FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

A Lose-Lose Situation With Iran

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been touring the Middle East with a clear message: To make peace in the Middle East, Iran must be isolated.

The war of words between the West and Iran was heated by Blair’s call for an “alliance of moderation” consisting of Arab dictatorships to quell the challenge posed by “extremists” supported by Tehran.

There is little new about Blair’s strategy. Though it contradicts his initial support for the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group to open talks with Syria and Iran-a position he quickly backed away from after having been corrected by President George W. Bush-it fits well with the approach of Blair’s predecessors when it comes to creating momentum for peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians.

In late 1991, a flood of articles surfaced in Israeli media that depicted Iran as Israel’s greatest strategic threat. This new perspective stood in stark contrast to Israel’s traditional view of Iran as a strategic non-Arab ally-a view that had survived both the Islamic Revolution and the end of the Iraq-Iran War.

Months before the discussions between Israeli and Palestinian officials on Oslo were revealed to the public in 1993, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin began to argue that Iran’s fundamentalist ideology had replaced communism as an ideological threat to the West. Iran was “fanning all the flames in the Middle East,” and Israel’s “struggle against murderous Islamic terror” was “meant to awaken the world which is lying in slumber” of the dangers of Shiite fundamentalism, according to Rabin.

Like Tony Blair, then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher adopted this rhetoric in Washington’s efforts to advance the Oslo process. “Wherever you look,” he told reporters in March 1995, “you find the evil hand of Iran in this region.”

The emphasis on Iran’s Shiite ideology served, among other things, to convince Sunni Arab monarchies that they faced a greater threat from Iran’s political revisionism than from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. Consequently, so the argument went, the Arabs should opt for peace with Israel in order to combine their strength to push back Iran.

A decade later, Blair seems to follow the same blueprint. In the mid-1990s, many were receptive to this message due to Iran’s extensive support for Palestinian rejectionist groups using violence and terror against Israel (which, incidentally, began after the Oslo process).

Today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s excessive rhetoric, Iran’s uranium enrichment program, and the recent historical revisionism at Tehran’s Holocaust conference are all helping to make the region more receptive to Blair’s repetition of Rabin and Christopher’s old message.

But promoting Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking by building alliances to isolate Iran failed in the 1990s and is likely to fail again. Back then, Washington stood at the apex of its power. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and in the “New World Order” that was forming, the United States was the world’s sole superpower.

Diplomatically, Washington’s stocks were equally high. Then-Secretary of State James Baker had compiled a broad coalition-including numerous Arab states-to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and he had kept Washington’s word that Arab cooperation against Iraq would lead to a push for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

Iran, on the other hand, was weak. It was still recuperating from the Iraq-Iran War, and its relations with the Arab states and with Europe remained frosty. Still, isolating Tehran proved far more difficult than Washington had envisioned. Despite its extensive efforts, the policy of containing Iran proved a huge failure.

Today, the tables have turned. Washington and London’s credibility is at an all time low. The U.S. military is overextended in Iraq, and the raging civil war there has removed any doubt that the neoconservative experiment in the Middle East has been anything but an utter failure. Israel’s conflict with Lebanon this past summer has done little to buy it new friends in the Arab world, and the pro-Western Arab governments’ impotence in influencing Washington has increased the rift between these regimes and their peoples.

Iran, on the other hand, is ascending. Forces allied with it are winning elections throughout the region; it has so far successfully defied U.S. and EU pressure to halt its enrichment program, and the strength of its allies’ deterrent forces in Lebanon during the summer skirmishes with Israel surprised even the leadership in Tehran. In addition, the clerics in Tehran are swimming in record-high oil revenues.

Yet Iran may sooner or later overplay its hand. Its excessive rhetoric against Israel and the United States has already backfired to a certain extent. While the tough talk may have signaled that the cost of U.S. military intervention against Iran would be devastating and have major regional repercussions, it has also increased anxiety among Iran’s Arab neighbors and made them more inclined to seek Iran’s isolation and containment.

Still, a strategy that failed under far more favorable circumstances is unlikely to succeed under the current more challenging conditions. Instead, rather than increasing stability in the region, many believe that pursuing this course risks bringing the confrontation between the West and Iran to a climax, with a regional war as its ultimate outcome. Disturbingly, some elements in Saudi Arabia seem to prefer such a conflict to an Iraqi democracy with Shiites at the helm.

So far, Bush and Blair have resisted the one policy that could both avoid regional war and help stabilize Iraq-a holistic approach that would give all regional states a stake in the region’s future and stability. Confrontation and balance of power politics still seem to be preferred over consensus building.

But it remains to be seen who will lose the most-and who can afford to lose the most-in the lose-lose situation that the continuation of this policy would likely lead to. Though no side is immune to miscalculation, some would argue that so far, Bush and Blair far outdo their competitors in this field.

TRITA PARSI is a writer for the Inter Press Service and the author of Treacherous Triangle-The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States (Yale University Press, 2007).

 

More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 20, 2019
Robert Hunziker
The Dangerous Methane Mystery
David Schultz
The Intellectual Origins of the Trump Presidency and the Construction of Contemporary American Politics
Sabri Öncü
Thus Spoke the Bond Market
Gary Leupp
Japanese and German Doubts on U.S. Drumbeat Towards Iran War
Binoy Kampmark
The Fragility of Democracy: Hong Kong, China and the Extradition Bill
Doug Johnson
On the Morning Consult Poll, Margins of Error, and the Undecideds in the Democratic Primary
Laura Flanders
In Barcelona, Being a Fearless City Mayor Means Letting the People Decide
Martha Rosenberg
Humor: Stop These Language Abuses
Jim Goodman
Current Farm Crisis Offers Opportunity For Change
Cesar Chelala
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
Kim C. Domenico
Lessons from D.H. : A Soul-based Anarchist Vision for Peace-making
Jesse Jackson
Mobilizing the Poor People’s Campaign
Wim Laven
We Need Evidence-Based Decision Making
Cesar Chelala
Health Consequences of Overwork
June 19, 2019
Matthew Stevenson
Requiem for a Lightweight: the Mayor Pete Factor
Kenneth Surin
In China Again
Stephen Cooper
Abolishing the Death Penalty Requires Morality
George Ochenski
The DNC Can’t Be Allowed to Ignore the Climate Crisis
John W. Whitehead
The Omnipresent Surveillance State
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
Guaidó’s Star Fades as His Envoys to Colombia Allegedly Commit Fraud With Humanitarian Funds for Venezuela
Dave Lindorff
What About Venezuela’s Hacked Power Grid?
Howard Lisnoff
Try Not to Look Away
Binoy Kampmark
Matters of Water: Dubious Approvals and the Adani Carmichael Mine
Karl Grossman
The Battle to Stop the Shoreham Nuclear Plant, Revisited
Kani Xulam
Farting in a Turkish Mosque
Dean Baker
New Manufacturing Jobs are Not Union Jobs
Elizabeth Keyes
“I Can’t Believe Alcohol Is Stronger Than Love”
June 18, 2019
John McMurtry
Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Evidence About Iran is “Dodgy” at Best
Yoav Litvin
Catch 2020 – Trump’s Authoritarian Endgame
Thomas Knapp
Opposition Research: It’s Not Trump’s Fault That Politics is a “Dirty” Game
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
U.S. Sanctions: Economic Sabotage that is Deadly, Illegal and Ineffective
Gary Leupp
Marx and Walking Zen
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Color Revolution In Hong Kong: USA Vs. China
Howard Lisnoff
The False Prophets Cometh
Michael T. Klare
Bolton Wants to Fight Iran, But the Pentagon Has Its Sights on China
Steve Early
The Global Movement Against Gentrification
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Journal Doesn’t Like Rent Control
Tom Engelhardt
If Trump’s the Symptom, Then What’s the Disease?
June 17, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
The Dark Side of Brexit: Britain’s Ethnic Minorities Are Facing More and More Violence
Linn Washington Jr.
Remember the Vincennes? The US’s Long History of Provoking Iran
Geoff Dutton
Where the Wild Things Were: Abbey’s Road Revisited
Nick Licata
Did a Coverup of Who Caused Flint Michigan’s Contaminated Water Continue During Its Investigation? 
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange and the Scales of Justice: Exceptions, Extraditions and Politics
John Feffer
Democracy Faces a Global Crisis
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail