by Alice Pistolesi

“We are facing a geyser, the area is boiling and we can only hope that the worst will not happen. This is how Alberto Bradanini, a former diplomat, summarizes the current situation in the Middle East; among other positions, he was ambassador to Tehran from 2008 to 2012 and to Beijing from 2013 to 2015.

How do you comment on Iran’s attack on Israel on the night of April 13-14?
Based on Article 51 of the UN Charter, it is a justified reaction. It is also so from the point of view of military deterrence to protect its legitimate interests, according to a host of international analysts. Indeed, it was a response to a most serious and unconscionable act: the attack of 1 April on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, which killed 14 people, including seven Iranian military nationals, whose culpability is unknown under international law. Attacking an embassy is an act that violates the basic principles of international law and coexistence: embassies are the place where compromise is built, without which the world becomes a permanent battleground. In recent days, Mexico has demanded that Ecuador be not only condemned but even kicked out of the United Nations for that government’s organized attack on the Mexican Embassy in Quito. Only the unwarranted and often partisan veto by the United States, the United Kingdom and France prevented Israel’s condemnation for this act of blatant violation of the “law of nations,” a veto that again applies the usual practice of the double standard, as U.S. analyst Scott Ritter puts it.
China also stated that by reacting with drones and missiles, Iran exercised its legitimate right of defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter, Israel having bombed the Iranian Consulate in Damascus without the slightest justification. On the other hand, Iran reacted “moderately,” as noted by several analysts (Ritter, Sachs, Chomsky, Mc Govern, Hudson, Caitlin Johnstone and others) outside the Atlantic mainstream, informing the U.S. and consequently Israel itself in advance.
The Iranians’ measured response was to demonstrate that the Israeli defence, while powerful, is not impenetrable. It should also be noted that Tehran did not use the hypersonic missiles it possesses, which, if they were to hit the Dimona nuclear power plant, would cause a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. In addition, Iran has demonstrated that it has achieved an undoubted deterrent power, without which Israel would continue to attack Iranian targets at will, suggesting that it would react harshly to any further provocation.
If the hawks in Tel Aviv do not prevail, the chain is likely to end here. But this is difficult to predict – and much will depend on pressure from the USA, which on paper has no interest in escalation. But Israeli society is now highly
radicalised: 67 per cent of its citizens, for example, believe that the Netanyahu government is not doing enough against Hamas.

So the United States and Israel seem to be at loggerheads at the moment.
This is one of those rare occasions when two countries have different aims. Israel wants to prolong the conflict, distract the whole world on another front, complete the work of ethnic cleansing in Gaza and the West Bank, and get rid of all its historical enemies at the same time: Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. This, at least, is the intention, however vague, of Netanyahu, who would like to save himself from the prison that awaits him at the end of his term. The United States, on the other hand, is aware that Iran’s involvement would have unpleasant consequences, starting with a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 30 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil passes. In that case, Western stock markets would take a nosedive and inflation would soar, destroying Biden’s chances of re-election in November. If the Houthis, with their few missiles, force ships to circumnavigate Africa, imagine the damage an armed and well-organised country of 90 million like Iran could do. It would probably be joined by other “enemies” of Israel, including Hamas, which has certainly not been defeated, Hezbollah with its 65,000 well-armed and trained soldiers, the Houthis and perhaps Syria (“its” Golan Heights are still illegally occupied by Israel). To this picture must be added Turkey, whose people are calling for aid to the Palestinians. For the time being, the Erdogan government is turning a deaf ear and paying Scotch in the elections, but it may change its stance in the future. As for relations with the Gulf states, it is clear that the Abrahamic Accords are dead and buried, while Israel is also suffering internally: the economy is in deep crisis and many Israeli families are reportedly considering leaving the country.

The nuclear issue remains central.
While the Western media keep referring to Iran’s alleged (but never proven) willingness to acquire nuclear weapons, they fail to mention that Israel, which, unlike Tehran, is not a signatory to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has some 100/200 nuclear warheads mounted on submarines, giving it a double-blow capability. Iran, on the other hand, uses uranium for civilian purposes, as permitted by the treaty, and the UN nuclear agency has never found evidence of any diversion for military purposes. If Trump had not torn up the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, sought by Obama in 2015 and endorsed by the 5+1 group, Iran would likely have gradually become a ‘normal’ country, through trade, investment, scientific and cultural exchanges, including with the Western world, fostering positive interdependence and influence, including on hot-button issues such as human rights. This has not happened because Tehran has been constructed as a strategic enemy, useful in fomenting tensions and criticality between countries in the region. The “imperial chaos theory” aims to divide friend and foe, sell arms to everyone and keep oil and dollar prices high. If, by some glorious miracle, the US ever decided to abandon the region by closing the dozens of military bases it owns, likely, these nations would likely gradually find their equilibrium, out of any imperialist objective.

What do you think is the real relationship between Iran and the Houthis in Yemen?
The Houthis, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, are supported by Iran, but not only under its command. Hezbollah, for example, is a political party with a strong presence in society supporting the Lebanese people, as well as a military organisation. Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government and has its political agenda, independent of Iranian interests. The same goes for the Houthis. It should not be forgotten that in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, alongside the United States, has been supporting a long-running war against this group without any authorisation from the United Nations. Today, the military intensity of this war has diminished, but it is not over, although the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia favoured by China seems to be bearing some fruit.

What is the internal situation in Iran?
When talking about Iran, you have to separate foreign policy from domestic policy. The former, including the military, is defensive, despite the prevailing propaganda. The Iranian government, which is not a Western-style democracy, has not attacked any country, as is well known; in 1980 it was attacked by Saddam Hussein at the instigation of the US. The internal problem is different. Iran is ruled by a theocracy that has no qualms about the survival of the regime or national independence.
However, the country remains open to the horizon of normalising relations with the West if conditions are created for the recognition of the principle of coexistence and if the United States abandons the strategy of demonisation or regime change. In this context, it should be noted that today’s world is different from the past and is becoming more pluralistic every day. The country is a member of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), has been a member of Brics since 1 January and has very good relations both with Russia, with which it also cooperates militarily, and with China, which, thirsty for energy resources essential to its industry, knows and is courting the country that is the world’s first in terms of combined oil and gas reserves, although these are still not fully exploited, especially gas, due to a lack of investment and technology.

On the cover photo, Iran and Israel on a map