The crux of the debate over the impact of the U.S.-Israeli alliance on U.S. national security is its undermining of U.S.-Iranian relations.
The pressure by Israeli hawks on the U.S. to maintain a hostile policy toward Iran, to combat its emergence as a regional power, and to discriminate against it on the nuclear issue illustrates exactly why the U.S.-Israeli alliance harms U.S. national security. It is not the U.S. protection of Israeli security but the kowtowing of Washington to the most militarist factions in Israel that makes the alliance a threat to U.S. national security. And Iran is where the threat is the most obvious.
The entanglement of U.S.-Israeli and U.S.-Iranian relations is of course no coincidence. First, it must be conceded that the rightwing Israeli paranoia about an Iranian threat has, like many myths, a basis in fact: Iran is the only adversary of Israel left standing and Iran is, if very slowly, gaining nuclear knowledge. That Iran could approach Israel's nuclear capabilities is hardly imaginable, but the ability of Iran over time to gain a real ability to resist Israeli power is the kernel of truth in the myth of an Iranian threat. That, however, is not the real point of the Israeli right (in my opinion; I encourage any member of the Israeli right who wishes to correct me to send me a comment): to a member of the Israeli right, the word "security" means "domination." If not in control, they feel insecure (the very definition of "paranoia," or should I say "greed?), and by that paranoid definition of security, Iran's independent foreign policy line of demanding the restructuring of the Mideast political system surely is, at least, a threat to the Israeli right's dreams of domination.
It has long been argued in Washington that Israeli power constituted a strategic benefit for the U.S. Whether or not it ever did, and the near nuclear war provoked by U.S. support for Israeli behavior in 1973, puts paid to that rather glib argument, in light of the critical importance of Iran today at the center of the arc of global conflict between Islam and the U.S., the argument is exceedingly hard to make today:
- "Israel the land-based aircraft carrier" now seems more like Israel the catalyst for anti-American feeling throughout the Muslim world. And the last thing any American administration would be likely to do is launch a military operation in the Mideast from Israeli soil.
- "Israel the loyal ally" is an even more specious argument, with Israel simultaneously resisting resolution of the Palestinian crisis despite U.S. urging, undermining Obama's efforts to curb nuclear proliferation, and, as will be discussed below, fanning the flames of war with Iran.
Were it not for Israel, the U.S. could negotiate a mutually beneficial arrangement with Iran in which Iran would find itself accepted as an independent regional power, free from the requirement to bow down to Israeli supremacy, while the U.S. could benefit from mutual Iranian-American interests in combating illegal narcotics flowing out of Central Asia and mutual hostility to the Taliban, not to mention reaching some accommodation on the two countries’ shared interests in Iraq. The U.S. might also be able to reach accommodation on the nuclear issue, an accommodation that would either move toward a nuclear-free Mideast, obviously including both Iran and Israel, or focus on provision to Iran of medical-grade uranium and acceptance of Iranian nuclear research in return for greater Iranian transparency to back up its claims that it has no interest in militarization.
Aside from the interference of the Israeli right, there is no obvious reason why the U.S. could not accommodate an independent Iran.
- Nuclear accommodation. It is not at all clear that Iran intends to militarize its nuclear knowledge and even less clear that it would do so in a less threatening international context; indeed, if it does, the blame will lie with the bellicose attitude of Tel Aviv and Washington unless it can be proven otherwise. But American acceptance of a nuclear Pakistan and encouragement, for it is hard to think of any other word to describe the Bush and Obama policies toward India, of a nuclear India, not to mention its protection of Israel's nuclear status, clearly raise the question of why a nuclear Iran would be any worse. India and Pakistan nearly fought a nuclear war a few years ago, and Israel regularly threatens, by implication, to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack on Iran. What is the likelihood that a nuclear Iran, with the relatively primitive capability that it would surely have (not just relative to the U.S. or Israel but even relative to Pakistan or India) would present a more serious threat of nuclear war than its three regional neighbors?
- Accommodation on Iraq. The other major issue on which the U.S. and Iran would have to work hard to find a mutually acceptable accommodation in a world without Israel would be Iraq, but this too seems solvable. The U.S. already is promising to leave but, implemented carefully, it should leave an Iraq with a government that will have some hope of running the place, and fairly well integrated into the region. Iran will have great influence, as is only logical, but so will Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Like Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have economic, strategic, and ethnic reasons to support a stable Iraq open to external influence. This seems a workable plan for the future, and one beneficial to the U.S.: an Iraq balancing ties to all three of its large regional neighbors, with the U.S. well in the background. Perhaps Washington could sublet its fortress (sorry, "embassy") to Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, leaving behind just enough armed force to police a diplomats' soccer field on which the three big neighbors could work out their mutual frustrations.
Currently, the American kowtowing to the expansionist “Greater Israel” extremists prevents the U.S. from making progress on any of these issues and, worse, drives the U.S. to provoke ever-rising belligerency in U.S.-Iranian relations. American failure to control Israeli right wing appetites for Palestinian land and semi-colonial control over Lebanon and Syria unnecessarily opens wide for Iran the gate to the Levant. Israeli right wing insistence that Iran is a threat that can only be defended against by military means (rather than the obvious satisfaction of reasonable Iranian demands that the Mideast political system be reformed to allow its participation) straightjackets the U.S. into a dead-end policy of demanding Iranian surrender. Thanks to the Israeli right's interference in U.S. foreign policy-making, American options are constrained, the U.S. is entangled in an unnecessary crisis, and the rightfully feared outcome—a bitter, insecure, marginalized, and nuclear Iran—is made more likely.