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Toward a possible peace with Iran
A pro-peace draft model
for constructive discussion


Gunnar Westberg, TFF Board member


November 23, 2010

In this article Gunnar Westberg attempts to layout a framework for a discussion that can help transcend the present framework of the internatinal discussion of the conflict that involves the West and Iran. He raises the immensely difficult problem of how we may help further a process towards mutual understanding and co-existence instead of, inadvertently or deliberately, ending up with the type of violence the destructiveness of which we witness these years in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Westberg has visited Iran and is personally deeply concerned about the likely consequences of a violent action in and around Iran, for the Iranian people, society and culture as well as for the wider Middle East and, potentially, for the rest of the world.
We invite - urge - you to comment, criticize and come up with more, or better, pro-peace proposals by sending a mail to the author at or to TFF at

Conflict #1 - Iran against neighbors

A centuries old conflict
Secularism (e.g. UAE) and fundamentalist Sunni (e.g. Saudi) neighbours.

1. Fear of Iran’s dominance in the area.
2. Religious differences.

Pro peace factors:
1. Iran probably has no plans to expand its territory.
2. The strongest adversary, Iraq, has been eliminated, at least temporarily. Iran has interests in Iraq, especially in Kurdish areas, but Iran is not welcomed by the Kurds to take a strong military presence. A military campaign against Iraq seems very unlikely, even if the 95 (!) US bases with 45 000 soldiers were not there.
3. Iran and its neighbors have a lot to gain from cooperation and an enormous amount to lose from a war. Possibilities for alliances in the Gulf have been discussed and should be encouraged.
4. In all countries in the Middle East there are businesses with political influence and old families who value trade. Trade within the area and trade with US and EU may be the strongest peace promoters, if allowed to grow.

What to do from the outside to promote peace?
Catalyze cooperation (through regional meetings without the presence of big powers), in the economy, conservation of the ecosystems, water resources, help from the oil Arab states to Iran in oil refinery technology.

International NGOs, small countries, NAM, UN organizations. Turkey?
Islamic meetings on religious questions. Facilitators can be: Moderate religious leaders; Islamic NGO:s such as e.g. the Aga Khan Foundation, The Bridges Islamic organization in Egypt?; The Arab Council with Iran invited as guest.
Re-invigorate the Dialogue between civilizations! (I do not know where it stumbled)
Formation of a Muslim UN peace-keeping force, e g for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Then Trade Trade and Trade again!
How can we - anyone - get the US and EU to understand that trade is the strongest peace-promoting factor in the area? The Revolutionary Guards have taken over a lot of the trade, especially the black market, in Iran and for this reason are less and less interested in war – but gain much from the sanctions!

Main obstructing factors:
The US and the West do not want unity in the area. At least the US, and possibly some European countries, has regime change as a higher priority than peaceful relations.
Traditional groups, esp. in Saudi Arabia, hardly want cooperation; fundamentalist religious groups would probably use violence to discredit any cooperation.


Conflict # 2 - Iran against Israel

A conflict of recent origin (1979).

(A) Iranian hostility against Israel

Not easily identified. Here are four causes, but other reasons may be equally important:
1. Iran wants to be the champion of Palestinians to promote Iran’s status in the region;
2.Hezbollah, primarily a political party in Lebanon, serves the interest of Iran against groups in Lebanon and Syria, but has become an anti-Israeli force and receives Iranian support also for this activity;
3. Religious reasons, e g supremacy over holy places.
4. Internal strife in Iran makes it important to create an enemy.

Pro Peace factors:
1. The anti-Israeli stance of Iran has no historical roots, anti-semitism has not been widespread in Iran.
2. Israel is strong and a war with Israel would have serious consequences;
3. Israel and Iran have common enemies among Arab states.

What to do from the outside to facilitate peace?
1. Demand that Iran makes the nature of its stand against Israel clear - something like: “Iran will not attack Israel. We do not want to send the Jews into the sea, but we want the Zionist regime to end, and justice to our Moslem brethren.” This has been expressed repeatedly by the Supreme Leader. The President must clearly and unequivocally express the same opinion: We will not attack Israel. Israel (or its type of government) will in due time disappear, but we will not attack.
2. Meetings (prepared carefully) between leaders in Iran and Israel on almost any subject, even soccer, history of the Jews in Iran, archeology, etc...Plus tapping the resources of, say, moderate Jews who have emigrated from Iran to USA or Israel, to propose ways to improve relations.

Obstructing forces:
1. Israel want to expand its territory - at least permanent occupation of the West Bank.
2. Israeli, and probably Iranian, domestic policy needs an enemy.
3. The US wants the conflict to fester, as it gives a pretext for a US intervention in Iran (or a continued threat of it).

(B) Israeli belligerence against Iran.

1. Fear. Israel is surrounded by enemies. One is eliminated and on the official level almost a friend, Egypt. One is eliminated, Iraq. Jordan is weak. Syria is on its own. Lebanon has its own problems, only Hezbollah is a threat, and Iran’s support of Hezbollah is one factor. Iran is the remaining big enemy. Although Iran is obviously not a serious threat today, it may become one if it acquires nuclear weapons. Given Israel’s history, fear will remain and fear must be directed to an identifiable threat. Iran fills hat purpose, all too congenially with the hatred expressed by President Ahmadinejad and his crowd.
2. The Israeli military service. Four years of indoctrination about the dangers against Israel.
3. Guilt. Many observers, inside and outside Israel, believe that the guilt felt by many Israelis because of the treatment of Palestinians, particularly by Israeli soldiers, feeds aggression.
4. Domestic policy. An Israeli attack on Iran would strengthen the hawkish groups in domestic politics and the cost in terms of Israeli lives would be rather limited, particularly if an Iranian counterattack is prevented by the US.
5. Militarism. Israel has learnt from history that (almost all of) its problems can all be - at least temporarily - solved by using weapons.

Pro Peace factors:
1. History. Anti-Semitism has not been prominent in Iran up till recently. Iran and Israel cooperated intimately before the Islamic revolution 1979.
2. Reason: Israel ought to be able to understand that an attack by Iran on Israel would be enormously costly for Iran and the Iranian leaders are not suicidal.
3. The future: The enormous cost to Israel’s image in the world if it attacks Iran.

What can be done from the outside?
President Obama should make it absolutely clear that a preventive/pre-emptive attack on Iran by Israel will not be supported.
If the US and the West develop peaceful relations and trade with Iran, Israel will join in the trade relationships. (See below)
An agreement between Israel and Palestine concerning land and peace is of the greatest importance. Even limited progress towards such a mutual understanding would be most helpful.


Conflict # 3 - Iran versus the US and the West in general

A conflict persisting and recurring since the Great Game in the 19th century.

1. Iran has repeatedly been betrayed and humiliated by the West, especially by Britain.
2. The mainly CIA-masterminded overthrow of the democratically elected Mossaddegh government in 1953 that launched 25 years of dictatorship under Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi and his "White Revlution".
3. The Iranian fundamentalist regime and its systematic oppression of human rights.
4. The anti-Israeli sentiments and policy which the West perceives coming out of Iran.
5. The US Embassy Hostage drama 1979-80.
6. The desire by the US and the West to control Iran, its oil and its policy.

Pro Peace factors.
1. USA is tired after the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and does not want another war (one must hope).
2. An attack on Iran would be a disaster for the US itself. The US military are strongly advising against a military adventure.
3. A more western, a more secular, life style is likely to return to Iran in the future. The young generation wants the conflict to go away.
4. Dominant groups in Iran, now even the Revolutionary Guard, want more trade. The most important peace factor!

What to do from the outside?
1. Try to convince the Iranian leaders that they must give a better impression in the west, especially regarding Israel. "We are not going to attack Israel!"
2. Grant as many Iranian students as possible scholarships to US - and other western - universities.
3. Iran should invite tourism and facilitate travel.
4. Use all means to convince US citizens and politicians that an attack on Iran, initiated by Israel or directly from the USA, would be a disaster for the US itself, for the Middle East, for Israel and possibly for the world.

Most importantly, the US and the West in general must begin to understand that for most Iranians a good relationship and trade with the west/US is absolutely important, high on the list of the elements that would give them a better future. And - as is well-known from earlier cases - trade and open relations is likely to lead to positive change and development while, in contrast, threats and war cannot but strengthen the repression.

Furthermore, if the goal is to avoid that Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is extremely unwise to threaten the country and its people since that will increase the propensity of the regime to acquire whatever weapons it can. It would be more productive for that goal to be achieved to implement the UN Resolutions that determined that the Middle East shall be a zone free from weapons of mass-destruction.

For the sake of peace a new type of constructive international debate and step-by-step build-up of trust through trade and co-operation is absolutely essential.

Gunnar Westberg


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