“I don’t see a revo­lu­tion coming soon in Iran”

Foto: Imago Images

Israel and Iran: Iranian-Israeli author Meir Javendafar in an interview with Till Schmidt about the mutual percep­tion of the two countries, the current situation of protests and Russia’s influence on the nuclear agreement.

Mr. Javendafar, you left Iran in 1987, have moved to Israel after your studies in the UK and now work as a researcher on Iran-Israel relations. Almost a year ago, the violent death of Jina Mahsa Amini sparked a powerful protest movement against the regime in Iran. How did the Israeli public respond?

With a lot of attention. Because really everyone in Israel — left or right, pro- or anti-Netanyahu, and even parts of Israeli Arab community — wants the end of the Iranian regime, given that the Islamic Republic has been calling for the destruc­tion of Israel and funding the murder of Israelis for many years. Every uprising in Iran is reported in detail in the local media and, in my opinion, usually quite broadly and accurately.

So the hope for a revo­lu­tion in Iran is there. But I myself do not see it coming so soon. We know from Syria, for example, that such regimes prefer to murder their own people in great numbers, rather than hand over power. And even if the regime falls, it is possible that in the long run, Iran will not turn into a democracy, but rather into a secular dicta­tor­ship. But even that would be better for Israel, because Iran would stop supporting terror­ists while estab­lishing relations with Israel.

What are the attitudes of the Israeli popu­la­tion toward Iran?

The regime is seen as an exis­ten­tial threat by some and the biggest strategic threat by others. At the same time, many Israelis feel friend­ship and soli­darity with the Iranian people. Iranians and Persians are almost glorified, espe­cially in compar­ison to the Arabs. This is because of the ancient civi­liza­tion of the Persians, the story of the Persian king Cyrus, who saved the Jews from the Baby­lonian exile, and the positive expe­ri­ences that many Israelis had in Iran before the 1979 revo­lu­tion. Last but not least, contem­po­rary Iranian cinema has been very successful and well received in Israel.

Conversely, what can you say about the percep­tion of Israel among the Iranian population?

From my under­standing and obser­va­tions, Israel’s popu­larity among ordinary Iranians has increased signif­i­cantly over the past decade. On the eve of the 1979 revo­lu­tion, it was quite different, which can be explained mainly by the strength of the anti-impe­ri­alist movement and the much more pronounced reli­giosity in the Iranian popu­la­tion at that time. Today’s view of Israel is primarily due to hatred of the Iranian regime. Benjamin Netanyahu, and Donald Trump, are more popular in Iran than some would like to believe.

This sounds like a classic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the enemy of the enemy as a friend. Do people also refer to specific aspects of Israeli history, culture or politics?

There is some appre­ci­a­tion of Israeli tech­nology. But from my obser­va­tions and under­standing, what the Iranian people like most about Israel, are the military attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. Espe­cially when it hits the Revo­lu­tionary Guards, since they are so heavily involved in repressing the popu­la­tion in Iran.

The nuclear conflict remains unre­solved. Under Donald Trump, the United States had withdrawn from the nuclear agreement, the Joint Compre­hen­sive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018. Joe Biden intended to revive the agreement, which had beennego­ti­ated in 2015. Where does Israel stand in the current situation?

Israel is looking at what the United States is doing. There is not much more Israel can do at the moment. Biden wanted to correct Trump’s mistake after he took office. But in the meantime, Iran itself had taken big steps away from the JCPOA. Biden had been counting on a gradual return to a deal — and expected Iran to play along. But that would have included, for example, Iran answering the Inter­na­tional Atomic Energy Agency’s questions about the nuclear facil­i­ties where traces of uranium enrich­ment were found. Iran is now enriching uranium to a level, which is close to the 90 percent needed to build a bomb.

For further contex­tu­al­iza­tion, could you outline Israel’s geopo­lit­ical position with regard to the threat from the Iranian regime?

The most important conven­tional threat is the Iranian-provided Hezbollah missile arsenal in Lebanon, which can reach to any part of Israel. This is a threat that no prime minister of Israel can ignore. Add to that the bombard­ments in Syria that Israel has been conducting for many years to ensure that the country does not become another missile base for Iran like Lebanon.

What has Israel recently done to counter the nuclear threat from Iran?

At the moment, it is working together with the U.S. and Europe. In addition, it is moni­toring Iranian activ­i­ties and passing on relevant infor­ma­tion. But as soon as Israel learns that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has given the order to build a nuclear weapon, in my opinion, Israel would inde­pen­dently and imme­di­ately bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.

For a long time, it looked as if Israel would ally itself more with Saudia Arabia because of the threat from Iran. Now the Saudis and Iran have moved much closer together in the spring. What is your assess­ment of this?

The Saudis do not want to give Iran a reason to attack them in the event of a war between Israel and Iran. Iran agreed to the deal merely because of pressure from China. Xi Jinping pressured Iran to reach the agreement with the Saudis, because their ongoing conflict was under­mining the oil market and stability in the Middle East, both of which are important to Chinese economic interests.

Moreover, the Saudis are not investing in Iran, which is under sanctions, nor is there any political support from them. In other words, the deal is not a game changer. The Saudis are still extremely concerned about a nuclear Iran. They just don’t say it that openly anymore. Further­more, it is very likely that Saudi intel­li­gence coop­er­a­tion with Israel will continue.

What other geopo­lit­ical changes are currently contributing to the estab­lish­ment of a multi­polar world order in the Middle East?

In the region, people are realizing that the U.S. has more important prior­i­ties: namely China, Russia, and domestic issues. Conse­quently, some countries are improving their diplo­matic relations with Israel. Others are turning to China. China’s economic involve­ment in the region is unprece­dented. However, the U.S. remains the preferred source of tech­nology, the most important partner for economic coop­er­a­tion, and also the most popular desti­na­tion for students from the region. Concerned that the U.S. is turning away, many countries are balancing their relations with China by moving closer to it.

How is Putin’s regime influ­encing the devel­op­ment of the nuclear dispute?

Russia’s veto is one reason why Iran’s diplo­matic relations with the U.S. have not improved and the nuclear agreement has not been revived. Iran has been Russia’s most important arms supplier since the war of aggres­sion against Ukraine. Iran has chosen Russia – thus moving away from returning to the JCPOA – for three reasons.

First, there is its difficult position in the nuclear dispute. Khamenei seems reluctant to answer the IAEA’s questions about uranium enrich­ment at certain facil­i­ties because Iran could be found to have violated its respon­si­bil­i­ties to the IAEA. Second, if the nuclear agreement is revived, Khamenei fears a U.S. charm offensive. He is worried that U.S soft power in the longer term, may cause the downfall of his regime. Last, Putin is seen as someone who defends his allies who face the prospect of regime change: see Assad in 2015 in Syria, Lukashenko in 2020 in Belarus, and Tokayev in 2022 in Kazakhstan.

How is Israel’s strategic position perceived in light of the dispute over judicial reform?

As weak. In politics, percep­tion is more important that reality. Thus, the rift in Israeli society that Netanyahu and his govern­ment are deepening ulti­mately plays into the hands of the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, and other enemies of Israel. For a long time, the threat of war with Hezbollah has not been as high as it is now.

The refusal of large numbers of Israeli Air Force reservists to report for duty does not only nega­tively impact Israel’s defense capa­bility. It also weakens the U.S. nego­ti­ating position in the nuclear dispute, since it implies that the Israeli Air Force may not be part of the solution, if all else fails.

Ulti­mately, I even see parallels between Netanyahu and Khamenei’s political behaviour. Both judicial reform and the nuclear program are not prior­i­ties of their respec­tive popu­la­tions and cost more than they benefit. Both projects serve to strengthen the leadership’s power and that of their allies. Iran’s nuclear program will go down in national history as the most wasteful, corrupt and destruc­tive project. In Israel, the intended judicial reform is dividing the country in an unprece­dented way and is immensely damaging society, the economy and, very likely, the security situation. It is likely to be remem­bered in Israeli history, in the same way that Iran’s nuclear program will be remem­bered in Iranian history books.


Dr. Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli author, commen­tator and adjunct professor at Reichman Univer­sity in Herzliya, Israel. He is co-author of the Ahmadinejad biography “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran,” which has been published in four languages. Javedanfar has published in Foreign Affairs, Al-Monitor, The Diplomat, The Guardian, among others.


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