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“Nuclearisation rather than terrorism poses greater danger to West Asia”

Ananth Krishnan

We are heading towards showdown between Israel and Iran: Professor Sivan

CHENNAI: The nuclearisation of West Asian states, and not the threat of terrorism as often portrayed by the media, is the biggest danger facing the region today, according to Emmanuel Sivan, professor of Islamic history at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Prof. Sivan is on a visit to India to create awareness and open up debate on the present political situation in West Asia. He is one of the first scholars to have examined the growth of radical Islamic movements in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution in Iran, and has written several books on the subject, including Radical Islam (1990) and The 1948 Generation (1991).

Speaking to The Hindu on Friday, Prof. Sivan said the problem of terrorism had been “overblown” by journalists. “The real threat we have to be aware of is nuclearisaton,” he said. “We are heading towards a showdown between two nuclear states, Israel and Iran.”

Escalating tensions

Prof. Sivan believes that Israel’s government “will not hesitate” to strike at Iran. Tensions between the two countries have escalated since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” While the Iranian government has insisted that its nuclear programme is only being developed for civilian interests, nations such as the United States and Israel have alleged that the real motive is acquiring a capability for nuclear weapons. Israel has had a nuclear weapons programme since the 1950s.

“We [Israelis] and the Iranians need to learn how to tango like India did with Pakistan,” Prof. Sivan said. “But we should remember that as was the case with those two countries, this takes time.”

The nuclear problem in West Asia could be compounded with the entrance of states such as Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia into the equation, he said. “Egypt decided against nuclear weapons 45 years ago, but President Mubarak today doesn’t think the same way as Nasser did [in the 1960s]. The Saudis can also demand warheads from Pakistan as they helped finance their programme.”

Social impact

Prof. Sivan said that the radical Islamic movement had a number of important social consequences that had been ignored. “The movement is actually changing social relations [such as banning alcohol], which I think is more important than the political aspects.” He added that the rise of radical Islam was largely only a consequence of the failures of economic promises of West Asian governments.

“Had the governments been able to give decent shelter and employment for every person, the situation would have been different,” he said.

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