“Ipkha Mistabra” & the Iranian Question

May 13, 2009
Share:email print

Ruth Lande

 For thousands of years, the Jewish people have known strife, hardship, and persecution. For thousands of years, “Jewish diplomacy” has found innovative, creative, and “out-of-box” solutions for untold problems. Currently faced with complexity and challenge, the State of Israel and the Jewish people are once more called upon to demonstrate ingenuity and wisdom.

As our forefathers did in the international arena, our objective must remain to mould every challenge into an opportunity. Today, as we face the Iranian question, I hope the following steps might guide our thinking.

First, we must nurture a healthy dose of humility, which may diminish our delusional sense that “we know it all.” That is, every time that we develop a strategy vis-à-vis any given dilemma, we owe it to ourselves, as a country and as a people, to ask ourselves, what would be the exact opposite mechanism with which to address this problem (i.e., the eternal Jewish wisdom encompassed in the concept of “Ipkha Mistabra”)?

Second, there will not necessarily be others in the region who shall seek to find those opportunities for us, or make it easier for us to sift through the darkness and find light. It is, thus, our own responsibility to create that light, with or without writing it off as a Jewish or Israeli patent….

Third, there are, indeed, many opportunities waiting to be seized in the Middle East and it would be unwise to forego a chance to jump on the train before it leaves our station. That is, without at least first evaluating whether we wish to reach the train’s final destination and/or whether remaining in the same spot would prove to be a better/worse alternative in the long run.

Finally, we simply have little choice but to seek aligned interests amidst our neighbors and, if necessary, to create those opportunities “yesh me’ayin” (from nothing), while simultaneously preparing for less optimistic scenarios. The alternative — of waiting for the hatred to grow, for demographics to bring us to our knees, and for turning into those who “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” — is formidable.

What, then, is the “opportunity” for Israel vis-à-vis the Iranian dilemma?

The Iranian threat to Israel comprises both a rhetorical declaration to destroy the country and a burgeoning nuclear capability, which constitutes “casus belli.” Nonetheless, Iran poses an obvious threat first and foremost to its Arab competitors (namely, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan), for several reasons: The Sunni-Shi`a divide; Iran’s quest for leadership of the Islamic world; Iran’s ambition for regional hegemony in the Middle East; and the intense bilateral tensions that each of the aforementioned countries faces vis-à-vis its relationship with Iran.

Egypt, for example, has the Iranian Shah buried under the central-most mosque in its capital, which is a long-term source of irritation for the Iranian Revolutionary regime. Iran, on its part, continues to name one of the main streets of Tehran after the late President Sadat’s assassin, Islamboulie, a rather awkward reality for Egypt. And to make matters worse, many an article in Egyptian papers in the past years has dealt with the ousting of “Iranian diplomats” from the “embassy” in Cairo, which has been degraded into a merely representative office.

In the international context, when the Obama administration recently declared that it would not allow a nuclear arms race to take place in the Middle East, apart from expressing its concern over Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the administration was also communicating its inherent understanding of the immense fear Sunni Arab states in the region have of Iran’s nuclear program, and how that fear might influence their desires to gain similar capabilities in the medium- and long-term future.

The interests of the world’s significant powers, namely Russia, China, and the E.U., add yet more complexity to an already challenging situation. These players have more than their share of economic, political, and strategic interests in the Middle East, and they might not be pleased to witness a formidable arms race staged in the area. An arms race could not only be detrimental to the key economic assets they nurture in the region, but could also proliferate fissile material and know-how to non-state extremist players, thereby threatening both international stability and their own geographical spheres.

So, what should Israel do?

Should it take the sole responsibility for falling into the Iranian trap and allow itself to become the main engineer of eliminating Tehran’s nuclear capability in the service of the entire globe?

Not necessarily.

We need a sophisticated approach to manage such a complex situation. Tapping into the Jewish wisdom of “Ipkha Mistabra” might tackle this dilemma on three different fronts:

On the bilateral level, Israel needs to reach out to the Iranian nation. The Israeli leadership, without regard to its political affiliations, must speak to the Iranian people and emphasize that neither Israel nor the Jewish people have any quarrel with the people of Iran. Likewise, the Jewish people throughout the world could serve as a bridge to the Persians, rather than exacerbate the enmity and expand it into an Iranian-Jewish issue. Endless declarations of so-called deterrence toward the Iranian regime (which articulates the “not tolerating a nuclear Iran” message) do little to deter Iran’s quest to become a nuclear power. Rather, such declarations legitimize the current leadership, which consequently uses the rhetoric to justify their oppressive behavior and their horrendous disregard for human rights in the face of the “terrible external threat” — Israel.

On the regional and international levels, Israel should work with the Arab states, mediated by the international community, to develop coordinated strategies that could prevent Iran from creating the means of delivery, and furthering their technological know-how.

More draconian economic sanctions would hurt the civilian population. A campaign for resolutions within the Arab league, and “sanctions of honor and prestige” administered by Arab states, on the other hand, might challenge Iran’s leadership position in the OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries).

We are a people of our own destiny. Rather than wait to be saved, Israel should reach out in a sophisticated, diplomatic, and at times low-profile manner, to those with whom she shares this particular challenge. Inspired by the concept of “Ipkha Mistabra,” we may just happen to turn such initiative into a well-coordinated, “out-of-the-box” platform for cooperation. 

Share:email print
Related Topics:

Ruth Lande served three years as a political analyst in the Israel Defense Force intelligence, rising to the rank of Captain. At the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she served as advisor to the Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs dealing with counterterrorism and counter proliferation issues. Lande served for three years as the political and economic advisor in the Israeli embassy in Cairo, completing her service there as the Deputy Chief of Mission. A Wexner Fellowship alum (2006–2007), she graduated from Harvard with a second MA and was appointed as Foreign Affairs and World Jewish Affairs’ Advisor to the President of the State of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>