A Grand Bargain with Iran

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.

It was at that crossroads that Israel and Iran, two powers vying for mastery in a rapidly changing Middle East, chose to cast their strategic competition in ideological terms. The conflict was now between Israel, a beacon of democracy fighting the expansion of a Shiite obscurantist empire, and an Iran that chose to protect its revolution by mobilizing the Arab masses in the name of Islamic values and against treacherous rulers who had betrayed the dispossessed Palestinians.