Saturday, June 4, 2011

Foreign Policy Rationality in Iran and Israel

Israeli national security thinkers: Iran is dangerous because rational, while Israel is irrational and, therefore,...????

Emily B. Landau, director of the Arms Control and regional Security Program at Tel Aviv Universitys Institute for National Security Studies, has described Iran as a danger precisely because of its rational foreign policy process. She portrays Iran as moving carefully on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis to achieve its goals without either starting or provoking war. While such behavior may not be morally beyond question or a sign of love for others, the world would nevertheless be a better, safer place if all countries were so sophisticated. More to the point is a comparison between Iran as portrayed by Landau and Israel.

Where Iran works steadily to maximize its regional influence by means that avoid disaster, Israel lurches from one war to another, some against countries, some against colonial possessions. Where Iran bases its policy on taking only what it can get without provoking disaster, Israel relies on a policy of superior force and takes huge risks. Israels 1982 invasion of Lebanon led to the creation of Hezbollah and a 20-year occupation until that same Hezbollah managed to drive Israel out, leaving Israel worse off than before. Israel took over Gaza, mistreated it, provoked it, has repeatedly attacked it, all for what benefit to Israel? Israel subverted the democratic electoral victory of Hamas in 2006 only to provoke Hamas into returning to violence. Each gratuitous Israeli resort to force seems to leave Israel less secure.

Contrast Israels behavior with that of Iran, which coolly watched as the U.S. destroyed its main adversary, Saddam, and then moved in politically and financially to gain lasting influence over its former enemy. Similarly, Iran actually aided the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, thus gaining for free the defeat of its Taliban enemy, after which it established cooperative relations with the new Afghan regime. Iran also managed to turn itself into the sponsor of Moqtada al Sadr, a militant patriot by no means easy to control, even as it worked with Moqtadas political opponents in Baghdad. Then, while faced with enormous pressure over its nuclear policy, Iran smoothly launched an effort to establish close economic ties with NATO member Turkey, laying the groundwork for a long-term international hydrocarbon cartel that promises to give Iran significant influence in both the Mideast and West Europe; Israel, meanwhile, was wrecking its traditional ties to Turkey by murdering Turkish advocates of justice for the people of Gaza.

Landaus analysisboth her warning that Iran is benefiting from its rational foreign policy and her silence on Israels erratic and self-defeating foreign policy-- should be read in the context of recent remarks criticizing Israeli foreign policy by recently retired Israeli national security decision-makers with hard-line reputations:

  • Ex-Mossad chief Dagans warning that the Netanyahu regime has poor judgment;
  • Ex-Army Chief General Gabi Ashkenazi reportedly warned that war with Iran would bring disaster to Israel in a successful effort to prevent Israel from launching an unprovoked attack in 2009.

Compared to Israel (a comparison Landau carefully avoids), Iran indeed looks like a rational, thoughtful, cautious actor, an actor that a conciliatory world could accommodate and do business with but one that should not be underestimated. Israel, in contrast, appears, even from the perspective of some of its own key national security thinkers, to be losing touch with reality.

1 comment:

William deB. Mills said...

Concerning my argument that Iranian foreign policy is rational, I should have pointed out a caveat. First, Iran's foreign policy has been getting more rational since Khomenei took over. In the early days of the Islamic Republic, it seems to have been more risk-taking than it now seems, though this is hard to measure. One could certainly argue that it's refusal to be totally transparent about its nuclear program is risky. If those who connect Iran to the Khobar Towers bombing are correct, then that would also be evidence for risk-taking behavior on Iran's part. Allon and Simon in The Sixth Crisis suggest the US almost attacked Iran over Khobar. But relative to the US invasion of Iraq and its bombing of suspected Islamic militants in Yemen and Pakistan or compared to Israel's 20-year occupation of Lebanon and collective punishment of Gaza and creeping ethnic cleansing of the West Bank, Iran looks pretty moderate and rational.

Anyone care to collaborate to develop a technique for measuring state rationality?