(MintPress)—War with Iran, always a hot issue in Washington, has become a major foreign policy issue for President Obama ahead of November’s election. Pursuing a policy of diplomacy and sanctions, a growing minority has voiced support for the President’s tempered approach to dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Among them is Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) who supports President Obama’s policy of cautious restraint, while calling for increased dialogue between the U.S. and Iran.
Diplomacy can work to de-escalate conflict
In February, Rep. Ellison co-authored a letter with Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) to President Obama, urging him to fully exercise diplomacy with Iran. The letter gathered bi-partisan support, collecting 35 additional signatures from congressional colleagues. Several pro-peace organizations supported the initiative as well.
While relations remain tenuous with Iran, it appears that the initiative by the small congressional contingent was successful in preventing war, for now.
Dr. Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, believes war with Iran will require tremendous commitments by the United States. In his estimation, a war with Iran would require: 500,000 U.S. troops, 100,000 allied troops, $1 trillion dollars and a ten year occupation; a burdensome cost for a country still fighting in Afghanistan while pursuing cost cutting austerity measures at home. However, the cautionary messages were tempered with a more hopeful thought: war with Iran is avoidable and conflict over Iran’s nuclear development can be addressed through diplomacy and targeted sanctions.
Parsi, an Iranian academic who has authored two important books on U.S.-Iranian relations, offered the succinct, but poignant “there is no such thing as fast food diplomacy,” stressing that it is absolutely necessary for the U.S. to do everything it can to create diplomatic channels with Iran. Diplomacy, not surprisingly requires time and patience.
Relations between the United States and Iran were more cordial during the Cold War. Both nations, working against a common Soviet enemy, established an alliance of convenience. However, this positive relationship began deteriorating in 1953 when the United States backed a coup de’etat of Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossaddegh.
Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 ended secular authoritarian rule by the Shah. Replacing him was the hardline Shi’a fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini, who returned from exile to lead his newly liberated country. Khomeini appealed to the overwhelmingly pious Iranian population through a commitment to religious values, but also through his anti-imperialist platform that sought independence from exploitative relationships with western powers. Iran is among the top oil producers in the world and has had a less-than-favorable relationship with western powers and multi-national corporations seeking to profit off abundant oil endowments.
Following the 444 day Iran hostage crisis, the U.S. closed its embassy in Tehran and has not had diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic since 1980. Without an embassy, the U.S. uses the Swiss government as an intermediary for indirect correspondence and negotiation.
Thus, both panelists agreed has alienated both countries by preventing them from properly negotiating this issue. Even during the darkest days of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow always maintained a direct and open line of communication.
Recently, through Obama’s policies of diplomacy, it appears that both countries are cautiously resuming direct talks. Speaking about the successes of the limited, direct negotiations, Dr. Parsi praised the U.S-Iranian talks in Istanbul earlier this month. Held in concert with dozens of other nations, the belligerents took small but significant steps by agreeing to a definitive step-by step plan for disarmament and de-escalation of hostilities. Equally important was their agreement to meet in Baghdad to continue discussions next month.
However, these talks have been criticized by hawkish lawmakers in both the United States and Israel, believing Iran’s leaders are merely paying lip service to disarmament.
Israel: far from a passive observer
While Iran does not possess a nuclear weapons program, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has displayed growing distrust, threatening a military strike against Iran in recent public speeches. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has over 9,000 nuclear sites. Tehran insists these sites are for peaceful civilian projects.
In a February 2012 speech before the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei strictly forbade his country from possessing a nuclear weapon saying, “The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons.”
Despite this clear message, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is threatening to launch a military strike against Iran should they possess even the capability of enriching materials for a nuclear weapon. Prominent Israelis have lined up against their Prime Minister’s hawkish position in recent weeks, with former Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni castigating Israel’s current leaders during her retirement announcement on Tuesday. In perhaps the most incendiary public attack on Netanyau’s policies to date, Livni said that current Israeli leadership has put the country in “existential risk.”
This comes after Yuval Diskin, former head of Israel’s Shin Bet (domestic intelligence service), said that Israeli leadership was unfit to deal with the Iran issue. Diskin continued on to say that his country’s leaders have mislead the public and were driven by an impractical “messianic” ideology.
The two are part of a growing contingent of Israelis who have doubts about a military incursion. A February 2012 public opinion poll by the Brookings Institute shows that 42 percent of Jewish Israelis would support a strike against Iran, but only if it was part of a coordinated strike with the U.S. Thirty two percent of Israelis do not support any strike against Iran, while 19 percent feel that Israel should carry out a strike with or without the help of the United States.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East possessing nuclear weapons and is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, given the option, 64 percent of Israelis would support abandoning their nuclear weapons program if all countries in the region agreed to the same conditions. Despite growing public opposition to the hostile war rhetoric of war, saber rattling by both countries continues to threaten regional stability.
Israel’s growing isolation
Since the nascent stages of the Arab Spring last year, Israel has faced growing isolation and waning support from long-time allies. The faltering relationship with Egypt is of particular concern for Israeli policy makers who see the potential “Islamization” of once friendly governments as threatening to their long-term security interests.
Israel and Egypt signed a historic peace treaty in 1979 after months of intensive bilateral negotiations. Israel returned the Sinai peninsula, captured in the 1967 war, in exchange for a full normalization of diplomatic and economic relations. President Anwar Sadat lead Egypt to become the first Arab country to formally recognize the Jewish State.
Today, the treaty, which has served as a cornerstone of Israeli engagement with the Arab world, has been called into question following the end of Mubarak-era dictatorial rule. Many Egyptians, particularly those coming from religiously conservative, Salafi backgrounds are now debating whether to continue this relationship of diplomatic and economic cooperation given the failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace process. Of grave concern, too, is Egypt re-establishing diplomatic ties with Iran for the first time in 30 years.
Israel and Arab states historically found themselves as strange bedfellows, sharing a common Iranian enemy. However, Iran is slowly building ties within the Arab world, reaching out to new governments and expanding their influence in particularly Shi’a Arab communities. It is well known that Iran has lent funding and support to Hamas and Hezbollah, two militant groups that have engaged Israel in direct military conflict for years. Both organizations are considered terrorist groups by Israel and Western countries.
Inflammatory, hateful rhetoric by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has exacerbated the conflict between the two countries further. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, clarified recent accusations saying, “They [Iranian leaders] all come basically ideologically, religiously with the statement that Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive. They didn’t say ‘we’ll wipe it out’, you are right, but ‘it will not survive, it is a cancerous tumour, it should be removed’. They repeatedly said ‘Israel is not legitimate, it should not exist’.”
Speaking on the exchange of harsh rhetoric, Dr. Parsi said that Ahmadinejad’s controversial remarks about the Holocaust were deeply hurtful, touching an emotional chord within Jewish communities around the world. Ahmadinejad has questioned the number of people killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust has said that Israel and the United States often exploit this history for their own political gain. The 2006 International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, hosted in Iran was roundly condemned by western countries as anti-semitic.
Since its creation in 1948, Israel has been involved in a number of regional wars, some threatening the very survival of the state. The heated rhetoric and increased Iranian influence across the Arab world, understandably is of grave concern for Israelis fearing what Israeli leaders see as another existential threat from a hostile nation.