Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Israel talks, Iran walks

Israel talks, Iran walks

Eyal Zisser

The Iranian nuclear issue has dominated the Israeli agenda for quite some time now. Thus, despite the terror attacks in Bulgaria and Sinai, the firestorm in Syria, or even the social justice protests in Israel that refuse to fade away — despite all these, the Iranian nuclear issue continues to impose itself on our public discourse.

It happens through public declarations by senior Israeli officials, current and retired, in favor or against an Israeli strike in Iran; sometimes through leaked information attributed to some senior, nameless American official preaching to Israel what it should do about the threats to its national security; and finally, it occasionally comes in the form of fiery declarations by an Iranian general, usually stemming from fear and distress, of an impending apocalyptic war in our region if his country is attacked. All of this teaches us one thing — the Iranian hour glass is running out of sand.

However, despite the amplified public discourse in Israel — which is mostly unnecessary and damaging — Tehran is going about its own business. The truth is that the Iranian public is primarily preoccupied with the country's dire economic situation, the result of severe sanctions imposed on Iran in recent months by the international community.

The lack of basic goods, the high cost of living and other difficulties, especially evident during the Ramadan month of fasting, have not added to the regime's popularity. It does not seem, however, that these factors are enough to shake the regime's stability or force it to change course.

Ironically, Iran's youth, who were the first to take to the streets back in June 2009 to protest the oppressive ayatollah regime, were left on the sideline watching from a distance as the Arab Spring spread like wildfire through the region but skipped Iran. In a nutshell, if anyone is waiting for a regime change in Iran — which will happen one of these days — they will have to wait for a long time.

In the meantime, Iran is not hesitating to send its long arm into far-off arenas. Its agents are involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli targets across the globe. In Syria, Tehran has been a stalwart supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's teetering regime. Iran is also continuing to invest in its two flagship projects, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Such activity serves to teach us that Iran does not feel the sword pressing against its neck and that it has the energy and wherewithal not only to prepare its defenses against an American or Western military strike on its nuclear installations, but to exhibit a proactive policy of global initiatives, even reaching Israel's borders.

It seems that Iran hasn't been convinced yet that the international community, and the U.S. in particular, will do everything possible to destroy the Iranian nuclear program. One can assume that the reverberations from the heated public discourse in Israel have caused the Iranians to doubt Israeli decisiveness on the matter. The discussion about the progress of Iran's nuclear program should be left to the experts. It is clear that the theoretical discussion in 2003 and the factually informed discussion in 2008 are, as time goes by, turning into critical, unavoidable debates. One of the key questions is whether our timeframe is in months, or weeks.

Now is the time to do everything possible to recruit the international community, especially the U.S., for a last-ditch effort before it becomes too late to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Otherwise Israel will be left with the rather unappealing choice of either attacking Iran or coming to terms with an Iranian nuclear bomb.