Engaging the psychology behind the tool

The tension over a possible Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear infrastructure has been sensibly growing for the last couple of months. The next 10 weeks may in fact decide the future and the shape of the region.

May it be in Israel or in the rest of the world; the debate concerning the probability of a preventive attack by the Israeli Defense Forces has engaged all parts of the political and intellectual spheres. The military, political and economic necessities of a strike are constantly being highlighted by the “pro-war” camp while the possibly devastating after effects of a unilateral offensive action are being summoned to support the “anti-war” arguments.

The debate engaging policy makers, international analysts and amateurs from all sides is nevertheless focusing on a short term parameter: Iranian nuclear capabilities. This means that Israel and its international partners are putting a major part of their energy on the tool which would be used to accomplish an objective, the objective being to undermine Israel’s security and in the long term roll back the Jewish State defensive options. The core of this reasoning goes beyond the options a given government or terrorist organization tries to obtain, it is indeed deeply rooted into the ethos of the region. The structured and internalized hate of Israel goes beyond the mere tools available to a regime; this subconscious phenomenon does still represent a long term threat which will outlast the infamous Iranian nuclear adventure.

This regional feeling may be exposed over three crystal clear points, each of them representing an unequivocal attempt to work toward a long term objective of limiting Israel’s freedom of action and sovereignty rather than walking toward regional peace.

1)     Continued diplomatic effort to undermine Israel’s legitimacy on the international scene

One of the most apparent aspects of the Arab and regional forceful opposition to Israel security may be seen in the conduct of diplomatic relations between states at the UN level. The fact that Israel’s interests in regard to the Iranian nuclear issue are similar to those of  the Gulf Monarchies, does not challenge the reality that Arab powers do maintain a belligerent stance against Israel as much as it is possible. In the coming days, the IAEA will most likely release the latest document certifying the degree to which Iran is trying to hide, protect and expand its nuclear infrastructure, nevertheless Arab states have already voiced the idea to use upcoming international meetings to denounce Israel’s alleged nuclear capabilities.

Such a tendency is clearly noted each time Arab states decide to focus on the situation of Palestinians refugees while turning a blind eye on concrete issues going on inside fellow Arab League member states.

In addition to that, recent comments by the staff of the Egyptian President underscore that even for a country at peace with Israel for more than 30 years, accepting an invitation by an Israeli representative may be viewed as an unpatriotic act which is to be reprimanded.

The same reasoning may be applied to the Turkish stubbornness concerning the 2010 flotilla incident. Ankara maintains a position which goes against its own values and principles while protecting a group of people that was clearly at fault. If Turkey does so, it is not over a question of pure national interest but, by undermining Israel’s legitimacy, it acquires some ‘street credibility’, an essential token in the region.

2)     Advanced state of denial

Something that has long crippled the way Arab societies function is their tendency to accept and abide by conspiracy theories. The extent to which this issue is affecting the daily policy making process may be difficult to appreciate but it does indicate a psychological state of mind which to some extent is not ready to accept reality as it is.

From stating that the terrorist attacks of September 11th  were the work of Mossad operatives to proposing the same explanation for the attacks on Egyptian soldiers by Sinai Jihadists, there is an unwillingness to cope with the reality of international events.  This obsession in justifying its own shortcomings vis-à-vis Israel existence is pandemic and drives states and societies to the most bizarre conclusions. Every insect in Southern Lebanon may be bearing an Israeli spying system, if it doesn’t rain in Southern Iran it is due to a ‘soft war’ designed by Israel and the US aimed at causing a drought. Israel is perceived as being so scheming that even migratory birds over Turkey may be Jewish infiltrators (!).

This denial has been going on since 1948; there is an underlying way of putting it: “if we don’t see it, if we don’t talk about it, then it doesn’t exist”. That is why on some post stamps in Arab countries, Israel does not appear on the map or if you go at the Hezbollah “resistance “ “museum” you will only see the name Israel between brackets in order not to shock the visitors who may still believe that the Zionist entity will one day just disappear.

3)     Repeated calls for the destruction of the Jewish State

The lack of competitive means to actually attack and/or destroy Israel is in no way a reason refraining terrorist groups and states from publicly advancing aggressively genocidal statements. It is no longer a surprise to hear the Iranian establishment calling for the annihilation of Israel. Following the Bulgarian terrorist attacks, the words of Ayatollah Khamenei pleading for an increased terrorist campaign against Israeli targets at home and abroad are especially important.

While the international community focuses a great deal of efforts in the possibility of creating a Palestinian State, a major stakeholder of such an option – Hamas – openly and continuously advances demands  to its supporters to attacks Israelis and Jews.

The “liberation” of Jerusalem remains an underlying theme in galvanizing discourses pronounced by Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.

The incumbent hatred of the Jewish State is so present that it can even lead an actor pranked on Egyptian TV to beat the woman hosting the show, without any feeling of guilt simply because he “really thought she was Jewish”.

The three above mentioned arguments illustrate the fact that regardless of the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon, attempts by regional elements to delegitimize and attack Israel will continue in the medium term. The scope of these three points isn’t to say that Israel should keep on pushing for a policy aimed at impeding Iran from having nuclear weapons as the threat may only be increased the day one of the major detractors of the Jewish State acquires one of the most deadly weapon ever developed.

On the other hand, a century long psychology cannot be changed only via successful military actions.

A pro-active campaign aimed at underlying the fallacies of the adversaries’ discourse along with an increased push at international forum and coordinated campaign of public relations by civil society groups is necessary to undermine a dangerous discourse which stands at the antipodes of peace and security.

The military deterrent should be improved and adapted to new threats but it must also be supported by a civilian effort to roll back a death-oriented message.

About the Author
Riccardo Dugulin is an independant international affairs analyst. He holds a Master in International Security from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and has worked in leading think tanks in Washington DC, Beirut and Dubai and has held the position of security coordinator for a security assistance firm.