Remember the Cold War? In particular, do you remember when both sides had consistent ideological positions? Washington was always acting to stop soviet expansionism, preventing the dominoes from falling, while the Soviets fought to end American Imperialism.
I miss the clarity of those days, the ideological self-assurance of both sides. My teachers in the 1950s explained that we were in a struggle with godless communism that wanted to make us slaves, and that’s why our older brothers were facing human wave assaults or freezing their butts off in Korea. I’m sure Russian and Chinese children learned about the menace of American Imperialism, and maybe even practiced getting under their desks in case of atomic attack, as we did.
Today Americans don’t have a clue anymore about who or what they are fighting, and even many Israelis are confused about their enemies. This is a terrible spot to be in, because if you don’t know who you are fighting you are likely to end up shooting yourself. Today I’m going to talk to the Israelis. Maybe there will be something here for Americans too.
Who or what are Israel’s enemies?
There are many of them, all of whom don’t want there to be a sovereign Jewish state. They include the PLO, Hamas, Da’esh, and yes, even elements in Europe and America. But none are as immediately threatening as the Iranian regime. I want to concentrate on it, because a) it is the strongest and most dangerous and b) if we defeat Iran, it will serve as an effective lesson for our other enemies.
So the first thing we need to do is to understand them. Who ‘they’ are in this case are the Shiite clerical leaders of Iran (the ayatollahs) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an ideologically oriented military organization.
The IRGC is very different from Western or Israeli military forces, because in addition to being a military force, it is embedded throughout the Iranian society and economy. It runs the Basij paramilitary force that violently put down the so-called ‘green movement’ in 2009 and gave the Iranian presidency to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The IRGC controls Hezbollah, a heavily-armed militia – actually, ‘army’ is more correct – based in Lebanon that has extended its tentacles throughout the Lebanese society and economy, and also carries out world-wide terrorism. The IRGC controls Iran’s missile and nuclear programs, and wields great influence – if not effective control – over the clerical government of the Islamic Republic.
It’s important to understand that the Iranian people, 78 million of them, are not a historic enemy of Israel or the Jewish people. In fact there were good relations between Israel and Iran prior to the 1979 revolution, and even contacts during the 1980s. Iran’s people are well-educated as a whole and it is a surprisingly modern country compared to the Arab nations in the region. Unlike the populations of the Arab countries, Iranians are not highly anti-Jewish.
However, since about 1990, the ruling theocracy and the IRGC have seen Israel as one of their greatest enemies (the other is the US, something which the US president seems determined not to admit). They are opposed to Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East for religious reasons, but the main cause of conflict is that they wish to expand their sphere of control to include the entire region, and Israel is the greatest stumbling block to this ambition.
Since the downfall of Saddam Hussein and the recent withdrawal of American power from the region, only Israel stands in Iran’s way. The Russians and the US even seem to be cooperating with Iran to some extent (just how far they will be willing to let it go is an interesting question).
Iran is already well on its way to conquering Iraq, and Syria’s Assad is totally dependent on it. Iran’s Hezbollah subsidiary is the most powerful military/political force in Lebanon, and poses the greatest military threat to Israel since 1967. In addition to Hezbollah, Iran also provides money and weapons to various terrorist factions in Gaza and elsewhere, even Hamas, despite their religious differences.
You may recall the so-called ‘linkage theory’ beloved by the US State Department and administration, that insists that “if the Israel-Palestine conflict were solved, most of the problems in the Middle East would go away.” This has been thoroughly disproved by the rise of Da’esh, the continuing Sunni-Shiite conflicts, and the Syrian civil war, none of which are related at all to the ‘Palestinians’ or Israel. But there is another possible root cause of Mideast violence and tensions today: Iranian expansionism.
A great deal of the instability in the Middle East and the plague of world-wide terrorism is related to the efforts of Iran to take over the region. Even the progress of Da’esh can be seen as a reaction to Iran: it can be argued that if the Iranian efforts to unify Iraq and Syria under Shiite domination were to end and local forces (Kurds, Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis, Alawis, etc.) allowed to take control of their home regions, much of the appeal of Da’esh would be removed.
The persistence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also abetted by Iran. Much of the intransigence of the Palestinian Arabs is due to their hope that outside pressure – both diplomatic pressure from the West and military threats, including those from Iran and its proxies – will force Israel to give in to their demands. Neutralizing Iran would take much of the military pressure off.
It is probably true that if the IRGC were to disappear tomorrow, so would most of the worst threats facing Israel. The IRGC is the “head of the snake” that former Saudi king Abdullah wanted to see cut off.
Until recently, Israel (as well as Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states) depended on the US to keep order in the Middle East and protect them from aggression. The botched response to 9/11 and the disaster of the Iraq war disrupted this, and now the Obama Administration has chosen to pull back precipitously, leaving a power vacuum that is being filled by Iran and Russia.
Israel is not a great power like the US still is or even a less-great power like Russia. It doesn’t have the depth or resources of a larger country like Iran. But it has extraordinary military power for its size. Unfortunately, despite its traditional desire to be left alone to tend its own garden, it is being forced into a situation in which the only way to guarantee its security will be to intervene more actively in regional affairs.
Someone needs to cut off the head of the snake. It may turn out to be us.