A Grand Bargain with Iran

When US forces overran Saddam Hussein’s army in the spring of 2003, the encircled Iranians proposed a grand bargain that would put all contentious issues on the table, from the nuclear issue to Israel, from Hezbollah to Hamas. Neo-conservative hubris ruled out a pragmatic response to Iran’s demarche, but it is time to re-visit the issue.

The specter of a nuclear Iran haunts Arabs and Israelis alike, but it is the United States and Israel that are the driving force behind efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The America-Iran-Israel triangle is where the clue to the problem and its possible solution lie.

Though Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in 1979 disrupted Israel’s old alliance with Iran, the two countries continued to conduct business with America’s blessing. The Iran-Contra affair of the 1980’s, through which Israel supplied arms to the Islamic Republic in its war against Iraq is a case in point. Israel and Iran, two non-Arab powers in a hostile Arab environment, shared fundamental interests that the Islamic revolution could not change.

It was during Yitzhak Rabin’s government in the early 1990’s that Israel and Iran entered into open conflict, owing to the changing strategic environment after America’s victory in the first Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The US-sponsored Arab-Israeli peace process, which produced a series of breathtaking achievements – the Madrid peace conference, the Oslo accords, Israel’s peace agreement with Jordan, a near-rapprochement with Syria, and Israel’s inroads into Arab states from Morocco to Qatar – was an increasingly isolated Iran’s worst nightmare.

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