As pressure mounts to stop the fighting in Gaza and the U.S. tries to alleviate a humanitarian disaster that is turning into a public affairs debacle for the Biden administration, our attention is being re-directed towards Iran by hawkish elements within Washington and Jerusalem.
As the Gaza campaign increasingly starts looking like a pyrrhic victory that will not ‘eradicate’ Hamas, we are being told that the terrorist organization cannot be defeated until we deal with Iran. Although the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services both concluded at the start of hostilities on October 7, 2023, that Iran did not know about, or order, the attack, a new narrative is emerging. It implies that the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem were enjoying an idyllic peaceful existence under Israeli occupation until Iran ordered its proxy, Hamas, to engage in a paroxysm of savagery on innocent Israelis. This is, of course, nonsense, but the mullahs have long been an easy scapegoat and boogeyman for all things that go wrong in the Middle East. While we have legitimate, longstanding, and serious differences with Iran, these have little to do with the current situation in Palestine. Yet I fear that there are those who are stoking an American war with Iran ostensibly to crush Hamas. Such a distraction would damage American interests, in part by preventing any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For the record, let’s note what everyone should know (but apparently does not). Iran had nothing to do with the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. Iran did vote against the 1948 Partition resolution (as did Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, El Salvador, Greece, Thailand, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom) but still recognized Israel and maintained good relations with the Jewish state during the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Israelis raised on the Biblical story of the Persians as their saviors from the Babylonian captivity, generally desired good relations with Iran. Following the 1967 war, the Shah publicly criticized but never broke with Israel. \
However, relations took a steep turn for the worse following the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Revolution, declared the United States a mortal enemy of Iran, i.e., the ‘Great Satan’. This move had popular appeal; Iranians remembered that the U.S. overthrew the first democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister in 1953 and that during Kissinger’s tenure in the Nixon administration we gave unconditional support to the Shah – even requiring U.S. intelligence agencies to sever all contacts with opposition groups. Kissinger’s act of diplomatic malpractice (not his only one) guaranteed that when the ayatollahs took power, the U.S. had no influence or even contact with the new regime. Hatred for the U.S. led to taking hostage the American Embassy staff and to a prolonged diplomatic crisis that has steadily deteriorated into our most toxic relationship with any country on the globe.
Iran’s new rulers also declared Israel the ‘Little Satan’ linked to the American ‘Great Satan’ for its occupation of Palestine. However, the Islamic Republic at first contributed little beyond rhetoric to the Palestinian resistance while maintaining intelligence ties to Israel. During the bloody Iran-Iraq Gulf War of 1980-1987 the Reagan administration supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein while Israel quietly assisted Iran. Iraq, after all, had sent troops to fight Israel in the 1948 and 1973 wars while Iran shipped oil to Israel. Nor should we forget that during the Gulf War, Reagan and Kissinger enlisted Israel to evade U.S. sanctions and sell American missiles to Iran in return for off-the-books money to support anti-communist guerrillas in Nicaragua; the famous ‘Iran-Contra Scandal’.
The late Ariel Sharon once gave an interview in which he stated that Israel needed a big external threat to preserve national unity; if one didn’t exist it was necessary to create one. Such a threat also gave Israel an argument to divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s 1992 treaty with Egypt, despite its many benefits, meant Israel no longer had such a powerful Arab threat.
Successive Israeli governments found it expedient to emphasize and occasionally exaggerate the Iraqi threat. This helped fuel the neoconservative arguments to invade Iraq in 2003. But once the American invasion turned Iraq into a failed state, Israel lost its big foreign threat. Attention then turned to Iran, with its anti-Israel rhetoric and its threats to spread Iran’s religious revolution. Raising the long simmering hostility between the United States and Iran to a boil was easy.
Blaming Iran for the current crisis in Gaza is a red herring of the first order. Iran has, indeed, provided training and equipment to several anti-American and anti-Israeli groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. But Iran has no incentive to open a Lebanese front and risk severe losses to its most capable ally. Hezbollah is far more effective as a potential threat than as a belligerent to this conflict. Unfortunately for Iran, it has little control over their actions. The Hamas attack of October 7 was not in Iran’s interest. Lebanese Hezbollah, which is closer to Iran, has made it clear it will not attack Israel in support of Hamas, and Iran does not want a war with the United States. Unfortunately, Israel and more hawkish elements in the United States do. Biden may see massive air and naval deployments to the region as deterrent, but Tehran may be excused for seeing them as precursors to an American attack.
This is not an argument that Iran does not pose serious challenges to American foreign policy interests – but those challenges have nothing to do with Palestine.
We need to stay focused on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Biden has talked about seeking a two-state solution after the fighting ends. Frankly, nothing would undermine the mullah’s regime more than an American imposed, but reasonable, solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.