Mideast Bipolarity: Part II of Iranian-Israeli Confrontation: Nuclear War or Mideast Compromise?

With the destruction of Saddam’s Iraq, Iran’s rise toward the status of a regional power that might in the future enable it to challenge Israel has produced a increasingly acrimonious Iranian-Israeli competition. By viewing this competition in terms of power and status, a set of four scenarios can be generated to shed light on how the future may unfold, and–in particular–on whether or not the “unthinkable” (to use Herman Kahn’s word) outcome of a nuclear attack will occur.
Including a default fifth scenario in which no clear trend is evident, the five scenarios, as shown above, are:

  • Mideast Bipolarity (equal power and equal status)
  • Nuclear Standoff (equal power but unequal status)
  • Respect (equal status but unequal power)
  • Victory for al Qua’ida (unequal power and unequal status)
  • Equilibrium (a varying mixture lacking any clear trend).

This post will discuss the “Mideast Bipolarity” scenario, a challenging goal that would require the emergence of statesmanship on both sides. “Mideast Bipolarity,” although constituting a fundamental evolution of Mideast politics, could start slowly…
Mideast Bipolarity
Grudging Israeli acceptance of Iran as a regional power opens the door to Iranian participation in regional decision-making, This confers rising status upon Iran, but at the price of facing Iran with the expectation that once it has participated in joint decision-making, it will support the decision. Increasingly, as moderate Iranian politicians invest their prestige in these decisions and benefit from Iran’s rising status, Iran does indeed prove to be a reliable partner for a newly moderate Israel that both avoids nuclear threats and finally starts to fulfill its international promises. As a genuinely independent Palestinian state with territorial integrity, financial stability, and the military capability to defend itself emerges and as a compromise Lebanese government responsive to all its people and able to defend itself against Israel asserts itself, threatening and undemocratic Iranian radicalism gives way to a moderate, modernizing, and democratic Iranian nationalism.

Comment on Scenario:
Much thought could go into planning how to start and then keep events moving in the highly optimistic direction posited by this scenario. Not only will it require the emergence of statesmanship on both sides but that statesmanship will need to be coordinated and simultaneous. Scare-mongering politicians who see chaos as personally beneficial will have to be faced down, and the temptation to respond with righteous anger to inevitable insults, mistakes, and betrayals along the way will have to be resisted. Moreover, those with power will have to learn to share a little.

Acceptance of Iran as a participant in regional decision-making constrains Iran’s freedom to play the anti-system rebel but also means Israel will have to accept decisions and implement policies related to Palestine, the Golan Heights, and Lebanon that its elites may find distasteful. The scenario argues that such an outcome is logically conceivable. Actually to realize this outcome would require rare foreign policy professionalism:

  • appreciation of cultural differences (as so elegantly pointed out recently by Beeman);
  • a roadmap of incremental multilateral compromises;
  • careful advance calculations about what one is willing to give up…and at what price;
  • a willingness to put the common good ahead of personal career goals

“Mideast Bipolarity” revolves substantially around the dynamics of inclusion in regional affairs. As illustrated in the graphic below (assume all relationships in the graphic are reinforcing), inclusion of the other party in regional affairswill lead to both opportunities to sabotage the system (e.g., by accepting an invitation to a regional conference but then refusing to make reasonable compromises) and opportunities to support the system. “Mideast Bipolarity” is a story in which the dominant dynamic goes from inclusion to compromise and cooperation.

The critical link in this process is likely to be that between the responsiveness of the system and the willingness of the former outsider to become an insider.
Some of the many milestones that might be anticipated in the course of working toward such a breakthrough are:

  • US-Iranian talks on Iraq raised to higher levels
  • US-Iranian talks expanded to cover all bilateral issues
  • Israel supports presence of Iran at regional talks
  • Israeli-Iranian talks without preconditions
  • Lebanese domestic concord
  • Israel promises to end Lebanese border violations
  • Elimination of illegal Israeli settlements
  • Elimination of Jewish-only roads in Palestine
  • Independent Palestinian state accepted by all Palestinian parties.

The utility of third party support and the heavy emphasis on the need for Israel, as the more powerful party, to take the initiative should be noted. Also critically important are steps forward on issues, such as Palestine & Lebanon, that relate to the broader context in which Iranian-Israeli relations evolve. Each milestone could usefully be broken down into a hierarchy of subordinate steps that might be required. As for how they all actually would relate (certainly not in the form of the simple list presented here), that topic will be addressed in a post on complex adaptive systems. But first, the other scenarios will be discussed. Stay tuned.

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