Iran, Israel and the Arab world

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Iranian government has been using Hamas and Hezbollah to extend its influence in the region since 1980s, however regardless of its ambitions Iran, weakened by the US sanctions, can’t pose a serious threat to any other countries. The Real News Network Senior Editor Paul Jay speaks to Babak Yektafar of Washington Prism about Iran’s role in the Arab world.

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Thank you for joining us for Part 2 of our interview with Babak Yektafar, editor of Washington Prism magazine. We were discussing President Ahmadinejad’s remarks about Israel. The fundamental thesis one sees played out from Washington and much of western media is Iran is a credible threat to the very existence of the state of Israel if it ever gets nuclear weapons. The proof of this is supposed to be in Ahmadinejad’s speeches, about Israel is doomed, the state of Israel, the regime, and so on. But when we ended Part 1, we were discussing that the real issue facing Israel vis-à-vis Iran is the strength of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. And in both those places, I think to western surprise and to Israel’s surprise, Hamas has wound up much stronger in Gaza than anyone expected, and certainly Hezbollah has wound up as the dominant power in Lebanon, which is playing itself out as we speak. Babak, what exactly is Iran’s role in Lebanon right now? And we know the Saudi government and foreign minister today were denouncing Iran for instigating what they called a coup in Lebanon. What’s your take on this?

BABAK YEKTAFAR, EDITOR, WASHINGTON PRISM: Well, obviously, I mean, if you go back to the ’80s and the formation of Hezbollah after the revolution that brought the Islamic regime to govern Iran, obviously that has been a tool and an element by the Iranian government, the Islamic republic, to expand its influence beyond its border. The original idea, of course, was the exportation of the revolution or the Islamization of the region, if you will. But that, of course, did not work out because of the various dynamics involved in the region, and the rivalries between different sects, and so on and so forth. What Iran does right now, by the use of Hezbollah, Hamas, and so on and so forth, is sort of showcasing its capability in asymmetrical warfare. I don’t believe and I haven’t seen anything that Iran at the moment is the kind of nation—and I know the western media, particularly the United States, some faction of media want to portray it as this power that can go out and destroy this country and that country. There’s nothing I’ve seen from a country that’s really ailing economically, that has been under sanctions for almost 30 years from the United States and various other counties that has that kind of a capability. However, it is a country with aspirations and ambitions, and I think this is what it uses to exert influence. But to think that, for example, even Hezbollah in ["LOOB-nam"] is just exclusively at the beck and call of the Iranian regime I think is misreading the situation, because then we’re totally ignoring the role that Syria, for example, has played in allowing Hezbollah to flourish in the region, in Lebanon, for the past 20-odd years. And to me it’s kind of interesting that Prince Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, who came out yesterday condemning Iran and Iran’s role in supporting Hezbollah in recent developments in Lebanon, does not mention anything towards Syria. So, again, Iran certainly exerts certain influence. I do not consider this and I don’t see this as a proxy war against the United States.

JAY: One can see why this influence in Iraq is necessary for Iran’s defense and direct influence, but why is it in Iran’s interest, strategic interest, to get involved or so involved, if they are, in Lebanon?

YEKTAFAR: Well, it’s a tactical move, essentially, to have influence within the region, as well as trying to have some sort of a leverage in regards to dealing with the West particularly, and specifically the United States, and also the threat that it feels from Israel. The one thing that I think people do forget is that Iran, I believe, geographically speaking, or in geopolitical terms, is pretty much in the same situation as Israel is in the region. It’s one of the very few Persian countries in an Arab world. It’s one of the very few Shiite Muslim countries in a Sunni world. And then you have the Turks to the north, and you have various other elements that are gaining in power because of the rise in petrodollars and so on and so forth. And it really feels threatened, constantly threatened. They have monarchies still around and so on.

JAY: Well, in that respect, you’re in Washington; what are you hearing? This sort of guessing game—we read on the Internet and the newspapers every day the possibility of a US attack of some sort against some kind of Iranian Revolutionary Guard base inside Iran on the Iraqi border. The drumbeats for a possible US attack on Iran don’t let up, but the reality of it is hard to tell. What’s your take on it?

YEKTAFAR: In my opinion, the United States awhile back decided to go back and open up the Cold War books, and by tweaking it a little bit and maybe making it applicable to this current situation is going that route, in the sense that by creating a certain tension—I mean, the constant travels by American officials to the region since January, the $10-billion-plus deal of selling arms to Saudi Arabia and Gulf states and various other elements, and now we’re seeing with Lebanon, and the tightening of sanctions, specifically from the United States, even though they can’t have their way through UN resolutions, but specifically by the United States, what they’re trying to do is that they’re putting a great deal of pressure and economic burden and giving this impression that Iran has to spend a great deal in expanding its influence and its military, and hoping that under that weight it is somehow going to collapse, kind of the same kind of thing that they did during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. I think it’s more of that, and the threat of war obviously is going to increase that kind of intensity that we see among the hierarchy of the Islamic republic. I see more of that plan being followed as is United States really going to attack Iran? I mean, there is a lot that you have to consider. I can’t see as a very smart move, and I hear that a great deal of people in the military circles and Pentagon also are very concerned about that, for the US to attack. I see more of a threat because of what I mentioned, the pressure it’s going to exert, than an actual attack.

JAY: Alright. Thank you very much for joining us, Babak. And thank you—

YEKTAFAR: Thank you.

JAY: —for watching. If you’d like to see more reports like this on The Real News Network, once again, please click the "donate" button somewhere just over my shoulder. Thanks for joining us.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.