Text size

Click here for more articles by Gideon Levy

The Prime Minister's Bureau will probably soon be occupied by a politician whose career has been partially based on Iran scare tactics. Benjamin Netanyahu, formerly "Mr. Terror," is now "Mr. Iran," and has declared that "Iran will have no nuclear arms."

Notwithstanding the boisterous nature of the declaration, this will hopefully be the case, but if what Netanyahu means is that Israel, under his leadership, may become embroiled in an attack on Iran, then there is room for grave concern. Now is the time to tell Netanyahu: "No bombing." Netanyahu (and some among us) should drop any thoughts about a military option.

Israelis have learned to judge Iran according to the threats of its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even if their impression is partially correct, it still constitutes demonization. Just like Israel is not all Avigdor Liebermans, a pyromaniac in his own right, Iran is not all Ahmadinejads, although he is in power. One should read the work of New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who is visiting Iran, to learn precisely what is going on there. He concluded his February 11 column with the following words: "America, think again about Iran."

In a radio interview in the United States, in which we both participated, Cohen tried to explain that the leadership in Tehran is not mad. Extreme, perhaps, but not mad. Cohen, who is not suspected of being anti-Israel, discovered in Iran a more complex, multifaceted society than is commonly thought in the U.S. or Israel. He also believes that the thought of attacking Iran is foolish.

The U.S. is not the only one on the verge of change - so is Iran. The U.S. is after elections and Iran is before them; from both, new and encouraging voices are being heard. Barack Obama has avoided issuing threats against Iran in recent statements, and Ahmadinejad responded that he proposes "holding talks on the basis of mutual respect." This is excellent news, which is more capable than any bomb of neutralizing danger.

It is now necessary to grant a genuine chance to the new winds blowing between Washington and Tehran, and avoid inflaming the situation with bellicose declarations. Israel's war drums should promptly be put away. Netanyahu and Lieberman need to forget their inflammatory rhetoric before they stir the justified ire of Washington. Perhaps diplomatic exchanges will succeed in stopping Iran from going nuclear, but even if they don't, it would be best for Israel to get used to the idea that Iran may join the club of which, according to foreign reports, Israel, India and Pakistan, among others, are members. What is even more important is for Israel to finally wean itself of the ideology that force is a solution to everything, and that it is the policeman (aka thug) of the Middle East. Hamas isn't being nice? We'll bring it down by force. Iran and Syria have reactors? We'll bomb them. Imad Mughniyeh is dangerous? We'll assassinate him.

Once in a while this can work, but it can also end in disaster - and certainly will against Iran. When one of the supporters of an Israeli military operation against Iran was asked what would happen when Tehran rebuilt its arsenal, he answered: We'll bomb them again. A bombing every four or five years? This is a dangerous policy for a country whose time has come to try and be part of its environment rather than live by its sword, its occupation and its threats. Israel does not like everything taking place in the Middle East, which does hold dangers for this country, but it can change nothing through its army. Threats must be neutralized, but not always through force. Even Iran, satanic in our eyes, would have been much less dangerous were the sting of its threat checked by peace with Syria and the Palestinians. This would ensure more security, also with Tehran, than another bombing.

If Netanyahu does indeed become prime minister, we should forget about the threats of the past. In its place, he must rush to send a message to the U.S. president: "Speak with Iran, for the security of Israel and the world."

Or, to paraphrase Roger Cohen: "Israel, think again about Iran."