Israel striking Iran on its own to cripple the Iranian’s nuclear-weapons program “would be a disaster — and everyone knows that,” prominent Middle East expert Dr. James Zogby tells Newsmax TV.
“The issue here is that Iran was emboldened by the defeat of Iraq, its nemesis to the north and the west,” Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview.
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“At the same time, it has been flexing its muscles in the Gulf region. Iran’s favorable ratings have dropped to very low levels, lower than the United States. That’s bad in the Middle East.
“And people are afraid of Iran, afraid of Iran’s ambitions to export their revolution, and afraid of the sectarian movement that is dividing Arab countries and dividing the region,” Zogby adds.
“The worst thing that could happen right now is for Israel to get in the middle of all of that and bomb, which would only turn opinion against Israel and the United States and would give Iran exactly what it wants. It wants to be the victim of the West.
“Let it be judged by its own behavior. Don’t let it be judged as the victim of the West. The administration’s engagement policy is the right policy — and Israel ought not to be pushing too hard because they’re making the situation worse.”
In his joint news conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday with President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel had a right to act independently to defend itself against any threat, “including the Iranian threat.”
For his part, Obama expressed a strong commitment to Israel’s security. “America’s commitment to the security of the state of Israel is a solemn obligation,” he said.
Iran dominated most of the discussion at the news conference, which came on the first day of Obama’s first visit to Israel as president.
On Thursday, Obama travels briefly to the occupied West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before heading to Jordan on Friday to meet with King Abdullah II.
In his Newsmax interview, Zogby says that disappointment is high among Muslims in the Arab world regarding Obama’s visit. He is the author of “Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters.”
“The situation in the region right now is a very difficult one — and it’s not just the issues of Syria and the issues of Iran and the issues of Egypt, which is now going sour, that he’ll have to deal with, but the disappointment of Palestinians and of many Arabs that that issue is just not going to get the attention it deserves,” Zogby says.
“They understand, as the president does, is that the issue is just not solvable at this point, but when you do the kinds of things he’s going to be compelled to do these next couple of days in Israel, it says to the Palestinians that maybe he’s just not caring about us anymore.
“The president has not only to win the confidence of the Israeli people but must do it in a way that doesn’t cost anymore in terms of the confidence of the Palestinian people — and that’s going to be a tough road to hoe,” Zogby says.
Zogby tells Newsmax that Obama’s plan to not to try to jump-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians — stalled since 2010 over Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank — reflects “taking a step back, hopefully , so they can take a step forward.”
“They want to win the confidence of the Israeli people so that they can challenge them to do some of the hard things that have to be done to make peace,” he adds. “The question is that the Israeli government that currently is going to be taking office is not an Israeli government that is going to want to be pushed — or can be pushed at all.
“The incoming housing and developing minister said just the other day that there will be more and more settlements and when asked, doesn’t that mean that a Palestinian state will be possible?” Zobgy asks. “He said there’s no room for an additional state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. There’s one state: the state of Israel.
“That is not a promising message,” Zogby tells Newsmax. “The president knows that. The question is can he change the political discussion in Israel and change the political discussion with the Palestinians so down the road there will be a different mood in making a push for peace more possible. It’s just not there right now.”
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