TORONTO — A leading Iranian policy expert from Israel believes the Islamic Republic’s acquisition of nuclear weapons capacity is not the Middle East’s biggest problem.
“It’s the proliferation of this technology that is most worrying,” according to Meir Javedanfar, an adjunct professor at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, where he teaches contemporary Iranian politics.
Javedanfar was on his first visit and speaking tour of Canada last week, giving talks to various Jewish groups as well as to private gatherings at the Canadian Forces College the Mackenzie Institute in Toronto and the Royal Canadian Military College in Kingston.
Born in Iran, schooled in England and now living in Israel, he has become one of the top experts in the field of Israeli-Iranian relations, as well as an expert on the motivations behind Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies and the country’s regime under Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
In an interview with The CJN, Javedanfar said he told his Canadian listeners that Ahmadinejad is the weakest president Iran has had in the last 20 years, and that his presidency will be over in March because he will be at the end of his third and final term.
Beyond that, Ahmadinejad has been marginalized within his own party and by Khameini, who now views him as a liability, and he’s also lost the confidence of the people, Javedanfar said.
Aside from Ahmadinejad’s “unacceptable” comments toward Israel – he has repeatedly called for the destruction of the Jewish state and is a Holocaust denier – the more pressing issue, according to Javedanfar, is Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.
He said while Iran is not “a suicidal actor” and has no intention of using its weapons, if developed, the scarier prospect is the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology across the region.
“Particularly if Saudi Arabia gets them,” he said. “It would create instability in the Middle East. The concept of ‘mutually assured destruction’ worked [during the Cold War] because there were only two sides. Can you imagine if it were six sides in the equation? You’re leaving it wide open for misunderstandings. Besides that, we don’t need any more states threatening Israel’s existence.”
He said Iran is likely still about three years away from being able to develop the technology, and now is the time for the world to impose as many sanctions as possible and make full use of diplomatic efforts to curb the country’s nuclear ambitions.
Javedanfar noted that Iran’s Jewish community – some 10,000 people – is treated well by the public.
“Iranians overwhelmingly do not want Israel eliminated. However, many do want a two-state solution and believe Palestinians deserve to have their country also,” he said.
Regarding Israeli-Iranian and Israeli-Palestinian relations, Javedanfar believes in the mantra “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He discourages military options by Israel against Iran and also laments Israel’s current domestic strategy of building settlements in the West Bank.
“I disagree wholeheartedly with those who say the world is naturally inclined to be against Israel,” he said. “This is not 1932 anymore. It’s 2011. We can use the UN to strengthen Israel’s position. There are ways of doing that, one of which is to stop the current expansion of settlements in Israel to strengthen Israel’s diplomatic muscle” on the world stage.
He said securing Israel’s future can be achieved through diplomacy and foreign ministries, unlike in the past when the country had to fight wars.
“We belong to a very luck generation of Jews,” he said. “In our generation we can negotiate… to secure our future.”
By way of example, Javedanfar cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic efforts with Greece to help stop many of the flotilla ships bound for Israel. Also, he said, Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon allowed the country to have a more “firm response” against Hezbollah in 2006 than it would have had if it had still been occupying southern Lebanon at the time.
Regarding Gaza and Hamas, Javedanfar said that while he doesn’t think Israel can negotiate its way past continuing hostilities with the terrorist organization, “it should try.”
“Israel should offer its hand in negotiations with Hamas, because peace with Israel is an existential threat to them. When your enemy is more scared by your peaceful gestures than your military might, then you’re very lucky,” he said.
Javedanfar added: “Hamas lives off its anti-Israel policies. If Israel makes positive gestures to Hamas and improves the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, that would be a major blow to Hamas.”
While there are those in the Palestinian camp who want to eliminate Israel, Javedanfar said the majority of Gazans, and Palestinians in general, want what most Israelis want: a middle class life.
“They want to send their kids to school and have an economic future. Any investment in their future [by Israel] will secure Israel’s future against the extremists among them,” he said.
Another way of weakening Hamas is to strengthen the PLO, he said.
“The government should strengthen our diplomatic stance… then we could weaken Hamas. This is not a job for an 18-year-old Israeli soldier. It’s a job for a politician.”
Javedanfar called Canada “a wonderful country” and said he was impressed by its respect for human rights and its treatment of refugees, especially Iranian ones. “I have friends who escaped Iran and came to Canada. They told me they cannot believe their luck in being here.”