US and Iran can do business

Jacky Hougy

The US is the only superpower capable of dismantling Iran's nuclear program, either by force or diplomacy, and the first beneficiaries will be Israel and the Arabs.

A question has bothered me for years. My interlocutor had an unexpected and thought-provoking answer. His name is Dr. David Wurmser. In early 2003, when the forces of former US President George W. Bush were invading Iraq, he served as Middle East Adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Wurmser is a warm and smart Jew who knows a thing or two about Israel's neighbors.

At the tenth anniversary of the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in April 2013, I asked Wurmser why Bush targeted Saddam, since he had nothing to do with 9/11, and was no direct threat to the US. Why not go to war against Iran, who are much bigger troublemakers.

I suspected that Bush was afraid to be defeated by Tehran and chose its neighbor as the easy option. Maybe he also secretly wanted Iraqi oil, as the Arabs claimed.

Wurmser said that oil was never mentioned in the prewar discussions. Iran was not mentioned either, he unexpectedly said. "It was Iraq or nothing. The feeling in Washington was that Saddam could never go right. In contrast, the consensus was that it was somehow possible to have a dialogue with Iran and reach a deal. Even now, by the way," he said.

And now an Iranian delegation has come to the UN in New York and was warmly welcomed. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Two days later, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earned a phone call from President Barack Obama. There are those in Iran and in Israel who are afraid and are scowling. Tehran welcomed Rouhani upon his return from New York with barrages of eggs and tomatoes. In Jerusalem, officials say that he and his boss, Ali Khamenei, are hatching a plot.

A US-Iranian reconciliation is a possible scenario in a changing world. In a world where Hosni Mubarak, "Egypt's fourth pyramid" was sent home after just three weeks of demonstrations; in a world where Hamas, Damascus's favored client, sticks a knife in its back and turns on it; in a world where the "great murderer" Yasser Arafat became a negotiating partner of Israeli prime ministers. In a world in which iron fists rust, Iran and the US can do business. It worked for former Libyan leader Muamar Qaddafi: ten years ago he dismantled his non-conventional arms, and low and behold, he was no longer seen as a terrorist.

So let us go with Dr. Wurmser and the good tidings coming from the White House, and imagine that America is at the start of a historic reconciliation with Tehran. A reconciliation that will not sell Israel's interests cheaply, but the price of which will be Iran's dismantling its nuclear program in exchange for rejoining the family of nations. The US was and remains the only superpower capable of dismantling Iran's nuclear program, either by force or diplomacy, and the first beneficiaries will be Israel and the Arab countries.

In addition, Iran could pull its interfering hand from the Israeli-Palestinian talks, and start playing a constructive role. It has the ability to influence Hezbollah to ease its hostility to rivals in Lebanon and Israel. Iraq, which the US sees as a protectorate, could start seeing real economic growth, and whose rehabilitation is a common interest of all the countries in the region. The Kurds, who are building their own free state in northern Iraq, will win more freedom.

The big questions are still ahead

The big questions are still ahead. To what extent will Tehran agree to wean itself from interference in Iraq? Will Hezbollah agree to Iran's overlordship if, for a change, it shows positive flexibility toward the White House? And what will the Saudis do? The royal house in Riyadh has a special status in Washington, and sees rapprochement with Tehran as a threat. Saudi Arabia is the main player encouraging the war in Syria. Rapprochement between the US and Iran could pour more fuel on the fire and sabotage the process.

The Iranian public enthusiastically welcomes reconciliation with America. Although the road is long and full of potholes, if the regime in Tehran is offered a serious proposal that treats it with respect, its leaders might see it as a way out of its isolation and severe sanctions. Syrian President Bashar Assad, when he was still wooed by Israel, liked to say that peace was the cheapest option. It will be interesting whether Jerusalem, which has been working unceasingly to dismantle Iran's nuclear program, has never tried to prod the White House into trying a "hugs for disarmament" formula.

The author is the Arab Affairs correspondent for “IDF Radio" (Galei Zahal).

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on September 29, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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