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Does Israel suffer from 'Iranophobia'?

Some Israelis argue that an 'Iranophobia' holds unnecessary sway over Israeli thinking about a wide range of problems, from rearming of Hezbollah to the 'terrorist' activists aboard the Gaza flotilla. Should Israel see less of a threat in Iran?

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“For Israelis, [being] anti-Iran is a consensus. You don’t have to be a neoconservative to wish for the destruction of Iran,” says Haggai Ram, of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in an interview in Tel Aviv.

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'Iranophobia'

In his recent book “Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession,” Dr. Ram wrote that “there’s something utterly irrational and exceedingly disproportionate in Israeli understandings of the Iranian threat –even if that threat is, in certain respects, very real.”

Ram states that “acute Iranophobia" has led most Israelis to “argue that, should Iran be allowed access to weapons of mass destruction, the ‘nuclear ayatollahs’ will quickly turn them against Israel so as to achieve their apocalyptic ambitions.”

Iran says that its controversial nuclear program is solely for nuclear energy, and often calls for a Middle East free of all nuclear weapons – a pointed reference to Israel’s own atomic arsenal.

Still, it has also supported Israel’s strongest enemies – Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, to name two. Israel has been a proclaimed arch-enemy for as long as the United States has been, dating to when the pro-West Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

President Barack Obama came to office early last year vowing to negotiate with Tehran and ease the estrangement, with few results. Last week, the US spear-headed a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

“Iran is perhaps the most central issue [in Israel], yet there is really no critical debate about this," says Ram. "The people who would rather run against the grain are really a minority. Whenever they speak up – and I say this out of personal experience – they are immediately rendered into these bizarre self-defeating, self-hating Jews, and seen as a fifth column.”

“The idea is that we have no other choice, they want to destroy us,” says Reuven Pedatzur, academic director of a center for strategic dialogue at Netanya Academic College, of the Israeli mindset. “It’s a cultural issue, based on the Holocaust, that everybody wants to destroy the Jewish people."

Justification?

Israeli analysts often describe how the Jewish state “needs” an outside enemy to justify continued oppression against the Palestinians and one of the largest per capita defense budgets in the Middle East.

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