"Why should the Arabs pay the price of the Holocaust carried out against the Jewish people in Europe?" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked the students who came to hear him speak at Columbia University. This statement was not coincidental and fits together with quite a few references on the part of Iranian leaders regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict: These references express a clear inclination by Iran to position itself as the protector of the Arab world.
Needles to say, this tendency does not express genuine concern on the part of the Persians regarding the Arab community. These two communities never enjoyed a close and fraternal relationship. The Iranian president is conducting himself in a very sophisticated manner in this context, while being aware that such an approach grants Iran several important advantages.
Despite their awareness of the genuine threat posed by Iran against Arab countries, Arab leaders choose to keep silent and remain on the sidelines, as if Iran's nuclear aspirations do not affect them. They very likely know well that Arab countries (and particularly those bordering Iran,) rather than Israel, are at the top of Iran's list of revolutionary targets. We can present at least three reasons to reinforce this assessment:
1. Iran, just like many other countries in the international arena, assumes that Israel possesses nuclear capability that grants it the possibility to destroy Iran, should the latter dare to attack using non-conventional means. Even a zealous leadership such as the one ruling Iran would not wish to pay such terrible price.
2. Iran is well aware that Israel possesses defense systems, which are likely the most advanced in the world, for intercepting ballistic missiles. Therefore, it must take into consideration a scenario whereby the firing of missiles at Israel is thwarted, while Iran itself remains vulnerable to an Israeli response.
3. Iran estimates that the United States would not be able to remain uninvolved in the case of a non-conventional attack against Israel.
The deafening silence of Arab leaders in the face of the Iranian "bear hug" is an expression of the great weakening process they underwent in recent years: The days where speeches by Presidents Nasser and Sadat would stir excitement across the world are gone. Today, even Hamas' leaders in Gaza take the liberty to openly ignore Egyptian requests and demands.
The ongoing silence will further weaken the Arab world. A wise, authoritative, and visionary leadership in the Arab world would work to reach an arrangement that would bring about the neutralization, even if temporarily, of the Israeli-Arab conflict in order to stand united in the face of the threat posed by Iran. Indeed, this would not be an ideal solution, but this is the only reasonable solution available to them at this time, assuming that a comprehensive peace agreement is unrealistic, of course.
At the very least, Arab states can make it clear to Iran, both openly and secretly, that they do not need its assistance and patronage in their struggle against Israel. By doing so they would rid themselves of the image of being weak countries that require the protection of a regional "mini-superpower."
Despite this, it appears that Arab states will continue to sink deeper into the coma they have been experiencing for years now, and hope that others do the dirty work for them.
Prof Zaki Shalom is senior lecturer at Ben Gurion University and a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies