Steven Horowitz

The US-Iran Strategic Relationship

It doesn’t matter who forms the next Israeli government. Israel must, for now, either abide by a US-Iran regional understanding or do something about it. Because the Obama administration has become so desperate to achieve a major foreign policy success, its nuclear deal with Iran has blurred all other concerns about the Islamic Republic. This US blindness to the regional implications of its policy means that the Iranian march across the Levant will most likely proceed unabated. Certainly that’s what is going on now in Iraq, and it’s not just the Sunni Arabs and Israel who are most concerned; it’s the Kurds and Turks as well.

This is the strangest US foreign policy configuration in memory. The US-Iran strategic relationship is not an overt policy proclamation; everyone understands that. But it is becoming a kind of tacit relationship, whose core understanding is based on the short timeframe of an ill-conceived nuclear deal with the pure hope that the lifting of sanctions will somehow change Iranian behavior. This policy stinks of short-term political negligence and certain long-term regional chaos. It not only strengthens Iran but is also in direct opposition to a Middle East without a nuclear arms race. Just yesterday Amos Yadlin’s good friend, Saudi politician Turki al Faisal, warned that the possible deal on Iran’s nuclear program will prompt Saudi Arabia and other states to develop their own nuclear programs. Is this a policy that the next Democratic Party presidential candidate would want to run on?

The next Israeli government is going to have to make some major decisions regarding this current American administration. Because for Israel, the Sunni Arabs, and others, what has become a pressing existential issue of immense geopolitical weight is nothing more that a simple clearing of the legacy agenda for the Obama camp. This administration has taken the military option off the table and appears desperate for a nuclear deal. Obama believes that his presidential legacy is as a Nobel Laureate whose program has brought a semblance of peace to a troubled world. Nothing could be further removed from reality. This US president was rewarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his belief in a world without nuclear weapons. It was one of the most ill-conceived awards in history because, with the current US-Iran nuclear negotiation, Obama will most certainly create a global nuclear arms race of historic proportions. Such a deal is nothing more than the simple appeasement of a regional power with grave hegemonic designs.

If the Israeli security establishment believes that Herzog and Yadlin can do a better job with Obama, then they need to spell out a serious policy soon. Iran is on the march in the Middle East, and America’s hope of a political reconciliation in Iraq has clearly failed. In fact, since 2009 when Obama took over the White House, the US position in Iraq has dwindled to next to nothing. The president refused to support a possible Sunni-Shiite bridge candidate in the 2010 election. His limited effort to secure a permanent residual US force in 2012 essentially handed Baghdad over to Iran. Furthermore, Obama failed when his team completely convinced everyone in the world that the new Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al Abadi, could bring the country’s sectarian communities together. Now Iran owns good parts of Iraq, and it looks to occupy the rest. A second Sunni-Shia civil war has begun, and this president can’t just simply pass it off to the previous Bush administration.

Worse still is the American response to the collapse of Syria. George W. Bush had absolutely nothing to do with Obama’s failure to support the democratic opposition in Syria. This lack of leadership is completely without precedent. For months the people of Syria marched non-violently in support of freedom, pluralism and democracy. And for months, Assad the dictator shot them down like dogs. But Obama did nothing. When Assad finally forced the opposition into taking up arms for self-protection, it wasn’t American arms or trainers that were rushed to the Middle East to secure a new pro-US republic. On the contrary, this administration found excuse after excuse in order to evade responsibility. Liberty and justice took a back seat to political expediency and securing the president’s isolationist left-wing base for re-election.

When the Syrian democratic opposition did take the upper hand in the fighting, Iran bailed Assad out. Tehran called in its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, in order to turn the tide of battle. Still Obama did nothing. When Assad used chemical weapons (crossing an administration redline), Obama rushed to Congress in order to forestall the blame. When Assad failed to negotiate at Geneva in good faith, the administration’s relations with Russia had deteriorated so badly — due to an attempt at an arrogant expansion of EU and possible NATO power in eastern Europe — that Kerry and Obama were helpless to push Assad toward compromise. Finally, it was Assad and Iran who had opened the Damascus prisons and allowed the ISIS prisoners to flee northward. And it was the same strategy of Assad and Iran that allowed those ISIS terrorists a free hand in eastern Syria to attack the Syrian democratic opposition. There is absolutely no escape from the fact that the rise of ISIS is in direct relationship to the abject failure of US policy in both Iraq and Syria. Now it is only getting worse as ISIS is finally being dealt with by none other than Iran itself. Is it any wonder that the Sunnis of the Middle East see a US-Iran strategic relationship centered at the bottom of all these actions?

Now the Obama administration is on the verge of a very bad nuclear deal with Iran. If this deal is to happen, within a decade Iran will be allowed to possess an industrial-level nuclear program, with an undisclosed military dimension and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, Iranian forces and Hezbollah troops sit poised on the Golan Heights as the Obama administration plans to punish the next Israeli government with a UN Security Council resolution spelling out Israel’s retreat from the West Bank. If Labor wins, Herzog will have to explain to his coalition partners how it is that a Hamas state will need to be tolerated in order to have “good relations” with our US Democratic Party friends.

However, for whoever wins today’s election, the Israeli political body will never accept a Hamas state on their border. Either way, the next Israeli government will be forced to deal with an administration in a tacit strategic relationship with Iran. And Iranian power in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq will most certainly find its way to Jordan and the West Bank. So if you’re an ex-general in Tel Aviv, please explain to me how it is you would deal any differently (on a strategic level) with this American administration? The ex-generals say that it’s all Bibi’s fault. But at least the prime minister has the daring to spell out to the American people what is really at stake with this current nuclear deal and its de-linkage from Iran’s regional policy of domination. From my perspective here in the US, the far left-wing of the Democratic Party is either pro-Palestinian (without any kind of understanding of Hamas) or a product of a deep isolationist tendency that sees both US and Israeli foreign policy as imperialistic.

So here we are on election day eve, waiting to see who will form the next Israeli government. But for whoever wins, the Iranian nuclear and regional challenge will not go away. At the very best, Obama’s deal will create a decade-long buildup of a series of nuclear power plants and enrichment facilities throughout the region. Make no mistake, if there is a deal, the nuclear race will still be on. And if there isn’t a deal, the nuclear race will also still be on.

In order to be successful, the next government must alter Israel’s regional strategic relationship to include the Sunni Arab states and all the UN Security Council permanent members. This can only be accomplished by an out-of-the-box international initiative which can envision a totally new Middle East. The initiative must have strong Russian, Chinese and French support as well as Israel’s traditional UK and American support. The initiative must roll back Iran’s regional hegemonic position but without jeopardizing their legitimate security. The initiative must be strong enough to isolate both the extremists in Iran and their many allies in the Palestinian community (most probably a Hamas majority). But it also must offer hope for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Also within the framework of the initiative, a change in the Russian and Chinese position with respect to the June 30th, 2012 Geneva Declaration on Syria is essential. Finally, such an initiative will definitely require a complete readjustment in Israel’s strategic nuclear position. For the only way to stop a nuclear Middle East is with a non-nuclear Middle East. Let us pray that the next government is open to the challenge.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).