Iran, the issue of nuclear weapons, and the Netanyahu government's underlying agenda

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Contrary to the announcements emanating from the governments of Israel and Canada, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) believes there is no evidence that Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear weapons. By way of contrast, it is widely known that Israel has been building such weapons since the late 1960s and is now estimated to possess hundreds of them in its arsenal, which is far and away the largest in the Middle East.

Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, rejects the government's claims that Iran is building nuclear weapons and has strongly recommended against attacking that country. Others who share Dagan's views on this matter include Gabi Ashkenazi, a former Army Chief of Staff, and Yuval Diskin, the former head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service.

Recent developments suggest that the Netanyahu government may be attempting to generate concern about the issue of an Iranian nuclear threat to divert attention from other pressing problems facing the country. For example, there is growing impatience with Israel, especially from European countries, about its abject refusal to make any movement toward a settlement of its conflict with the Palestinians. The Netanyahu government has refused even to freeze the building of settler colonies in order to satisfy this condition set by the Palestinian Authority as the minimum necessary for negotiations to begin. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have agreed to pursue a common approach toward Palestinian statehood, committing themselves to a two-state solution. This development is a serious blow to the divide-and-rule tactic that Israel's government has pursued for decades.

On the home front, Israel was wracked last summer by an unprecedented series of demonstrations against the burgeoning economic inequities that have come to characterize Israeli society. "Tent" demos began in Tel Aviv and spread to other Israeli cities, culminating in a giant anti-government gathering of an estimated 450,000 in Tel Aviv. Shir Hever, the author of The Political Economy of Israel's Occupation, explains the motive for the demonstrations. According to Hever, who is an economist, Israel is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world and characterized by high levels of poverty.

Pointedly ignored in the demonstrations, however, was the increasingly desperate situation in the occupied territories (OT). The demonstrators appeared determined to avoid any discussion of the negative impact the occupation is having on both the living standards and the political rights of both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. Absurdly, organizers of the demonstrations disingenuously decided to treat any discussion of these crucially important issues as "political" and therefore to be studiously avoided.

Israel spends about $9 billion a year to support its settlements in the occupied territories. "It's Israel's biggest project," explains economist Hever, adding that about one in seven Israelis is now a settler. By studiously avoiding any mention of this issue, the Israeli protest movement gave away one of its most potent arguments in hopes of avoiding alienating those Israelis who are supportive of or indifferent toward the treatment of the Palestinians. By avoiding the elephant in the room, the protest movement ensured that the explosive situation which lies at the heart of both the domestic and the international crisis would go unaddressed.

This political sleight of hand on the part of the protest movement has had a negative effect on both domestic and international politics. Domestically, the protest flame appears to have died as rapidly as it came into existence. Internationally, it has left the Netanyahu government free to continue the pursuit of its hard-line approach.

Commentator and political analyst Moshe Machover, a long-time critic of the Israeli government and its actions, believes that the prospect of war with Iran presents intransigent elements in the government with the opportunity to mount the large-scale expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank that it has long sought to carry out.

Machover believes that in the event of war, major protests would likely break out among Palestinians living under Israeli rule. "What better way to pacify such disturbances than to expel many people," he asks, adding that the idea for such mass expulsions was first bruited in the late 1980s by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister. At the time, Netanyahu was a junior government minister. Netanyahu has never distanced himself from the view that such an ethnic cleansing would eliminate what he and other Zionist hardliners view as the "demographic threat" posed by the Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories, who will soon outnumber Jewish Israelis due to the fact that their birthrate is significantly higher.

If Machover's analysis is correct, and we think that it is, war with Iran could have catastrophic consequences for the already desperate Palestinian people, the rest of the Middle East, and last but not least, the world economy, dependent as it is on Iranian oil. For all of these reasons, IJV calls upon Canadians to do everything in their power to restrain the Harper government in its unquestioning support for the Netanyahu government's increasingly aggressive policies.

Independent Jewish Voices is a Canadian human rights organization whose mandate is to promote the just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect for human rights of all parties.

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