As US President Barack Obama makes historic overtures in attempting to foster open dialogue with Iran, the rest of the world watches in optimistic anticipation. The UK's Guardian recently reported that Obama's administration drafted a letter to Iran "aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks."
Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has welcomed US overtures saying that "The new US administration announced that it's willing to bring about a number of changes and is now taking the course for dialogue. It's quite clear that the real change should be fundamental, not just tactical change, and it is quite clear that the Iranian nation will greet real changes." (CNN, February 10.)
Change or no change, residents of southern and northern Israel have reason to be wary of Iran, a country that continues to fund Hamas and Hizbullah terrorism operations.
Thanks to Iranian-produced Grad missiles and technology, Hamas now holds rockets that place close to one million Israelis within target range. During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas was able to strike Israel's fifth and sixth largest cities, Ashdod and Beersheba respectively, along with Netivot, Ofakim, Qiryat Gat, Yavneh, and Kiryat Malachi.
Hamas now has aspirations to target other Israeli cities, particularly Tel Aviv. Hamas' al-Aqsa TV recently proclaimed on a program: "Tel Aviv, all our options are open." (al-Aqsa TV, January 10, 2009.)
But it is not only the rockets that are worrying.
Although the Obama administration is keen on turning a new leaf with Iran, the fact remains that Tehran is the "central banker" for Middle East terrorism, as former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice aptly put it when she spoke to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Iran's role in supporting Islamic terror in 2006.
Will Israel be pressured to talk to Hamas?
The Iranian nation is a leading financial supporter of three terror networks; Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah. Iran transfers several hundreds of million of dollars a year to Hamas, financing the movement and its military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. When Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2006, Iran awarded the regime with a $50 million bonus (BBC report April 16, 2006.)
Iranians themselves fully identify with Hamas’ goals to destroy Israel, as most recently indicated when more than 70,000 Iranian student volunteers registered to carry out suicide bombings against Israel to support Hamas during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. (AP, January 5, 2009.) The rush of volunteers transpired when Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a religious decree stating that anyone who carried out an attack against Israel would be considered a martyr.
And finally, Iran’s perception of the West is just as hostile. Iranian school books characterize the United States as “Great Satan.” Westernization receives a special label in Persian, known as Gharbzadegi, which literally means being smitten with the West in a way that corrupts the soul. “Westernization is treated as an ominous danger targeting Islamic identity.” (The War Curriculum in Iranian Schoolbooks p.162)
The question is - what will President Obama be willing to believe of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should he engage in direct talks with him, as Iranian financial aid and rockets continue to strengthen Hamas and Hizbullah. And will Israel be pressured to talk to Hamas in the same fashion?
Anav Silverman is the International Correspondent for Sderot Media Center: www.sderotmedia.com.