Humanists Must Enter the Middle East Policy Fray To Prevent War with Iran

The city of Yazd, Iran.

In February 2015 I wrote an op-ed for the Humanist titled “Religious Nationalism: A Weapon of Mass Destruction” in which I said that the conflicts ravaging the Middle East could get much worse if certain parties refused to make substantive compromises on key issues. I warned that we were facing a regional conflagration that we would profoundly regret.

Unfortunately the situation has become much more dangerous in the two years since I wrote those words.

Although there are many complex, mutually reinforcing issues driving these conflicts, religious nationalism is without a doubt one of the most destructive forces because it makes necessary compromises nearly impossible.

Over the last four years Iran has deployed thousands of military forces to Syria, training and advising tens of thousands of Shi’a militia forces from as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to defend and strengthen Iran’s influence in Syria and Lebanon. Iran’s ultimate objective in Syria is to enable aligned forces to annihilate the state of Israel and return Jerusalem to Muslim control.

Israel’s full-fledged entrance into the Syrian civil war is in turn becoming a very serious risk as it continues to target Iranian weapons shipments to Iran’s proxy Hezbollah.

conflict between Israel, Syria, Iran, and the United States could lead to Israeli or US strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities and perhaps even a US-Iran ground conflict, which would have unpredictable international consequences considering Russia’s alignment with Iran.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the air forces of three nuclear powers—Israel, Russia, and the —United States—could come into direct confrontation in Syria as a consequence of a military escalation by any side.

As long as Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, remains in power, conflict between Hezbollah and Iranian forces against Israel along the Golan Heights and in southern Lebanon is more likely a question of “when” rather than “if.”

The only way this will change is if both Iran and the US muster the political will to seriously reach a compromise on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is inextricably tied to the Syrian conflict.

Unfortunately this will not be forthcoming on the Iranian side due to Khamenei’s fixation on the annihilation of Israel nor on the US side due to a lack of countervailing pressure in Congress to challenge Israel’s increasingly brazen settlement activities.

US foreign policy is too heavily influenced by the Israeli settler lobby to implement necessary changes on the US side of the equation. Humanists must enter the foreign policy fray in an effort to change this while there’s still time.

The best way they can do so is by engaging with their elected representatives in Congress, through in-person meetings, phone calls, and emails to persuade them that comprehensive diplomacy with Iran on regional issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian issue, is imperative. If Congress doesn’t feel public pressure to advocate that the Trump administration take this approach, it simply will not do so. I believe trusted members of Congress, their staff members, and lobbyists when they tell me that our voices do matter.

There are, of course, myriad reasons to feel jaded with Congress, but we can be sure that those advocating for confrontation with Iran are working hard every day to persuade lawmakers of the wisdom of their position. If we’re silent, they will eventually prevail.

While there is admittedly little reason for optimism that Iran would reciprocally moderate its policies under the current Supreme Leader, it is nearly certain that a continuation of current policies by both sides will culminate in disaster.

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