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Buddhistdoor View: Israel and Iran – Pursuing Peace Amid Conflict

From washingtonpost.com

Tensions between Israel and Iran have reached unprecedented heights in recent weeks, fueling fears of a potential war with devastating consequences for both nations and for the wider region. As strains escalate and geopolitical maneuvers unfold, it is imperative to approach this complex issue with a perspective rooted in empathy, understanding, and a commitment to peace. From a Buddhist standpoint, it is essential to delve deeper into the underlying issues and emotions driving the leaders and people on both sides, recognizing the interconnectedness of all beings and the futility of violence as a solution to conflict.

As we might paraphrase the Buddha’s verses from the Dhammapada’s 10th chapter:

All beings tremble at the sight of violence. Everyone fears death.
Seeing oneself in others, one should overcome impulses to cause harm.

The tensions between Israel and Iran are deeply rooted in historical, political, and religious factors, exacerbated by regional power dynamics and conflicting interests. Attempts to pin the current conflict on one event inevitably run into an endless regress. In recent years, Iran’s support for Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, and its pursuit of nuclear capabilities have fueled Israeli concerns about its security and existence. In 1994, investigators found that Iran was responsible for the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina, killing 85 people and wounding more than 300.

The recent volley of some 300 missiles and drones from Iran toward Israel—nearly all of which were shot down by Israeli defenses, along with help from the militaries of Jordan, the UK, and the US—nonetheless represents Iran’s first direct military attack on the Jewish state.

Conversely, the US Institute of Peace notes: “Since 2010, Israel has allegedly conducted at least two dozen operations—including assassinations, drone strikes, and cyberattacks—on Iran.” (United States Institute of Peace) Iran’s recent attack was itself a response to a 1 April strike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria, which killed several top Iranian military officials. Iran perceives Israel as a threat to its own ambitions in the region as well as to its sovereignty, particularly given Israel’s close alliance with the US.

At the heart of these tensions lie deep-seated fears, grievances, and perceptions of threat on both sides. Israeli leaders view Iran’s nuclear program and support for militant proxies as existential threats to their nation’s security, drawing parallels to historical traumas such as the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Iranian leaders see Israel’s military superiority, occupation of Palestinian territories, and alliance with hostile neighbors as encroachments on their sovereignty and regional influence.

A further element arises as we step back and view global alliances: the US with Israel, and Russia with Iran. The war in Ukraine is viewed as a US proxy-war against Russia by many, as vast amounts of money, military aid, and humanitarian supplies have gone from the US to help Ukraine in its battle the far larger and more equipped Russian military.

From cfr.org

Through the increased conflict in the Middle East, American eyes and hearts might be pulled away from the conflict in Ukraine, offering the Russian military the opening it needs to seize more territory.

From a Buddhist perspective, it is crucial to recognize the humanity and suffering of all individuals involved, irrespective of their nationality, religion, or political affiliation. As is true between Ukrainians and Russians, Israelis and Iranians both share a common desire for security, dignity, and a better future for their children. By acknowledging this shared humanity, we can begin to transcend the divisive narratives that perpetuate conflict and foster empathy and understanding across borders.

The grievances on both sides are based in reality. And yet, further retribution by each party only creates new grievances.

In contemplating the possibility of war between Israel and Iran, it becomes evident that such a conflict would result in catastrophic consequences for both nations and the wider region. War inevitably entails immense human suffering, loss of life, displacement, and destruction of infrastructure, leaving lasting scars on generations to come. Moreover, the nature of modern warfare, with its advanced weaponry and interconnected global economy, means that the repercussions of a regional conflict would be felt far beyond the borders of Israel and Iran. However distant we may be, this kind of suffering will inevitably touch us.

From a Buddhist perspective, the concept of ahimsa or non-violence holds profound significance. Violence only begets more violence, perpetuating a cycle of suffering and karmic consequences. As the Dalai Lama famously said: “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” (Pillars of Peace Hawai‘i)

In seeking solutions to the tensions between Israel and Iran, it is essential to prioritize dialogue, diplomacy, and conflict-resolution mechanisms that address the underlying grievances and concerns of both parties. At the very least, it must be emphasized how harmful further hostilities are—each side only seeing the potential to harm the other, but failing to acknowledge the likelihood of reprisals. Instead of resorting to military escalation, leaders must demonstrate the courage and wisdom to engage in meaningful negotiations aimed at de-escalating tensions and building trust.  

What is needed is for people of ethical cultivation to step forward. Even if they are not in an official capacity or place of power, these individuals possess the ability to lead through this troubling time.

As we often say: “May cool heads prevail.” And as the great commentator and scholar Buddhaghosa wrote in the fifth century: “The meaning of virtue (sīla) is the meaning of “head” (siras), the meaning of virtue is the meaning of “cool” (sītala).”*

The tensions between Israel and Iran present a complex challenge that demands a nuanced and compassionate approach. By embracing the principles of empathy, understanding, and non-violence inherent in the Buddhist teachings, it is possible to transcend the cycle of conflict and pave the way for lasting peace in the region. Through dialogue, diplomacy, and a commitment to addressing the underlying grievances of both parties, we can chart a path towards reconciliation, mutual respect, and coexistence. As the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi famously states: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” (Quote Investigator)

Let us strive to open our eyes to the possibility of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, guided by the wisdom of compassion and understanding as well as the knowledge that further violence cannot truly resolve the issue.

* Keown, Damien. 2001. The Nature of Buddhist Ethics. London: Palgrave, 49.

See more

Iran and Israel’s shadow war has lasted years: Key moments before the attack (The Washington Post)
Timeline: Israeli Attacks on Iran (United States Institute of Peace)
‘Israel told US moments before striking Iran’s Syria consulate’ (The Times of India)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Pillars of Peace Hawai‘i)
An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind (Quote Investigator)

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