As the prospects of a limited ‘strike’ or a full out attack on Iran become more and more familiar in the media, and as the end date for the Bush-Cheney regime in the United States draws ever nearer to its close, a better understanding of the tripartite relationship between Iran, Israel, and the U.S. requires a strong presentation of the underlying so far verbal conflict between the three governments. Trita Parsi succeeds in this goal in Treacherous Alliance, in which he discusses the relationship between the three. There are two main overlapping views that Parsi uses within this examination: first, that of the difference between the public rhetoric (ideology) and the often secret governmental discussions and deals between the three (geostrategy); secondly, he accounts for the many flips in the geostrategy views depending on the perceptions and needs of a particular moment in time. In sum, it is about the conflicting views of ideology and geostrategy, with the prime mover of events being geostrategy, not ideology in its many manifestations (religion, rhetoric, ‘clash of civilizations’).
Within the political triad, the main role falls upon the relationships between Iran and Israel, with Israel mainly operating under a “doctrine of the periphery” and Iran operating under the view of maintaining or strengthening (dependent on the era) its “natural” hegemony over its nearby neighbours. The United States arrives as a mainly dishonest broker, manipulating and being manipulated as it strives towards its own changing goals, from its overblown opposition to the communist menace, through its muddled behaviour after the Soviet collapse, into today’s even more muddled “war on terror.”
Parsi provides an excellent summary of his work in the final chapter (as all well written arguments should) and then proffers suggestions for possible solutions (other than the apparent Bush-Cheney goal of some form of pre-emptive attack). He concludes “Washington has sought to establish an order that contradicts the natural balance by seeking to contain and isolate Iran” and follows with his well-developed arguments that “The major transformation of Israeli-Iranian relations have all coincided with geopolitical rather than ideological shifts.” Contrary to many perspectives on political Islam, “ideology is not an absolute for the rulers of Tehran,” although the public rhetoric would make it seem otherwise. While not part of the subject of this book, that same view can be considered for the Palestinian Hamas, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, both ideologically partnered with Iran to a degree – practicality over-rules rhetoric. The argument concludes, “no force in Iran’s foreign policy is as dominant as geopolitical considerations.”
While it may seem tiringly redundant when foreshortened into a review format, Parsi effectively reiterates the ideology/geostrategy idea throughout his work through strong examples and many quotes from sources that were or are involved in the apparent and real conflicts of the triad. Another note emphasizes the constraints of geostrategy over ideology as “Neither the honor of Islam nor the suffering of the Palestinian people figured in the deliberations.” Although the Israeli-Palestine question “touches everyone…in a profoundly emotional way, it is not a conflict that sets the geopolitical balance.”
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As is true with the majority of government to government disputes, the people at times hardly seem to matter, whether it is the beliefs and rights of one’s own people or the humanitarian rights of other people or the rights of all people as provided for by the UN charter and many conventions that the vast majority of countries have signed on to. It is mainly an argument between those in power wishing to retain their power, using the rhetoric and patriotic hubris and jingoism to keep their own masses in line as much as possible. Interestingly enough, while Bush-Cheney are dismally low in American polls, they and the media have managed to establish the idea that an attack on Iran is both feasible and good. Rhetoric has trumped strategy, at least in the opinion polls.
And that returns me from my mini-editorial to Parsi’s work as he sees the current situation in a similar way. The American administration has a “divorced-from-reality outlook [characterizing] the Bush administration’s approach to the Middle East since September 11.” Parsi describes as “fantasy” the American belief that with regime change “the problems between the United States and Iran as well as Israel and Iran, would more or less automatically be resolved,” a “dubious conclusion,” as “there is little to suggest that a secular Iran [as compared to the Ayatollahs] would be less inclined to seek pre-eminence and more prone to accept a timid role in regional affairs.” That again is another way of saying that for Iran – pardon the repetition - strategy is more important than ideology.
Iran is viewed as a rational actor in all this in spite of the rhetoric. The evidence Parsi works through strongly supports this rationality as “Iran has acted with greater savvy and caution than have many of Israel’s traditional foes” and that “may also be the reason why thus far it has not shared chemical or biological weapons with any of its Arab proxies [Hezbollah]…and why a nuclear Iran likely would not share nuclear weapons with terrorist groups,” (look to an increasingly volatile Pakistan for that scary possibility).
As for Israel, they fear a nuclear Iran, even if with only the capability of building the weapons, as it would “significantly damage Israel’s ability to deter militant Palestinian and Lebanese organizations,” mainly through destroying the myth of Israeli invincibility. While the argument was made that the Palestinians do not affect the geopolitical balance, the Lebanon war of 2006 strengthened Iran through its Hezbollah proxy, and it also weakened Iran’s Arab rivals. Israel, as always, retains the myth of its vulnerability to Arab attack at home and within America and Europe, and at the same time balances it within its own mid-east geopolitical sphere with its unstated threat of nuclear annihilation for any transgression against its claims to Eretz Israel.
Israel of course has a partner in all this, the United States. The Israelis have, mainly through the actions of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), manipulated the U.S. government, the Senate and the House of Representatives (collectively the Congress), into providing full support for all recent Israeli objectives, whether it be the acceptance of the ongoing illegal settlements internally, or its foreign adventures in Lebanon and its desire to pre-emptively eliminate even the remote chance of Iran having nuclear weapons. In a subsection titled “AIPAC – The King of Lobbies”, Parsi indicates that as early as 1994 “Washington started to adopt the Israeli line on Iran. In response to Israeli pressure – and not to Iranian actions – Washington’s rhetoric on Iran began to mirror Israel’s talking points.”
A Clinton era White House worker, Ken Pollack alleges, “Washington’s recycling of Israel’s argument back to Tel Aviv reflected the success of Rabin and Perez’s campaign against Iran…[the] turnaround was a direct result of Israel’s pressure.” This argument is not fully developed as in Mearsheimer and Walt, but it is recognized that the “alliance between AIPAC and evangelical Christian Republicans on Capital Hill turned out to be particularly helpful….” The lobby - described as efficient, sophisticated, and ruthless - the Christian evangelical right, and the political neoconservatives formed a powerful expression of anti-Iranian views in Washington. No group in Congress – Democrat or Republican - is able to do anything without encountering the financial and media weight of AIPAC, nor can they be elected without undergoing the scrutiny and manipulations of the group.
The current situation has been long in developing. It is a history of deceit, conceit, rhetoric, back room dealings, back room stabbings (figuratively), and treachery. Each side has at one time or another played off one side against the other, switching tactics and rhetoric as the geostrategic interests shifted. Included in Parsi’s story are excursions around the Middle East, mainly into Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and on the other side into Pakistan and Afghanistan, outlining the various relationships with the Taliban and other political groups. It is not a story of humanitarian principles, but of the greed and hunger for power and dominance at the governmental level. Iran - although as culpable in its manipulations as are the others – appears to my reading as truly being the most rational of the triad in spite of the current rhetoric captured so well by the western media.
For those unversed in Iranian-Israeli affairs – other than perhaps the hysterical rhetoric on nuclear weapons and the carefully crafted ‘history’ of the 1979 hostage taking - Trita Parsi provides a well-documented, easily readable, and at times captivating story of this “Treacherous Alliance.” With nuclear armed Pakistan on the boil, with neighbouring Afghanistan becoming more and more susceptible to Taliban and other warlord tactics, with Iraq superficially calmer as the Sunnis and Shias have cleansed themselves of each other but not the occupation, with Turkey knocking on the Kurdish back door, with Hezbollah demonstrating military readiness in recent war ‘games’, with the Horn of Africa now embroiled in more “terror wars”, this work should be on the ‘to read’ list as the U.S.- Israeli partnership threatens further instability throughout the region. Even though rhetoric appears to have trumped geostrategy (and plain common sense) within U.S. and Israeli political circles, the reader can only hope that the previous secret intrigues are still continuing out of sight in order to avoid what could become the greatest of all ‘unexpected outcomes’ for the Middle East and the world.
Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles. His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.
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