Berkeley–A month and a half ago the university here in this city put together a high profile panel of three nationals representing the leading actors in the most recent Middle Eastern drama to critically address the dynamics over the present crisis in their natal lands.
I am returning to this dilemma since the failure of the talks between Iran and the P-5 + 1 (the five acknowledged nuclear powers the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, and Germany) has slowed to a crawl although future meetings with Iran are still scheduled soon.
Before arriving at the Persian Gulf, though, we should return to North Africa and the discussion on Egyptâ€™s Primary Presidential elections in last weekâ€™s edition.
Today (Memorial Day), it appears that there will be a run-off between an Islamist and a member of the â€œOld Guard,â€ a former general and Prime Minister under Mubarak. The unfortunate circumstance for the immediate future of the revitalized Egyptian Commonweal is that only the two top vote-winners will run against each other for the post. The two top contenders had a little less than one-half the votes, as of last Friday (May 25th) the Islamist had 26% while the secularist had 24% of the initial vote at that time. The third place candidate was a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is still an Islamist, and would have wielded the Executive in close consultation with his former party, but would be more acceptable tom the Nileâ€™s minorities â€“ especially the considerable numbers of Coptic Christians. Yet only the two top contenders, even though they each merely represent a quarter polled in the final contestation for the Presidency. Already there has been violence in the streets by those who fought and won the battle for a more open system. The apparent ascendant political personalities may actually polarize society more there, and make it harder to achieve democratic reforms or even to advance Islamic influences upon the State.
Back to the Iranian catastrophe.
The three experts in the room were asked to make a presentation each; followed by a discussion, and todayâ€™s article will cover those:
Avner Cohen is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a Professor in the Graduate School of International Policy and Management, and is the leading specialist on the Israeli nuclear project presently residing in the United States.
He began his statement from the Israeli perspective, â€œâ€¦war is not inevitable,â€ but solutions have to be found that are acceptable for all sides. If the parties do not find these solutions over the long run it could devolve into a contest of arms.
To Tel Aviv it is the most complex security matter since 1948. By policy, â€œIsrael would not accept nuclear capability by [any of] its neighbors.â€ e.g. their attack on Iraqâ€™s facilities several decades ago, and a few years back the destruction of Syriaâ€™s budding program. Israel does not wish a Muslim nation to possess the Bomb. Still, the recent â€œnationalityâ€ of Israelis often delegates their security to other nations most especially the District of Columbia e.g. the First Gulf War of c. 1990. Again, this was an instance of Tel Aviv pulling the US into a conflict which was more in the formerâ€™s interests.
Militarily, â€œIsrael is the strongest nation in the Middle East, and has no threat at the momentâ€ to it, but it fears a long protracted conflict in what Cohen understates as â€œâ€¦ possiblyâ€¦ counter-productive.â€ A war with Tehran would most likely be that (because Iran has the largest army in the greater region in man power, and the unflagging support of Hezbollah and [presently distracted] Syria upon Israelâ€™s borders.)
Further, â€œIsrael has a benign nuclear monopoly in the Middle East even though everyone knows it, but Tel Aviv [leaves it] undisclosed.â€ Thus, he considers (unmanageable) proliferation is unlikely at this time.
Dr. Cohen is critical of many of the strategic policies of his natal citizenship, â€œ[Prime Minister] Netanyahu uses [the] Holocaust in a manipulate way…It is most dangerous if Israel acts aloneâ€
There is a great deal of bluffing and posturing, but the grave hazard that one of the players will call the bluff of the other.
I had planned to get through all three commentators, but your columnist has only the inches to cover one side this week. He plans to communicate the views of the United States and Iran next week here in Berkeley.