Address by Strategic Affairs Minister Ya'alon at Washington Institute for Near East Policy (Excerpts)

June 9, 2009

Iran is the main reason for instability in the region, combining the strengthening of the radicals and progress on the Iranian nuclear project.


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The Iranian Issue

There are two problems with the way the media frames the Iranian issue.

The first one is the notion that the Iranian problem is first and foremost a conflict between Iran and Israel. Here we can see, for example, the setting of Fareed Zakaria 's discussion on Iran on CNN. Look at the definition of the subject on the bottom of the screen: "Iran vs. Israel".

The second troubling manner in which the media frames the Iran issue is the recurring suggestion in the media that a combination of a sincere dialogue and non-military sanctions will peacefully persuade the Iranians to change their policy and give up the military nuclear program. Unlike the previous example, which has some relationship to reality, this mistaken assumption is based primarily on wishful thinking.

If, as much evidence suggests, dialogue and non-military sanctions will not work, then there may indeed be a need to resort to the military option in order to halt the Iranian project. Yet, those in the media who frame the issue as one that requires negotiations and diplomacy do the world a disservice by failing to present to their audiences the evidence that such a strategy in fact won't work.

The media approaches this issue with the assumption that Iran is a rational actor, very much like Western states, and that its primary concern is American behavior towards it.

While I believe this is unlikely, let's assume that it may be true. But shouldn't the media nonetheless inform their public of an alternative view?

That alternative view suggests that the Iranians have a completely different agenda and set of motivating factors. Those facts will not only sound strange, but very uncomfortable to the Western ear, yet there is substantial basis for them. All the media has to do is take note of them and report them to the public.

For example, many key Iranian players, in particular the Mullahs, consider the destruction of Israel as just a step on the way to changing the entire world order. The Iranians want to bring about this change, and they have many allies who, though they may not share Iran's Shiite goals, nonetheless share its desire to bring down American-led global liberalization. Syria and Chavez are of course key active partners in this. The goal of such an alliance is not just the conquest of Israel, but the entire Western world as well.

To appreciate the fallacy of this notion of Iranian "rationality," it is crucial to understand that the Iranian leadership, just like all the other radicals, is not interested in contributing to stability. On the contrary, they are interested in turbulence and instability - as long as it doesn't threaten their survival and their ability to stay in power - because stability would shore up the very world order they want to replace. Furthermore, the Iranians view the West's reluctance to use force against them as a lack of will and proof that Iran is moving in the right direction.

There are so many examples of this mindset in the rhetoric of the Iranian leadership that it is quite amazing to consider how little of that affects the way the media refers to the Iranian issue. Let me just mention some of President Ahmadinejad's declarations in recent weeks. For example when he paid a visit to his Syrian counterpart, President Bashar Al Assad, in early May he said that "Alongside the resistance and steadfastness, we must also strive to create a new world order; otherwise new oppressive regimes will emerge." He called the West's fundamental values "inhuman and belonging to past decades," and insisted that "The philosophy and order that emerged after World War II have come to the end of their road, and [the West] is unable to offer solutions for the world's problems."

Now granted, this may sound silly to Western ears - that we are inhuman and oppressive in comparison with Syria and Iran. But the media censors this material because they either don't take it seriously, or they don't want people to draw the wrong conclusions from it.

Ahmadinejad also added: "today the circumstances in the world and in the region are rapidly changing. Those who, for many years, said that Iran and Syria must be pressured, and wanted to prevent [them] from defending the rights of the peoples in the region, now openly declare that they require the help of Tehran and Damascus in solving their problems. Today we are beginning to move on the path of triumph, and even greater victories lie ahead." Note how Ahmadinejad interprets US desire to negotiate as a sign to press their own advantage.

In a recent speech in Kerman Ahmadinejad announced that Iran was drawing up a new package of proposals for negotiations surrounding the country's nuclear program. He emphasized that the West was weak, and could not force anything on Iran. "If the United States wants dialogue, there must first be a withdrawal of all Western forces, the destruction of the West's entire nuclear arsenal, and respect for Iran's right to its nuclear program," he said, and added, "Nearly 7,000 centrifuges are spinning today at Natanz, mocking you."

"The Iranian nation will not accept domination from oppressive powers," said Ahmadinejad, dressed in his trademark light-colored jacket and dark trousers as young men and women chanted "Ahmadi! Ahmadi!" "We have to build an Iran that will have a role in directing the future of the world," he added as the crowd kept shouting. Again, some may wish to dismiss this as "mere rhetoric," but is the media acting responsibly when it suppresses the public's awareness of the problem?

There are so many examples of this mindset in the rhetoric of the Iranian leadership that it is quite amazing to consider that none of this gets reported to the Western public in the mainstream media and, more troubling, that the media doesn't even stop to reevaluate their positions.

How can the American public intelligently discuss major policy decisions that could have major consequences for the entire world, when the MSM withholds basic information that would enable them to conduct a serious analysis of the problem?

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