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Building Sustainable Security for Southwest Asia: A Regional Integration Process of the Highest Priority


With war drums against Iran resounding ever more forcefully and the revolts in the Arab world taking a tumultuous path, the question of a vision for sustainable stability for Southwest Asia, often referred to as the “Middle East,” remains to be resolved.1 The lack of both security and cooperation is an enduring malady plaguing the region. The present article will shed some light on the rationale behind the need for a regional integration process, focusing on the element of security.

Civil Society Effort toward Common Security and Regional Cooperation

Some years ago a civil society initiative for a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East (CSCME) was spearheaded in Germany by peace and conflict researcher Prof. Mohssen Massarrat in collaboration with the German branches of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).2 After decades of violent conflict in the region, the initiators chose not to sit and wait anymore, but instead decided to assemble civil society actors from all countries concerned in order to promote a perspective for peace, security and cooperation — something state actors neglected. One of its key aims is the creation of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone (abbreviated as WMDFZ). A first workshop was held in Germany in January 2011, and a second took place in late October 2012 at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London in cooperation with its Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD). The meeting was linked to an annual CISD conference on a related subject, the 6th SOAS/British Pugwash London Conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone.

So far CSCME has brought together civil society forces from almost all countries of the region. Unified in the desire to break out of the vicious cycle of regional militarization, they want to offer a vision for common security and regional cooperation. In addition to security policy, the CSCME process comprises a number of fields for cooperation, including the areas of socioeconomic development, cross-border resource management, interreligious and -cultural dialogue and health. It is hoped that the next expert conference will take place in the region itself, in view of holding a founding conference for the civil society CSCME process in the near future.3 An international conference on a Middle East WMD-Free Zone was planned for 2013 in Helsinki. Meanwhile it has been postponed, but hopefully it will still take place. Ideally, concrete steps towards the realization of this aim will be defined there and civil society groups involved.4

The “Arab Spring”: The Necessity of a Veritable Regional Security Architecture

An important topic of the last workshop in London was the “Arab Spring,” which demonstrated that the pejoratively dismissed “Arab Street” is not a passive object for authoritarian rule, but that societies can take the offensive in fighting for their own needs and interests, and eventually bring about change. This development has emboldened the initiative for a CSCME as it showed that civil-society pressure can indeed yield tangible results.5

Importantly, if we comprehend the revolutionary process in the Arab world to be motivated by a triad of popular demands — namely the pursuit of socioeconomic justice, civil liberties and sovereign independence — the question of security is intimately connected to the latter (especially for those countries so far over-dependent on non-regional powers). This realization is not limited to civil society discussions, but has already reached policy circles. Indeed, in January, the EastWest Institute has published a report in which it advocates for a regional security arrangement. It states that:

Southwest Asia now is undergoing greater changes in its security environment than at any time in the last half century. Among the many forces at play is a growing sense among key regional states that their security and prosperity have to be managed much more through their own independent, regional diplomacy than through reliance on outside powers. As those major powers signal a declining willingness to bear the material and human costs of security in the region, regional states have new opportunities to set the agenda rather than be policytakers subject to pressure from outside. In spite of deep conflicts among some neighbors, the states of the region should consider the opportunity that this weakening commitment by remote powers now presents. Now may be the best chance for countries in Southwest Asia to work collectively to put behind them the violent aftermath of imperialism, colonialism, liberation struggles, and bloody dictatorships. The violence of recent decades was an obstacle to effective decision making for long-term peaceful development. War and violence force states to choose sides and to make new enemies. A new regional security consensus among all states in Southwest Asia is the way to break out of that cycle of crisis, and it is the best protection against untoward ambitions of more powerful states, either from inside or outside the region.6

The report demands that both the United States and the European Union be actively engaged in assisting such a process, which would require nothing less than a paradigm shift.

The Iran–Israel Conundrum: A Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (NWFZ) as the Only Sustainable Solution

However, these implicit demands for security and coexistence, inherent in the Arab uprisings, are not the only factor which propels us to contemplate new paths and solutions in this region. In addition, there is the ongoing spectacle around the so-called Iran conflict,7 which seems to be tilting more toward war than toward a peaceful resolution. This has again produced heated debates on where the conflict is heading. With the majority of the policy debates almost endlessly vacillating between a rock (war) and a hard place (sanctions), it is clear that neither option will alleviate concerns regarding nuclear proliferation and the well-being of civilian populations.8 The only meaningful way forward would be to abandon bogus policy alternatives which have proven counterproductive and have — quite predictably — pushed the conflict toward the brink of war. Instead, it would be best to focus efforts on bringing about regional disarmament and ultimately a NWFZ. In order to avoid a collision resulting from contentions over nuclear monopoly (Israel) and deterrence (Iran), the creation of such a zone would arguably constitute the only meaningful solution. Indeed, this illustrates the importance of bringing both Iran and Israel to the table at the above-mentioned international conference.

Why a NWFZ Would Be in Israel’s and Iran’s Long-Term Interest

Contrary to widespread assumptions, it can be argued that both Tel Aviv and Tehran have a long-term strategic interest in the creation of such a zone.

For Israel, the danger would lie in the nuclearization of other important countries in the region such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.9 Such a “balance of threats” would then have an unfavorable impact on Israel’s security and certainly curtail its military deterrence capacity toward its neighbors.10 The “military solution” against the nuclear armament of a larger country — as can be observed in the case of Iran — is not considered a sustainable one, also by Israeli strategists. Thus, the only solution to ensure effective security would be regional disarmament.11

For its part, if Iran over time were to become a nuclear weapons state, that development would almost certainly trigger the nuclearization of its geopolitically weaker neighbors (especially those on the Arabian Peninsula). In turn, this proliferation of nuclear weaponry in the region would cause Iran abruptly to lose its natural, geographically determined power position in Western Asia.12 Thus, in the medium to long term the possession of nuclear weapons would constitute a great disservice to the grand strategic interests of the country.

If decision-makers on both sides are far-sighted, it is hard to see how they can avoid coming to the conclusion that fragile short-term security calculations are no guarantee of a secure future. That goal can only be achieved through a NWFZ.

The Situation Necessitates Alternative Approaches

The above considerations are not meant to obscure potential adversities to creating a NWFZ. They are intended to underscore that a mature view of national interest might offer a way out of the current stalemate. A key point here is that sometimes the existing challenges cannot (or can no longer) be met by resorting to the all-too-familiar repertoire of alleged Realpolitik options. Indeed, that case would probably lead to the continuation of containment policies predicated on heavy military build-up in an already highly volatile and militarized region — a policy that will not sustainably solve the issue. In such circumstances, it is much more advisable to look at other, even opposite, directions to find a solution. For example, the centuries-long, bloody arch rivalry between France and Germany was unexpectedly overcome in the post-World War II period. History shows us that the Iranian–Israeli rivalry is of a geopolitical nature, and as such it is by no means immune to resolution.13

In a similar argument of necessity, in a report released this February, Rouzbeh Parsi, a research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris, advocates for a “common security framework” for the region and highlights the importance of Europe taking the initiative:

A positive contribution by the EU at this stage would be to use the historical experience of its own creation. Just as a positive peace between France and Germany lies at the heart of the European Union, a change of the zero-sum game metrics in the Middle East would be a huge step forward. What the region needs is a common security framework, where no one is excluded and everyone’s security needs are taken into consideration. In the end, the best way to stem nuclear proliferation and an arms race is by changing the threat perceptions and diminishing the mistrust that motivates and fuels proliferation. In this endeavour the EU must take the initiative since the US has had very little experience of day-to-day exchanges with Iran over the last 30 years and any given US President faces considerable domestic political forces dead set against any kind of rapprochement with Iran. […] Only with a clear-eyed appraisal of the region as it is today, rather than as Western powers feel it ought to be, and an ambition to craft a long-term strategic vision does it become evident that the status quo ante of balancing regional powers through rewards and punishments cannot be revived.14

The current situation in the region calls for alternative approaches in order to avoid a disastrous war on Iran with global ramifications. Many commentators and organizations have already pointed to the necessity of building a regional security architecture and a WMD- or nuclear weaponsfree zone.15 In a recent article on the escalating conflict surrounding Iran, Phyllis Bennis, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, points to the dark prospects if a WMD-free zone were not to be realized:

In the medium and longer term, we must put the urgent need for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East back on the table and on top of our agenda. Such a multi-country move would insure Iran would never build a nuclear weapon, that Israel would give up its existing 200 to 300 high-density nuclear bombs and the submarinebased nuclear weapons in its arsenal, and that the U.S. would keep its nuclear weapons out of its Middle East bases and off its ships in the region’s seas. Otherwise, we face the possibility of the current predicament repeating itself in an endless loop of Groundhog Daystyle nuclear crises, each one more threatening than the last.16

While there can be little doubt that the region is in need of a prospect for common security and intra-regional cooperation, there can be no less doubt that the so-far preferred policies affecting the region have proven unsuccessful at best. The model of a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East (CSCME) has two important assets. First, as a civil-society initiative it is perfectly suited to respond to the growing demand of participation by the region’s citizenry in the wake of the Arab Revolts. Secondly, the concatenation of multi-faceted conflicts in the region can only be addressed in a sustainable manner in the CSCME framework. Here, the continuing and increasing insistence from diverse civil society actors will be indispensable to encourage policy-makers to pave the way for bringing sustainable peace and security to the region.

In order to lay the first foundation stone and at the same time send out de-escalating signals for the conflict around Iran and Israel, active political support from the West will be crucial to make the Middle East WMD-Free Zone international conference a success. If the security dilemmas afflicting the region continue to be ignored or to deal with escalating sanctions and ultimatums, it will only be a matter of time before the spectacle at Europe’s doorstep will flare up in an inferno.

This article is based on two previously published shorter articles: “A Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East,” Fair Observer, 2 December 2011, and “A Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East,” guest column, Informed Comment, 1 March 2012. Both can be accessed via his website

1. For a critical examination of the term “Middle East,” see Ali Fathollah-Nejad, “The ‘Middle East’: From Past and Present Attributions to a Future Regional Identity?,“ Polyvocia: SOAS Journal of Graduate Research, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, Vol. 2 (March 2010), pp. 3–20. For the purpose of the present article, Southwest Asia is used as defined and qualified in a recent report by the EastWest Institute: “[…] Southwest Asia is the area from the Eastern Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, and the Red Sea in the west to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east. It comprises Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and adjacent maritime areas. Such regional descriptors as Southwest Asia can never be watertight, and there will be important forces that speak against this or that framing, even as alternate regional framings recommend themselves.” (EastWest Institute, Bridging Fault Lines: Collective Security in Southwest Asia, New York: EastWest Institute, 2012, p. 5, Footnote 3).
2. See the CSCME website at html.
3. See Ali Fathollah-Nejad, “Konferenz für Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit im Mittleren und Nahen Osten: Eine zivilgesellschaftliche Initiative [Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East: A Civil-Society Initiative], ” WeltTrends: Zeitschrift für internationale Politik, Vol. 20, No. 83 (March–April), pp. 98–99.
4. See Elizabeth Whitman, “Finland to Host Conference for a WMD-Free Zone,” Inter Press Service, 19 October 2011.
5. On the London CSCME workshop, see Ali Fathollah-Nejad, “A New Security Architecture for the Middle East?,” Fair Observer, 13 December 2012. [Translation from “Eine KSZE für den Nahen Osten? »Arabischer Frühling« zeigt: Druck der Zivilgesellschaft wirkt,” Interview by Thomas Kachel, Neues Deutschland (Berlin), 8 November 2011, p. 8.]
6. EastWest Institute, op. cit., p. 7.
7. See Rouzbeh Parsi, “A Never-Ending Spectacle: The IAEA Report and Iran’s Nuclear Programme,” Analysis, Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), 10 November 2011.
8. See “No Military Action Will Prevent Nuclear Proliferation,” Statement by the Executive Committee of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), 8 February 2012. Available at http://peaceandhealthblog. com/2012/02/08/no-military-action/; and Ali Fathollah-Nejad, “Collateral Damage of Iran Sanctions,” The ColdType Reader, No. 46 (May 2010), pp. 56–57.
9. See Mitchell Bard [Executive Director, American–Israeli Cooperative Enterprise], “Arab Nukes: Is Iran the only Muslim Nation in the Middle East seeking to Develop Nuclear Technology,” The Cutting Edge News, 5 March 2012.
10. See the comments by Alex Fishman, journalist with the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth(Tel Aviv), “Israel Divided Over Plan to Attack Iran: Lia Tarachansky reports that a split has developed between Israeli security establishment and Netanyahu,” The Real News Network, 30 November 2011. For Israel’s ‘deterrence capacity,’ see Norman G. Finkelstein, “This Time We Went Too Far”: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, New York: OR Books, 2010.
11. On an Israeli perspective on why a nuclear weapons free zone would ensure real security for the country, see Hillel Schenker, “The Other Iran Option,” Haaretz, 11–12 November 2011.
12. See Ali Fathollah-Nejad, “Playing Nuclear Politics: The Islamic Republic has Little to Gain from Acquiring the Bomb,“, 20 February 2009; the comments by the EUISS‘ Rouzbeh Parsi on “Empire”, Al Jazeera English, 1 December 2011.
13. See Trita Parsi, Treacherous Alliances: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
14. Rouzbeh Parsi, “Introduction: Iran at a Critical Juncture,” in: ibid. (ed.) (2012) Iran: A Revolutionary Republic in Transition, Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) (Chaillot Paper, No. 128 [9 February]), pp. 21–22.
15. Amongst them the two Nobel Peace Prize-holding organizations, the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (see its memo “Towards a Conference on a Nuclear Weapon or WMD-Free Middle-East: Some Points for Consideration,” 26 September 2011, htm) and IPPNW as well as the German branches of IALANA and the International Federation of Human Rights. See also Sam S. Shoamanesh & Hirad Abtahi, “The Case for a Union: A Majestic Region-Wide Union May Well Transform the Strategic Calculus of the Sceptics and the Spoilers,” Global Brief (Canada), 19 February 2010; Noam Chomsky, “The Iranian Threat: The US Is Not Taking any Practical Steps to Ensure a Nuclear-Free Middle East,”, 24 November 2011; the special issues of International Relations, Vol. 22, No. 3 (2008) and of the Palestine–Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, Vol. 16, Nos. 3 & 4 (March 2010).
16. Phyllis Bennis, “Iran in the Crosshairs Again,” Red Pepper (UK), March 2012.



Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2013) “Building Sustainable Security for Southwest Asia: A Regional Integration Process of the Highest Priority“, Palestine–Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, Vol. 19, No. 12 (Autumn).

Iran, Israel and the West | Iran, Israel und der Westen

Das deutsche Original befindet sich weiter unten.

Iran, Israel and the West: Is There a Way Out of the Crisis?

Interview with Ali Fathollah-Nejad & Hillel Schenker


Possible alternatives and the perception of the spiral of violence discussed in Berlin by German–Iranian political scientist Ali Fathollah-Nejad and Israeli journalist and peace activist Hillel Schenker at the invitation of German branch of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW Germany) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES). The debate on which the following text is based upon was held on 23 April 2012 at the FES before an audience of over 150 diplomats, politicians, academics, students, NGO activists and other concerned citizens.

Moderator: Does the Middle-East face an armed, nuclear conflict between Israel and Iran? In the public discussion there are only three options: military action with conventional weapons, a nuclear attack or a continuation of the sanctions policy against Iran.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad: From the beginning, the West has used coercive diplomacy against Iran. This strategy does not aim at reconciliation of interests, but at a de facto capitulation of Iran. From the Iranian perspective, there has been a security deficit, which was enforced by the neoconservative wars of the last decade through the increased military presence of the Americans in the region. Due to the fact that the West didn’t take into account Iran’s legitimate security interests, coercive diplomacy has failed. The lack of any solution to the conflict has led to a continuing escalation.

Moderator: What are the effects of the sanctions policy of the West in Iran?

Ali Fathollah-Nejad: To put it briefly, sanctions have made legal trade illegal. The situation in Iran has dramatically tightened in the last few months. Prices are rising and the currency has lost nearly half of its value. It is the population who has to pay the price of sanctions. The élite owns the resources and has ways to withstand the sanctions. Hence, the sanctions actually widen the power gap between the ruling structures on one side and the civilian economy and society on the other. As a result, civil society finds itself in a state of siege, pressured by both an authoritarian regime and by sanctions and the permanent threat of war. Overall the policy of the West in the region pushed forward a process of securitization in the country. Instead of running towards an armed conflict, the focus should be on the process of balancing interests and perspectives for security and collaboration. It is alarming that there are no clear signals for de-escalation and conflict resolution, and this is true for Germany as well.

Moderator: Which are the reactions of the Israeli population on the debate around a possible attack on Iranian nuclear facilities?

Hillel Schenker: In Israel everyone is frightened of the possibility of Iranian nuclear armament. Public opinion surveys show this. For example the Israeli population was asked how they would react in case of a nuclear armament of Iran. 25% of the questioned answered they would possibly leave the country. Another survey shows that the majority of Israelis would be for giving up the Israeli nuclear weapons and becoming a part of a nuclear-free zone if this would prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Moderator: Is the statement from Iran that they are only interest in nuclear energy is the civil use convincing?

Ali Fathollah-Nejad: Due to its geography, its demography and its long cultural history, Iran has a particular place in the region. The country has a quasi-natural geopolitical influence. An important component of the strategic thinking in Tehran is that a nuclear bomb is counter-productive to their grand-strategic interests. If Iran went nuclear, it is probable that other states in the region, states which Iran is not friends with, like the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), such as Saudi Arabia, would get nuclear weapons. Such a nuclear stand-off would lead to the loss of the natural geopolitical importance of Iran.

Moderator: Which options about the Iranian nuclear program are discussed in the Israeli public?

Hillel Schenker: In the public discussion there are currently two strategies of how to deal with the Iranian nuclear program. One idea is an Israeli or American or coordinated nuclear attack against the Iranian nuclear facilities. A large amount of military experts expect that this will lead to a spiral of violence in the region with a lot of civilian victims without leading to success. Another option would be a combination of sanctions and negotiations. But there is a third: direct negotiations between the two parties on neutral ground. These negotiations should aim to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. In 2010 at a NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) review conference, it was decided that an international conference should be held to create such a nuclear weapons-free zone. The conference will be held at the end of this year, 2012, or at the beginning of next year in Finland, with the facilitation of Finnish Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Laajava.

Moderator: How can civil society help lead this conference to success?

Hillel Schenker: From the point of view of the civil society it is essential that Israel and Iran will be attending this conference. If either does not attend, the conference will be a failure. The second point is the conference should not be a one-time event. It has to be the beginning of a process. Thirdly, all the participants have to recognize that a nuclear and mass destruction weapons-free zone and peace in the Middle East are not mutually exclusive; they depend on each other and they have to take place simultaneously.

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A previous version has been posted on the website of the Palestine–Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture on 25 July 2012. Fathollah-Nejad’s statements were originally made in German; the present version presents an edited translation thereof.



Ali Fathollah-Nejad & Hillel Schenker (2012) “Iran, Israel, and the West: Is There a Way Out of the Crisis?“, Palestine–Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture (online), 25/07

▪ slightly edited version republished on Fair Observer, 27/08 ▪ Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 28/08 ▪ Arab Spring Collective (Cairo), 29/08.

▪ posted on Red Horse Down, 12/09, Alex(ander) Patico (co-founder of the National Iranian American Council [NIAC] and member of the Board of Advisory of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran [CASMII]).


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Iran, Israel und der Westen: Auswege aus der Bedrohungsspirale

Ein Interview mit Ali Fathollah-Nejad und Hillel Schenker


Droht im Nahen Osten ein militärischer Konflikt mit unabsehbaren Folgen, eine nukleare Auseinandersetzung zwischen Israel und dem Iran? Wenn man die öffentliche Diskussion aufmerksam verfolgt, dann scheint es im Nahen Osten zurzeit nur drei Optionen zu geben. Einen Militärschlag mit konventionellen Waffen, einen Nuklearschlag oder weiterhin eine scharfe Sanktionspolitik gegen den Iran.

Welche Alternativen möglich sind und wie die Spirale der Gewalt in beiden Ländern wahrgenommen wird, darüber diskutierten der israelische Journalist und Friedensaktivist Hillel Schenker und der deutsch-iranische Politologe Ali Fathollah-Nejad in Berlin auf Einladung der IPPNW und der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

[Lesen Sie hier weiter.] (pdf)



Ali Fathollah-Nejad & Hillel Schenker (2012) “Iran, Israel und der Westen: Auswege aus der Bedrohungsspirale” [Iran, Israel and the West: Exiting the Dangerous Spiral], interview, IPPNWforum, Berlin: International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) Germany, No. 130 (June), pp. 10–11.



A Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons: Iran’s and Israel’s Long-Term Interests | Atomwaffenfreie Zone: Längerfristige Interessen Irans und Israels

Weiter unten finden Sie die deutsche Fassung des Beitrags.


A Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons in Western Asia:

Why It Would Be in the Long-Term Interest of Both Iran and Israel

Undoubtedly, urgent action towards de-escalation is needed in order to avoid the outbreak of a military confrontation with Iran. What governs the present crisis is the presumed logic of collision in a conflict around nuclear monopoly versus deterrence. However, when adopting a long-term view, the two current antagonists could find their national interests satisfied in a zone free of nuclear weapons. Pointing to such a hopeful prospect might alleviate any deterministic pessimism looming over the conflict that conceives war as the only possible end-game.

More than before, the endless spectacle surrounding Iran’s nuclear program tends to escalate into war. While most security policy debates incessantly sway between the devil (war) and the deep blue sea (sanctions), it is clear that both options cannot eliminate concerns for nuclear proliferation and the well-being of civilian populations. The only sensible way forward would be to abandon such a policy choice that has proven counterproductive and, not surprisingly, has pushed the conflict to the brink of war. Instead, it would be best to focus efforts towards achieving regional disarmament and ultimately a nuclear weapons-free zone. Contrary to widespread assumptions, it can be argued that both Tel Aviv and Tehran have a long-term strategic interest in such a zone.

The only way forward is that of regional disarmament

For Israel, the danger would lie in the nuclearization of other important countries in the region (such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey). Such a “balance of threats” would then have an unfavourable impact on its security and definitely curtail its military deterrence capability towards its neighbours. Since the “military solution” against the nuclear armament of a larger country – as can be observed in the case of Iran – is hardly considered a sustainable one by Israeli strategists, the only solution would consist in regional disarmament as a way to effectively provide for security.

For its part, Iran as a nuclear weapons state would dramatically lose its natural, geographically determined power position in Western Asia once nuclearization of its geopolitically weaker neighbours (especially those on the Arabian Peninsula) is triggered. Thus, in the medium to long term the possession of nuclear weapons would constitute a great disservice to the grand strategic interests of the country.

Therefore, it seems necessary to appeal to the long-term interests of both states. Far-sighted decision-makers on both sides should come to the conclusion that the future cannot rest on fragile short-term security calculations but in a zone free of nuclear weapons.

The situation necessitates alternative approaches

The above considerations are not meant to hide potential adversities. They are intended to stress the need not to search for solutions in alleged impasses of Realpolitik, all the while a possible resort in fact points to an opposite direction. Just as the German–French arch rivalry could unexpectedly be overcome, history shows us that the Iranian–Israeli rivalry is of geopolitical nature and as such it is by no means immune to a resolution.

The current situation in the region calls for alternative approaches in order to avoid a disastrous war with global ramifications. The spiral of armament and hostility can ultimately only lead into an abyss.

As a report by the EastWest Institute outlined in January, it is high time for a regional security architecture in Western Asia. Both the U.S. and the EU should actively be engaged in assisting such a process, which would require nothing less than a paradigm shift. In order to lay a first foundation stone and at the same time send out de-escalating signals to Tel Aviv and Tehran, active political support from the West will be crucial to make the first UN Middle East WMD-Free Zone Conference a success. If the security dilemmas afflicting the region continue to be ignored, it will only be a matter of time before in Europe’s neighboring region the spectacle will flare up in an inferno.



Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2012) “A Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons in Western Asia: Why It Would Be in the Long-Term Interest of Both Iran and Israel”, Payvand Iran News, 9 March;

also published on Iran Review, 10 March 2012;

published as “Let’s Get Even: Nuclear Free Zone Is in the Long-Term Interest of Both Iran and Israel“,, 10 March 2012;

an edited version initially appeared as “A Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East“, guest column, Informed Comment, 1 March 2012. (Listed as “Resource” for the No War On Iran campaign of the Coalition For Peace Action [CFPA], Princeton, NJ.)



  • George Fernee (2012) “The U.S. and Iran: A Pathology of Paternalism“, International Affairs at LSE (the blog of LSE IDEAS), London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), 11 March.
  • Linked by the Information Centre of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), 12 March 2012.



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Eine atomwaffenfreie Zone in Westasien:

Wieso sie im längerfristigen Interesse Irans und Israels liegt

Das unendliche Spektakel rund ums iranische Atomprogramm tendiert wie kaum zuvor gen Kriegseskalation. Während die meisten sicherheitspolitischen Debatten unablässig zwischen Pest (Krieg) und Cholera (Sanktionen) hin- und herschwanken, ist es klar, dass beide Optionen Bedenken in Bezug auf nukleare Proliferation und dem Wohlergehen der Zivilbevölkerungen nicht beseitigen können. Der einzig sinnvolle Weg nach vorn wäre diese vermeintliche Politik-Alternative, die sich als kontraproduktiv erwiesen hat und den Konflikt keineswegs überraschend an den Rand eines Krieges gebracht hat, aufzugeben und sich anstelle dessen um regionale Abrüstung und letztendlich um eine atomwaffenfreie Zone zu bemühen. Um einen aus der Auseinandersetzung um nukleare Monopole und Abschreckung resultierenden Zusammenstoß zu verhindern, stellt die Einrichtung einer solchen Zone wohl die einzig nachhaltige Lösung dar.

Strategische Weitsicht zum Durchbruch verhelfen

Entgegen weitverbreiteter Auffassungen hätten sowohl Tel Aviv als auch Teheran durchaus ein längerfristiges strategisches Sicherheitsinteresse an einer atomwaffenfreien Zone. Eine schwerlich zu unterbindende nukleare Proliferation in der Region hätte nämlich für beide Seiten negative Folgen.

Für Israel bestünde die Gefahr in einer infolge einer Atomwaffenfähigkeit Irans erfolgende Nuklearisierung anderer gewichtiger Länder der Region (die Türkei, Saudi-Arabien und Ägypten). Solch ein „Gleichgewicht des Schreckens“ würde sich unvorteilhaft auf seine Sicherheit auswirken und seine militärische Abschreckungsfähigkeit gegenüber den Nachbarn empfindlich beschneiden. Da die „militärische Lösung“ gegen die Atombewaffnung eines größeren Landes – wie im Falle Irans zu beobachten – auch von israelischen Strategen als kaum nachhaltig eingestuft wird, bleibt nur der Weg der regionalen Abrüstung, um tatsächlich Sicherheit zu gewährleisten.

Iran seinerseits, als atomwaffenfähiges Land, würde durch die Nuklearsierung seiner geopolitisch schwächeren Nachbarn (v.a. jene auf der arabischen Halbinsel) seine natürliche, geographisch bedingte Machtposition in Westasien dramatisch einbüßen. Somit erwiese sich mittel- und langfristig eine Atombewaffnung als ein Bärendienst gegenüber den großstrategischen Interessen des Landes.

Insofern gilt es an diese längerfristigen Interessen dieser Länder zu appellieren. Es müsste sich bei weitsichtigen Entscheidungsträgern auf beiden Seiten die Einsicht durchsetzen, dass die Zukunft nicht auf fragilen, da kurzfristig angelegten Sicherheitskalkulationen auf der Basis von nuklearer Aufrüstung und gegenseitiger Abschreckung fußen kann, sondern in einer atomwaffen- und massenvernichtungswaffenfreien Zone. Dadurch würde schließlich beiden Sicherheit und friedliche Koexistenz gewährt werden können.

Deeskalierende Signale vonnöten

Die angestellten Überlegungen zu der Realisierbarkeit solch einer Zone sollen nicht über Widrigkeiten hinwegtäuschen, doch aber einen Anstoß dafür bieten, nicht in scheinbar realpolitischen Sackgassen nach Lösungen zu fahnden, während ein Ausweg eher in eine gegensätzliche Richtung weist. Genauso wie die deutsch-französische Erzfeindschaft überraschend überwunden werden konnte, so zeigt uns die Geschichte, dass die iranisch-israelische Rivalität geopolitischer Natur ist und als solche einer Regelung gegenüber keineswegs immun ist.

Die zurzeit dramatische Lage in der Region führt die Dringlichkeit eines alternativen Ansatzes zur Vermeidung von katastrophalen Kriegen vor Augen, deren Auswirkungen nicht nur regional, sondern global zu verzeichnen wären. Denn die Spirale der Aufrüstung in der Region gepaart mit Feindseligkeiten der Parteien kann letztlich nur in den Abgrund führen – all das während man die alles entscheidende Sicherheitsfrage in unverantwortlichem Maße unter den Tisch hat fallen lassen.

Wie das EastWest Institute in einem Bericht letzten Monat darlegte, sei es höchste Zeit für eine regionale Sicherheitsarchitektur in Westasien. Diesem Prozess sollten die USA und die EU aktiv behilflich sein, was nichts weniger als einen Paradigmenwechsel erfordere. Um dafür einen ersten Grundstein zu legen und zugleich deeskalierende Signale nach Tel Aviv und Teheran auszusenden, wäre eine aktive politische Unterstützung des Westens für den Erfolg der ersten UN-Konferenz zur Etablierung einer massenvernichtungswaffenfreien Zone im Nahen und Mittleren Osten unabdingbar. Ignoriert man weiterhin die Sicherheitsdilemmata, die die Region plagen, wird es nur eine Frage der Zeit sein, bis in der europäischen Nachbarregion das Spektakel in einem Inferno aufgeht.



Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2012) “Gleichgewicht der Abrüstung: Atomwaffenfreie Zone in Westasien“, The European, 19. Februar;

ebenso veröffentlicht als: “Atomwaffenfreie Zone in Westasien: Wieso sie im längerfristigen Interesse Irans und Israels liegt“, Telepolis, 24. Februar.



German Media Censorship on Gaza? Merkel’s Will


»Pretty grim scene« (Prof. Noam Chomsky)

»Fabulous« (Prof. Michel Chossudovsky)

Germany’s most prominent political debate TV program “Anne Will” had announced to run a show on Gaza on 11 January, but in what many observers believe to be an unprecedented step canceled the topic only three days earlier. The talk show is broadcast every Sunday night by the country’s foremost public-service broadcaster ARD while attracting on average 3.6 million viewers. The “Anne Will” show which in the fall of 2007 succeeded the successful primetime talk hosted by Sabine Christiansen – who is now anchoring CNBC’s “Global Players” series – is named after the presenter.

Official Germany Adopts Israeli Propaganda

On the evening of the second day (28 December) of the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the German government’s spokesperson said that in a telephone conversation German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “agreed that the responsibility for the development of the situation in the region clearly and exclusively lies with Hamas”. The same further outlined the official version of the conflict according to the Berlin government which assembles the Christian-Democratic (CDU/CSU) and Social-Democratic (SPD) Parties: “Hamas unilaterally broke the agreement for a ceasefire, there has been a continuous firing of […] rockets at Israeli settlements and Israeli territory, and without question – and this was stressed by the chancellor – Israel has the legitimate right to defend its own people and territory.”[1] The Italian newspaper La Stampa commented “that with this outright German backing for Israel the policy of velvet gloves has ended with which German diplomacy was used to approach this region. It seems as if the Chancellor […] had decided to choose this moment and this topic of tremendous importance to let Germany return to the stage of grand foreign policy”.[2]

Along with the United States, Germany is fully backing Tel Aviv in its anew massive recourse to arms. Thus, unlike Britain and France where the political leaderships have to be attentive to avoid the explosion of outrage voiced particularly by their Muslim communities, German officials have to fear much less political ramifications resulting from protests that however occurred to a much lesser extent than e.g. in major U.S. and European capitals. This is due to two factors: One, compared to Britain’s and France’s Arab communities, it seems that German Turks – after all almost three million – are less politicized, especially when it comes to the Arab/Palestinian issue; second, as they are largely excluded from the political process due to the country’s comparatively harder path to gain citizenship, the responsiveness of political authorities tend to be on a lesser degree than in traditional ius soli countries.

What is more, the German media overwhelmingly and across the political spectrum represent the interpretation from the Israeli leadership, i.e. that the “Jewish State” would fight a defensive war against rocket-throwing Hamas terrorists with the noble cause of defending Western enlightened democracies, such as Israel, in the “war on terror” against Islamism. Those views are echoed in conservative-right papers such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt, in “liberal” ones such as the weeklies Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, up to “liberal-left” ones such as Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau. The only German newspaper that has consistently and extensively covered the Gaza tragedy is the left-wing junge Welt – but which only has small readership.

“Anne Will”’s Promising Selection

Differing from this general media and political patterns, those considered to be invited to the “Anne Will” show would have proposed a more accurate interpretation of the situation. It is widely suggested that the following guests should have appeared:

· Avi Primor, former Israeli ambassador to Germany (1993–99), relieved from that office by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon due to his critical remarks toward the right-wing Israeli Shas party. Primor, who is a member of the Club of Rome, at an “Anne Will” appearance on 23 September 2007 said: “War is raging, a world war. The war against world terrorism is a world war – a world war against the West.”[3] Despite statements close to those made by Israeli governments, Primor is known for his advocacy of an Israeli–Palestinian understanding.

· Joschka Fischer, former German Foreign Minister (1998–2005), and a founding member and chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). In an interview with Germany’s weekly Die Zeit on the current conflict, the former long-year head of the Green Party claimed: „Hamas has declared the end of the truce and has resumed the shelling of Southern Israel with rockets. These are facts on which there is international consensus.”[4]

· Daniel Barenboim, the renowned Jewish pianist and conductor, is known for his commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In 1999, together with Edward Said (who died in 2003) he created the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra in which Palestinian and Israeli musicians have come together.[5] Since 1992, he has led the Berlin State Opera.

· Sumaya Farhat-Naser, a Christian Palestinian professor and peace activist, is particularly committed to dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli women.

· Rupert Neudeck, founder of the refugee NGO Cap Anamur in 1979 and now chair of the 2003-founded NGO Green Helmets. In early 2008, he visited the Gaza Strip.[6] His organization is installing a 5 kilowatt solar plant between Beit Jala and Hebron, planned to become operational by mid-March.

Until Thursday, 8 January, the Gaza topic could be seen in TV program announcements, but disappeared the day after without any explanation. Apparently, the invitees learned only by Thursday early afternoon about the decision to cancel the show. Instead, the topic of suicide figured as replacement.

Disinvited Invitees

On 11 January, Neudeck, who was helping the installation of a solar plant in Ruanda for the Nelson Mandela Education Center and who had his flight from Johannesburg to Berlin already booked by the ARD, asserted in an article published on the “Green Helmets” website titled “Cowardice of Politics, Cowardice of the Media: A Humanitarian Interjection”: “We in Germany, from top (Berlin) to bottom and from Left to Right, are simply holding the standpoint of the Israeli Government for the only possible one.”[7]

Farhat-Naser, who is lecturing at Birzeit University north of Ramallah and therefore needed two days to reach Amman airport in order to fly out, had already arrived in her Berlin hotel when she learned about the program’s cancelation. In an e-mail sent to her friends, she shared her deep disappointment and said she did not know how to explain back home that the TV program had been canceled as the topic had not been considered important enough.

As a consolation, Farhat-Naser was given the opportunity to speak a few minutes during the pause of Barenboim’s orchestra concert which was broadcast in a live extra program by the German-Austrian-Swiss public TV network 3sat on 12 January. In an interview with the same channel a week earlier, Barenboim voiced criticism saying that while Israel had the right to defend herself, this could not be done by force.[8]

Protesting Initiative

This abrupt change of the 11 January program on Gaza led to speculations about political pressures being exerted as well as to worries about the country’s debating culture.

An open protest letter,[9] dated 12 January, authored by Mohssen Massarrat, a retired Iranian-born politics and economics professor, to the ARD chief editor, Thomas Baumann, the chief editor of the responsible regional broadcaster and producer NDR, Andreas Cichowicz, and the show’s anchor Anne Will herself, declares “outrage” at the cancelation of the Gaza show. The letter notes: “We do not know about the circumstances that led to the cancelation of the planned program. As a result, this decision by the editorial staff is a hard blow to the freedom of press and democracy in Germany – this is even more unacceptable if the ARD acted upon political pressure.”

After only 20 hours of the letter being dispatched, it attracted at least 250 signatures by persons and organizations from a wide range of professional backgrounds in Germany, but also from individuals in France, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Yemen, Iran and Nicaragua. Prominent figures endorsed the letter, such as the British–Pakistani historian and author Tariq Ali[10], the renowned expert on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict Norman Finkelstein[11], Yale scholar Immanuel Wallerstein[12], Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi[13] and SOAS professor Gilbert Achcar[14]. Ten days later, the open letter counts more than 700 signatories.

The letter also reads: “Mr. Barenboim, Ms. Farhat-Naser and Mr. Neudeck belong to those outstanding personalities who admirably commit themselves to the Palestinian–Israeli dialogue and who make sure that the still existent thin thread of human relations between the two peoples does not rupture.”

The open letter further says: “We deeply regret the cancelation of the program. Precisely because of Germany’s special responsibility toward Israel and Palestine, the German public is entitled to obtain comprehensive and sophisticated information about the war in Gaza, the more so as the German mass media predominantly does not meet their obligation to cover the current conflict objectively, and informs the people here only one-sidedly. The firstly planned and then canceled program of the ARD program ‘Anne Will’ would have been a first and urgent effort to resolve a little this grievance of a one-sided coverage as to a most pressing and current war.” It ends by urging the responsible persons to revive the idea of an “Anne Will” program on Gaza.

Contradictory Responses and Open Questions

ARD chief editor Baumann in a long phone conversation with Massarrat did not rule out that “soon a program would be broadcast on the issue” while emphasizing that in this case ARD was not under pressure nor would it act under pressure. Likewise those in charge of the program broadcast repeatedly claimed that there was no outside interference in the decision-making and the decision was not based upon political, but “purely upon journalistic considerations” (Cichowicz). Further, Anne Will’s spokesperson said that the topic of suicide had a “greater relevance for the people in our country”. As a reaction to such statements, the junge Welt tauntingly raised the question: “What are 1000 lost lives by Israel’s war against [the one of] a rich German?”[15]

Cichowicz in a response to lead complainant Massarrat said that different topics would be prepared for each week with a final decision being made on Thursdays.[16] Contrastingly, NDR spokesman Martin Gartzke said that the final decision on the weekly topic of the “Anne Will” show would be made Fridays at noon as it had happened in the given case.[17] Still presenting a different time table, Ms. Will’s spokeswoman Nina Tesenfitz was quoted as saying that the program’s editorial team had decided upon the suicide topic by midweek.[18] However, as noted earlier, at least two of the invitees had learned about the cancelation on Thursday.

Whatever the exact procedure may be, it is highly astonishing that such high-profile guests had been invited, but disinvited on a short notice, Massarrat replied to an e-mail sent by Ms. Will on 12 January.[19] Not to mention the journalistic duty not to ignore such a brutal military assault on defenseless people, but to provide a fair and free forum on this important incident whose perpetrator Israel is accused of violating a host of international laws, including committing war crimes.[20]

Israeli Pressures or Self-Censorship: Raison d’Etat à l’Allemande

Considering the overall one-sided German (and more broadly Western) media coverage of the situation in Gaza,[21] the political statements voiced by German officials, and the recent cancelation of the “Anne Will” Gaza program, it can be suggested that the German “Israel Lobby” or the Israeli government pressured the broadcaster to cancel the show. The Israeli Embassy declared that this was “complete non-sense”.[22]

In an e-mail on 10 January, Massarrat had written: “One seems to be forced to suggest that it was Israel’s government that pushed for the cancelation of the program. Thus, in the most important German TV network, the new Israel war cannot be discussed freely and critically. […] The German raison d’Etat vis-à-vis Israel is obviously including press censorship […].”[23] It has been widely reported in the media that as a “lesson” to the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, this time Tel Aviv had in advance prepared a sophisticated propaganda and public-relations campaign[24] – which might well have affected German media outlets’ decision-making.

The alternative explanation implies that the editors themselves acted in self-censorship because of the quasi-taboo in Germany when it comes to any kind of critique vis-à-vis Israel.[25]

“Prescribed Discriminatory Terminology”

In the meanwhile, there has been a sequel of the correspondence between the program authorities and Professor Massarrat, which was also forwarded to the German Press Council that oversees the freedom of press (see also the German Press Code). Replying to Mr. Cichowicz and Ms. Will’s rejection (the latter in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)[26] of the claims put forward by the open letter that political pressure was exercised and that the German media coverage was one-sided, Massarrat reiterated in an e-mail on 22 January the above-mentioned open questions while providing examples of the pro-Israeli Gaza coverage by public broadcasters.[27]

He especially condemned the incessant journalistic usage of the attribute “radical Islamic” when it came to Hamas, whose “subtle demonization” would provide the audience with the “necessary pre-condemnation” exterminating any empathy when Israeli bombs fell upon Palestinians – “according to the motto, whoever is supporting an extremist organization, is responsible for the consequences”. Against the background of German history – Jewish demonization and Germans’ immunization toward Jewish suffering in the Nazi period – as well as the manipulation of public opinion in the current crisis, he urges that the “prescribed discriminatory terminology” be revoked.[28] And indeed, there is hardly any journalist in German mainstream media who does not attribute “radical Islamic” or “terrorist” to Hamas, while “Zionist” or even “state-terrorist” is never being attributed when describing Israel.

Massarrat further criticizes ARD correspondents covering the Gaza assault from Tel Aviv, who – as he proves – would present Israeli positions in response to questions on what Germany might do to contribute to a ceasefire, reflecting Israeli demands for a ceasefire which would enable her to continue the “illegal blockade policy of the Gaza Strip”. He concludes by warning that “foe images and demonization of the other psychologically pave the way for violence and war”. Instead, he urges the “spirit of cooperation and respect for other cultures” to be promoted by the media.[29]

The Left’s Paralysis

When it comes to the Left, the political strand most inclined to oppose colonial and imperial ambitions, it has found itself in quite a paralysis – except for the anti-imperialist daily junge Welt. Also the stances of the German Left Party were far from unanimous in condemning Israel’s illegal endeavor. While the party’s spokesperson in foreign policy matters, law professor Norman Paech, found that “[n]o political goal, no right to defense or self-defense may justify such a war. A mockery of the UN Charter, a barbarity under the eyes of states that hide their weakness and cowardice behind a mild criticism, which signals rather approval than rejection”,[30] the chairman of DIE LINKE’s parliamentary group Gregor Gysi, who in spring 2008 had called upon his party to bury anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism for the sake of German raison d’état,[31] wrote: “Israel’s war was conducted as a reaction to the ongoing firing of rockets from Iran-supported Hamas on Israeli cities and villages, which also led to dead and injured among the civilian population, and [as a reaction] to the unilateral revocation of the truce by Hamas.”[32]

The broader German Left has lacked displaying solidarity with the brutally bombarded Gazans, as Pedram Shahyar, a member of ATTAC Germany’s Coordinating Council, points out. The Left’s “blockade” was due to the “real problem that in the course of conflicts in which Israel is involved, anti-Semitism is lurking. The leftists in this country have a historically-conditioned sensibility. […] The danger exists that because of the crimes of the Jewish State a climate arises, in which reactionary forces grow and emancipatory forces lose relevance”. But, he argues, the Left should acknowledge the simple historical truth that “[i]t is the West which since decades has covered the Middle East with war and occupation. It is the West which has all around installed military bases and puppet governments. In this Western bloc and its imperial policies the acts of the Israeli state are embedded. So long as this foreign rule and dominance do not end, there will be no peace.” As a result, if the Left failed to oppose the “imperial project” of “colonial racism”, it would lose its “moral center” to stand by the oppressed, Shahyar rightly concludes.[33]

Jewish Voices Against Israel

One of the rare publicly heard voices opposing the invasion of Gaza was Professor Rolf Verleger, former chairman of the Jewish Community in Schleswig-Holstein (the northernmost of sixteen German states) who also serves on the board of directors of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. In an interview with the German public radio Deutschlandfunk (DLF), he criticized the Central Council’s backing of the Israeli assault as being “shortsighted and amiss” since what was happening “in the name of Judaism” was and would be a problem for Judaism itself: “Judaism once was called ‘the religion of acting charity’, wasn’t it? When I say that today, no one is going to believe me. Today Judaism is a religion which justifies land seizure and oppression of Arabs. This cannot be true! The Central Council of Jews in Germany must see this as a problem which must be confronted.”[34] The Central Council is known for its unconditional support for wars conducted by Israel.

The psychologist further noted that he sometimes had the feeling that German politicians were quite appreciating that “the Jews” and Israel become delinquent, which would be contributing to the “discharge” of Germany. “This is not responsible”, concluded Verleger. To be responsible meant to signal Israel that it had to act according to international rules.[35]

European Jews for a Just Peace (EJPJ) Germany took out an ad in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the country’s highest-circulation newspaper of liberal couleur, headlined “German Jews say NO to the murdering by the Israeli army”, which read: “We are appalled by this inhumanity. […] Do German politicians really believe that it is a compensation of the murdering of our Jewish kinsfolk that Israel can now […] do whatever crosses her mind?” It further notes: “Hamas is using terrorist methods, but this is also what the elected representation of Israel does, in fact hundredfold more effective.”[36]

In the same vein, Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, a Jewish–German activist and a daughter of the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Heinz Galinski, writes: “Not the elected Hamas government, but the brutal occupation force, namely the government of a radical-Jewish state has to be taken to the The Hague war tribunal.”[37] She had previously called the Central Council acting as “mouthpiece of the Israeli government in Germany”.

The online edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung interviewed German-born Israeli peace activist and founder of “Gush Shalom” Uri Avnery, in which the 85-year old laid out that Israel had not been showing any interest to cut a peace deal with the Palestinians over the past years.[38] These were indeed by and large the only voices dissenting from publicized mainstream opinion, severely attacked by neoconservative and pro-Zionist circles such as the blog Die Achse des Guten (“Axis of the Good”)[39].

Merkel’s Media? Hardly Fair

Despite ongoing attacks on Gaza and the rising number of casualties, last Sunday, 18 January, the Gaza topic was again circumvented by the “Anne Will” show. While the competitor political talk show “Maybrit Illner” (named after the anchor and broadcast by ZDF – the “Second German Television”) also hushed up the Gaza tragedy, the third major political talk show “hart aber fair” (“hard but fair” – also broadcast by ARD) covered in its 19 January program the topic of “Bloody ruins in Gaza – How far does our solidarity with Gaza go?” In a poll posted on its website in the run-up to the program, the question was raised whether one should refrain from criticizing Israel. Almost 70 percent negated the question.[40]

As the leading scholar on the Israel–Palestine conflict Norman Finkelstein pointed out when laying down the sliding support for Israeli policies among Americans, “the propaganda edifice is beginning to fall apart. It’s falling apart for many reasons. But I think the main reason is: More and more people know more and more of the truth about what’s happening. It’s due in part obviously to the alternative media”. He added that “the challenge for all of us is to tell the truth”, while advising “Tell no lies, stick scrupulously to the facts, claim no easy victories” and by doing so “we can win over public opinion to this cause”.[41]

It can be suggested that the massive Israeli propaganda efforts are a reaction to those seemingly important shifts in Western public opinion. In an online poll conducted by Germany’s leading conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on whether Hamas or Israel were right, the results had been largely manipulated after the Israeli representation at the United Nations in Geneva had sent out an e-mail entitled “We need your votes”, which led to the result of over 70 percent declaring solidarity with Israel.[42]

The discussants appearing on the above mentioned “hart aber fair” show were Michel Friedman, a former vice-president (2000-03) of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and former chairman (2001-03) of the European Jewish Congress, Rudolf Dressler, a former German ambassador to Israel (2000-05), Ulrich Kienzle, a veteran journalist specialized on the Middle East, Norbert Blüm, a former German Minister, and last but not least Udo Steinbach, former long-year director of German Institute for Middle East Studies (1976–2006), known as the German Orient Institute, being one of the country’s most respected Islam and Mideast expert.

Steinbach, known for his candid analyses, had at the outset of the war on Gaza appeared on the country’s prime daily TV news magazine ARD “Tagesthemen” as well as ZDF “Morgenmagazin” (a prominent morning news magazine), in which he denounced Israel’s “brutal undertaking” in the first 36 hours of the attack with a death toll of 350, which was “simply immoral”.[43] His successor at the German Orient Institute, Gunter Mulack, harshly criticized Steinbach for his indeed accurate comments and instead blamed Hamas for the crisis, though suggesting Israel’s actions were “disproportionate”.[44]

Instead of discussing the current conflict, the “hart aber fair” program focused on the issue of latent anti-Semitism. Correctly, Steinbach lamented the debate slipped off to “side scenes” instead of paying due attention to politics. However, noteworthy political remarks had been voiced. While Friedman emphasized Israel’s right to defend herself against “Hamas terrorists”, Kienzle replied that the problem in Germany was that while Palestinians killing civilians were considered terrorists, Israelis doing the same were conversely called self-defenders. Blüm, a Christian believer who when criticizing Israel was repeatedly defamed as an anti-Semite, pointed to the continuous hardship under which Palestinians have been suffering. Steinbach emphasized the decades-long illegal occupation of land by Israel and the shortcomings of Western and Israeli policies to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

After all, the “hart aber fair” program was hardly fair as it turned to ignore the Gaza conflict, but instead focused on the “if” and “how” criticism towards Israel should be voiced. This is a tactic frequently utilized in Germany to circumvent any facts-based debate on Israel–Palestine or even issues pertaining to Islamic countries, such as the Iran conflict. After all, Blüm made a statement which seems the most accurate one when it comes to Germany’s judeocidal past and present Israeli crimes: “Our responsibility out of the terrible crimes of the Nazi era done to the Jews – incomparable crimes – … my conclusion that I draw from that, my kind of Vergangenheitsbewältigung [a notion referring to a struggle to come to terms with the Nazi past—AFN], precisely because we have made ourselves guilty in such a way, to work for a world in which no longer people are being tortured, killed, oppressed, no matter where they are coming from. This is true for Israelis and Palestinians alike. […] Human rights apply to everyone.”

In sum, it can be concluded that most of the German media are indeed complying with Chancellor Merkel’s will – it was not only Ms. Will.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on the international relations of the Middle East. For the open letter, he gained the signatures of prominent figures outside of Germany.

[1] Agence France-Presse (AFP), “Germany’s Merkel Blames Hamas for Gaza Violence”, 29 December 2008.

[2] La Stampa (Turin), 30 December 2008.

[3] Cited in: (accessed 19 January 2009).

[4] Joschka Fischer interviewed by Jörg Lau & Patrik Schwarz, “Krieg in Nahost: ‘Das ist Obamas erster Krieg’”, Die Zeit, No. 3/2009 (8 January 2009). Further, the weekly’s online edition featured an interview with Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz in which the well-known advocate of Israeli policies claimed – in utter contradistinction to respected international legal authorities – that Israel’s military assault was “commensurate [angemessen]”; Dershowitz interviewed by Jan Free, “Gaza-Krieg: ‘Israels Vorgehen ist angemessen’” [“Gaza war: ‘Israel’s action is commensurate’”], Zeit Online, 15 January 2009.

[5] See also Edward W. Said & Daniel Barenboim, Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society, Pantheon Books, 2002.

[6] Rupert Neudeck, “Gaza schreit vor wütendem Hunger und Not. Zu einem erschütternden Bericht eines Gaza-Journalisten“ [“Gaza cries out of furious hunger and misery. On a staggering report from a Gaza journalist”], 7 December 2008, Green Helmets website.

[7] Rupert Neudeck, “Feigheit der Politik, Feigheit der Medien. Ein humanitärer Zwischenruf”,, 11 January 2009.

[8] “Interview mit Daniel Barenboim” [“Interview with Daniel Barenboim”], ‘Kulturzeit’, 3sat, 5 January 2009.

[9] The letter is posted on (accessed 22 January 2009).

[10] See also Tariq Ali, “From the ashes of Gaza. In the face of Israel’s latest onslaught, the only option for Palestinian nationalism is to embrace a one-state solution”,, 30 December 2008. [11] See also “Former Amb. Martin Indyk vs. Author Norman Finkelstein: A Debate on Israel’s Assault on Gaza and the US Role in the Conflict”, Democracy Now!, 8 January 2009; for an edited extract of his remarks at the latter appearance, see Norman Finkelstein, “Seeing Through the Lies: The Facts About Hamas and the War on Gaza”, CounterPunch, 13 January 2009; Norman Finkelstein, “Foiling Another Palestinian ‘Peace Offensive’: Behind the bloodbath in Gaza”,, 19 January 2009. [12] See also Immanuel Wallerstein, “Chronicle of a Euthanasia Foretold: The Case of Israel”, Agence Global, 15 January 2009.

[13] See also Hamid Dabashi, “The Moral and Military Meltdown of Israel”, The Palestine Chronicle, 12 January 2009.

[14] See also Gilbert Achcar interviewed by Daniel Finn, “The Crisis in Gaza”, Irish Left Review, 15 January 2009; as well as “Growing outrage at the killings in Gaza”, The Guardian, 16 January 2009, a call by hundreds of British academics which Achcar co-signed.

[15] “Gaza? Weniger Relevanz. Kritik an ‘Anne Will’” [“Gaza? Lesser relevance. Critique at ‘Anne Will’”], junge Welt, 16 January 2009, p. 14.

[16] Cited in “Debatte um Themenwechsel bei ‘Anne Will’: Freitod für die Quote oder Angst vor dem Krieg?” [“Debate on the change of topic on ‘Anne Will’: Suicide for ratings or anxiety over the war?”], Netzeitung, 15 January 2009. [17] Cited in Harald Neuber, “Statt Gaza-Streifen lieber Freitod” [“Instead of Gaza Strip rather suicide”], Telepolis, 15 January 2009. [18] Cited in Daland Segler, “Die Toten und die Quoten. Anne Will redete lieber über Merckle statt Gaza” [“the dead and the ratings. Anne Will preferably talked about Merckle than Gaza”], Frankfurter Rundschau, 13 January 2009.

[19] “Zur Absetzung von Talkshow zum Gazakrieg” [“On the cancelation of a Gaza War talk show”], junge Welt, 15 January 2009, p. 8.

[20] Cf. Manfred Rotter [professor emeritus on international law, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria], “Von ‘Notwehr’ kann keine Rede sein. Mit der Militäroperation gegen Hamas verstößt Israel massiv gegen die Bestimmungen des Völkerrechts” [“‘Self-defense’ is out of question. With the military operation against Hamas, Israel massively violates provisions of international law”], Der Standard (Austria), 31 December 2008 – 1 January 2009; “Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime“, The Sunday Times, 11 January 2009; Mark LeVine [professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine], “Who will save Israel from itself?”, Al-Jazeera English, 13 January 2009; Jens Berger, “Israel kontra Völkerrecht” [“Israel versus international law”], Der Spiegelfechter, 14 January 2009.

[21] Cf. Sabine Kefir, “Blockadebrecher ‘Al Djasira’: Weißer Phosphor, keine Bilder”, Freitag, No. 3 (16 January 2009), p. 6; see also the Gaza debate broadcast by Germany’s parliamentary TV channel PHOENIX, “Der ewige Kinflikt? – Krieg im Gazastreifen”, ‘PHOENIX Runde’, 12 January, 22:15h.

[22] Cited in Martina Doering & Ralf Mielke, “Zwischen den Fronten” [“Between the fronts”], Berliner Zeitung, 13 January 2009, p. 3

[23] Cited in Peter Kleinert, “Israels Erfolge im Propagandakrieg” [“Israel’s successes in the propaganda war”], NRhZ-Online – Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 179 (12 January 2009).

[24] Cf. Jens Berger, “Israel im Propagandakrieg” [“Israel in propaganda warfare”], Der Spiegelfechter, 8 January 2009; John Bunzl [historian at the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, OIIP], “Willkommen im Wahrheitsministerium Jerusalem. Wie Israels ‚Spindoktoren‘ unter Ausblendung historischer Zusammenhänge Realität konstruieren” [“Welcome to the Jerusalem Truth Ministry. How Israel’s ‘spin doctors’ construct reality by fading-out the historical context”], Der Standard (Austria), 10–11 January 2009; Peter Kleinert, op. cit.; Noam Chomsky, “On Gaza”, lecture, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge (MA), 13 January 2009; James Zogby [president of the Arab American Institute], “Zionist propaganda machine”, Al-Ahram Weekly, No. 930 (15–21 January 2009).

[25] Cf. Peter Kleinert, op. cit.

[26] Anne Will interviewed by Michael Hanfeld, “Es gab keine Einflussnahme von außen” [“There was no influence from outside”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16 January 2009.

[27] “‘Anne Will’ und Medienberichterstattung über den Gaza-Krieg” [“‘Anne Will’ and media coverage on the Gaza War”], CASMII, 22 January 2009.

[28] Op. cit.

[29] Op. cit.

[30] Norman Paech [German MP and former Hamburg University law professor], “Freiheit für Gaza” [“Freedom for Gaza”], Neues Deutschland, 10 January 2009, p. 1.

[31] Cf. Ali Fathollah-Nejad, “Neo-Con Conference Pushes for War on Iran”, Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 1 June 2008, last para.

[32] Gregor Gysi [German MP], “Waffenstillstand jetzt” [“Ceasefire now”], Frankfurter Rundschau, 7 January 2009.

[33] Pedram Shahyar, “Kolonialer Rassismus” [“Colonial racism”], junge Welt, 22 January 2009, p. 3.

[34] Rolf Verleger interviewed by Tobias Armbrüster “Rolf Verleger: Internationale Politik sollte Israel Grenzen zeigen” [“Rolf Verleger: International politics should show Israel limits”], Deutschlandfunk, 29 December 2008.

[35] Op. cit.

[36] “Deutsche Juden und Jüdinnen sagen NEIN zum Morden der israelischen Armee”, advert in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17 January 2009, p. 10.

[37] Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, “Aktion ‘gegossenes Blei’ – Aktion ‘vergossenes Blut’” [“Operation ‘cast lead’ – Operation ‘blood shed’”], Das Palästina Portal, 30 December 2008.

[38] “Israel: Friedenskämpfer Avnery über Gaza. ‘Hamas wird gewinnen’” [“Israel: Freedom fighter Avnery on Gaza. ‘Hamas will win’”],, 7 January 2009. See also Uri Avnery, “How Many Divisions? The Blood-Stained Monster Enters Gaza”, CounterPunch, 12 January 2009.

[39] Cf. Ali Fathollah-Nejad, op. cit.

[40] Cf. also Raymond Deane, “Are German getting fed up with Israel?”, The Electronic Intifada, 18 January 2009.

[41] “Crisis in Gaza: The U.S., Israel, and Palestine”, with Ali Abunimah, Norman G. Finkelstein and John J. Mearsheimer speaking, University of Chicago, 8 January 2009, 1h25min45sec.

[42] Cf. Peter Kleinert, op. cit.

[43] “Experte sieht Problem bei den Israelis” [“Expert sees problem with Israelis”], ‘Morgenmagazin’, ZDF, 30 December 2008; “Nahost-Experte Udo Steinbach zu der Situation im Gazastreifen” [“Mideast expert Udo Steinbach on the situation in the Gaza Strip”], ‘Tagesthemen’, ARD, 30 December 2008. Startlingly, the respective final questions posed to Steinbach in both programs were where “moderate Palestinians” were.

[44] Cf. Corinna Emundts, “tagesschau-chat mit Gunter Mulack: ‘Israels Vorgehen ist unverhältnismäßig’” [“tagesschau-chat with Gunter Mulack: ‘Israel’s action is disproportionate’],, 6 January 2009.


Fathollah-Nejad, Ali (2009) “German Media Censorship on Gaza? Merkel’s Will“, Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 22 January;

▪ republished [with functioning endnotes] on, 29 January;

▪ abridged version published on The Palestine Chronicle, 16 February.



Finkelstein, Norman G. (2010) ‘This Time We Went Too Far’: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, New York: OR Books, p. 114 (Footnote 57) and p. 116 (Footnote 66).