x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Rational words on Iran from an unlikely source

Politicians on all sides continue to bang the drums of war with Iran, but calls for calm can still be heard over the constant din of sabre rattling. They must be heeded.

In the potentially catastrophic nuclear stand-off between Iran, Israel and the West, rhetoric has long overshadowed reason. As politicians on all sides bang the drums of war, mostly to advance their domestic political ambitions, the message for peaceful negotiations has been sidelined. But calls for calm can nonetheless still be heard over the constant din of sabre rattling.

Yesterday brought the emergence of an unlikely advocate for a rollback of tensions. As reported by Haaretz, the Israeli Defence Forces chief, Lt Gen Benny Gantz, said he does not believe Iran will carry out the threat of developing nuclear weapons, and that economic sanctions are in fact the most effective way of dealing with the crisis.

These words of reason come days after another official in the Netanyahu government, the minister of intelligence and atomic energy, Dan Meridor, reportedly said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had never actually threatened to "wipe" the state of Israel off the map. President Ahmadinejad's words, Mr Meridor contends, where mistranslated and continue to be exploited by those who stand to gain politically from overplaying Iran's military threat.

What can not be lost in translation is that some within the Israeli establishment clearly disagree with the public position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who favours a more belligerent stance towards Iran. Figures on all sides have shown a desire to rein in the hyperbole in favour of reasoned dialogue. Hardliners like Mr Netanyahu and his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, should follow suit.

The IDF chief's words in particular have struck a chord with Israelis who continue to hold their military in high esteem - despite its oft-brutal tactics and mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners. But whether support for such reasoned talk translates into a de-escalation of tensions depends on the politicians the general serves.

Iran, for its part, has always denied it plans to build a nuclear arsenal, but has consistently muddied the waters with warlike rhetoric of its own. With a new round of nuclear talks set to take place in Baghdad on May 23, the country's leaders now have an opportunity to ratchet back the talk of conflict ahead of the summit. The US, as well, can echo Israeli voices of reason.

Putting too much stake in one interview is unwise; three days before his Haaretz comments, the general told another newspaper his forces were "ready to act" against Iran if ordered to do so. But whatever the potential political gains in touting conflict, a new war in the Middle East is not in the interest of Iran, Israel, the US or anyone else. Belatedly, that message is being shared. We hope it is also being heard.