International Travel and Opinion

MAURER: Perhaps nuclear weapons in Iran finally will unite the Middle East

July 13, 2009

President Obama was in Egypt last month to see the Sphinx, the Pyramids and other relics of a bygone age but, more important, to set the tone for a new age—according to Obama, “a new beginning” in relations between the United States and the Muslim world.

Obama’s hour-long speech in Cairo addressed a number of issues, including the Arab-Israeli peace process and Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. They are intertwined. Our president understands that the Mideast is a dangerous neighborhood and the issues relating to this neighborhood are complex and defy simple solutions. We understand that, too.

It is for that reason that my wife, Janie, and I, along with the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, have co-sponsored a program enabling the Jewish Community Relations Council to invite leaders of our central Indiana community to Israel for study missions. The program is more than 20 years old. We typically invite 12 guests from a cross-section of disciplines. We have well over 100 alumni.

On each trip, Israelis have informed us it was an “interesting” time to visit—a code word for “volatile.” It has always been an “interesting” time to visit Israel. War has been waged along the fertile beds and trade routes of the Mideast for thousands of years. Greeks, Romans, Turks—nation after nation has come and conquered. Jerusalem has seen little rest.

To appreciate the issues raised by Obama from the Israeli perspective, try to see Israel through the prism of its recent history. It has been less than 70 years since the family members of many of the leaders of the Israeli nation were brutally murdered. Six million were lost—that is equal to the entire population of the state of Indiana—every man, woman and child, gone up in smoke. The recent election in Iran has demonstrated to the world that this nation is a farcical democracy under the thumb of an authoritative regime—a regime controlled by a would-be Hitler who is denying the Holocaust, vilifying Jews, and declaring his intention to annihilate Israel. How should Israel react to these lunatic ravings and how far should it go to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear war machine?

If you were to draw a circle estimating the delivery capacity of Iran’s missiles, the area would encompass many of the Arab states. These countries are nervous about the delicate balance of power in the Mideast giving way to Iran’s extraordinary military muscle. The Arabs and Israelis now have something in common—the shared fear of a belligerent Shia Iran. This may give rise to a realignment in the Mideast and the beginning of a meaningful dialogue between Israel and some of her neighbors.

Is a real peace possible? Anti-Semitism is raging throughout the Arab world. Even in relatively friendly countries, there are laws against selling land to Jews. It seems Israel is either at or preparing for war all the time. Israel has been lucky enough to win its wars of survival beginning in 1948. The penalty for losing a war is utter destruction.

On the other hand, some Mideast regimes have recognized the state of Israel. A cease-fire with Egypt has lasted for decades. There is economic exchange with Jordan. There are talks—sideways talks—with Syria and its puppet regime in Lebanon. Maybe the American effort in Iraq will result in real democracy, providing a model for the rest of the Arab world which has, so far, been resistant. One could say progress has been made.

Shalom and Assalaamu Alaikum. It’s a new beginning. President Obama has stretched out his hand in a gesture of respect and has asked the Mideast players to come together in peaceful dialogue. Premier Netanyahu has responded in kind. Is Iran making Mideast nations nervous enough to consider this overture? Perhaps on our next study mission to Israel, we will find the times less “interesting.”

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Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.

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