Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Have the West and Iran Really Reached Rapprochement?

December 11, 2013 12:16 pm 0 comments

President Obama addressing the nation about the Iran nuclear deal. Photo: White House.

When describing the significance of the Geneva understandings between Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany), the Arab world is not only concerned with sanctions and centrifuges. Articles in the Arab press caution that as a result of the agreement, their countries have reached a “historic turning point” in the Middle East in which their vital interests will be sacrificed as Iran acquires a free hand in the region. This will become possible, in their view, because Geneva represents no less than the beginning of an overall diplomatic rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran.

A “rapprochement” in international relations involves a general relaxation of tensions between two countries that were previously adversaries. Taken from French, it means to bring two parties together. Among the leaders in the Arab states, talk about a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement conjures up a troubling image of a “grand bargain” between the two sides, involving a set of understandings over a broad set of Middle Eastern issues. The pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat proposed that as a result of the breakthrough in the relations between the U.S. and Iran, the “political map of the Middle East as a whole” might change.

Commentators in the region come to such a far-reaching conclusion for multiple reasons. Some write that the U.S. decision to refrain from attacking Syria, after Bashar Assad’s massive use of chemical weapons, was the first sign of this new relationship between Washington and Tehran. Last week, Kuwaiti newspapers even reported that the U.S. was in contact with Hezbollah through British diplomats. Hezbollah did not deny the rumor. The actual evidence of this shift in U.S. policy may have been thin, but it undoubtedly raised eyebrows in the Arab world, where rumors of this sort can obtain enormous mileage even if they are not well substantiated.

Hezbollah was never just a Lebanese organization but rather an arm of the Iranian security services; in recent years it has had a regional role, tipping the balance against the Sunni forces in the Syrian civil war and training Shiite militias in Iraq. The rumors of the Western dialogue with Hezbollah undoubtedly fed the sense that a major realignment of regional politics may be underway, in which Iran and its Shiite allies in the Arab world will be on the ascendancy.

Some analysts in the Arab world are undoubtedly influenced by the rhetoric about the Geneva understandings in the American press. The director of the Brookings Institution branch in Doha, Qatar, Salman Sheikh, complained in an interview in the Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat that he was hearing Western scholars talking about the Geneva understandings as though they represent a “great transformation” comparable to end of the Cold War. There have also been comparisons between the meetings in Geneva and then-President Richard Nixon’s famous visit to China. All of this hyperbole undoubtedly influences suspicions in the Arab world that something bigger is cooking between the U.S. and Iran.

A central question raised by all the talk about a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement is whether such a dramatic shift in their relations would be warranted at this stage, if it was at all being contemplated by anyone. Looking at the rapprochement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union as a model, there were important developments that occurred before Washington was prepared to declare in 1991 that the Cold War was over.

It wasn’t the rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev or his reforms, known as perestroika, that caused the West to rethink its approach to Moscow, but rather the modification of the Soviet Union’s external behavior that made the difference — starting, in particular, with the withdrawal of the Red Army from Afghanistan in 1988. Soviet adventurism in places like Angola, the Horn of Africa, and Central America was finished and Soviet forces even stopped intervening against the anti-Communist revolts that were began in Eastern Europe.

The change in China involved not only the termination of the extreme radicalism of the Cultural Revolution but also a growing split between China and the Soviet Union and the outbreak of border tensions between them in 1969. China could no longer be considered to be part of a Soviet-led Communist bloc. These policy changes preceded Nixon’s trip to China in 1972 and justified in the minds of U.S. officials at the time the efforts to secure a rapprochement between Washington and Beijing, which accelerated the deterioration of China’s relations with North Vietnam, with which the U.S. was still at war.

Looking at the Iranian case today, there is no sign that Tehran is fundamentally changing its footprint in the Middle East as a result of President Hassan Rouhani’s election or the more recent Geneva understandings. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are on the ground in Syria, not only helping as advisors, but actually taking part in combat operations against the Sunni Arab population and in the bloodbath they have created.

Tehran is also making sure that its Hezbollah proxy remains in Syria and does not withdraw back to Lebanon. Moreover, Iran remains active in a number of Middle Eastern battlefields from Yemen to Iraq. Lately, Hamas has been seeking to rebuild its ties with Iran. As noted above, the Soviet Union set the stage for the end of the Cold War by withdrawing from Afghanistan, but Iran shows no sign of withdrawing its direct involvement in a host of Middle Eastern wars.

Yet Iran has a strong interest in portraying the Geneva understandings as a full rapprochement with the U.S. and the other western powers. Recently two former secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, warned in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that “if the impression takes hold that the U.S. has already decided to reorient its Middle East policy toward rapprochement with Iran” then the risk will increase that the sanctions will more quickly collapse. Kissinger and Shultz know what they are talking about when they write about rapprochement: They were each architects of earlier American rapprochements with Beijing and Moscow respectively.

As the U.S. and its P5+1 partners contemplate their next steps with Iran, it is imperative that they insist in parallel on very specific changes in Iranian behavior. How can commentators in the West herald a new era in relations between Washington and Tehran, when Iran is still backing what the U.N. has characterized just this week as “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” by Assad’s forces in Syria? At a minimum, Iran must withdraw from Syria. It also must halt all support for recognized international terrorist organizations, from Hamas and Hezbollah to the Taliban.

It is untenable that new agreements with Tehran will follow, while Iranian governmental bodies still call for death to America or death to Israel. What continuing Iranian involvement in all these activities indicates is the fact that its hostile intent remains unchanged. Under such conditions, any nuclear understandings will not represent a rapprochement between former adversaries, as is being presented in Western capitals, but only a brief cease-fire that won’t last in the struggle that Iran will continue to wage.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    It is cocktail hour on an April afternoon in 2004. The sun is hot on Amsterdam’s canals, and I am sitting at Café den Leeuw on the Herengracht with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is still a member of the Dutch Parliament, and we talk about Islam. Specifically, we talk about the concept of “moderate Islam,” or what she calls “liberal Islam.” And she has one word for it. “It’s absurd,” she says. “It’s complete nonsense. There is no ‘liberal […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    JNS.org – A fairytale ending to Jewish basketball coach David Blatt’s first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not meant to be, as the Blatt-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 105-97, to lose the best-of-seven series 4-2. Blatt, who just last year coached Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise to a European basketball championship, failed to finish a second straight hoops season on top. But after the Cavaliers began the NBA […]

    Read more →