The next Israeli elections are only two days away.
As the big day approaches, I can’t help but think all the changes which we have witnessed in Israel since the last election which was held on February 10 2009.
It was a coincidence which I could not overlook. So I decided to write a short piece for The Washington Times which looked at what the future could look like for Iran – Israel relations.
Here it is. You can decide for yourself how and if anything has changed.
Many saw the recent fighting in Gaza as part of a wider struggle between Iran and Israel. A cornerstone of the hostilities between the two sides was the 1979 Iranian revolution. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s government completely changed Iran’s ruling ideology to one that was hostile to Israel. Since then, relations between the two have deteriorated.
In 2009, Iran and Israel will have something to share – an important date.
Feb. 10 falls on the 22nd day in the month of Bahman in the Persian calendar year of 1387. On that day, Iranians will mark the 30th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran. On the same day, the people of Israel will go to the polls to choose a new government. As both people mark the special day in their calendars, relations between their governments and the possible consequences on their lives will be on their minds.
Borrowing a lesson from the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israelis should have reason to think that over the next decade, despite the nuclear threat from Iran, the level of tension between the two countries could actually subside.
One of the main lessons from that conflict was that in the face of overwhelming Arab economic power, derived mainly from oil, Israel’s military and diplomatic power had less room to maneuver.
In 1973, the importance of oil worked against Israel. Over the next decade, the importance of oil to the Iranian government could work in Israel’s favor. According to the recently released CIA 2025 Global Trends Report, “A shift away from an oil-based energy system will be [under way] or complete by 2025.”
This means that for the next 16 years, it is likely that the Iranian government is going to see decreasing income from oil, a source which provides 80 percent of its earnings. Meanwhile, there are also other factors that could seriously challenge the financial well-being of the Iranian economy even before 2025.
According to a 2007 study by Roger Stern of Johns Hopkins University, owing to sanctions that prevent investment in its oil sector, Iran is currently seeing a 10 percent fall in production levels per year. This means that the deadline for Iran’s oil industry may actually be nearer than the 2025 timeline presented by the CIA study. Furthermore, sanctions have affected Iran’s non-oil sector, while Iran’s renewable-energy sector is small and in dire need of foreign assistance.
There are few governments that can withstand the loss of 80 percent of its earnings. Despite its belligerent statements to the outside world, Iran’s leadership is realistic enough to know that such a scenario could lead to major instability and its possible overthrow. Consequently, improving the country’s relations with the West, especially the U.S., will become an unavoidable choice, regardless of whether Iran will be a nuclear power.
Improved relations between the United States and Iran may not lead to peace between Tehran and Jerusalem. However, its likely impact will be more subdued behavior from Iran toward Israel, in words and action. History has shown that when it comes to holding onto power, Iran’s leadership is very pragmatic. Moderating its stance toward Israel is a price that the Iranian leadership would be willing to pay.
Meanwhile, events on the ground in Israel are also likely to push Iran’s leadership toward reforming its behavior. On numerous occasions, Israeli politicians such as Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni have maintained that Israel would have to withdraw from the West Bank in order to maintain Israel’s Jewish majority.
In a democratic state such as Israel, the Arab vote, which could outnumber the Jewish one, could change the character of Israel as a Jewish state. Therefore, in the long run, Israel will have no choice but to leave the West Bank. Once Israel undertakes such withdrawals, Iranian hard-liners who champion hostilities against Israel are likely to lose a significant part of their power and voice in Iranian politics.
During the past three decades, ideology pushed away Iran from Israel. It seems the reality that both countries have to face in the future could actually bring them nearer to each other, again.