The U.S.-Iranian-Israeli strategic triangle has become so confusing that decision makers risk losing control, threatening the national security of all the players.
The U.S.-Iranian-Israeli strategic triangle has emerged as a political system of such dominance that it is now analytically useful, if not essential for regional security, to think of it as the core structure of Mideast affairs. This strategic triangle is important because the three states behave as though it were paramount and thus make impossible the isolation of any of the three bilateral relationships from the other two.
Cause and effect now weave U.S.-Israeli, U.S.-Iranian, and Iranian-Israeli relations so tightly together that decision makers risk losing control and being manipulated by the unforeseen currents that swirl around each of these political headlands. Political attention in each state to the behavior of the other two is so intense and so rapid that these three political headlands are effectively face-to-face-to-face, despite their true geographic distance, with the political waves that smash the cliffs of each instantly washing back to strike the others.
The risks of misperception and actions with unforeseen consequences are correlated not only with the political proximity but the emotional intensity. The many substantive moves on each side that impact the others—Israeli nuclear-capable submarines transiting the Suez Canal, the movement of U.S. bunker-buster WMD into the region, Iranian efforts to arm its regional allies—transform the political complexity from an analytically “interesting” topic into a true national security threat for each participant.
Perhaps the single most ominous example of how these issues are being, sometimes intentionally, confused is the utterly illogical argument that the Israeli right would trade a conciliatory stance on Palestinian independence for increased U.S. pressure on Iran. This argument, if accepted, would virtually “institutionalize” the cycle of violence by making not only violence a justification for violence but even conciliatory behavior the justification for violence! Demanding that peace be balanced by violence would be akin to saying that truth must be balanced by falsehood. Logic suggests that settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would enhance Israeli security and thus strengthen its hand against Iran. Logic also suggests that settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute would minimize opportunities for Iranian intervention in the Levant. The Israeli right’s attempt to trade peace on one issue for war on another bizarrely turns this logic on its head.
To replace this “war policy” with a “peace policy” will require a fundamental rethinking of the situation. Washington decision makers favoring peaceful conflict resolution should consider:
- Publicly recognizing the existence and danger of the cycle of violence;
- Enunciating a policy of negotiation to find a solution rather than to elicit a unilateral concession;
- Clearly articulating the principle that compromise is preferred to force;
- Carefully separating the various issues in both public discussions and secret diplomacy.