Today I took part in the 2012 World Summit on Counter Terrorism simulation at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, where I teach the contemporary Iranian politics course.
I played Iran.
I thought I was going to play Khamenei, however upon coming on stage I was told that I am playing the part of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I was then asked about Ahmadinejad’s reaction to Israel’s response to a terrorist attack from the Sinai, which included aerial attacks against Hamas and Salafist Jihadi targets in Gaza.
I had to refuse this role allocation. The reason is simple: here in Israel the press seems to think that Ahmadinejad sets defense and foreign policy in Iran. The only place where Ahmadinejad commands such authority is in his dreams.
I emphasized that in reality these are Khamenei’s domains, and for the sake of accuracy I had to play him. The moderator kindly agreed.
What would Khamenei say and do in response to an Israeli retaliatory attack against Hamas and Jihadi targets in Gaza?
He would say much while doing nothing.
Currently Iran has bigger fish to fry. It has its relations with Egypt to consider, something which it badly wants to improve. It also has to think about its more immediate problems in Syria.
More important than all, Khamenei has the economy of the Islamic Republic to be concerned about. He needs his money at home more than ever before. Sanctions are biting and the infighting within the regime is continuing. Both problems could ultimately turn into existential threats, if unattended. Khamenei needs his money there. Hamas and Palestinians can wait, for a very long time. Perhaps for eternity. They stand no chance in competing with resources needed for regime stability.
The Israeli PM played his cards well. All the time he had Iran on his mind. To him Hamas and the Jihadi movements were secondary, despite calls by at least one minister in his cabinet to invade not just Gaza but also the West Bank.
Instead he tried to contain the situation by working with the Egyptians and the Americans, while making sure the situation does not escalate by keeping the aerial attacks limited and the military on a tight leash. He used Israel’s military and diplomatic muscles simultaneously. Israeli smart power was on full display.
Israel’s imaginary PM at today’s simulation in fact did all the things that Khamenei would not have wanted him to do. I hope Israel’s real PM learns from him.