With all the attention being accorded to Arab uprisings of the past month in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, the real Middle East menace, Iran, seems all but forgotten. Adding injury to imprudence, a mythology is developing which replaces the Iranian threat with Israel – the new, true threat to regional stability.
Two insidious arguments make up this emerging mythology: that Israeli unwillingness to speed towards peace with the Palestinians threatens to further destabilize the Middle East at a sensitive time; and that Israel is on the wrong side of history because it seeks to chill Western enthusiasm for glorious Tahrir Square-style Muslim revolutions.
The first contention is being advanced both by Western leaders and the Israeli Left. We’ve heard it from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former US National Security Advisor James Jones: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core dispute that inflames all others. Israel’s failure to reach a settlement with Abbas strengthens and amplifies the appeal of the radicals. Palestine must be created now to contain the Islamist threat and placate Arab public opinion.
The Israeli Left has a twist on this argument: Israel needs to settle rapidly with the Palestinians because we can’t hack so many confrontations simultaneously. We need to divert our military and diplomatic resources from the Palestinian arena to the new frontlines emerging in Lebanon and Egypt. Settle with Abbas now, so that we can better confront Nasrallah and the next Ayatollah of Egypt.
Of course, both groups ignore the fact that nobody is demonstrating in Cairo or Sana’a because of Palestine; they ignore the fact that Israel has nobody with whom to negotiate reasonable concessions (Abbas prefers a UN battering ram to negotiations); and they ignore the fact that the Tahrir Square squalls are likely to blow into Ramallah’s Manara Square. The latter fact only reinforces Israel’s insistence on secure borders, something that Abbas’ shaky, temporary regime is unlikely to be able to provide.
So don’t lay the blame on Israel, please, for instability across the Middle East or expect Jerusalem to take wild leaps in order to calm the protestors in Cairo.
The second sinister contention, advanced by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, among others, is that Israel is a cranky, narrow-minded party pooper because it doesn’t feel the joy of freedom being rung-in across the Arab Middle East.
At best, Israel is unnecessarily traumatized by fear and unable to see opportunities beyond the tip of its own nose. At worst, Israeli leaders are “propaganda point seeking” opportunists, says Friedman, who greedily want to keep democracy all for themselves. Those damn Jews, he seems to be saying, always trying to make a buck off the situation for their own niggardly purposes. Naturally then, unnamed Obama administration officials — people that Friedman conveniently conjures up — are said to be “thoroughly disgusted” with Israel.
Friedman’s remarks, sadly, have the scent of incitement against, and demonization of, Israel.
The charitable interpretation is that Friedman and his fellow travelers are just punch-drunk from partying with the twitterers in Cairo. They simplistically encourage the Arab mobs, even though the chances for real democratization anywhere in the Arab world are slim.
They forget Carter administration support for the “people’s revolution” in Tehran – which gave us the ayatollahs. They forget the much-hailed Lebanese “cedar revolution” of 2005 – which gave way within six years to Hizballahstan. They forget US insistence on Palestinian elections in 2006 – which gave us Hamastan in Gaza. They forget their sanguinity about Turkey’s Islamic AKP – which has turned Ankara into an Iranian ally. Friedman’s road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Of course, Friedman and friends aren’t demanding democracy in the Palestinian Authority. That would threaten Abbas’ rule and the Israeli withdrawal they so insist on.
At least part of the remedy to these malevolent indictments of Israel is the re-directing of political attentions to the place they most urgently belong: Tehran.
Iran is the contagion infecting and inflaming the region, not Israel. Iran is the country actively seeking to export its radical blend of Islam to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Iran is the country seeking to foment instability and to undermine the (somewhat more) pro-Western regimes in the region.
Iran is the country funding Hizballah and Hamas and weakening Mahmoud Abbas, not Israel. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons with which to dominate the entire region, not Israel. Iran is exploiting the festivities in Tahrir Square to advance its ambitious and self-centered agenda, not Israel. Iran is the pernicious opportunist, not Israel.
Israel cannot allow ill-advised Western leaders or ill-willed pundits to propagate new myths that make Israel the fall guy for Western fears of a crumbling Middle East. Back to Iran.
* This article was originally published as a Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies  Perspectives Paper (No. 130, 20.02.11). It was republished in The Jerusalem Post  on February 23, 2011.