Iran's Post-Election Unrest Could Benefit Israel

News Analysis

By Leslie Susser (JTA)

Published June 22, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Like the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly two decades ago, the outcome of the post-election unrest in Iran could be of major strategic significance for the Middle East and for Israel.

Israeli analysts see three possible scenarios:

  • President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ruling ayatollahs use force to reassert the authority of their regime.

  • Ahmadinejad’s presidential rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, sweeps to power on a wave of popular support and reforms what still remains an essentially clerical regime.

  • The unrest takes on a dynamic of its own, driving the ayatollahs from power.

In each scenario, Israel stands to benefit.

Clearly, regime change in Tehran could alter radically the political landscape of the entire region.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Middle East gradually adopted a new but equally bipolar character: Instead of the Soviet Union and its proxies standing against the United States and its allies, Iran has supplanted the Soviet role as the prime adversary. It was Iran that fueled the Arab-Israeli conflict through its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza – Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively.

If street demonstrations do lead to regime change in Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas could lose their Iranian patron and their major arms supplier, and the prospects for Israeli-Arab accommodation would improve dramatically. A new regime also could put the brakes on the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes even further.

“Under a different regime, the peaceful relations we used to have with Iran could be re-established,” he declared in an interview with the German Bild newspaper.

Israel and Iran had ties until 1979, when the shah was overthrown and exiled.

This best-case scenario, however, is also the most unlikely.

More likely, Ahmadinejad and the radical ayatollahs led by Ali Khamenei will remain in power. Even if this is the case, however, they will be seen to have rigged the election and then used force to suppress the popular will. The regime will be perceived more widely as brutally suppressive, will lose international legitimacy and, if it persists with its nuclear weapons’ program, could face a much tougher sanctions regime than otherwise would have been the case.

Iran in the future may need to be more attuned to domestic concerns and spend less on outside forces such as Hezbollah and Hamas. This scenario, too, would be favorable for Israel.

If Mousavi comes to power by forcing and winning a new election, he may be ready for a deal with the West on the nuclear issue. He also is likely to be less virulently anti-Israel than Ahmadinejad, and to provide less support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

Some Israeli analysts fear that this will end up being only half a revolution: Mousavi would come to power, show a more human face of Shiite Islam to the rest of the world, win international plaudits, and defuse criticism and scrutiny of Iran while maintaining the same anti-Israel and nuclear policies as the previous government. Under a cloak of respectability, this Iran could be even more dangerous than Ahmadinejad’s, analysts fear.

Several leading Israeli Iran experts see the showdown in Iran as largely a family quarrel between members of the same conservative, clerical elite. They argue that there is not a great deal of difference between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei and the only slightly less conservative Mousavi, who is backed by Ayatollah Ali Rafsanjani.

Indeed, the protesters seem to be using Mousavi as a rallying figure because they have no genuine reformist of stature to back. By the same token Mousavi, who seeks the presidency to make minor reforms, is happy to use Iranians who want much more than he is offering to build his power base.

The big question for Iran, Israel and the Middle East is whether Mousavi is riding a tiger that at some point may usher in a new more democratic era in Iran, and with it a more malleable and stable Middle East.

Here the role of the armed forces could be crucial. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard surely will remain loyal to the Ahmadinejad-Khamenei regime, but what of the rest of the army? If there is to be a real revolution, army units would have to join the popular protest in relatively large numbers.

Although this does not seem likely now, Israeli analysts are not ruling it out. They point out that despite Iran’s unprecedented oil revenues over the past few years, the economy is in tatters because of heavy spending on exporting the Iranian revolution rather than on bettering the lives of the Iranian people.

Most analysts agree that Israel should not interfere or give any semblance of interfering in Iran, as to do so almost certainly would be counterproductive. Still, both Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres have expressed strong empathy for the Iranian protesters.

“It’s a regime whose real nature has been unmasked and it’s been unmasked by an incredible act of courage by Iran’s citizens,” Netanyahu told NBC.

“Let the young people raise their voice for freedom,” Peres declared in a Jewish leadership forum. “Let the Iranian women voice their thirst for equality.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak made a lightning visit to Cairo to discuss the Iranian situation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In the regional divide between pro-Iranian radicals and pro-Western moderates, Israel and Egypt are on the same side, together with other key countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan. A major shake-up in Iran could reshape the regional architecture and perhaps pave the way for far-reaching rapprochement between Israel and its neighbors.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.