They Stole the Threat From Us

What good can come from emphasizing the ties between Iran and Hamas or Hezbollah when Iran is now portrayed as a state that no longer threatens the region?

The anger against the American intelligence report is understandable. After all, the threat remains. Even if Iran is not nuclear at the moment, it is still a state with a proven arsenal of ballistic missiles that threatens Israel and the entire region. The regime controlling this arsenal is perceived as an enemy of the West in general and one seeking to expel Israel from the universe in particular. It looks like the quintessential enemy. This explains the profound disappointment, the feeling of betrayal and, especially, the panic over the American intelligence services' decision to peek under the Iranian cloak and suggest that there are significant holes in the "theory of the Iranian enemy."

It is not only the nuclear issue - the regime in Iran is deceptive, too. On the one hand, it has excellent relations with most of the West, including countries that maintain close ties with Israel. On the other hand, it wields its power against journalists, women, intellectuals and anyone representing liberal Western values. It extends patronage to radical organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Yet, it is prepared to collaborate with Saudi Arabia to resolve the crisis in Lebanon, and with the U.S. to help achieve stability in Iraq. It presents a tough stance in negotiations on the nuclear issue, but apparently acceded to international pressure in 2003.

Iran is indeed deceptive, but it is not crazy. It operates according to a systematic political and diplomatic rationale. But since 1979 this political rationale has been swallowed up in international rhetoric, mainly American and Israeli, which has portrayed Iran as the ultimate global enemy. This is why the American report is such a great blow to Israel. The report does not dismiss the Iranian threat - though it does not substantiate it - but it snatches an important strategic asset from Israel. No longer can Israel play the regional power that charts the map of global strategic threats; the state that mobilized the world against Iran will now assume the role of nudnik.

But Israel's real problem is that Iran is also losing its status as a strategic threat because of the report, and Israel will find it difficult to "enlist" Iran to promote its regional policy. For example, what justification will Israel have for demanding that Syria sever its relations with Iran as a condition for conducting negotiations once American intelligence has certified Iran as being somewhat acceptable? What good can come from emphasizing the ties between Iran and Hamas or Hezbollah when Iran is now portrayed as a state that no longer threatens the region? And why should the Annapolis conference be described as designed to stymie Iran?

Israel is not the only one with this problem. Its Arab counterparts, who are stuck in the same anti-Iran pit, are also panicking. When Iran's nuclear threat is not recognized, two fronts collapse: the Iranian-Shi'ite front, which brought Israel closer to some of the Arab states, and the Israeli front against radical organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, or against Syria. In each of these fronts, Iran serves as a connecting axis, an enemy against which coalitions of interests were built and agreements between rivals were generated.

Thus, for example, most Arab countries perceive Iran's involvement in Lebanon as not just an intervention by a foreign state in Arab affairs, but as a penetration by a hostile state. And Israel intensifies Hezbollah's tactical threat into a strategic threat because of the Iran connection. Hamas is also accorded the status of a super-threat because of Israel's efforts to link it with Iran, the mother of all threats, so that we almost forget that the Hamas threat is based only on Qassam rockets.

These enemies will revert to being only "local enemies," not part of an axis of evil (which also collapses because of the American report). They will no longer be emissaries of a nuclear monster. Israel will have to go back to routine, boring enemies whom it can fight using checkpoints and electricity cuts. Back to Annapolis. Back to the grind.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, some people said the U.S. would have to manufacture a new strategic threat. It will be interesting to see what Israel does after the American report shattered its strategic threat.