In New York Monday, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres said Iran is using Hezbollah and the conflict in Lebanon to divert attention from its nuclear ambitions.
Peres said the conflict in Lebanon will not end until Israel has achieved several tactical goals: the removal of Hezbollah forces from southern Lebanon, the cessation of rockets and missiles into Israel, control of Hezbollah's weapons arsenal and the return of two soldiers captured by Hezbollah. Then, Peres said, Lebanon must be allowed to govern itself. He described these points as minimal, provisional, tactical achievements.
But Peres said a wider range of long-term issues must be considered. He said the present conflict is not just between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. He said Iran is using Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria as part of a design to dominate the Middle East.
"Today there are clearly two trends. One run by the Iranians to introduce a Muslim hegemony of their taste, a Shi'ite one, and the Arab countries who want to remain in charge of the Middle East. They think it is their region; it is not the Persian's region. It is an Arab region. They think this may put an end to their character. This is not of a lesser conflict than that I have described between Hezbollah and Israel, between Hezbollah and Lebanon," he said.
Iran's vision of the Middle East, if it prevails, Peres said, will have a catastrophic effect on the entire region in terms of modernity, freedom and change.
Peres said Iran is running "wild," because of geopolitical divisions. "It is the weakness of the others that produces the strength of the Iranians. They do not have economic strength. Neither do they have the national strength because Iran is a country of minorities. So they are neither united nationally nor developed economically, but using this lull in a weak world in order to develop a nuclear bomb. I think the use Hezbollah in order to divert attention from the bomb, to the situation in Lebanon. I believe the bomb is still their first priority, not the second one," he said.
Peres says Turkey has shown that a nation can be both modern and Muslim. Long term, he says, the best way to curb radicalism in the region is to reduce dependence on oil. "There is one major decision that depends upon the United States, and that is not to depend so much upon oil. There is either oil or democracy. If you have oil, you do not need democracy. I believe nuclear energy is the real alternative. The (US) Congress has already taken the first steps to permit building nuclear stations for civilian energy. That will change the world completely. The oil spoils the world. You don't have to work. You don't have to keep freedom. You can be capricious," he said.
Peres says soaring demographics are eating up economic achievements made in the Middle East, where water shortages are beginning to develop into a serious problem. The best solution, he says is the liberation and education of the region's women, who are producing children who are becoming victims of shortages, stalled economies and radicalism.
Peres made his comments during a talk with the private Council on Foreign Relations.