Israel fears an even more radical Iran

By Ben Lynfield, Jerusalem, June 18, 2009
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If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is confirmed as the next Iranian president despite the protests against the regime this week, analysts predict even more strident policies towards Israel and the wider region than had he won straight.

“If the regime wins, it will be more self-confident, more defiant,” said Tel Aviv University Iran specialist Meir Litvak. “It would mean a further boost to radical forces in the region.”

He noted that the leaders of Hamas and Hizbollah were among the first to congratulate Mr Ahmadinejad when his victory was declared.

Meir Javedanfar, the Tehran-born head of the Tel Aviv-based Middle East Economic and Policy Analysis Company, believed Mr Ahmadinejad would feel even freer to pursue his previous anti-Israel and anti-West approaches because he would be in his last term of office. In Iran, the president is limited to two terms.

“He would have nothing to lose.”

Given the volatility of the events, Israeli analysts were cautious about predicting whether Mir Hussein Moussavi or Mr Ahmadinejad would come out on top.

However, Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, former chief of Israeli army intelligence, said that regardless of what happens in the short term, the current regime will fall eventually because it is widely opposed.

“No one knows the tipping point of this process, but I have no doubt this regime will fall. You have to look at it in the long-term. The heavy truck is already moving and in recent days it went into fifth gear.”

Should Mr Moussavi succeed in overturning Mr Ahmadinejad’s victory, the result could be positive for Israel.

Iran will not jettison its attempts to gain a nuclear weapon, as nuclear policy remains the prerogative of the hardline Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

However, a bomb in the hands of a reformist regime more sympathetic to fostering ties with the West would be less threatening than a bomb in the hands of a regime with Mr Ahmadinejad as its president.

In addition, a Moussavi victory could improve the lobbying power of those Iranians calling for a compromise with the West. Mr Moussavi supports more confidence-building measures with the US, as well as less verbal attacks against Israel and the end of presidential Holocaust denial.

According to Prof Litvak, Iran under the influence of reformists would continue efforts to build a bomb but probably stop just short of production. That would enable it to say it is complying with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty while essentially having nuclear weapons capability at the ready.

He believes that an Iran with Mr Mousavi as president could prove very dangerous to Israel.

“A smiling, rational Iran could weaken Western resolve to prevent it from having nuclear weapons while Iran continues with anti-Israel policies and support of terrorism.”

However, reformist gains would deal a blow to Iran’s efforts to extend its influence in the Arab world.

“The image of Iran as an unstoppable force about to take on major leadership in the Middle East would be tarnished.”

    Last updated: 3:47pm, June 18 2009