Thursday, March 17, 2005

Iran and Israel



John Simpson's book, as its title suggests, deals with the 3 wars involving Iraq since 1980 and the bits in between - like 'containment'. On the first of these wars, as is familiar from his earlier works, he takes a rather over-simplified view - that Israel backed Iran.

One analysis that gives more idea of the complexities is Joseph Alpher's 'Israel and The Iran-Iraq War' (in The Iran-Iraq War: Impact and Implications, Efraim Karsh, ed., London: Macmillan, 1989). I have recommended this previously, in other places, but I don't think I have published the following before. I have tidied it up a bit, but it is still largely in note-form. Notes in '( )' are references of the original. 

The 'periphery doctrine' was originally argued by David Ben_Gurion. Some of its subleties were lost 'by his disciples of recent years'. The idea was to seek allies around the Arab core, which was unremittingly opposed to Israel's existence. These were sometimes pro-western countries -  Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia and Morocco, the Sahel states of Africa. Also support could be sought among non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities - Maronites in Lebanon, Kurds in Iraq. (Note 3) In the 1920's,  Shi'ites in Lebanon and Alawites in Syria, after 1967 the Druze in Syria. The habit of co-ordination with Shah's Iran left a number of vested interests. By the late '70's, the doctrine was less viable. The Arab core and the periphery exchanged roles. The Sunni Arab countries were more moderate, the periphery more radical - Marxist in Ethiopia, Islamic fundamentalist in Iran.

The actual arms supplied to Iran in the '80s was insignificant, but Israel's involvement symbolized a lack of recognition that a major change had taken place. (Note 6) Moshe Dayan's attempts 1977-8 to torpedo last ties to Ethiopia, infuriated Israeli elite. But Egypt and US were both anti-Ethiopia and it later emerged that at this period he was intent on laying the foundations for peace accords with Egypt.

The advantages of the war for Israel at the beginning were the 'tying down Iraq's legions around the Shatt Al-Arab' and to provide a 'strategic pause'.

The 'anachronism of support for Iran' became evident with the 'emergence in the mid-1980's of Iran as the prime instigator of a radical Shi'ite movement in Lebanon dedicated to Israel's destruction' and in Gaza, but fears of Arabs were 'so thoroughly ingrained, so instinctive'.

At one point, there were even discussions with Iraq on pipelines, etc. from Kirkuk to Haifa.

Israel, it was argued, was 'aligned with "the wrong camp" in the eyes of their friends [the US]'. (Note 12) For 'a discussion, somewhat behind the pace of events' on the shift in attitudes, see Thomas Friedman in the NYT.

Iran-Contra exposed flawed assumptions : 'that the Iran of the 1970's so familiar to Israeli decision makers was the true, inevitable Iran that would be restored in the near future.' (Note 14) Abba Eban said 'I wouldn't sell [Khomeini's] Iran a broken typewriter'.

American reflagging. (Note 15) US warned President Chaim Herzog that Israel 'must not shoot across our bow' in the Gulf. The strategic relationship with the US was paramount. (Note 16) Spurious reports of continued arms sales to Iran in the Arab press, 'eventually found their way into the western press'.

Israel's policy swung to neutrality and condemning the war.

Eventually, some argued for a 'tilt to Iraq'. This was favoured by Peres and Shamir. Rabin and Sharon opposed. They favoured neutrality until Khomeini passed from the scene. Iran was still 'the strategic prize for Israel and the West'. Both sides made 'frequent use of newspaper columnists..., preferring to say little that was directly quotable'. Nov 1987. 'Nothing in Rabin's nostalgic view of Iran... to indicate a pro-Iranian tilt by Israel at the time. [?]'  Remarks from some Iraqi ministers: 'Iraq now considers Iran to be a greater danger than Israel to the Arab world'. (Note 33) Iraq had not convinced Israel that it [it's relative moderation on Palestine] was 'a strategy and not a stratagem'.

Legacy of Iraqi participation in 3 major Arab wars with Israel, expulsion of 200,000 Jews in early 1950's. Nuclear and chemical weapons. By March-July 1988, 'war had outlived its usefulness' -  spawning an arms race, missiles and chemical weapons. For Palestinian-Israeli peace process, Israel needed goodwill of US, Egypt and Jordan who were friendly with Iraq.

(Note 39) Tamir,  Jul 1988 : interesting 'new variant on periphery policy, with Iraq distracting Syria away from Israel'.

After the ceasefire, the Intentions of Iran and Iraq were unclear. Capabilities : Iran's limited. Iraq's a  'significant potential strategic threat to Israel'. 'Iran's and Syria's strange strategic alliance'.

The conclusion: 'Clearly, evolving Iranian and Iraqi attitudes... could soon provide surprises for Israel and the Arab states together.' 

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