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ISRAEL: Iranians at the gates — what to do?

October 13, 2010 |  8:13 pm

Israel often warns that Iran is at its gates, waging war by proxy from both south and north. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon brings Iran to Israel's northern gate in the flesh, and the question many are asking is what to do.

Nothing, is the official answer. The high-profile visit is being met with a low-key response. We don't need a campaign, said Foreign Ministry sources this week, Ahmadinejad does his own negative PR and is "his own worst enemy."

"The Lebanese are the first to understand the grave implications for their country, we needn't intervene," spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Uzi Rabi, head of Middle East studies at Tel-Aviv University, echoed this sentiment. The best PR for Israel's policies on the matter is Ahmadinejad himself, he said. "Let him say what he wants and let Israel make the best use of it," Rabi said in a radio interview Wednesday. Rabi alluded to the wider context of the visit, noting Ahmadinejad's eroding support within Iran and the tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which is believed will finger Hezbollah.  Among other things, Rabi said, the visit is a clear statement to the West that its efforts to "transfer Lebanon to the 'right camp' have failed."

But the official silent treatment should not be misinterpreted for lack of concern, writes the Jerusalem Post. Unnamed officials said Wednesday that the visit marks Lebanon conversion into "an Iranian protectorate". Ahmadinejad's appearance as a "commander surveying his soldiers" should set off red warning lights around the world, the sources said. Other spokesmen used the "landlord" metaphor instead.

 Meeting with soldiers in the northern Golan Heights, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Ahmadinejad's visit reflects Hezbollah's increasing dependence on Iran. Lebanon may cease to exist as an independent state and Israel should follow developments and give them thought in terms of "intelligence and military." 

One lawmaker is through thinking and isn't waiting for developments; Aryeh Eldad told Israel Radio flat-out what needs to be done. If there had been found a person who could have eliminated Hitler on the eve of World War II, Eldad said, this would have changed the course of history, certainly that of the Jews. Israel was founded so that Jews would be responsible for their fate and never again face extermination, he said, and it is now in a situation where it can "eliminate in South Lebanon the man de-legitimizing our very existence" and threatening to annihilate it.  "Eliminating Ahmadinejad today is like eliminating Hitler in 1939," the legislator said.

This is not on the agenda, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom reassured. "We do not murder heads of state, even if these are totalitarian ones seeking Israel's destruction," he said in a radio interview. Besides, Shalom said, Israel's quarrel isn't with Ahmadinejad himself but with "the ways of the totalitarian republic, the tyranny called Iran," which he alleged is trying to obtain nuclear weapons as well as trying to replace regimes and take over the Middle East.  

Shalom welcomed the sanctions imposed on Iran, saying they were working and would work even better if tightened, and also noted setbacks in Iran's nuclear program due to "technical problems, a mysterious phenomenon that occured there lately." Asked what he knew about it, Shalom said the only thing he knows is that "whoever did this deserves support and praise from the entire international community" for making a direct contribution to world stability. The Stuxnet malware attack on computers associated with nuclear facilities in Iran (among other targets) was widely reported in recent weeks, as were speculations of Israeli involvement.

And then there's that stone-throwing business.  

Last week, when rumors spread that Ahmadinejad's itinerary included symbolically throwing stones at Israel from South Lebanon, deputy minister Ayoub Kara reportedly sent the Iranian president an e-mail, "thanking" him from the bottom of his heart for the "excellent service" his actions would do for Israeli public relations by showing the whole world who the "warmonger" was. 

 On Wednesday, Kara headed a group of Israelis at the border as they released 2000 helium balloons, in blue-and-white flag colors, symbolizing 2000 years of Jewish exile. Despite Ahmadinejad's wishes, Kara said, "Israel will exist for ever." The event was set to take place at Fatma Gate — the now-shut crossing between Israel and south Lebanon — but was moved a bit by an order declaring it a closed military zone, according to Herzel Boker. Boker, mayor of Metula, an Israeli town on the border, was infuriated. We must show the other side we're not afraid of entering places under full Israeli sovereignty, he told the Hebrew-language website NRG.

Still, there were those embracing this visit from a fellow anti-Zionist, including the stone-throwing. A group associated with Neturei Karta — a minority group within Jewish ultra-orthodoxy that is fiercely opposed to the state of Israel — invited people to gather in Jerusalem today and throw stones at the "Zionist government offices." The message, according to the street notices, was to declare their fierce objective to the existence of "this heretic, rebellious takeover" and their "hope to see its ruin soon."

— Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem