Arab Spring may become Iranian winter: Israel PM to AFP

JERUSALEM, Hazel Ward and Philippe Agret- The pro-democracy uprisings sweeping through the Arab world are in danger of being manipulated by Iran's Islamic Republic, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu has warned in an interview with AFP.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with AFP at the weekend, the Israeli premier said the unprecedented protests sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa could go one of two ways.
"What we hope to see is the European Spring of 1989," he said, referring to the year which marked a turning point for the wave of revolutions sweeping through the Eastern Bloc which led to the break-up of the Soviet Union two years later.
But Tehran, he warned, was trying to cash in on the tide of mass uprising sweeping the region to turn it to its advantage in a bid to repeat the events of 1979 and the Islamic Revolution.
"We could find that the Arab Spring turns into an Iranian winter," he warned.
Since the start of the unprecedented popular protests in January, which first saw millions take to the streets of Tunisia and Egypt in a movement which has then swept through the region, Israel has been raising the spectre of an Iranian-style theocracy moving in to take over.
"In a time of chaos, an organised Islamic group can take over the state. It happened in Iran and it also happened in other places," Netanyahu said in February.
In Iran, mass protests against the Western-backed shah erupted in January 1978 and he was forced out a year later, leaving a power vacuum that was filled by the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who returned to set up the Islamic Republic.
Since then, the Iranian regime has become Israel's most virulent enemy, with its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly predicting the demise of the Jewish state.
Disarming Iran and putting a halt to its nuclear ambitions would also have a major impact on relations between Israel and the Palestinians, Netanyahu said.
"If Iran is de-fanged or if the regime is subjected to the same pressure as other regimes in the region there will be a chance for peace and progress," he said in an apparent reference to the military campaign against the regime of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
"Iran has already taken over half of Palestinian society through its proxy Hamas," he said of the Palestinian Islamist movement which rules the Gaza Strip.
"If the Iranian regime goes down, how long will it be before Hamas goes down?"
The threat of Iranian influence penetrating the West Bank, which is ruled by the rival Fatah movement, was one reason why Israel would insist on leaving its troops along the Jordan Valley in any peace agreement.
"We need a long-term Israeli presence along the Jordan border," he said. "We need a physical barrier to prevent penetration by Iran and its operatives.
"When we pulled out of Gaza, we left a European force along the border with Egypt, who left shortly after Hamas took over," allowing Iran to penetrate easily through the southern border and fill the coastal enclave with weapons, he said.

Sunday, April 17th 2011
Hazel Ward and Philippe Agret

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