by Jerry Gordon and Mike Bates (June 2010)
Earlier this year author Lee Smith published, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (Random House). The book has since become a legend in Washington foreign policy circles confounded by how to make sense of the Middle East. Included are the Israel–Palestinian conflict, confronting a Nuclear Iran about to dawn, imminent US leave taking from Iraq and the intractable War in Afghanistan. 1330 AM WEBY, “Your Turn” Host Mike Bates and co-Host Senior Editor Jerry Gordon convened a Middle East Round Table discussion on Smith’s book and these issues with panelists including:
Lee Smith. Middle East correspondent for The Weekly Standard, visiting fellow of the Hudson Institute and expert on Arab-American affairs and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (Random House)
Daniel Diker. Jerusalem-based Foreign Affairs Analyst and Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and author of numerous white papers on Middle East Affairs and Israel security.
This comment from a review of Smith’s book by Daniel Pipes reveals the origin of the title and the book’s significance:
Smith takes as his prooftext Osama bin Laden‘s comment in 2001, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” What Smith calls the strong-horse principle contains two banal elements: Seize power and then maintain it. This principle predominates because Arab public life has “no mechanism for peaceful transitions of authority or power sharing, and therefore [it] sees political con?ict as a ?ght to the death between strong horses.” Violence, Smith observes is “central to the politics, society, and culture of the Arabic-speaking Middle East.” It also, more subtly, implies keeping a wary eye on the next strong horse, triangulating, and hedging bets.
Smith argues that the strong horse principle, not Western imperialism or Zionism, “has determined the fundamental character of the Arabic-speaking Middle East.” The Islamic religion itself both fits into the ancient pattern of strong-horse assertiveness and then promulgates it. Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, was a strongman as well as a religious figure. Sunni Muslims have ruled over the centuries “by violence, repression, and coercion.” Ibn Khaldun’s famous theory of history amounts to a cycle of violence in which strong horses replace weak ones. The humiliation of dhimmis daily reminds non-Muslims who rules.
The principal thesis of Smith’s The Strong Horse was aptly captured in this comment by Paul Hirschson, Israeli Deputy Consul General for Florida and Puerto Rico in the New English Review article, “Iran’s Nuclear Threat”:
The Arab world is facing and not only the Arab world (Iran, we should remember is not an Arab country but a Muslim country) is facing internal conflicts, internal issues to which we are not a party. Neither Israel nor the United States are involved in these internal conflicts and yet we are very often a venue.
Mike Bates: Good afternoon. Welcome to “Your Turn.” I am Mike Bates. This is a special edition of “Your Turn.” This is an international round table discussion. We do this from time to time with Jerry Gordon, Senior Editor of the New English Review and its blog, “The Iconoclast.” Jerry welcome.
Jerry Gordon: Good to be here Mike.
Bates: Joining us from Washington D.C., Jonathan Schanzer, and V.P. of Research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Jonathan Schanzer, welcome.
Jonathan Schanzer: Thanks for having me.
Bates: Joining us from Jerusalem, Dan Diker, Senior Foreign Policy Analyst of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, Dan Diker, welcome.
Dan Diker: Hello Mike.
Bates: And Lee Smith who is the author of the book, The Strong Horse, Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. Lee Smith welcome to “Your Turn.”
Lee Smith: Thank you very kindly.
Bates: Let me begin with the overall thrust of the book, The Strong Horse, Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. There is this myth out there that prior to the existence of the State of Israel, the Middle East was a land filled with peace, love, butterflies, daffodils and happiness all around with no conflict and nobody unhappy and just smiling people everywhere. That’s not actually true, is it?
Smith: No, as it turns out there has been a lot of conflict though out the millennia. I think that many Americans are familiar, Americans much more so than Europeans, with the Bible and we know many of the different groups who have been at each other’s throat throughout the millennia. This has not changed, did not get worse with the modern State of Israel in 1948.
Bates: So, why is Israel constantly being blamed? “If it just wasn’t for Israel we’d be at peace.” Your book completely refutes that theory.
Smith: Right. Why Israel is blamed? I believe there are a number of different reasons. There are a number of cultural reasons. For instance, given the nature of Arab culture people tend to project their problems outside. We have to understand that in our own culture we are extremely self critical. We like to deal with our own problems. We like to face reality as it is and treat the symptoms. This is not true of all cultures. It is certainly not true of Arab cultures. So Israel is a very attractive target but remember there are other people who have been blamed including the United States. There was western colonialism and imperialism in the form of the French and the Brits and various other great powers in the region. So in a sense, Israel is only the most modern manifestation of an issue that we have seen going back a long time. The Arabs tend to project their own problems on someone else.
Bates: Jerry Gordon and I met with and conducted an interview with Paul Hirschson who is the Israeli Deputy Consul General for Florida and Puerto Rico. He had a very interesting quote. To paraphrase it he said that there are many conflicts to which Israel is not a party yet is too often the venue. Would you agree with that?
Smith: Yes, I do agree with that. I would say that is one of the things I describe in my book, bring up to date instead of just talking about these conflicts in historical terms. I’d say the largest conflict in the region right now is between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and even Jordan. The Iranians are really making their run for regional hegemony. Because of that, Israel is not really a part of that struggle. Israel is rather a function of this war between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Sunni Arab powers. So yes, I would agree with that quote 100%.
Gordon: Lee, would you agree that basically what you are discussing is reflective of the primordial disdain on the part of the Iranian Persians of the upstart Arab culture in many ways?
Smith: Yes, you know one of the things that you find throughout the Middle East is that there is a lot of disdain. Different groups have a lot of disdain for everyone else. If you talk to the Turks, you find out that the Turks don’t have a tremendous amount of respect for the Arabs and the Turks essentially ruled the Arabs for close to half a millennium. Yes, this is something that goes on throughout the entirety of the Middle East. If it were to happen in the United States in most western cultures, we’d call this racism. A sort of contempt and disdain they have for other tribes, other peoples. I know this also holds true for the way that people regard Israel. The idea that this Jewish state is part of the more general pattern of Middle Eastern tribalism and racism.
Gordon: Dan Diker, before we began this program you gave a definition of peace in the context of what Arabic and Islamic doctrine. I think our listeners would probably appreciate your talking about that.
Diker: Thank you. What we were talking about just before we went on the air is actually a brief discussion that I was very lucky to have with Professor Bernard Lewis whom I interviewed in Jerusalem in February of this year just three months ago. I asked him a question in front of a packed house in a Jerusalem assembly of about 1,000 people as to the difference between the word “Salaam” in Arabic, and how that measures up to the parallel word in English “peace” or the parallel word in Hebrew which is “Shalom.” The word of course in Hebrew, “shalom” means hello, goodbye and peace. The word in English means something quite different than in Arabic. I asked him that question and he answered, in fact in Arabic the word “Salaam” means accepting the kingship of Islam and the prophet Mohammed. This is opposed to the Western notion of peace which is so very important. I asked Professor Lewis what it meant when President Obama walked into the University in Cairo and said to the audience, which was populated in large part by the Muslim Brotherhood, “Salaam Aleykum.” His answer was that the several thousand strong Arab audience seated in that auditorium in Cairo in 2009 accepted Obama as a fellow Muslim, based on his uttering “Salaam Aleykum.”
Bates: So it was not simply a greeting like Shalom would be in Israel or Aloha would be in Hawaii? This was interpreted in the Muslim religion or Arabic language as more than just a hello.
Diker: Hello from a Muslim who accepts the kingship of Allah and Mohammed as prophet to fellow Muslims in that context specifically. That’s the way it was understood by them as an audience of Muslims.
Gordon: Jon, given what you have written regarding the conflict within the Palestinian world is that the fact of life what prevents the achievement of the peace process?
Schanzer: Absolutely Jerry. Just to add one more thought though to the previous conversation. It is also important to note that there are traditions in Islam that are 1400 years old which talk about the difference between Dar el Harb and Dar el Islam, the House of War and the House of Peace. If you are in the House of Peace it means you have submitted to the will of Islam and you are no longer at odds with it. I think that adds to what we have just heard from Dan and from Lee. As to your other question regarding the Palestinians, I truly believe that this is now the conflict that must be solved before we solve any other. The fact is that Hamas and Fatah, as we’ve talked about on this show in the past, are at war essentially fighting over who gets to kill Israel first, or who gets to go to war with Israel first. That to me indicates there are some deeper issues that need to be solved. Quite frankly I believe that the Obama administration has completely overlooked this. It’s not as if they were unaware that this is a problem. They have just elected not to try to solve this, but rather to try to have Israel give up concessions in the name of peace. I have serious doubts as to whether that would be successful.
Gordon: Lee, let me turn back to you to respond to an observation. Why is it we have people like General Petreaus, Commander of CENTCOM and even General Jim Jones at the NSC, saying that if you don’t solve the Arab Israeli conflict you won’t get “peace in the Middle East”? Isn’t that wrongheaded given the nature of what you have discerned by your own investigations?
Smith: Well, this is a very good question and it’s a very interesting question. I would say first of all, I think there has been a general misunderstanding over the last month about General Petreaus’ comments including his Senate testimony in March. People have rushed to the General’s defense and I think it’s quite accurate to say the General is not anti-Israel. Under no circumstances is he anti-Israel. He has in these different comments though retold a fairly common reading of the Middle East. That the Arab Israeli crisis is central and it is linked to every other problem in the region. Why is he talking about this now? Here are two different reasons. The first reason is because the region is getting hot for the Americans. It has nothing to do with 1600 apartment units being built in East Jerusalem. It has to do with the fact that the United States is waging two wars in two Muslim countries. That we are having a hard time achieving our national interest in places like Iraq and Afghanistan because of the Israelis is just preposterous. I don’t know if you read a recent report in the New York Times about how 28 Afghan civilians have been shot at check points for no apparent reason? Can you imagine the international outrage if IDF troops have shot 28 unarmed Palestinians at check points in the West Bank for no apparent reason? I mean it would be outlandish! So the idea that the Americans are pushing this off on the Israelis because of apartment buildings in East Jerusalem is absurd. That’s one reason. The other reason is even larger. Again, I said that I do not believe under any circumstances that General Petraeus is anti-Israel. However, the national interests of the United States are in direct conflict with Israel. Israel’s national interest right now is in stopping the Iranian nuclear program. I happen to believe that’s accurate and correct. Our Arab allies agree. This is the big regional issue. However for the Americans the big deal is Iraq and Afghanistan. Ask anyone in Washington and what they’ll tell you is an attack on the Iranian Nuclear Program will compel the Iranians to retaliate against our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, these two combat theaters will be heated up by the Iranians and I actually believe that this is at the heart of American strategy. We are not deterring or containing Iran, we are deterring the Israelis from striking against the Iranian Nuclear Program. So those are the two things that I think are behind Petreaus’ comments and the actions of the Administration. Our interests are in conflict with Israel’s right now.
Bates: Lee Smith, there is no doubt that if the Iranian Nuclear Program was attacked whether it was by Israeli or American military forces, it would escalate the violence in the Middle East and seriously complicate America’s efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But is it not awfully short sighted to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon knowing that the long term consequences of Iran having nuclear weapons would be far greater than whatever short term conflagration may result?
Smith: I certainly see it like that. I absolutely agree. I think that people entertain different scenarios of what happens if we or the Israelis were to attack the Iranian Nuclear Facilities and yes, it’s very bad. But what would happen if the Iranian’s get a Nuclear weapon is considerably worse. A major concern for many people is that the Iranians would launch an attack on Israel, which is obviously a dark scenario. However, there are many other things that they could do as well that are also extremely problematic for U.S. national interests. So yes, I think it’s worse than short sighted.
Bates: Well, the Iranians have said that they will launch an attack on Israel one way or another someday, so the question is will they do it with or without nuclear weapons? I don’t see what the issue is.
Smith: I think you are absolutely right. The question is who is a bigger problem, Hezbollah with an Iranian nuclear umbrella or Hezbollah without a nuclear umbrella. I think the answer is quite obvious. To have them operating under the cover of an Iranian Nuclear umbrella, that’s a big issue. Again, not just in Israel, you know there was an Iranian cell uncovered in Kuwait last week. What is that going to do to our Arab policy? It’s a catastrophe.
Diker: Hezbollah is operating in Egypt and they have been caught there on more than one occasion.
Diker: The Muslim Brotherhood’s military wing, call it Hamas, is now operating in Jordan. Not only are they operating in Gaza against Israel, but King Abdullah the 2nd is fiercely upset about the militarization of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. Of course Hamas is really one of the major beneficiaries of the Islamic Republic’s Al Qods forces which are the special forces under the Iranian Revolutionary Guard umbrella that report directly to the regime.
Gordon: Before we took a break, we were talking about the Iranian nuclear threat and how disturbing that is both to the Middle East as well as to the current U.S. paradigm for the region. We seem to have lost an opportunity during the last decade under both the Bush and Obama Administrations about investing in the creation of a civil society opposition in the Iranian Islamic Republic. What should have been done and what could be done to assist in achieving regime change?
Schanzer: One of the things that I’ve noted over the last year and a half is that I think we’ve really gone in a dangerous direction when you think about the way that the President reached out to the Iranian people commemorating the Persian New Year of Norwuz. There was really no encouragement on his part to try to get the Iranian people to rise up and to essentially face down the Iranian regime. Even after the June 12th rigged elections that gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, Iranians were pouring out of the streets in opposition. The president seemed very reluctant to get behind them and to pull a Reaganesque move by saying, “tear down this wall” essentially siding with the protestors. There has been a real reluctance on the part of this administration and now what we are seeing is a reluctance to even provide the opposition with the tools that are needed. The tools that could ultimately help them bring down this regime by which I mean, satellite phones, technology that would help block the tracking of Twitter and Facebook post and things along those lines. There are all sorts of tools that would be of minimal expense which the U.S. Treasury would typically approve of when folks apply for licenses. Of course it’s illegal to just simply buy things and ship them to Iran. You need to get a license to do it. But this is something that would clearly resonate with our government. However, there really has not been a whole lot of support flowing at this point. That that has ultimately hindered the efforts or perhaps the progress of the green revolution opposition pushing back against the regime.
Gordon: Lee, do you have any comments?
Smith: I think the administration missed an opportunity. I think they probably should have figured out how to tilt popular unrest on behalf of U.S. interests. How to figure out some sort of good outcome that would be beneficial to U.S. interest? I think that opportunity is probably lost. However, I have to say I have never been that optimistic even if there is a popular revolution. I don’t think we are entirely sure about what everyone wants on the street. What was that regime fight about? What do those people believe? What do they want? I mean, it would certainly be nice if a lot of them were of a liberal and democratic disposition that were well pre-disposed towards renewing relations with the United States.
However, we just don’t know that was the case. As far as bringing down the regime, we are working on two different time lines. I suspect that the Islamic regime will eventually come down but when? For us, the more important clock is the Iranian Nuclear Program rather than the outcome of possible regime change.
Bates: Jon, the Iranian young people been born since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, I keep reading, are not really fond of the Islamic regime and the Mullahs running the country. That they actually would prefer some kind of a secular democracy. Is that an accurate assessment?
Schanzer: Well to the extent that we are able to ascertain this, yes. We know that more than 50% of the Iranian population has been born since the 1979 revolution. I think they are very unhappy. Quietly behind the scenes you have parties where there is American music and people are wearing American style clothing. Women are wearing makeup and there is a quiet admiration for this country. The problem is we don’t have a real sense of exactly what people want to do with that. If there is an admiration, does that mean that they want to have a government that is modeled after this country? They want to have a culture modeled after this country or is there a sense of wanting to hold onto something Iranian and rejection of all that is Western and heretical? So there are a lot of questions that I think are outstanding and we try to get as best a sense as we can.
Gordon: Dan what are your views on the question of the lack of opportunity to support regime change in Iran and also from the vantage point of where you are in Israel regarding the nuclear threat?
Diker: Israel has played for the last 20 years, a major role in trying to pipe free radio into Iran. The Israeli radio, Farsi language broadcasts are actually among the most popular broadcasts in Iran. So the message that has been coming from Israel through these broadcasts, has been really a window to the outside world for many Iranians. Of course that extends back to pre-internet days. 63-65% of the Iranian people are secular, very pro western and seriously anti regime. Many of them would like Israel to reach out to them as they would the United States. I think the major problem has been the terribly mixed signals from the West, lead by the United States, that have been embracing the Iranian regime as opposed to the Iranian people. If you look at what happened just a few days ago at the United Nations where the United States really paved the road for Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran to completely co-opt the international nuclear weapons agenda. He put the United States and Israel together on the block as the two pariah states of the international community. You could understand what the Iranian people mean. Here is the United States that basically did everything to give Ahmadinejad a platform, from federal protection to a major platform at the UN. There was no pushback by the United States. In fact the United States as well as the rest of the members of Security Council attended a celebratory dinner at the Iranian embassy’s Fifth Avenue apartment. They don’t quite know what to make of the prospective outreach that might come from the left. Israel right now is on the target list of the Iranian regime. Certainly on a declaratory level the Iranian regime in Farsi almost every day threatens to eradicate the State of Israel through some sort of Nuclear Holocaust while at the same time denying the previous Holocaust. So clearly Israel has a great interest in seeing this regime change. I think many Israelis do believe that it could happen without any kind of external military action by a Western power. However, the mixed messages that come from the West led by the United States particularly right now do not bode well for some sort of internally generated overthrow.
Bates: Yes, you look at the differences between how the present administration is handling potential dissent in Iran with how the Reagan administration handled potential dissent in Poland with the Solidarno??, Movement and they are at complete opposites. The Reagan policy was successful and expanded to a much wider cause than just Solidarity. However, we are not even talking a good game with the Iranian issue.
Bates: I have a question for you Lee. Why the term “Strong Horse”? What is the origin of that?
Smith: Well, it was taken from a phrase of Osama Bin Laden’s. You remember Bin Laden was caught saying on video tape, “when people see a strong horse and a weak horse by nature, they will like the strong horse.” I used that quote to convey the idea of the strong horse as a way to describe Arab political culture and Middle Eastern political culture more generally. As Dan was just describing the Iranian people are looking at the actions of the Obama administration and they don’t quite understand where we are. They feel that if they are going to side with the winner, they need to side with the strongest character. Because if you don’t, if you wind up on the losing side, it may well mean your life. So there are no people that favor underdogs in the Arabic speaking Middle East. You need to side with the strong character.
I just want to say one thing that struck me when you were talking about the Reagan administration and Solidarno??, the confusion about the Iranian regime. This has plagued U.S. Presidential administrations since Carter. Reagan tried to reach out to the Iranians with no success at all so this just didn’t start with the Obama administration. This is an American problem that has plagued six different Presidential administrations. It’s an enormous issue. You think that at a certain point we would’ve gotten it right. But no. We still have it wrong.
Bates: And despite decades of the Arab Israeli conflict, what you say in your book Lee is that it’s not so much the Arab Israeli conflict, it’s the intra Arab conflict, right?
Smith: Yes, exactly, I mean, it’s preposterous. No one else would believe this about any other part of the world. You have some 300 million Arabs and a little more than 5 million Israeli Jews and that’s really the issue. That is the essential conflict of the Arabic speaking Middle East. It’s not the Sunni and the Shia civil war that has been going on for 1400 years, it’s not about Arabs and Persians, it’s not about Muslims and Christians, and it is really about 300 million Arabs and 5 million Israeli Jews. It is nonsensical, l but it doesn’t mean people don’t believe it. People believe in all sorts of crazy stuff.
Bates: So you don’t see the difference between Sunni and Shia as a root cause of the intra Arab conflict?
Smith: No, I think that’s an enormous issue and it’s been going on for close to 1400 years. This is much more of an issue than the Arab Israeli conflict.
Bates: And do you see the Sunni Shia conflict as being primarily one of religious doctrine or do you think it’s one of political power?
Smith: It’s been one of political power from the very beginning. It originates with who was going to succeed the prophet of Islam. So it started as a political conflict and the doctrinal differences were added on later. So now there are obviously doctrinal differences. However, it continues to be primarily a political issue. The largest manifestation of it now in terms of the Islamic Republic of Iran versus the Sunni Arab powers.
Diker: One of the most difficult things to understand in terms of our political culture and I think Lee was a witness when he spent time in various Arab countries, is that there are actually no contradictions. Listen to conversations that happen between American diplomats and Arab diplomats. Every diplomat comes into town and they say, “well you know, this problem in the region is the Israeli occupation of what they call Palestinian land” and then in the next sentence he will say, “and you know Mr. American diplomat the Shiites are really endangering the very existence of our regime.” So while these two sentences seem to contradict one another, they don’t contradict one another because they are said by almost every Arab country diplomat. American diplomats, particularly in this administration, choose to focus on the Arab Israeli issue rather than what the Arabs are really frightened about, as Lee could attest. That is Iranian and radical Shiite supremacy throughout the region.
Gordon: How much of the conflict do you think is really between the Arab Sunnis and the Shiite Iranians versus Arabs and Persian Iranians. Is it a religious difference or is it an ethnic difference?
Smith: It’s everything. Right? I mean it’s everything. I think as Dan illustrated very nicely, this is the Middle East. It is a different part of the world. It is a different political culture so you can have different things going on at the same time. Different things going on in someone’s head and different things going on across the chessboard. It is also a strategic issue. Who gets the control? We need to remember that the Persian Gulf is the world’s most vitally strategic waterway. It is about religion, it is about race, about history, a whole variety of different things.
Gordon: Jon, you’ve written extensively about the discord within the Palestinian community. Isn’t it rather remarkable that you’ve got the Islamic Republic in Tehran supporting a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood armed group in Hamas?
Schanzer: One of the things that we have been seeing is that the Iranians have been making inroads throughout the Sunni Arab world. They started with Lebanon where it was a little bit easier. They built a proxy army there known as Hezbollah that has been a deadly force in the region since the early 1980’s. They essentially helped take over the country of Sudan after a Muslim Brotherhood coup in 1989. Iran has essentially taken over their military and has helped Sudan become a deadly regime that has been responsible for genocide. Sudan has been a critical pathway for weapons going into Egypt and then into Gaza and the West Bank. Then, of course, we have the takeover of the Hamas organization. That is a new proxy Iran has control over since the civil war which broke out in 2007. That makes three nodes which Iran controls. You could probably add in one more, if you like, the regime of Syria. It’s not as much of a hard instrument of power as a soft one. The Iranians have a great deal of influence over the Syrians. Sometimes it is a carrot, sometimes it is a stick, but they are able to essentially impose their will on the Syrian regime. Syria is by nature a weaker regime than the Iranian one. So what the Iranians have done in the words of Jordanian King Abdullah, is a crescent. If you look at their influence in Afghanistan, you look at their influence in Iraq and it spreads all of the way into the Levant and even into North Africa, you are looking at a regime that has been very methodical. It’s been playing a game of chess. The Iranians are often credited as being the inventors of the game of chess and they have played this brilliantly. They are making inroads throughout the Sunni Arab world.
Gordon: We have a very tiny country in the Gulf region called Bahrain which is run by an autocratic Sunni family but is largely Shia. Moreover, it seems to be a safe haven for a lot of Iranian ex-pats and also a place where funds are laundered by the Revolutionary Guard. What happens if there is a conflict there? What happens to our interest, meaning American interests in the Persian Gulf?
Smith: There was an Iranian spy cell that was rolled up in Kuwait recently. So the Iranians are very active around the Persian Gulf. The worst scenario for the Americans is that we lose our position in the Persian Gulf. We have held hegemony there for over 60 years. We have basing rights in all of these Gulf Arab states. If the Iranians have a nuclear weapon this is precisely what is going to happen. The Iranians will tell our Gulf allies that the Americans will have to go. How will our Arab allies defend our position? What can we say as Americans? “We’ll protect you from the Iranians,” and they’ll say, “We wanted your protection and we didn’t want them to have a nuclear weapon and now they do. How are you going to protect us? You say you can’t even protect your own bases, your own troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. How are you going to protect us”? That is the worst case scenario for the Iranian Nuclear Program.
Gordon: The other problem we get into here in the Western Hemisphere is something that Ahmadinejad has called, “double lasso strategy,” essentially undermining us in the Western Hemisphere in places like Venezuela, Bolivia and others. Then there is the infamous triangle between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil where there are Hezbollah cells. Isn’t that part of the chess game that you have just been talking about?
Smith: Yes, I think so. I’m sorry Jonathan; you were going to say something?
Schanzer: I was going to say that we know Iran has been doing that, and I think it appears that they have even brought in Brazil who seems to be going to bat for the Iranians right now trying to protect Iranian interests. You’ve got Venezuela. You’ve got this tri-border area Jerry that you mentioned. We know that Iran has been active in Argentina based on the attacks launched against Jewish and Israeli targets during the 1990’s. So this is an emerging area and one that terrorism analysts are increasingly concerned about. I think over the next few years we can expect to see a lot more activity and a lot more violence unfortunately in our neighborhood and in our back yard.
Gordon: It is inexplicable to me that when everybody seems to agree that doing nothing will result in more violence, that we do nothing. Jon, can you possibly explain what to me is unexplainable?
Schanzer: Well, this administration I think is caught in a funny position. The President ran on a platform that can only be described as anti-Bush. Essentially, whatever President George W. Bush did, this President has proclaimed that he will not do so. So if the previous President threatened Arab nations who were using terrorism for political gain, this is a President who will not issue such threats. When the previous President said that he would not allow for Iran to move forward with its nuclear program and would use violence if necessary, here you have a President that reaches out his outstretched hand. So what we are looking at is a President that has hemmed himself in. He’s accepted a Nobel Prize, and that is going to make it exceedingly difficult for him to launch a pre-emptive war against Iran. We know the constraints that this President has. The question is how can he work around it and will he?
Bates: Dan, it wasn’t long ago that Zbigniew Brzezinski was quoted as saying that if the Israelis were to launch an air attack against the Iranian Nuclear facilities, they would do so by flying over Iraqi air space which the American Military controls and the American Military ought to shoot down the Israeli jets. Do you really think we would do that?
Diker: He didn’t say they would shoot down Israeli jets. He was asked by the interviewer, “what would the option be for the United States if Israel decided to take unilateral action against the wishes of the United States” and he said, “well there are all kinds of options you know, including taking all measures to prevent Israel from taking those actions including . . .” The implication was clear that he was suggesting the possibility of downing jets but he didn’t say that explicitly.
Gordon: Well, I think he said that they could. I’m not sure he said that they should.
Diker: He said that they could, that it was hubris. It was a very dangerous type of statement. But former National Security Advisor Brzezinski has never been even mildly a friend of Israel and that maybe suits him well as he is a close advisor to Obama.
Gordon: Well that’s a very true statement about Brzezinski. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has made it very clear that they will not allow the Iranians to obtain Nuclear weapons. So if Israel believes that it is the last minute, the last chance, will they act unilaterally in defiance of the Obama administration’s wishes?
Diker: Well, I think that’s a very sensitive question. I don’t think it’s one that should be discussed publicly, as to what Israel will do or won’t do, but I will say this. I think that the American public understands, and the polls show this, that Israel is the only nation state since the Second World War that is being explicitly threatened with nuclear annihilation by another UN member state. I think the American people need to begin to get into this debate, together with the State of Israel. Understand, if that car bomb found at 45th Street and Broadway in New York City had exploded with nuclear material, we’d be living in a completely new world. I think the American people understand the dangers. I think it is incumbent upon the American people to get into this dialogue and for them and the Israelis to lead this battle against a possible nuclear Iran, even when the President of the United States believes differently.
At the conclusion of the panel discussion, we asked them who the strong horses in the Middle East are? The answer was Iran and Israel.
To listen to the original broadcast, please click here.
If you have enjoyed this interview and want to read more by Jerry Gordon, please click here.
If you have enjoyed this interview and want to read more by Jerry Gordon, please click here.
Jerry Gordon is a also regular contributor to our community blog. To read his entries, please click here.