These days, it is very easy for the rulers of the Islamic Republic to maintain the rhetorical high ground. Whether they can withstand an attack of concentrated American military might is another question. Rouhani pointed out that the "Revolutionary Guard" was in Syria and Yemen – an unprecedentedly clear hint that if push comes to shove, Iran will strike back against American targets and targets of the U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The spectre of a new, larger and more devastating war is thus haunting the Middle East. By comparison, German companiesʹ fears that the U.S. sanctions will stop them being able to invest in Iran seem almost petty and provincial.

Bogeyman Iran

The increasingly noisy role of the Israeli government is now impossible to ignore. In his withdrawal statement, Trump made reference to the "proof" that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented on the Iranian nuclear programme. The anti-Iran clique in Washington is working hand-in-hand with the government in Jerusalem. A few days ago the Israeli defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, proclaimed loudly that there were "three problems: Iran, Iran and Iran." He was parroting the words of the American Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who had said exactly the same thing two years previously.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (photo: picture-alliance/dpa/AP)
All hope rests on the remaining signatories: President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Iran would remain committed to the deal without Washington despite Trump's decision to withdraw from it. "If we achieve the deal's goals in co-operation with other members of the deal, it will remain in place," Rouhani said in a televised speech. "I have ordered the foreign ministry to negotiate with the European countries, China and Russia in coming weeks. If at the end of this short period we conclude that we can fully benefit from the JCPOA with the co-operation of all countries, the deal would remain," he said. Rouhani warned that Iran was ready to resume its curbed nuclear activities if Iran's interests were not guaranteed under a deal without the United States

Can the madness be stopped? It will be very difficult. Berlin and Paris may never tire of stressing the nuclear agreementʹs advantages and regretting the "blow" dealt to conventions in international relations, as well as the U.S. governmentʹs "loss of credibility and reliability." But will that prevent a war?

We may place greater hopes in Israeli and Iranian civil society. Both would suffer most from a new war. On the one hand, people in Israel are fearful of Iran – and with good reason. But this fear has been systematically stoked by a succession of Israeli governments over 20 years, beyond all reasonable measure.

Netanyahuʹs stage show was the provisional high point here (or low point, from an aesthetic point of view). But on the other hand, many Israelis mistrust Netanyahu and Lieberman. They hold them responsible for the offence of working with Trumpʹs clique to draw them into a dangerous and unnecessary war. Will they take to the streets in protest against this? That would certainly make an impression.

Not giving the other side any pretext for war

Something similar applies to Iranian civil society. They must succeed in making it clear to the government that the majority of the population does not want them to provoke or needle the other side in a way that might provide them with a pretext for war. This fact is well known to everyone involved. Itʹs just that these days, you canʹt repeat it often enough. 

The biblical "prince of peace", the "sar-shalom", the saviour whose coming the prophets foretold, has both a Persian and a Hebrew linguistic element. The situation is so desperate that a reference to the lexical construction of this old term may not be entirely superfluous.

A more urgent thought, however, is that Israeli and Iranian societies are fundamentally very similar. This is where the tragic absurdity of the situation lies. But it also provides a grain of hope. Both nations have developed a living culture that rests on similar values: the will to create, to make art, the recognition that "man does not live by bread alone" are widespread in both countries. And so is the urge to stay abreast of modern developments and to seek scientific progress. And the social significance of education and the idea that "the children should have a good future."

Press conference: Netanyahu presents images from a "secret archive" in Tehran (photo: dpa)
Farcical scare-mongering: Israelʹs Prime Minister Netanyahu recently presented images sourced from a supposedly "secret archive " in Tehran. "Netanyahuʹs stage show was the provisional high point here (or low point, from an aesthetic point of view). But on the other hand, many Israelis mistrust Netanyahu and Lieberman. They hold them responsible for the offence of working with Trumpʹs clique to draw them into a dangerous and unnecessary war," writes Buchen

The similarities between the songs of the two countries are almost uncanny, both from an aesthetic point of view and in terms of the cultural value and social role that both societies attribute to this art form. There is currently a video on YouTube of an improvised Israeli army choir. The soldiers, for whatever reason, sing a Persian chanson that "everyone" knows.

The result is both moving and somehow out of kilter. It seems there are other things Israeli soldiers could be practicing besides attacks by fighter bombers with air-to-air refuelling that can be launched into the air from 2500 kilometres away.

In the 1860s Ferdinand Lassalle pointed out the cultural connections between the French and the Germans. He thought the similarities in the countriesʹ literature, art and other areas, would provide resistance to the idea of waging war with each other.

He also warned that there would not just be one war, because any war would necessarily provoke revenge. The rest is history – and it makes the question of why Europe is so weak today superfluous.

Stefan Buchen

© 2018

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

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