In physics, there is the well-known “Three-Body Problem,” in which the future motion of three moving bodies from their starting point cannot be predicted. In a way, that’s like the critical political and security problem that Iran poses for Israel, which necessitates dealing with three different factors in tandem, amid intense uncertainty.
Regarding the United States, we should not harbor illusions. Israel is dependent on the U.S. diplomatically and for security, while the U.S. can do as it pleases without considering Israel’s wishes. Moreover, Israel’s crass interference in internal American politics ahead of the 2016 presidential election certainly diminished the willingness of President Joe Biden and his new National Security team to lend a sympathetic ear to Israel’s requests. So the U.S. is likely to return to the nuclear deal with Iran without heeding Israel’s reservations or acceding much to its requests.
The overall picture requires Israel to develop more alternatives for dealing with Iran. To this end, we need to understand Iran’s nuclear policy as a whole and its hostility toward Israel in particular.
First, we should look at the situation comprehensively: Iran is not a crazy or monstrous country. It is a strong country based on a civilization that goes back thousands of years. Its leaders were rigorously trained in Islamic law, which requires great intellectual ability; and the leadership also has people with scientific and technological knowledge as well as Revolutionary Guards commanders.
Dealing with Iran’s nuclear policy requires understanding its motives, which could serve as a basis for a diplomatic and psychological strategy that meets the challenge.
Iran has many reasons to aspire to a nuclear weapon, originating in its history over the past 200 years. Its leaders are set on restoring Iran to its historic superpower status. Iran suffered serious losses in its wars with Russia and in the savage war with Iraq; it has been the object of unbridled imperialistic exploitation mainly by England and the Untied States, in ways that have seriously damaged it; and it has experienced violation of agreements reached with it. Additionally, there is intense aversion in Iran to many aspects of Western culture, particularly to aspects of American culture, and a sense of duty to help Muslims who are being oppressed.
As for Israel, Iran’s leaders view it as a metastasis of Western civilization and imperialism, a “cancer” in the heart of the lands of Islam, an agent of the United States that hurts Iran’s aspirations of hegemony in the Middle East, and a partner of detested Sunni nations that steals the Palestinians’ land and continually harms them.
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I suspect there is an additional reason for Iran’s extreme hostility toward Israel: its collaboration with the last Shah, though I have not found credible information about this in the literature.
This leads to several conclusions regarding Israel’s diplomatic and security policies, some of are accepted and being implemented. The same applies to total deterrence and pinpoint operations designed to slow down Iran’s nuclear activity and efforts to recruit the U.S. and other major powers to rein in Iran. Nor should the possibility of a preemptive first strike, if there is no other choice, be taken off the table – even if it would be a life-or-death gamble.
But the first thing Israel needs to add to its strategic arsenal is an effort to reduce the hostility, and we shouldn’t just give up on the effort in advance. The circumstances were very different, but think of the incredible breakthrough in U.S.-China relations, though for a thing like this one needs a policy thinker on the level of Henry Kissinger and a leader with an open mind.
Israel should forgo making threats. They are pointless because Iran’s leaders are aware of Israel’s capabilities and determination, and only increase Iran’s hostility toward Israel and accelerate its activity to defend itself against Israel. Instead of threats, it is vital that a concerted creative effort be made to achieve dialogue, starting with people acceptable to Iran. Without going into details, in various countries there are leaders and other top figures who could try to work towards this, while stressing Iran and Israel’s common interests as well as points of similarity and a shared past.
It may be that such activity is already happening, secretly. But my sense is that it isn’t, for one thing because it’s clear that an accord with the Palestinians and quick progress toward two states is a condition for promoting consensual coexistence with Iran.
Fear of an Israeli operation will not impel the United States to accede to Israel’s demands. On the contrary, the U.S. will rein Israel in and also “punish” it for these blackmail attempts. Only the two-state solution will put Israel-U.S. relations back on the right track that includes preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
All the Israeli chatter about a strike against Iran merely exacerbates Iran’s hostility and the tension with the U.S., and has no benefit. It certainly isn’t a sign of diplomatic wisdom, which Israel sorely needs.