Support Israel to contain Iran

A commenter on this blog recently asked (in effect), “if you’re so smart, what would you do about Iran?” How would it be different and better than what the Obama administration is trying to do? I’ll try to answer.

First, let’s look at what Iran is doing and how that affects the US.

Iran has several goals. One is to replace the US-Saudi alliance, which presently dominates the politics and economy of the region. Until recently, the effect of this alliance has been to keep the price of oil low, which has benefited the Saudis with their modern American-built oil infrastructure and hurt Iran with its relatively high cost of production. The US has also acted to keep the reactionary regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia in power, in opposition to radical Islamic opposition.

Although cheap oil has been a great benefit (at least in the short-term — it may not be so in the long term) to the US, Saudi policies in other areas, such as the support for radical Islamists throughout the world (anywhere but Saudi Arabia) has been bad for the US, and 9/11 is an example of how this has played out.

The Reagan and two Bush administrations, very close to oil companies and Saudi Arabia, worked to strengthen this alliance by opposing traditional enemies of the Saudis such as Iran and (more recently) Saddam’s Iraq. Indeed, the US armed and supported Iraq in its 12-year war with Iran, thus weakening two Saudi competitors at once. When Saddam overreached, invading Kuwait and threatening Saudi Arabia, the US slapped him down.

But the second Bush administration made a serious mistake by trying to take direct control of Iraq. Once the repressive lid of Saddam’s regime was lifted, Iran was able to take advantage of the pent-up desire of the Iraqi Shiites to strike back at the minority Sunnis that had treated them cruelly under Saddam. And Sunni Islamists — both unrepentant Baathists and radicals of the al-Qaeda variety — began to fight the Shiites and US troops.

This made Iranian leaders happier than pigs in mud. The price of oil went sky-high, making it possible for Iran to profit greatly and thereby fund its unclear program. And with the US tied down in Iraq, Iran was free to pursue its parallel goal of exporting its revolutionary brand of Shiite Islam, in particular by means of Hezbollah in Lebanon. And it has been spectacularly effective, with Hezbollah now probably the most powerful single political force in Lebanon.

Iran has also made Syria a strong ally, by supplying it with huge quantities of weapons. And Syria has been happy to help destabilize the situation in Iraq by allowing foreign fighters and weapons to cross its border. Syria has also become the corridor for Iranian arms going to Hezbollah in Lebanon in defiance of UN Resolution 1701.

Which brings us to Israel. Iran sees Israel as an American base, an obstacle to its further advance. For that reason Iran has built up huge missile forces in Syria and in the hands of Hezbollah, tens of thousands of rockets, some with chemical or biological warheads.  And for that reason Iran has armed and funded Hamas, even though Hamas is a Sunni organization, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Iran has made this alliance of convenience for one reason, which is to try to crush Israel between Hamas and Hezbollah. Indeed, Ahmadinejad has often said that it is the Palestinians, not Iran, who will destroy Israel.

The Obama administration appears to have seen that the Saudi-centered policy was not optimal, and seems to be trying to balance it by approaching Iran. The administration seems to be planning to replace the single center with a dual focus, a focus on both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Unfortunately, it’s too late. The balance of power in the region has already tipped in favor of Iran, thanks to our misadventure in Iraq. The Iranian nuclear program cannot be stopped by diplomatic means. Hezbollah cannot be easily dislodged. The US will be lucky to get out of Iraq without further disasters, and most likely the future of Iraq will be as an Iranian satellite. Iran will be in the driver’s seat in its relationship with the US, and the concessions will flow all one way. Why should they give us anything?

But support for Iran means support for an nuclear-armed Iranian Middle East. I suggest that if you thought the cold war with the Soviet Union was scary, the anti-Western ideology of radical Islam — and the Shiite version of the Iranian Mullahs is radical — is much scarier. The weak Saudi and Egyptian regimes are not likely to prevail in such a place, and certainly not against a nuclear Iran.

US policy today must be aimed at freezing the Iranian advance. 

The ‘realists’  in our foreign-policy establishment argue basically “there are way more Muslims than Jews in the Mideast and they have the oil. So make nice to them.” And this means ‘reduce support for Israel’. If there is one thing both the Saudis and Iranians can agree on, it’s that Israel should be eliminated.

But I suggest that they have it backwards: maybe the only way for the US to keep any leverage at all in the region is to throw its weight behind the only truly pro-Western power in it: Israel.

This means that the US must fully support the actions needed to crush Hamas and Hezbollah (at least as military powers). Instead of encouraging Fatah and Hamas to think that their ‘resistance’ will ultimately succeed in throwing the Jews out of ‘their’ land, the US should explain that only by abjuring terrorism will they ever have a chance to realize their national aspirations — that there will not be a Palestinian state unless it is not hostile to Israel. One step in this direction would be to affirm Lieberman’s interpretation of the Roadmap and Annapolis.

This also means that the US should do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from achieving deliverable nuclear weapons. That won’t be easy, but one step that it could take would be to remove the embargo on the sale of equipment to Israel  — such as tanker aircraft — which could be used to strike Iranian facilities.

A credible Israeli deterrent might not have to be actually used in order to prevent Iran from completing its weapons project. On the other hand, by publicly taking steps to prevent Israel from attacking Iran, the US is encouraging Iran to continue its weapons development.

In short, I am suggesting that the US replace its Saudi-centered policy not with a dual-centered one or even an Iranian-centered one, but rather an Israel-centered one. If the Arabs (Palestinians and others) and Iranians can come to understand that the real American bottom line is a strong Israel, then perhaps they will recalibrate their goals to finally, 61 years after 1948, understand that Israel is not temporary. The ambiguity of present American policy does the opposite, encouraging the most radical elements.

Exactly the same argument applies to nuclear weapons. Just as the Palestinians are allowed to maintain the hope that they will someday get Haifa, Acco, etc. back, weak US policy allows the Iranians to believe that they will get nuclear weapons. But this, too, must be part of a firm American bottom line: Iran will not be allowed to posses them.

This will not be easy, and we are already some distance down the wrong road. But here’s a thought experiment: suppose Israel had been successful in the Second Lebanese War of 2006, suppose she had been allowed to destroy Hamas as a military force in Operation Cast Lead, and suppose that everyone knew that Israel had the ability to bomb Iranian nuclear plants without US interference.

Would Obama have an easier or harder time negotiating with Iran today?

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3 Responses to “Support Israel to contain Iran”

  1. ME says:

    Vic:

    I apologize if the impression that I gave was one of “If you are so smart . . . ” That is now why I asked. I asked because I am interested in getting to your ideas. Plus, I feel you might have an important voice.

    Seriously, not having met me, you would know that I am very melancholy. I do like to foster intelligent debates every now and then.

    I am actually throwing chum into social or other waters just to sit back and watch (sometimes laugh) at the ensuing feeding frenzy. Please don’t take me personally.

    Now, onto some of your points:

    Paragraph 3: Saudi US alliance does not dominate anything in the region it is only as significant as the US Kuwait alliance, the US Bahrain Alliance, the US UAE alliance; you should maybe say the US Middle East alliance, less Iran. Moreover, any Saudi US alliance, has little to do with oil prices, since the US gets less than 40% of its oil from middle East countries, probably even lower. Furthermore, Iran chose not to develop its oil reserves, over consumes and over sells oil at its own loss, and chose to forsake infrastructure to develop nuclear power supply. And lastly, OPEC is an independent regulatory agency. More people in India, China, and Canada drive cars and use petrol than in America. Also, the Saudi regime is one that has been in place for decades, and their right of tri-archical succession and ordination is an independent functioning entity.

    Paragraph 4: Check on the Whabbism support.

    Paragraph 5: Kuwait and its oil reserves were viewed as a strategic strong-hold for Iraq, operate independent of Saudi Arabia, and the Kuwaitis are cool, mostly progressive, and their market operates independent of Saudi Arabia. So, efforts against Saddam were extended probably because the Saudis could not or would not help Kuwait, who is relatively peaceful and exists without much military.

    Paragraph 6: Was the Bush administration really attempting to take direct control of Iraq? It seems to me, that implementing diplomatic efforts and overtaking a suppressive regime are more moderate than warlord – like.

    Paragraph 7: “Unclear” program, no pun intended or should read “nuclear?” I like Lebanon and want it to be more peacful again with other Middle Eastern countries.

    Paragraph 8: Boooooo Syria, Boooooo!

    Paragraph 9: Which is the reason Palestinians are increasingly viewed as terrorist sympathizers rather than worthy of human rights efforts, because of the excessive presence of Hizbullah Hamas. So sad.

    Paragraph 10: You think the Obama administration is not aware of the heavy American presence/relations with & in Qatar (base and American University), Kuwait (base), Jordanian relations, UAE, Bahrain, remote muslim populations in countries like Transylvania, countries in Africa, Afghantistan, (I want to say Pakistan because I know there are some good qualities) etc.? I just have this good outlook on these places because I have gone to a school in the US with more than one person from all of those countries, all muslims, and all in very amicable, open, and progressive environments. So, this closed off from America world and isolated focus on Saudis just does not comport with my real world experience and vision of America’s relations with Middle Eastern countries.

    If the focus is on Saudis because of oil and the Whabbism, that does not mean it is the only relationship between the US and the Middle East.

    Paragraph 11: It is not too late. Iraq did not stir anti-US sentiment. Middle Eastern countries are not typically comprised of warring populations, in fact, most countries are under militarized, and receive assurances from the US against potential rogue threats like Iran and wacko dictators like Saddam.

    Paragraph 13: Single issue voting and miopic viewpoints should be shuned as much as Iran’s nuclear progress. It is not about making nice to those countries simply because of oil, it is about making nice because having relations among persons of differing backgrounds in the Middle East actually stimulates culture in societies like America and abroad. Oil is fading, the Middle Eastern countries are making attempts to restructure their revenue streams into real estate and travel, and welcoming such endeavors builds solid bridges.

    Paragraph 14: Israel needs the support of the US, but it can also make strides to build relationships with other Middle Eastern countries. Are the Arabs excluding Israel from the fray or is Israel excluding Arabs? Israel has a strong market, why isn’t it part of the middle eastern market system? Because of Islamic law, that is all. It does not preclude business relations in toto, but the no interest rule is a hinderance to Israel, and if both sides have to work around it to establish relations, they should. Not insurmountable.

    Paragraph 15: Probably, acknowledging Hamas and Hizbullah as a threat, but if Fatah wins against Hamas, then why is that a problem?

    Paragraph 16: Not convinced that Israel could not annihilate Iran and Syria at the same time in 30 sec without the equipment.

    Paragraph 17: Where is all this information of America telling Israel to halt preemptive action against Iran? If anything, the premise of your contention is that, America engaging Iran in discourse is implicity viewed by Israel as a sign not to take preemptive action. I disagree.

    Paragraph 18: The US can definitely impart a notion of bias toward Israel in any discourse it engages in with other Middle Eastern countries, without threatening any middle eastern relationships. Furthermore, your Saudi-centered claim is based on your perception of past administrations, so don’t automatically impose it unfairly onto the Obama administration.
    Additionally, the US is not only middle eastern diplomat, it is global diplomat, so if Israel and the middle east go back burner for domestic issues and other issues, it does not mean there is ambiguity in alliance.

    Paragraph 19: Which palestinians held Haifa and Acco previously, the Jewish/Arab palestinians or the Beduin Arabs living nearby? And are you admitting that the land was previously occupied and Israel bulldozed? I don’t think so. Paragraph 19 has a lot of disjunctive reasoning and fallaciousness going on. What is the “exactly the same argument” referring too? There is nothing similar in comparison, and the promises are not the same because America is not fostering false hopes about Iran possessing nuclear weapons and you are not clear on whether Israel is capable of fostering false hopes with respect to palestinians or which palestinian population or at what time. Too weird.

    Paragraph 20: Too melodramatic and too overly conclusory and subscribing to impending doom. “What will not be easy?” “Who is going down the wrong road; you, Israel, America????” Relying on past examples and what ifs is never going to assist you in reaching a goal. And, what is with the over use of anthropomorphic pronouns wiht respec to Israel lately? It is attempting to draw emotion into an statement that is unrealistic. Israel is country, not a person, except that some people are named Israel, and they are usually men.

    Interesting.

    ME

  2. ME says:

    Vic:

    In all fairness, you should probably provide a link to past comments if you are going to attempt to characterize something as purporting to contend an “If you are so smart . . . ” contest, which was not the case.

    I think you have a lot of good ideas, and my past comments indicate that. Not linking when you have with other commentators who have concretely criticized you on other issues, such as Yonason with respect to Armenian issues, makes not linking to mine, seem slanted, inordinately. You definitely have a different and more informed perspective on Israel than most general outlets, so, you should probably assume a position with respect to your views sometimes.

  3. ME says:

    I take it back about using feminine pronouns to refer to Israel. I know it is common to refer to countries as mother land, but Palestinians don’t respect women really, to any great degree, so I get concerned about dehumanization attempts against Israel and Israelis.

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