Saturday, November 13, 2010

Messages to Tehran: Answering Questions from Iranians

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By Barry Rubin

I have been asked by some very brave Iranian bloggers to answer their questions, which they translate into Persian here and here and make available within Iran. I am told there is a good response from their readers.

Here are two of my responses.

Question: Why don't Israel and Israelis protest more about human rights violations in the Middle East, including Iran?

Response: Because they are told and believe that this would be counterproductive. Israel protesting on the part of any group or individual would allow the repressive government to portray that person as an Israeli agent and treat them even worse. In other words, by speaking up that would hurt those one is trying to help. If that view is inaccurate I'm sure people would be glad to hear why that is so.

This doesn't mean, though, that there isn't great sympathy. I remember meeting a Syrian dissident abroad. He said to me: "Do you think there will be democracy in Syria soon?"

I was certain the answer was "no" but neither wanted to lie to him nor to tell him the sad truth. So I said nothing. After a pause he said, "Well, perhaps in my children's time." I felt terrible but didn't know what to say.

But I can tell you that when I spoke at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, about a year ago, I came out of the building and saw a large pro-democracy demonstration by Iranians. I went up and said, "Long live a free Iran!" They were very happy and I realized that they thought I was a member of the European parliament. I explained that I was from Israel and they were glad to have my support.

When I speak at universities, there are often pro-democracy Arab or Iranian students there to discuss their situation and hear my view that the big threat is the revolutionary Islamist groups and their backers--Iran and Syria. I have had many discussions and exchanges with such activists.

Indeed, I wrote an entire book entitled The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East about liberal reform movements in Arabic-speaking countries.

So I think, and this is typical of Israeli views, that the region, the countries, and the peoples would be better off with real freedom and real democracy. But it is not clear how Israel can benefit that cause through any action it could take.

Question: Iranian state media news agencies publish reports that Israel would be finished soon and is at the end of its existence, etc. ISNA, Iran Student News Agency, has reported about a CIA report that Israel would meet the end in 25 years due to migration of Jewish people from Israel and increasing population of Palestinian people. Tell us an accurate view on this. Could it be that the end of country comes one day? How are investment, trade and business in Israel? Is it due to terrorist activities against Israel that business and investment leave the Israeli market?

Response: I don’t feel the least bit worried in predicting that Israel will be prospering when the Islamic Republic of Iran in its current form is a bad historical memory and its current leadership is fleeing or jailed by a democratic Iranian society.

Regarding demographics, the birth rate between Jews and Arabs in Israel is about the same, with the Arab birth rate falling. The Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip and West Bank is not relevant for considerations on this issue since they will always remain separate, either the way things are now or in a separate country.

As for terrorist attacks within Israel, at present, it is about the lowest level as it has ever been. Israelis face foreign terrorist attacks but Iranians face terrorism from their own government. Who is at greater risk?
In terms of economy, society, and other matters, Israel is doing very well. It has one of the best records in the world for dealing with the current international recession. The UN just rated it 15 out of more than 160 countries in terms of how well off is its population—ahead of England, for example. In public opinion polls, Israelis express a level of content with their lives far higher than Western countries. Tourism is setting records. Israel is a world leader in hi-tech, medical innovations, and scientific and agricultural inventions.

There have even been major discoveries of natural gas off the coast that may make Israel into an exporter.

Unlike Iran, Israel does not have the benefit of massive income from energy exports. So how is Iran’s economy doing under the management of the Islamist regime? What are its levels of unemployment? How great are its internal political strains? Israel is faced by economic boycotts by most Middle East states; Iran is faced by economic sanctions by most Western states. Which country is doing very well and which has high unemployment?

So the real discussion should be about how the Islamist regime will be finished soon due to its earning the hatred of most of its subjects, provocations against other countries, and economic mismanagement.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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