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Last Updated: Friday, 12 January 2007, 18:44 GMT
Torn loyalties of Israel's Iranian Jews
By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Jerusalem

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
President Ahmadinejad has repeatedly used anti-Israeli rhetoric
Concern about Iran's nuclear programme is felt most acutely in Israel, not least due to the fiery rhetoric of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for an end to the Israeli state.

Israel's military and political leaders believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran rejects.

While Israel currently supports the diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear work, there is a growing debate in Israel about whether it should attack Iran's nuclear sites.

For the population of Iranian Jews in Israel, some of whom still have relatives in Iran, it is a matter of deep concern.

Bad period

Every day the Voice of Israel radio broadcasts to Iran in Farsi.

Twice a week Menashe Amir, a Persian Israeli, hosts a rather unexpected talk show. The callers are all from Iran and the vast majority are Muslim.

The show attracts two to six million listeners everyday from a country where the Jewish community is just 20,000 strong.

Yazd synagogue, Iran
The Jewish presence in Iran dates back nearly 3,000 years
"I would say if 10 people are calling us from Iran, only one is talking about destroying Israel or death to Israel," said Mr Amir.

The Iranian callers cannot ring Israel directly. They have to phone a number in Germany which is patched through to the Jerusalem studio.

Mr Amir is worried about the current state of affairs in Iran.

"I am an Iranian and I am an Israeli. This is a bad period but I hope it will be very short," he said.

But he says the ancient links between Jews and Iranians, which date back to the time of the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great, will not be broken so easily.

Growing alarm

On a busy shopping street in Jerusalem is a line of several shoe shops all run by Persian Jews, a sign of the thriving community here.

Many of these families came to Israel after the Iranian revolution in 1979. But that did not put an end to their connections with Iran.

While Persian Israelis are reluctant to admit visiting Iran, it is possible to travel there by getting permission from the Iranian embassy in Turkey.

But these days, things have become more difficult. There is growing alarm that Iran's atomic energy programme could be a cover for nuclear weapons.

For many Israelis that is an unacceptable danger, which has to be stopped, by military means if necessary.

Iranian bomb

Avi Dichter, Israel's minister for public security, told a recent BBC documentary that Israel may have to take a "preventative" approach.

"Israel is not going to wait until the first nuclear bomb is going to be dropped on Israel," he said.

But not everyone here believes it will come to that.

Israel's tough rhetoric about military strikes could be part of its strategy to increase the pressure.

Yossi Melman, the author of a forthcoming book on Iran's nuclear programme, says concerns about an Iranian attack have been exaggerated, an unusual view here in Israel.

To me the current conflict is like parents going through a divorce. Who do you like more, your mother or your father?
Meir Javedanfar

"I don't think that Iran would use nuclear weapons against Israel or against any other country in the Middle East," he said.

"I believe that if Iran dares use its nuclear weapons one day in the future against Israel, it would be the end of Iran."

He says Israel may have to learn to live with an Iranian bomb.

The Ochlim Bashuq Persian cafe in the Mehane Yehuda market in Jerusalem is a nostalgic place for Iranian Israelis such as the Iran analyst Meir Javedanfar, who was born in Tehran.

On the walls there are old bank notes with pictures of the Shah, and battered metal pots of ashe torsh, a Persian Jewish version of chicken soup bubble away on the hobs.

"To me the current conflict is like parents going through a divorce. Who do you like more, your mother or your father? You like both of them," said Mr Javedanfar.

Mr Javedanfar doesn't want war between the two countries. But he says that nightmare scenario is becoming more realistic.

"Israel is going to have to take a decision of being obliterated by Iran or it is going to have to attack Iran and put the lives of 20,000 Jews there at risk," he said.

Quick guide: Iran nuclear stand-off
07 Nov 06 |  Middle East
Iran's proud but discreet Jews
22 Sep 06 |  Middle East


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