An Awkward Threesome: The Relationship Between Iran, Israel And The US
However you want to look at it, the Middle East is complicated.
It's a region crisscrossed by borders unreflective of the distinct ethnic and religious makeup of the land and rife with disputes that have lasted millennia.
From an American perspective, though, the last 30 or so years have offered at least few pillars of certainty. Simply put, we don’t like Iran, and we do like Israel.
Now, enter ISIS. Enter Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Enter an increasingly hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, of course, enter US President Barack Obama.
Naturally, when the events run contrary to the only things we feel like we know, things get uncomfortable.
To provide context, let’s start with the relationship between Iran and the United States, the roller coaster of which started in 1953 when the CIA organized a coup to overthrow the then-prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeq.
They had ostensibly followed the reasoning that the weakening of that government could lead to a takeover by the Iranian communist party, which they wanted to prevent.
Once Mossadeq was imprisoned, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi took over, and the US began its strong support of the resulting monarchy.
The Shah remained a great friend of the United States, often visiting and maintaining close relationships with all of the American presidents up through Carter, even despite clear human rights violations he had to be warned against.
The 1979 Iranian Revolution, however, changed everything. It turned the country into a theocracy governed by a Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was vehemently anti-Western and particularly anti-American.
The Iran hostage crisis, during which an extremist group held a group of 55 American diplomats hostage for 444 days, fueled further anti-Iran sentiments in the US even after the hostages were released.
Fast-forward a little over 20 years, through numerous instances of antagonism between the two countries, to 2013.
While both George W. Bush and Barack Obama had been unable to make any amends with former Iranian president and noted Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Obama’s more diplomatic approach to policy eventually started working with current president Hassan Rouhani.
In September of 2013, the two talked on the phone – the first discussion of its kind to happen between the leaders of these two countries since 1979.
While both were greeted with anger from the more hardline factions in their respective countries, this thawing of relations, however slight, still represents a significant step toward an accord regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
An Iran with no nuclear program represents a safer region, and a safer Middle East is on the top of everyone’s priority list. Any potential deal, controversial though it may seem, could set the stage for vast improvements of many kinds.
We can’t forget about another major player in the region, however.
Israel, which has for many years now been Iran’s sworn enemy, does not look favorably upon this change to the status quo.
While Israeli-US relations have not been without their ups and downs, the two countries have consistently relied on each other to be tight allies; the US wants to keep a stronghold of democracy in the region, and Israel, buoyed up in American politics by its extremely powerful lobby, appreciates having the backing of an even stronger potential military force than their own.
Netanhayu, commonly referred to as Bibi, has joined up with a hoard of congressional Republicans to strongly denounce Obama’s progress with the Iranians, saying that it would endanger Israel.
The support of Israel, which has never been a politically polarizing topic for the US Congress, suddenly took center stage when John Boehner invited Bibi to give a speech at the capital, and Obama chose not to attend.
The choice of 47 Republican senators to send a letter to the Iranian government condescendingly urging them not to give any credence to Obama’s overtures further exacerbated the matter.
What's more, we’re finding ourselves in a very strange situation in which Hassan Rouhani, is seemingly more moderate than Netanyahu.
As a part of his recent election campaign, for example, Bibi said that he would never stand for a two-state solution with Palestine – something the US has always looked on as the only option.
And although ISIS arose after Obama’s initial talks with Rouhani, the fight against this terrorist organization has been a catalyst for further steps forward in relations between the two countries.
As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and in the fight against ISIS, our once-enemy Iran has so far been one of our greatest friends. ISIS, of course, is also an enemy of Israel’s -- but Israel has not yet been willing to change its stance toward Iran in the slightest, even regarding American foreign policy.
We, as Millennials, have not grown up with the same sentiments our parents and grandparents hold. We did not witness the extreme expressions of anti-Semitism that led to Israel’s deep hatred of Iran, nor did we live through the trauma that led to Israel’s creation. To us, Israel has not always acted as the beacon of hope and light many hold it up to be.
This does not mean, however, we would have its existence threatened in any way.
Obama and his supporters do not believe an opening in our relationship with Iran would do that – and neither should we.
Iran needn’t be our friend only through the proxy of our mutual hatred of ISIS; friends make deals between each other, and an Iran willing to make deals with the US would lead to an overall increase in the safety of the Middle East as a whole.