“Wolf! Wolf! Iran! Iran!“

Since 1948, Israel has nurtured an ethos according to which its very existence is imperiled. Even before it was born, the country was in danger of extinction because Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan rose up to annihilate it.  Since then, a new oppressor has risen periodically, threatening to “throw us into the sea.” Once upon a time it was ‘Abd al-Nasser, and when he disappeared, it was Saddam Hussein. After Saddam was defeated with American help, it has become the turn of the Iranian tyrant, who is developing nuclear weapons to eliminate us and proclaim a Shiite victory throughout the Middle East.

In the past, however, it turned out that things were not quite as they were mooted. The monarchical and backward Arab regimes which invaded in 1948 did not truly intend to conquer Palestine, and their armies mirrored the weakness and decay of their regimes. In 1967, ‘Abd al-Nasser entered the war in an ill-conceived way and was utterly defeated. The “existential threat” turned out to have been imaginary, while Israel expanded its territory threefold. The bluff of Saddam Hussein was revealed when the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, claiming he had “weapons of mass destruction.” What he had, it turned out, was a factory for cap pistols. This adventure cost the Americans many billions, with thousands of soldiers killed and wounded, and it took away their desire to continue fighting in the name of an “existential danger” to Israel.

Yes, the world is fed up with Israel’s “existential danger,” so Barack Obama decided to reach an agreement with Iran and limit its ability to develop nuclear weapons. Israel stomped its feet in anger. Netanyahu went all the way to the US Congress to incite against Obama, but in vain. Nothing helped until Donald Trump came on the scene, and Israel breathed a sigh of relief. The agreement with Iran was rescinded, Trump imposed severe sanctions on the Iranians, and the Mossad did in Iran as it pleased, from the assassination of scientists, through cyberattacks, to the theft of the nuclear archive.

The end is known – Trump was defeated by Biden, in Iran an even more radical president was elected, the centrifuges work overtime, and all parties to the original nuclear deal have returned to the table in Vienna. Once again, Israel is alone, and once again it is trying to convince the world that an “existential danger” is at its door.

But the world has moved on, and Iran’s existential threat to Israel has given way to more tangible existential threats. The Biden administration has set new priorities for the world, with three existential threats that demand vigorous, global action. The first is the climate crisis, which threatens the existence of life on earth. The second is the pandemic. And the third is the threat to democracy from totalitarian regimes like China and Russia, not to mention the neo-fascist currents headed by Donald Trump.

Iran’s place in the range of threats is marginal, and the new Israeli government’s cries of “existential danger” fall on deaf ears. For Israel, climate change is an anecdote, the pandemic is something we can live with, and there is no concern about totalitarianism. Israel’s conciliatory attitude toward the Chinese, its warm relationship with Putin, its longing for Trump, and its alliances with Bin Salman, al-Sisi, Abdullah, and the Emirates show where its heart is.

In fact, the “Abraham Accords” with the Gulf States tell the whole story. While Iran is verbally threatening Israel, in practice its eyes are fixed on the Arab regimes, led by Saudi Arabia, for which Iran really does pose an “existential danger.” It was this threat that threw them into the arms of Israel, with the generous assistance of Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Iran has managed to undermine Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, all on the pretext of liberating Jerusalem. To judge from its actions on the ground, it poses an existential danger not to Israel, but to millions of Arab citizens who are forced to leave their countries and become refugees. Israel is not a target and never was. It is and was a pretext. Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon are the real targets, and they are paying the price for Iran’s expansionist aspirations.

At the same time, while the Iranian regime is playing the Israeli card to make gains abroad and suppress domestic opposition, in Israel the word “Iran” has become a code to continue inflating the defense budget at the expense of the resource-hungry sectors that are needed to reduce social gaps. However, the world is no longer buying the security bluff, and many Israelis are fed up with it too.

In an opinion piece against raising the budgetary pension for members of the standing army (Haaretz, November 28), Iris Leal writes: “In a land beset by enemies, everyone gripes about the cost of living, the labor market, wage gaps and the housing market, yet time and time again we vote on one issue along: security. Existential dread drives most of Israel’s citizenry, and the people’s army is the apple of their eye.”

To this Leal adds, “The overwhelming rage at Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s decision to raise the budgetary pension of already retired standing-army personnel surprised even him. Gantz is still living in times when every word uttered by the Israel Defense Forces is accepted as true by definition, every demand met, and every hint of resistance quelled through emotional blackmail and unsubtle warnings of the military catastrophe on the horizon.”

And what would the Israeli army have done if the sanctions imposed by Trump on the Iranian regime had indeed achieved their goal? What would have happened if a new Iranian “green revolution,” like the one suppressed by the regime in 2009, had established democracy there? There is one answer: the Arab Spring would have returned in full force. And what would have happened if the second revolutionary wave had overthrown al-Sisi’s regime while eliminating Iranian militias in Iraq and Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon? The answer is clear:  all of Israel’s autocratic allies in the region would have fallen, one after the other, starting with the Saudis. Democracy is the real existential threat to the Saudis and the Emirates, who supported all the coups to quell the Arab Spring. In the end, it is not the Iranian regime that poses an existential danger, but the possibility of a democratic revolution, which will raise the Arab world from its ruins, the same ruins that Israel and its accomplices thrive on.

The overthrow of the Iranian regime is an existential interest first and foremost for the Iranian people themselves, who suffer from political and cultural oppression, as well as deep poverty. It is also in the interest of the Arab peoples whose countries were destroyed by Iranian intervention. It is in the interest of the Palestinian people, who are groaning and fighting against Israel’s denial of their basic rights. In contrast, the Israeli interest is to keep the Middle East devastated, backward, poor and oppressed, in order to continue maintaining its schizophrenic regime, which ranges from democracy for Jews to apartheid for Palestinians. The world has already moved on to another era while Israel continues to educate itself from faded pages written during the Cold War, which depict it as the bulwark of the democratic West in a totalitarian sea. The world is changing, but Israel and its partners in the region, and with them the Iranian regime, remain mired in the past.

About Yacov Ben Efrat