After 33 years of wild accusations, hostile attitudes, belligerent posturing, terrorism and war planning, relations have, perhaps, reached a turning point.
Finally, a glimmer of hope is shining from the end of the tunnel of distrust, intimidation and threats. After 33 years of wild accusations, hostile attitudes, belligerent posturing, terrorism and war planning, relations between the United States and Israel vs. their nemesis Iran, have, perhaps, reached a turning point.
Maybe a catastrophic war of destruction, chaos and misery for millions now can be postponed or even avoided. I have been warning of impending disaster since President George W. Bush called Iran part of the "Axis of Evil" in 2002, followed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's jumping on the world's political stage in 2004 by wishing to "wipe Israel off the map."
In the past three weeks, however, I am beginning to modify my predictions. Here are my reasons for hope:
• President Obama's appointment of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel to the most important cabinet posts in the United States is of utmost significance. It heralds a sharp break from the past -- a change of course from the one based on the neoconservative philosophy of world hegemony and military conquest pursued by Bush. It establishes an Obama Doctrine -- a set of plans and policies of engagement, entreaty, inclusion, persuasion and rewards as well as sticks. Kerry and Hagel are the type of visionary personalities who appear more capable of piercing inside the collective psyche of the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
A few months ago, Obama stood up to the demand of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had rushed to Washington to persuade the president to begin military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military sites. It was a rare action. Netanyahu could not hide his disappointment and anger.
• The sanctions imposed on Iran are biting not only ordinary people but business and professional groups as well. When the merchants of Tehran's Grand Bazaar feel the pinch and complain, the government must pay attention. Therefore, the rulers of Iran are flashing signs of new interest in meeting the West on the issue of nuclear energy and other grievances.
Ahmadinejad's second term will come to an end by this summer. Even though he has been only a managerial president with no real power, he has known that by pinching the United States and needling Israel, he would get everyone's attention, including his powerful opponents inside the Islamic Republic who have already begun to sideline him.
• A growing number of intelligence and military experts in Israel and United States are calling a military strike on Iran at this time counterproductive. No credible or tangible evidence has been found to demonstrate the existence of a nuclear weapon or weapons program in Iran. The statements by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency reflect only "suspicion" based on distrust and conjecture.
• An increasing number of Jewish leaders in Israel and the United States are challenging the assertion that Israel faces an existential threat from Iran. Are the ayatollahs suicidal?
• The Arab Spring, resulting in the ascent to power of more independent and less U.S.-friendly governments has become a warning to the United States that its long-term interests lie with the masses, not dictators.
• Israel's recent elections weakened Netanyahu somewhat. They also have dampened his motivation to exaggerate the Iranian threat for domestic political purposes.
Recent data confirm that most Iranians feel no animosity toward Israel and respect Judaism as a religion. Iranians support the Palestinians in their struggle for a homeland, but they do not wish or expect to dismantle Israel. They are strongly pro-American-culture and much more critical of their own government than of those of the United States and Israel. But, if attacked, they will unite feverishly and unequivocally to defend their land, heritage and honor. That is the reason that Iran, the land of the Aryans, the heart of Persia, founded by Cyrus the Great, has survived as a nation for 2,600 years.
M. Jay Shahidi is a business owner and human-rights activist living in Minnetonka. He is cofounder and current president of Iranian-American Society of Minnesota.
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