HAIFA, ISRAEL – Not long ago, a Dutch journalist interviewed me about the Iranian nuclear question. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allegedly banned politicians from giving interviews on the subject, so the journalist had no choice but to seek other candidates, perhaps more “intellectual,” but with no authoritative information to offer.
The journalist asked me, first, if I thought that Israel would launch an attack against Iran’s nuclear plants; second, if I thought that it would be worth destroying Iran’s nuclear-research program to prevent the regime from producing an atomic bomb; and, third, if I thought that Iran might deploy a nuclear bomb against Israel.
To each question, I replied that I didn’t know. He then asked whether I thought that Israel would consider the West’s sanctions against Iran a sufficient deterrent. Once again, I said I didn’t know. At this stage, the journalist, showing signs of despair, asked me what I did know.
I replied immediately, saying that I knew what had to be done to render all of his questions irrelevant: Resume the peace process with the Palestinians in earnest and achieve the goal of two states for two peoples, a target that even the current rightwing Israeli government has openly claimed as a political objective.
Furthermore, Israel should stop the expansion of existing settlements and dismantle illegal ones. Iranians would then be forced to abandon their inflated rhetoric and their evil threats.
The main point here is not whether Iran’s threat to its Arab neighbors — Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States — is real or fictional. Muslims, whether Shiite or Sunni, should resolve their conflicts between themselves, while the United States and Europe should worry about their own key interests. If the West believes that Iran’s nuclear power represents a threat, they have the economic and military means to eliminate the risk without danger to themselves.
When Israel was founded, Iran and Turkey — two Muslim countries — recognized it. Moreover, treatment of the old Jewish communities in both of those countries remained respectful and tolerant, in contrast to Arab countries — and some Christian ones — where Jews were mistreated and humiliated.
Even when Arab hostility toward Israel was extreme and unambiguous, Iran and Turkey maintained economic, diplomatic, and military relations with Israel.
Even after the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when they and other countries around the world were calling for the creation of a Palestinian state, they did not sever their diplomatic relations with Israel.
No Israeli soldier has ever killed an Iranian soldier, and vice versa. The two countries have no common border and no territorial conflict. These facts beg the question: Are Iran’s declared intentions serious, or are they simply slogans aimed at reinforcing national unity?
After all, despite its cruel and fanatical regime, Iran is not North Korea. This is apparent in the country’s sophisticated films, as well as in the massive post-election protests in 2009.
Moreover, Iranians are well aware of developments across the Middle East, particularly of the Arab Spring’s impact on the internal politics of their neighbors.
Of course, after the Holocaust, we must take seriously any mad and irrational declarations by totalitarian states. I cannot blame the Israeli authorities for threatening to bomb Iranian nuclear plants. But I am sure that each real step toward peace with the Palestinians will encourage them to join the call to stop the march to war.
The incentive is great, for, in a violent conflict between Israel and Iran, the Palestinians’ goal of independence in their homeland could be the first casualty.
A.B. Yehoshua is one of Israel’s pre-eminent novelists. His latest novel is “Friendly Fire.” © 2012 Project Syndicate