach is demonstrative of the political realism that is so abundant in times of conflict. He has stated that Iran is the one of the most pressing issues facing the Israeli government today.
This view of Iran as such a huge threat is partially due to the lack of stability in the Middle East and the uncertainty regarding which states are going to emerge in the aftermath of the Iraq war as the most powerful. Although Saddam Hussein’s regime was brutal, as is often the case with strong dictators, it was relatively stable. The U.S. occupation and the subsequent civil war in Iraq have contributed to a restructuring of the power balance in the region. As a new status quo is defined, states such as Israel and Iran are both trying to emerge on top of the pile.

Perhaps even more disputed are Lieberman’s recommendations for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He suggests that the surest path to peace is to redraw the borders to create two states that are more culturally homogenous. Not surprisingly, this proposal was rapidly attacked as racist. It is thoroughly unproductive, however, to base our explanations of events on something untestable, such as a decision-maker’s psychological biases. Historically, states with populations fragmented by language and religion, among other factors, are not strong, and Lieberman’s position simply reflects this understanding.

Finally, Lieberman has stated that the best way for Israel to combat security threats from the Palestinians is to focus on the upper levels of leadership in Hamas. This idea also fits nicely with what we would expect from a rational decision-maker. He states, “We need to concentrate on those who have something to lose, the entire upper-echelon of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.” This demonstrates an understanding that, despite the rhetoric we may hear from Hamas leaders, they are the ones in a position of power in the Palestinian government and, therefore, are the ones concerned with staying in power. Focusing on this cohort of Palestinian society will best serve Israel’s interests.

Analyzing the situation in this way can create mechanisms for predicting what political moves are likely in the near future. In this way, we can also ask when and under what conditions would Israel and Iran or Palestine be likely to cooperate. This would advance the peace process more effectively than falling back on moral judgment.

Lydia Pfaff
DI columnist

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