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Soft-pedalling external opposition to Iran to help the internal opposition

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM—Perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu’s stress on the Iranian threat may not only reflect the grim reality of Israel being in the firing line but also a ploy to avoid dealing with the Palestinian issue by arguing that Iran is a more urgent and immediate problem and must be dealt with before other Middle East matters can be addressed.

 In the last few days, however, Netanyahu seems to be talking more about negotiating with Abu Mazen and less about implicitly preparing for war with Ahmadinejad.      Perhaps it’s not so much of a change of heart than a change of tactics. For the most recent actions by the opposition within Iran may inhibit outsiders from speaking out too loudly against its regime lest this will galvanize the population and blunt the challenge from within. For one of the “explanations” by totalitarian regimes of internal opposition – and this one is no exception – is that it’s fuelled by external enemies.

Not to rock the boat President Obama may try to delay the expected further sanctions against Iran. One can only imagine that a lot is going on behind the scenes, but when it comes to open confrontation, Obama may wait and see in the hope that the opposition will achieve what the rest of the world is reluctant or unable to do, namely topple the regime.

This means, of course, that Netanyahu will also wait and see. Israel seems to accept that (a) it cannot or must not deal with Iran on its own and (b) that new threats from Jerusalem may be counterproductive by playing into the hands of the regime.

Hence the current seemingly low Israeli profile. For all my efforts to keep my ears to the ground, I can claim no inside knowledge, which, of course, Israel’s former Mossad head, Ephraim Halevy, has in abundance. And he told a Toronto Jewish audience that Iran does not constitute an existential threat to Israel. The way the report in the Canadian Jewish News has it, he seems to have reassured us – improbably and uncharacteristically for a man who spent his life in intelligence – that Israel is invincible.

Even if that may be true in open combat, we now live in an age when terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas can seriously destabilize the country. They’re financed by Iran and therefore constitute a greater threat even than its missiles.

The only way Halevy’s statement would make sense to me is on the premise that now, when these missiles can reach much further than before, Israel may still be in the line of fire, but it will no longer be alone. Other countries, including the Arab states, also have a need to neutralize Iran. The threat to Israel may not have diminished, but it has been spread around, as it were. Israel’s Arab neighbours know it, too, and may be prepared to make common cause, even though they object to Israel’s way of dealing with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s visit to Egypt’s President Mubarak earlier this week may be viewed in this context, even if no doubt other issues were also discussed.

The best hope, of course, is that the Iranian regime will implode soon through the relentless activities of the internal opposition, but it’s far too early to celebrate. Without being in a position to disagree either with Halevy or Ehud Barak, whom he cited in his talk, my Jewish instincts tell me to be cautious about claiming invincibility and my no less Jewish pessimism makes me remain worried.

My New Year message is the hope that I’m wrong on both counts.

Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his year between Canada and Israel.       

Jerusalem 31.12.09                                                                                     Dow Marmur

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