Magazine article The American Conservative

Machiavellians in the Mideast

Magazine article The American Conservative

Machiavellians in the Mideast

Article excerpt

Machiavellians in the Mideast [Treacherous Alliance: The secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S., Trita Parsi, Vale University Press, 361 pages]

AT A TIME WHEN Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declares, "the regime occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must vanish from the pages of time," describes the Holocaust as "a myth," and is portrayed by Israeli leaders as a "new Hitler," it's difficult to imagine that not so long ago, Iran and Israel were close trade partners and covert military allies working together to contain the common threat of Arab nationalism.

And now that the U.S. has ousted Saddam, occupies Mesopotamia, and is being pressed by Israel and its supporters in Washington to take action against Iran, it's interesting to recall that not so long ago, the United States considered Iran and Israel part of a pro-American bloc in the Middle East supposed to protect U.S. interests.

As Israel now relies on its partnership with Washington to help counterbalance the power of Iran, the irony is that the Iranians, under the leadership of both the secular Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the fundamentalist Ayatollah Seyyed Ruollah Khomeini, were hoping that Tehran's ties with the Israelis would make it more likely that the Americans would assist the PersianShi'ites of Iran in their struggle against the Arab-Sunnis that controlled Iraq.

And guess who was arguing, following the 1979 Iranian Revolution and throughout the ensuing Iraq-Iran War that it was in America's interest to establish ties with Tehran's mullahs-only to contend 20 years later that the U.S. needs to use military power to oust these same mullahs? That would be renowned neoconservative strategic thinker Michael "Creative Destruction" Ledeen, who as Trita Parsi points out in Treacherous Alliance: The secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S. has for decades advanced the notion that American and Israeli interests in the Middle East are inseparable. Hence, when it looked as if Saddam was going to emerge as a hegemon in the Persian Gulf and pose a threat to Israel, Ledeen promoted detente with Tehran and was even willing to work with shady Israeli and Iranian middlemen in what came to be known as the Iran-Contra Affair. (Later, when Iran seemed to be making gains in the war, other neocons like Daniel Pipes and Laurie Mylroie encouraged the United States to provide Saddam with upgraded weapons and intelligence ostensibly to counterbalance Iran's successes.) When Saddam's ouster-a move Ledeen advocated-provided Iran with an opportunity to emerge as a hegemon in the Persian Gulf and as a major threat to Israel, the American Enterprise Institute's finest began beating the drums for war with Iran.

Parsi, a Washington-based Middle East expert who teaches at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, suggests in his original and provocative analysis that despite the dramatic changes in ideological orientations in Tehran (the Islamic Revolution) and Tel Aviv (the rise of the nationalist Likud Party), the Iranians and the Israelis have continued to co-operate on military and strategic fronts. The fact that the two powers sustained their romance while continuing to demonize and counterbalance one another should not come as a shock. There's no paradox here. It's the national interest stupid!

Indeed, contrary to the Manichean narrative-the good guys vs. the baddies!-that many policymakers and pundits use to explain international politics, Parsi's realpolitik conceptual framework helps the reader understand why the Israelis and Iranians can be close partners and fierce adversaries at the same time. They're the "rival twins" of the Middle East. Indeed, so much of what has occurred on the Iran-Israel front and affected their relationship with Washington over the last 60 years reflects the kaleidoscopic nature of the Middle East, where interests are grounded in geostrategic and geoeconomic concerns, as well as tribal, ethnic, and religious commitments-not grand ideological designs. …

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