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EDITORIAL – Rumblings felt in the Middle East

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EDITORIAL – Rumblings felt in the Middle East

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THERE HAVE BEEN rumblings among the major powers recently about Iran, following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on the nuclear developments allegedly under way there.
This was preceded by a veritable storm of media commotion in Israel as top leaders reportedly discussed launching a military strike on Iran to punish it for having nuclear aspirations. Then, officials of countries in the West began making statements concerning other types of punishment, mainly some form of sanctions.
There is nothing new in Israel’s threatening military action against Iran, but of late matters appear to have taken a more ominous turn.
Last week, Minister of Defence Ehud Barak told Radio Israel that non-diplomatic options were “on the table” and his government did not need approval from other powers.
This veiled threat coincided with the European Union’s (EU) decision to tighten the squeeze and blacklist 180 Iranian firms and individuals. This follows sanctions by Britain, after a “non-diplomatic response” by Iran in the form of the mob attack on the British Embassy.
The attack provoked denunciation by the EU as well, with European foreign ministers saying that Brussels considered “these actions against the United Kingdom as actions against the EU as a whole”.
Perhaps, like any other country, Iran believes it has the right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. But it is its uranium enrichment programme that has aroused suspicion in Israel and the Western world.
The problem is that the West looks the other way when it comes to Israel’s nuclear capability. Whatever the case, Iran must realize the consequences of both its nuclear programme and any major confrontation with the West.
While the United States and the EU may be conscious of the damage to Western interests from a larger conflict involving Israel and Iran, the Likud government seems to have no such qualms.
In an unusually blunt response, United States Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta suggested that Israel should change its policies that have, in his view, landed it in isolation. However, at the same time and in the same breath, he assured it of America’s unflinching support.
Nonetheless, it’s a good sign that Washington, at least, accepted that Israel’s policies are plunging it in a troubled zone, and even its allies in the region, to say the least, are getting restless.
Panetta went on to make a point that the stalled peace process is anathema and doesn’t bode well for either party in the region. He called on Israel to restart peace talks with the Palestinian Authority and warned against efforts to undermine them despite the snub it got as it attempted to get full membership at the United Nations.
Israel has little option but to change course in dealing with its neighbours. Trading land for peace would be a good start. Making noise about war might divert attention from the global economic crisis, but it’s not the solution.