General Question

whitenoise's avatar

Would western people be safe, living in the Middle East if Israel attacks Iran?

Asked by whitenoise (14126points) May 21st, 2012 from iPhone

As some may know, my family and I live in the Middle East, in the heart of the Muslim world.

Recently tensions between Israel and Iran are increasing and it may even come to Israel attacking Iran. What would that do to safety for westerners in the Middle East?

Particularly if the US would back Israel. As they will likely do.

I put this in general, since I am seriously looking for an answer.

However… I am curious about your related thoughts as well. Just don’t make this into a anti-‘whatever religion’ thread, please.

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30 Answers

LuckyGuy's avatar

Check the US State Department’s Travel advisory information for the country and your location of interest.
For example, here is the latest report for Iran – Apr, 27 2012 .

whitenoise's avatar

Thank you @LuckyGuy That is a very good link.

There also are the UK and Dutch foreign affairs departments and consulates that we are in frequent touch with.

I Would also be very excited on thoughts / analyses of the situation!

And just to add…. I do not live in Iran. It is just the situation with Iran that destabilizes the whole region, right now.

elbanditoroso's avatar

No. Bombs kill people regardless of nationality.

Westerners – who aren’t loved in the middle east anyway – would be just as dead if Israel bombs Iran or iran shoots rockets at Israel. And the fight would spread, so Westerners in Lebanon, jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq would also be the targets of anti-American and violence by Islamists.

If the region blows up, no one is safe and anyone can be a victim.

whitenoise's avatar

So this would lead to anti-western violence all through the region, you feel?

Would that come with a warning stage, or over night?
Would it be total and everywhere or restricted to certain targets at certain hot spots? If there is a warning stage, what would be the warning signs to look out for?

(Please leave living in Israel or Iran itself out of the picture, for now.)

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise My feeling, and this is based on limited knowledge of the middle east, war in general, and the relationship between the countries, is the country you are in would be relatively safe, especially in the beginning stages of war between Iran and Israel. First, Israel usually is very specific in the targets they attack. Israel in the past has many times sent out warnings for people to clear an area before they bomb it, to save lives. Iran would not be targeting Arab land, but Israel.

The way I see it, your embassy, and the US, would send out alerts, or ask, for all their citizens to leave the area and return home. The only thing that might get in the way is if an Arab country, or Iran, took foreigners as hostages. I can’t see the country you are in as likely to do such a thing. I think that you are not American makes you safer if something really crazy did happen.

filmfann's avatar

No one would be safe.
and yes, the US would immediately support Israel.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@whitenoise – yes, I think that whether we like it or now, that the conflagration would spread throughout the region. I see the whole area (Morocco to and through Iran, including Turkey and Saudia Arabia and all of the oil sheikdoms) as on a powder keg with a short fuse which has not yet been lit.

But it wouldn’t take much to light it.

whitenoise's avatar

Thank you, I often feel you are right.
Recently, however, I saw a video message of one of my colleagues, who is a part time imam and uses youtube to spread the word. He compared women wearing makeup like western women, as sluts and worth nothing in the eye of Allah. As he put it “worth less than a fingernail of a righteous woman”.

Now what scared me most, is that this is one of the most friendly people I work with. I confronted him and told him that I do not think it is a good idea to picture these women as sluts and that I took personal offense. After all my wife wears make up. Het then said… well but this message is of course not meant for you and your wife and he gave me a lot of nuances that I needed to add. I sincerely doubted that his followers would understand those nuances though. In short… even my always friendly, always helpful and obedient colleague turns out to be spreading hatred and he doesn’t even understand that he is doing that himself!

That is a scary thought.

I hope I will notice the fuse burning, when it does. Sometimes I feel, now it is already simmering.

The question is though, how would you tell… And how do you get out? Airports are risky and one needs an exit visum from their employer. My wife and I have multiple exit visa and can go when we want. The kids are on singles though.

Ports wil not work, I fear and by land one has to go a couple of hundred miles through very hostile territory that is already dangerous as it is. The travel warnings vary… US citicens should think about going, Dutch are very safe and the Australians should rather stay away. No warning for Germans… There seems no consensus amongst western countries.

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise That is dissappointing. I assume his message is for his followers, a nuance as you put it, which is a good word. It would be the same as teaching your children your expectations for them in what they wear, what you deem appropriate, but then at the same time teaching them not to judge others by what they wear. Does that kind of sum up how the Imam tried to explain it? I agree his followers will not likely understand the “whole” message if that was his intent, and rather generalize that all women who wear makeup are sluts.

Do you feel the majority of the population actually goes along with those attitudes? My experience in America is the majority of the Arab and Persian women wear make-up, show their beautiful hair, wear western clothes, and they have bodies that turn heads. Of course we have some religious Muslims who dress traditionally, but that is the minority by far.

I think of Iran and how there was such an uprising from the young people the last election, and all the Iranians I know here who are so wonderful. Truly, they are some of the nicest people I know. But, I also know they left Iran because of what has happened there over the years, the political control and power the religion has now in that country. So, I assume the Iranians in America may be far from representing the sentiments there, and same with Arabs here. I only mention it, because again, I wonder how many people are really heeding this sort of negative ultra-conservative message regarding make-up and westerners.

But, I am moving off topic. Did you send the Q to zensky or a PM? I think he would give you some very valid information, and understand especially your concern for your family.

JLeslie's avatar

Sorry to make a second post, but I had some more thoughts. Is your concern that citizens in country who you would assume would help you if there was a crisis would actually turn on you?

And, in general are you feeling less welcome, less accepted, less safe, even if the tension between Iran and Israel was not a concern?

Do you feel your family stands out and could be easily targeted? Again, even without the Iran Israel threat?

I understand these type of feelings. Sort of the same as what we would call hate crimes here. Knowing that being different can mean you are vulnerable to people who are unstable and can be violent.

If this is the case, that you are beginnng to feel unsafe or unhappy in general, then you would have to evaluate the situation even apart from middle east unrest in general. I’m sure I am stating the obvious to you, but I thought it was worth mentioning, because sometimes our focus drifts from the actual unhappiness or discomfort we are trying to sort out.

whitenoise's avatar

I think the majority of the people are quite alright with westerners.

There are however quite some serious issues in society here. Inequality between genders, between ethnicities, between religions, between religious fations, between races, between families and tribes a all of those translating into between haves and have-nots.

Those issues are very hard to deal with so they focus on easy things… Like “wear your Abaya”, “we’re better because of our religion”, recite your Q’rans.

Displacement is what psychologists call it, I believe.

But anyways, that all makes that I feel the atmosphere can change pretty quickly. Although I heard people here say “I’d rather deal with you than with my fellow countrymen”, I fear that is a thin layer compared to the influence of imams and their overall issue with people from Israel.

(As one of my colleagues said… He has no issue with Jewish people, but he hates Israel and although not all will share his feelings towards Jewish people, the sentiment against Israel seems universal.)

elbanditoroso's avatar

@whitenoise – how far does that sentiment go? If he hates Israel, does he feel that he has the right to destroy it? To what extent does the hatred go? If he could erase Israel from the map (and kill 8 million Jews in the process), would he be in favor of doing so?

When does a theoretical hatred become an actionable imperative? Does one excuse the other?

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise I think this pattern is possibly throughout the world. Even here in America I feel overall I am safe, but if a tide turned against Jewish people, I am not sure really how safe I would be. There are individuals and groups of people who hate, and they speak in terms of how people dress and their religious beliefs. When I first moved to Memphis I would not have readily worn Jewish Jewelry for instance (I don’t very often anyway, but I would not have advertised my religion so to speak, unless I had a real read on how people might react) and this is in my own country, supposedly in a country with religious freedom, and laws to protect me. Being the minority can be scary, especially if the majority has a history of being violent, add in you are not in your own coutry, I understand your trepidation.

It’s interesting the people there separate out the Jewish people from Israel, or at least say they do. I think here in America many people don’t realize there is a difference. It helps us right now, because Christians here are so pro Israel, especially the ultra conservative right wing. I also think the people most likely to be antisemitic in my country are now part of that right wing, so it makes me feel safer for now.

Meanwhile, feeling you can’t really be sure how people feel behind closed doors, that they are pleasant to your face, but not sure what they are saying among themselves in their own home is a not nice feeling. I have said I would worry about that if I had children going to school here, but I assume your children go to an international school?

I really think since you are not American you have that working in your favor in terms of every day life there, and also any outside risks if war broke out between Iran and Israel. I would assume the middle east states perceive America as willing to come in, blow up things, and occupy nations. It is not just our support of Israel, but our history, even recent history in that part of the world. I think the US is still considered at war in Afghanastan, not sure of our status in Iraq, it has been winding down. Why do you think conflict in Iran would be much different in how it affects where you live than what is already going on in the middle east?

Patton's avatar

I don’t think that Westerners would be in any special danger. Yes, it would be a dangerous situation for everybody because it would be a war, but it wouldn’t result in a rash of anti-Western violence. Iranians aren’t some separate monster race. They’re people. The average person in Iran just wants to be left alone—just like everyone else in the world. We need to stop pretending that terrorists represent everyone in the Middle East.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Patton – I disagree; I think that the Iranians have been whipped up for 32 years (sure not all of them, but a good number) to think of American as the Great Satan. And the Iranians have been very good at exporting their brand of terrorism to Syria and lebanon, among others.

So I believe it is pollyannaish to say that there wouldn’t be major bounceback against the US and western interests all over the Middle East.

Iraq was different; there was a hated tyrant (Saddam) and they were happy to get rid of him, by and large. But doing so did not win us any friends – it gave us Al Qaeda and some related groups instead.

I believe that Westerners would be in much greater jeopardy than you assume.

janbb's avatar

If a war were started, why do you think anyone in the region would be safe?

Patton's avatar

@elbanditoroso Iran has an extremely cosmopolitan history and a large number of Iranians are liberal or socialist. If the US and UK hadn’t intervened in the 1920’s, the country would have become a republic rather than an imperial state allied with the clergy. Similarly, the 1979 revolution against the shah was widely popular, but the form it should take was quite contested. There were many groups fighting to bring about change, including theocrats, democrats, and socialists. The final form that the constitution took was a hybrid to reflect the joint effort, but the religious element swiftly took control. There were many protests against this—again revealing that conservative theocracy is not really the will of the Iranian people—and the anti-Western elements of the 1979 revolution were mainly the result of how the US and UK had set up the government they were fighting against. Average Iranians are not anti-American or anti-Westerner, but they have little reason to trust Western governments (whatever they think of Western people). Understanding the difference between the people and the government is crucial here.

woodcutter's avatar

I’d keep my shit packed up just in case. You have to have a plan. The airports are going to be chaotic.

whitenoise's avatar

That hatred goes pretty far. They feel Israel has thrown them out of their house and is continuously and routinely mistreating the Arab and Palestinian peoples. The picture of Israel in the media doesn’t help there either. They feel Israel is raging war on them for over 60 years now.

It never is the acts of the majority that I’d fear. It is its lack of action. I know a lot of people here (by far the most) that I would trust to never hurt us. I doubt they would protect us, though.

Minorities are always at risk. And antisemitic people hold the same risc for any minority.

It can be gipsies, Jews, homosexuals, handicapped, anything. Most recently there is a lot of anti-muslim rethoric in Holland for instance. All in all it is scary when the majority turns on a minority. That is why a democracy needs a strong constitution: to protect the minorities.

Anyways. I think the big difference between the Iraq and Afghan wars and this possible conflict would be Israel’s involvement.

Even though there is no love between Saudi Arabia and Iran, for instance, and people openly speculate that the Saudis may do the job for the Israelis. That wouldn’t stop them from pulling ranks against Israel in case of an attack.

The hatred of Israel outweighs the negative feelings the Sunni Saudis hold over the Shia Iranians.

whitenoise's avatar

It is not about the Iranians. It is not about the possible acts of the majority either. It is about being safe from those elements in society that may potentially be dangerous.

I don’t know whether you have been to the region. The problem lies primarily in huge societal problems in unequally spread wealth and opportunities. The resulting tensions can be channeled by those that are organized. In most Middle Eastern countries the only organized group next to the state is religious. I think that is the part of the reason the Saudi state gives so much privileges to the clergy, for instance. They have seen what it can do to the Shah’s regime and they had their own fair share of religious terrorism in the seventies / eighties.

pieceofapuzzle's avatar

Depends what your threshold for safety is. Safe from physical harm, safe from fear?
Horrific things happen during war so I would have to say, I (as a westerner) would not feel safe. Just because the Geneva convention exists doesn’t mean it will save you from being held as a bargaining chip by a fundamental group hell bent on making a point.

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise Yes, that is the hard part, inaction vs action. To take action puts oneself in danger. To not take action encourages the oppressor. There are many English saying and quotes regarding this that came out of the events of the holocaust.

Do have an idea how long it would take you to get out of the country if you really became nervous? How many expats are there who might be trying to leave at once?

whitenoise's avatar

Interesting thought. Dont know, actually. I might want familiarize myself with the addresses of the embassies. :-)

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise Good idea. I wonder if a situation becomes an emergency if the governments or military bring in planes to help move expats out? Maybe there is some sort of protocol for these things? I know there have been times when the US has ordered/requested all tourists to leave a country that was deemed hostile. I would assume they are helped out? I would also assume if there is a bad situation the European Union would help get people out somehow, even if you had to fly into a different country than your own at first.

Patton's avatar

@whitenoise I haven’t just been to “the region,” I’ve lived there. I know what Iran is like, and I don’t need the lecture. You seem to very judgmental of the people around you even as you live in their midst. Europeans have a terrible history of racism towards Arabs and Persians, though, so maybe I shouldn’t expect you to be open to nuance here. I won’t say anything about what Saudi Arabia is like because I don’t know. But my comments were limited to Iran and what could be expected of the Iranian people. If you want to say it’s different in other places, I have no idea how that reflects on the comments I made.

JLeslie's avatar

@Patton He said he would trust the majority of people to never hurt him or his family. He isn’t painting the people in the region as violent or untrustworthy or whatever negative thing you might be thinking.

I am an American, and I think most Americans are good people, not racist or antisemitic, but under the right conditions I think there are some people here who might try to harm me, definitely scare me. It’s frightening enough to have something like that happen in ones own country, but the prospect of it happening while away from home, with different laws, and not feeling secure whether the local government would attempt to protect you and help you get back him is not an unusual concern I don’t think. When I moved from Maryland to Florida my grandma wouldn’t let me drive alone because she didn’t want me driving with NY plates on my car through the American south girl alone, and that is in my own country. I think don’t be so offended.

whitenoise's avatar

@Patton it seems that you read what you want to read. I have not ever been to Iran and I don’t know anything about that country other than what I have read in books and seen on tv. I therefore said nothing about Iran. Primarily, because… again… my question is not about Iran, it is about the rest of the middle east.

And yes… I am biased by culture, as is probably unavoidable. Because of that I sometimes find it hard to fully understand the society around me. I have however neither implied, nor said that the people in the middle east are bad or ‘all evil’. If I thought that, then I would never have chosen to live there with my wife and two young children.

And… I have been a college professor, I know what a lecture is, and I didn’t lecture you. I just said that from where I stand, your remarks (answers) were not warranted by my question, or by my earlier posts.

whitenoise's avatar

Thank you @JLeslie. You are fully right, I never intended disrespect. :-)

Patton's avatar

@whitenoise Your question is posed in terms of a conflict between Israel and Iran. Go look at it: the word “Iran” is right there in the title and the second sentence of the question. I have not made any indication that you personally have said anything more about Iran than that. I made a comment about the Iranian part of the question (i.e., that there would be no special danger from Iranians) and left it at that. Then @elbanditoroso disagreed with me and I responded to him. Then you responded in a patronizing way that ignored the fact that I was responding to someone else and attempted to teach me basic facts about how people work (inequality causes problems? do go on). Finally, it is both pompous and pedantic of you to pretend that you don’t know I meant “lecture” in the pejorative sense and not the academic sense.

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