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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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Likewise, Iranian analysts often describe how the Islamic Republic must beat the war drums against the United States and Israel to drive its revolutionary anti-imperial, anti-West policies – and to divert Iranian attention from a limp economy and restrictions on freedom at home. “The two countries are obsessed with each other – Iran and Israel,” says Menashri.

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Menashri points out that Iran's revolutionary celebration was named Qods (Jerusalem) Day by Ayatollah Khomeini. "Did they go to the revolution for this?” he asks. “If Israel was not in existence, it [would be] good for the Iranian government to establish the Jewish state of Israel.”

Not all Iranians want their government to pay so much attention to the needs of dispossessed Palestinians or Lebanese after Israeli attacks. One slogan chanted by hundred of thousands of Iranian protesters after disputed elections last year was for the end of aid to Lebanon and the Palestinians. Some protesters' subsequent vows to give their lives for Iran spoke of their desire to have domestic needs be the regime's top priority.

Still, while Israel and Iran have played their arch-enemy roles for decades, the psychology today is magnified by hard-line leaders at the helm in both Jerusalem and Tehran.

“The current government in Israel does see Ahmadinejad as a Hitler in disguise, that we have to be saved from a nuclear holocaust, if and when Iran does get its hand on a nuclear bomb,” says Meir Javedanfar, co-author of “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran.”

While many analysts suggest that Israeli fears are overblown – and note that the plight of Palestinians is a low priority for most Iranians – such calculations are fed by past trauma.

“Imagine for a minute if you are an Israeli. See that second white building?” asks Mr. Javedanfar, sitting in a Tel Aviv coffee shop and pointing down Dizengoff Street. “There’s a bank there, and on the sidewalk is a memorial; a suicide bomber … blew himself up next to people who were taking money out from the cash machine.”

That March 4, 1996, blast, attributed to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, killed 13 people.

“The issue with Iran is not some Great Game competition, where we are competing for influence in Azerbaijan – it’s right here,” says Javedanfar. “When [Iran is] cooperating with groups that reach right here in Israel, you cannot but take it as a direct threat.. When it reaches there – five meters from where you and I met – that’s the difference.”

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