Sputnik: The senior Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami said that the US aims at toppling the country’s clerical establishment, local media said on Friday. Speaking further Khatami said that Israel’s Tel Aviv and Haifa will be destroyed if the country acts foolishly. What is your take on this?
Anoush Ehteshami: Ahmad Khatami as you mentioned is known as a hardliner cleric whose Friday sermons are often full of rhetoric and hyperbole, as you have already indicated. So, that doesn’t necessarily reflect government policy or even the views of the leader, but obviously it is a view that is put out there to mobilize the conservative forces in Iran, who would like to see the establishment take a stronger line against what they see as Israeli aggression.
Sputnik: What consequences can they have on the already strange relations between Iran and Israel? It looks as though it’s just going to be a conflict, doesn’t it?
Anoush Ehteshami: I am hoping that it won’t escalate upwards to open war between them, because that would be an absolute disaster for the two countries, but also for the region and globally I would suggest. But I don’t get any sense that Tel Aviv or Tehran are spoiling for a direct fight either.
The tragedy of this is that Syria as was the case in the [first] second half of the twentieth century has now become the arena for power brokering in the Arab world. It was the case then; Patrick Seal called Syria the struggle for the Middle East in his seminal work that appeared in the 70’s.
I think we are now back to that scenario. Syria is so important because Syrian territory neighbors Israel, neighbors Jordan, neighbors Lebanon, neighbors Iraq, neighbors Turkey, and gives Iran access to the Levant on the one hand. On the other, the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel and annexed in 1981 are strategically important places.
If your listeners have been up the Golan Heights, from up there the lights of Damascus are almost in reach, the coastline of Israel where much of its [power lies] are in sight.
Lebanon is at your feet; Jordan gives way into the valley towards Amman. It is of vital strategic important. So, for that reason Israel has fortified it with military command posts and signals and intelligence gathering facilities. So when missiles are fired at these facilities from Syria, then Israel will inevitably take very strong action because it needs to deter whoever is firing at it from doing so again.
If Iran has got the freedom to do that in Syria, then obviously there is an urgent requirement now to try and deescalate, to try and return authority to the central government in Syria through dialogue, but also to use the good offices of third parties to open a channel of communication between Tehran and Tel Aviv.
That is what’s really missing; and I can’t according to the current situation see America acting in that capacity given that it has now put its colors to the Israeli mast very clearly. I can’t see EU proactively taking up that position because they need to calm Iran’s nerves down about the nuclear deal which is now teetering on the verge of collapse. Nor do they want to be making more trouble with Israel by appearing to take sides. The only party, in my view, that can play the role of good officer in this regard, is Russia.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has open channels of communication with Russia and its military. Israeli military communicates directly with the Russian military in Syria. As you know, Netanyahu was with President Putin when the Israelis attacked sixty targets in Syria. On the other side, of course, Iran and Russia are partners in Syria and also bilaterally they have really warm relations; so in my view it falls on Moscow to try and calm the waters a bit and urge both parties in Iran and Israel to lower the rhetoric but also to find ways of not shadow boxing in such a way that it would turn into an open war between them or the proxies.
The views and opinions expressed by Anoush Ehteshami are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.