The Iranian professor burst out laughing when I showed him the report on the Haaretz website about President Shimon Peres' call for the Iranian people to bring down the ayatollahs' regime. His neighbor at the table, also a senior lecturer at the University of Tehran, looked annoyed and scoffed: "Don't you think it takes a lot of temerity to sit next to the Palestinian prime minister, whose people have been living for years under Israeli occupation - and call on another people to rise up against its elected government?"
The conversation took place during a seminar in Barcelona at the end of January. It was one of a series of preliminary conferences initiated by the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, in cooperation with the Norwegian government, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Protestant churches of Hesse and Nassau, in preparation for a regional conference on Middle Eastern disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. The event is to take place in Finland later this year.
At the request of the organizers, the identity of the two Iranians - like that of the other participants (from Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, the United States and Europe ) - was kept under wraps. However, they did not keep secret the fact that four Israelis (among them a former senior member of the intelligence community ) had been invited to participate in the discussions about lifting the threat of nuclear weapons and other types of WMDs.
It is possible, of course, that taking part in the conferences is just another Iranian public relations ploy, an effort to throw sand in people's eyes while they develop a bomb. But if we don't try such things, how will we know? And after all, after Iran attains the bomb and the means to deliver it, the cost of disarmament will be much higher, if it can be paid at all.
The attendees were presented with a position paper written by Prof. Bernd Kubbig, a project director at the institute, and another institute member, Christian Weidlich, in cooperation with Prof. Gawdat Bahgat, an American of Egyptian origin, and Col. (res. ) Dr. Ephraim Kam, deputy head of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies.
The authors of the document mention the traditional support Iran has offered for the idea of nuclear disarmament, since Tehran adopted the 1974 United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a declaration of the Middle East as nuclear weapons-free zone.
The writers of the paper also quote statements by Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, ahead of its board of governors' meeting last November. The ambassador had stressed Iran's central role in promoting the idea of nuclear disarmament, but explained that his country would not take part in the November IAEA meeting. "The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that boosting and raising hopes to create a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East is meaningless while the Zionist regime has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its nuclear activities are not controlled by the IAEA," Soltanieh was quoted as saying.
Since the 1980s, Israel has conditioned its support for nuclear disarmament on peace treaties with all Middle Eastern countries, including Iran. The authors of the position paper state that if Israel accepts an invitation to the conference in Helsinki, it will have an opportunity to move ahead on a deal: comprehensive nuclear disarmament in exchange for comprehensive peace. For instance, Israel will be able to help create a regional coalition of peace and disarmament (accompanied by a reliable monitoring mechanism ) based on the Arab League peace initiative, which was approved by all members of the Organization of Islamic States. That initiative, which next month will be 10 years old, has proposed normalization of ties between Israel and the entire Muslim world.
If this entire move takes place, it would likely allow Iran to take credit for helping to end Israel's occupation, it will extricate Tehran honorably from international isolation and economic sanctions, and it will remove the threat inherent in Iran's implementation of a disastrous military option.
It is not by chance that the Israeli (and the American ) spokesmen who proclaim that "all options are open" ignore this option. To promote it, Israel would have to withdraw from most of the West Bank, divide Jerusalem and propose a fair solution to the Palestinian refugees. But Israel wants to be both the only country in the region that has nuclear weapons (according to foreign sources, of course ) - and also to keep its hold on most of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while not having to deal with the problem of the refugees.
And what will we do if the new government in Cairo, and then the successors of the murderer from Damascus, decide that they, too, want to develop nuclear programs? Will we send Peres to call on the Egyptian and the Syrian peoples to bring down their regimes?
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