Stop the Demonising

Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance – Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US has long been saying that Iran is a rational actor and has now been vindicated by the latest US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. In a recent article Parsi asks Is Iran NIE a Blessing in Disguise for Israel? Parsi’s point is that Israel’s Iran policy has been getting out of touch with reality, leading to a strategic paralysis. However, the NIE provides the opportunity and ammunition for wiser voices to begin asserting themselves and argue for a policy of accommodation with Iran through Condoleezza Rice’s good offices at the US State department. This would be a reversion to the policy of security through the periphery where alliances are sought with states like Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia to balance the hostile Arab states on her borders, a policy which Israel continued to pursue after the ‘79 revolution; Israel was one of the few powers to help Iran repel Saddam (the real threat to Israel) while trying to patch things up with the US, so giving rise to the Iran-Contra scandal (see Treacherous Alliance).

Scott Ritter has long been saying that Iran has no nuclear weapons programme and has also been vindicated by the NIE, but in a recent article, US Must Reevaluate Its Relationship With Israel, has suggested that Israel is the irrational actor and more than hinted that President Ahmadinejad’s speculations about the impact of modern European history on the middle east—though provocatively expressed—may not have been quite so entirely ridiculous as their universal condemnation might have suggested. He accuses Israel of being no friend to the US by interfering in US domestic politics in pursuance of Israel’s own national security and suggests that such unfriendly interference in an ally’s internal politics may be harming Israel’s long-term strategic interest.

As interesting as this thesis is, I would like to turn it on its head and argue that Americans and Europeans have been no friends to Israel, that the pursuit of a global empire and our desire to control the energy resources of the region have corrupted Israeli policy. These theses aren’t incompatible but I would say that the perspective proposed here is a healthier perspective for Europeans and Americans to focus on rather than pointing the fingers at another group of victims of our Middle Eastern imperial follies.

Ritter inveighs against Israel’s ‘shameless invocation of the Holocaust to defend its actions’ but if this is so we should ask why this situation has come about. Europeans have a brutal history of persecuting Jews, culminating in the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century where a vulnerable and collectively harmless and deeply civilised people were stigmatized and demonized across Europe and North America. When the Nazis institutionalized this trend far too little was done by all Europeans to halt it right up to the Allied reluctance to bomb the concentration camps—this was about much more than the ‘good Germans’. The centuries of persecution culminating in the Shoah have traumatised and scarred Europeans (including Americans) as well as Israelis and this terrible guilty taboo remains.

On top of this is our need to dominate the middle east, which has the most rotten luck in having all of our oil buried under their countries, the whole giving rise to a marvellous scam where we can exchange our oil for guns so that the Arabs can feel secure from the guns we supply to Israel (and other Arabs, and Persians), allowing the Western plutocrats in the oil and guns industries to retain their licences to print money, and keeping the rest of us in the cheap oil needed to support the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed (at the expense of the future generation’s biosphere).

All of this culminated in the neo-conservatives proposal to mop up the remaining unfriendly middle eastern states, after Afghanistan and Iraq, rampaging through Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan, returning to Iran in five years. No wonder Donald Rumsfeld’s testy relationship with his chief of staff, with his stubborn request for several hundred thousand troops to execute Operation Iraqi Liberation.

There is more to this than self-flagellation (this not being just about the neoconservatives—they are merely a pathological example of something that we have refused to confront, the ‘good people’ being just as accommodating as they always have been). The US and the UK have demonstrated that they know how to make peace—yes, even this Bush administration—when it suits them, as they did in Northern Ireland. The first step is to patiently lean on both parties, as the British and Irish governments did with the Anglo-Irish agreement in the 1980s, and engaging the hard men in dialogue and, well, buying them off—as we know war is a profitable business and the alternatives need to be incentivised. And we have been doing none of this in the Middle East, but handing out guns all round and making the Israelis dependent on us, so keeping the racket going, and our guilt complexes have hidden this behaviour from us. Instead of using our perspective outside the situation, been a true friend to the Israelis, and shown tough love, we have been as indulgent as any narcotics vendor. It is we that have been the profoundly corrupting influence.

With the unravelling of this narrative there is every sign that the Israelis are starting to panic. However, there is no objective reason for this: Annapolis demonstrated the reality that the region accepts the fact of Israel and have done so since at least the Egyptian peace treaty. The Israelis have a perfectly good nuclear deterrent and nobody is realistically going to expect them to put it on the table until there is the prospect of full formal relations with all her neighbours and the IDF remains quite capable of dealing with serious military threats. But Trita Parsi is right. The NIE offers the opportunity to establish the kind of strategic peaceful relationship that arms can never in themselves provide.

Peace will not be served by any further demonising, of whatever kind. Since the 2001 attacks on the world trade centre the Iranians have been searching for a way to break the logjam and normalise relations and they keep trying to break though, the latest overture coming from a recent press conference by President Ahmadinejad: ‘We see this as a positive step and a step forward and if they take one or two more steps the situation will be totally different and the problems will lose their intricacy and the road will be paved for resolving regional and international issues and bilateral cooperation.’ There is no doubt that this is diplomatic code to say that the bargain offered to the State department in 2003, so carelessly discarded by the White House in a moment of hubristic insanity, is still on the table—de facto recognition of Israel, end of support for Palestinian rejectionist groups, cooperation in converting Hezbollah into a purely political party, a tightly monitored civilian nuclear programme—all in return for normalised relations with the US and security guarantees. Yet we keep to our dehumanising narrative that Tehran government is irrational and has to be dealt with through coercion, threats of force and ultimately force itself—irrational propaganda that we may have started to believe.

A better way needs to be found that recognises the interdependence and fragility of our situation, and that peace and security of one can only be achieved by working for the peace and security of all.

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