Much of the international spotlight these past two weeks has focused on Israel, which, according to political analysts, is exactly what Iran wants – to deflect attention from its nuclear pursuits.
Even as the U.N. Security Council passed another round of sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, worldwide concern grew that the Islamic Republic could spark a military conflict in an attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Turkey, which launched last week’s flotilla, has increasingly aligned itself with Iran – which also pulls the strings of Hamas and Hezbollah – stoking more fears of a new regional terror-supporting alliance.
“Iran has been stirring the pot,” said Leonard Cole, an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers, Newark. “It’s no secret that weapons from Iran and individuals from Iran have found their way to Gaza – smuggled in via Iran’s friends from Syria and elsewhere.”
The Iranian Red Crescent – the equivalent of the Red Cross – announced plans this week that it planned to launch its own aid flotilla to Gaza. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has said that it would escort such a flotilla if ordered.
“To openly engage Israeli forces, which is what would happen if openly identified Iranian contingents tried to break the blockade, would be a huge escalation in Middle East tension to have Israeli and Iranian military forces shooting at each other,” Cole said. “If initiated in Israel’s neighborhood, it could well escalate into Israeli military action much closer to or directly at Iran.”
The Iranians are trying to make a statement, said Iran analyst and Fox News guest commentator Lisa Daftari. And, she added, Israel has not said how it would specifically respond to such a provocation – except that it would not allow Iranian ships through the blockade.
“Iran has flexed its muscles and shown it can politically run circles around our government,” said Daftari, a Paramus native. “While we’re having summits and meetings, thinking how to next negotiate with Iran, Iran is carrying on its own agenda.”
Cole does not believe Iran would carry out its threat to openly send military forces to Gaza because it’s not interested in a conflict in the Mediterranean. Daftari declined to hazard a guess as to what might happen if Iran tries to break the blockade, but said the government is looking to shift blame onto Israel for any regional conflict. If the activists aboard last week’s flotilla actually cared about getting aid to the Palestinians, she said, they would have diverted to Israel’s Ashdod port as requested.
“The Palestinian people are not the main issue,” she said. “There’s an Islamist agenda here that Iran has been carrying on for years.”
Iran would like to get rid of Israel, said Dan Kurzman, the North Bergen resident who penned biographies of former Israeli Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. Mutually Assured Destruction kept the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal in check during the Cold War, but Kurzman does not think that policy would work with Iran.
“These guys in Iran are not rational,” he said. “If they’re willing to kill themselves because God wants them to, why should they care if they kill a million Jews? This is really dangerous.”
To head off the Iranian threat, Israel needs to make peace with the Palestinians, Kurzman said. After that, it can more easily forge deals with the rest of the Arab world against Iran.
“The Arab world doesn’t fear Israel,” Kurzman said, “but it does fear Iran.”
Because of this, Israel has a chance to pull the Arabs to its side – if it can make peace with the Palestinians, Kurzman said.
“Iran says they want to destroy Israel with an atom bomb and they’re close to getting a bomb. All of this wouldn’t have happened if there was peace,” he said. “They wouldn’t have an excuse for getting a bomb.”
The author cast blame on Israel not just for its handling of the Mavi Marmara, but also what he called the collective punishment of Gaza. He agreed that cargo should be inspected before entering the coastal strip but he railed against the blockade.
“It’s the wrong policy from the beginning,” he said. “You don’t punch everybody for what the terrorists do. It’s really shooting yourself in the foot. Israel is now in a terrible position where the whole world’s against them.”
Despite the provocations aboard the Mavi Marmara, Kurzman said, Israel made a mistake in the way it handled the activists.
“There are ways of stopping a ship and making them come to a halt and eventually getting on board to check on this stuff,” he said. “It’s riot control. There was a riot aboard the ship, and in a riot you don’t just shoot into crowds. This was a terrible mistake that could have been avoided.”
Kurzman recalled that after the Six Day War, Ben-Gurion said there was no chance of making peace if Israel didn’t give up the west bank. Neither Ben-Gurion nor Rabin would have agreed to give up Gaza without a peace treaty, though, Kurzman noted. He called the disengagement from Gaza an “absolute disaster.”
“Israel brought this on itself,” Kurzman said. “That’s the great tragedy of history. Israel thinks it’s invincible, but it isn’t.”