In 2007 a scenario analysis of Iranian-Israeli relations suggested that the two sides would harm themselves by continuing on their confrontational course. That finding is coming true, with the harm now visible in both the domestic and foreign situations of each society. Meanwhile, the bilateral death dance continues…
With Israeli militarists firmly in control of both Israeli and U.S. Mideast policy, the Israeli-Iranian confrontation remains in endless crisis. Neither side is making any effort to create new approaches to any possible resolution so it remains impossible to determine what either side wants, intends, or would settle for. Does Tehran want to dominate the region; does it intend, when able, to take an existential risk to achieve that goal; would it settle for security and inclusion? Does Tel Aviv want to retain its military dominance and permanent suppression of the Palestinian people; does it intend to take an existential risk to maintain that dominance; would it settle for a nuclear but transparent Iran and a two-state solution? Washington will neither offer Tehran a sufficiently sincere compromise nor put sufficient pressure on Tel Aviv to determine the bottom line of either side. The only aspect of the mess that is clear is that the constant tension works to the advantage of the extremists on each side, cementing their hold on power and virtually precluding rational discussion
The above was true in 2007, when the scenario analysis “Iranian-Israeli Confrontation” was done; it remains true in late 2011. Yet much has changed. Ankara has staked out rhetorical leadership of a neutral position offering Tehran great potential leverage, an opportunity of which clumsy Tehran hardliners have yet to take advantage. The Arab Spring has weakened Cairo’s adherence to the pro-Israel camp as well. Meanwhile, Obama has allowed Tel Aviv to obstruct his efforts to turn around U.S. ties with the Muslim world even as the U.S. position in Iraq has continued its downward course. By skillfully and remorselessly undermining Washington’s freedom of movement, Netanyahu has also steadily weakened the value of U.S. support even as he has fractured Israeli society into an increasingly violence-prone and overtly racist majority and a minority increasingly concerned about the long-term survival of Israeli democracy. The result has been to strengthen Iran’s regional position, weaken Israel’s regional position, and to enhance the risk of Israeli aggression and of Iranian militarization of its nuclear technology.
Israeli Views of Israel
We built this country inch by inch, and we lost so many lives. We built public and social institutions, schools, factories. What’s going on today is awful. They’re ruining this country. I am a proud Israeli. I’ve lived through every war, endured every moment of suffering, but I never stopped believing in peace. I lost friends and family members. I’m a peacemaker, but the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course….
And this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere—I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deteri oration in the territories and the roadblocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It’s not right. [Daily Beast 10/30/11.]
Retired Chief of Mossad Meir Dagan:
In his first public appearance since leaving the post in September, Dagan said earlier this month that the possibility a future Israel Air Force attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”[Haaretz 6/1/11.]
We have to think about what would happen the day after. [Der Spiegel 11/8/11.]
Haaretz Commentator Gideon Levy:
The nuclear powers also ignore the fourth chapter of the treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons that calls for dismantling them. They are permitted to ignore it. The world lives in peace too with the fact that 189 countries have indeed signed the treaty but that there are four, including Israel, that have not. The world has learned to live with the North Korean and Pakistani bombs even though this is a danger that is no smaller than that which Iran poses….
Israel, which has not signed the treaty, is in the same company as North Korea, Pakistan and India – that is, very dubious company. No one asks why, no one asks for what reason, not in Israel and not in the rest of the world…
There is a great deal of hypocrisy in Israel’s attitude toward the world….
Like Israel, Iran will apparently not heed the words of the world. But does Israel want in any way to resemble Iran? [Haaretz 11/10/11.]
The 2007 study offered four predictions:
Prediction #1: Co-Evolution. Iran and Israel will co-evolve: without either necessarily perceiving it, they will influence each other, revolve around each other like binary stars, each in its individual orbit but bound to the other by their mutual insistence on making the other a priority, and traveling an unseen path together. Most likely, all the while each will see only its own uniqueness; neither will perceive the increasingly significant points of similarity as their mutual adaptation subjects them to similar pressures. Judging from current trends, each will feed on the other’s hostility to the detriment of both.
Prediction #2: States of Criticality. Potential states of criticality threatening disaster will occur. They are fundamental danger zones. A wise society will avoid them. As tensions rise and groups organize to push radical agendas, thereby making tensions rise further, it is easy to slide into the unmarked state of criticality where going one step too far leads to some sort of disaster – perhaps a tremor, perhaps the “big one.”
Prediction #3: Tipping Points. Positive feedback loops will bring to the fore dynamics that were previously insignificant, and tipping points will be reached, to general astonishment.
Prediction #4: Adaptation. Adaptation will occur in unforeseen ways – sometimes at an unexpected location, sometimes after an unexpected delay. However it happens, Israel and Iran they will change, although our perceptions of them may not. The Israel still perceived in some quarters as a plucky pioneering movement of idealists adopted selective assassination of terrorists and then moved beyond that to assassination of opposing political leaders. Iran’s messianic Shi’ite spirit of the early 1980s has evolved into a willingness to cooperate with the U.S. vs. the Taleban in 2001 and support for the U.S.-sponsored regime in occupied Iraq today. Change is predictable; if unseen, the fault almost certainly lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Prediction #1, Co-Evolution, is supported by circumstantial evidence. The bilateral tension occupies an artificially important place in the politics of each state. Domestically, Tehran appears to have cracked down on dissidents with a degree of viciousness unusual even for Iran because of its defensiveness engendered by threats coming from Israel and its obedient superpower sponsor. Meanwhile, Israeli society is sliding steadily toward racist violence, a trend primarily the result of its colonization of the West Bank but one exacerbated by Netanyahu’s determination to play domestic policies off against policy toward Iran. The result is that Iranian-Israeli tensions are making both the Tehran and the Tel Aviv regimes more hardline than they would otherwise have been, thus exacerbating domestic political problems.
Concerning foreign policy, each state increasingly is finding its options limited by its addiction to extremist rhetoric and genuine security fears resulting from the Iranian-Israeli confrontation. Israeli freedom of thought and maneuver regarding its central predicament of how to deal with Palestinians is severely constrained by tensions with Iran. Iranian freedom of thought and maneuver regarding how to deal with the ring of U.S. military bases along its borders and the instability inherent in Iraqi, Pakistani, and Afghan insurgencies is similarly constrained by tensions with Israel.
In sum, Iran and Israel are co-evolving both domestically and internationally in ways that harm both of them because they have allowed themselves to become so closely linked by bilateral tensions artificially whipped up by their respective political leaders that they cannot find the freedom to focus on other arguably more fundamental and more serious problems. This evolutionary process is making each country less democratic and less secure.
Prediction #2, States of Criticality, is—in early November 2011—demonstrably true for a sudden state of criticality is exactly where the two states are at the moment, for no obvious reason other than the publication of yet another ambiguous IAEA report that states it cannot prove the negative (that Iran absolutely does not have any nuclear militarization plan in process). On this slim reed balances an explosion of clamor over the idea of launching the world’s first unprovoked nuclear attack.
Prediction #3, Tipping Points, has yet to be substantiated, but the occurrence of one of the predicted states of criticality suggests that the probability of a tipping point is rising.
Prediction #4, Adaptation, is more obvious on the part of the U.S. than the two primary actors. Both ruling parties in the U.S. are now firmly under Israeli influence so extreme as virtually to constitute control regarding U.S. Mideast policy. In reaction to this, however, open discussion of the long-time taboo question of whether or not the U.S.-Israeli alliance might be harming U.S. national security has now struggled into mainstream thinking, with long-term consequences yet to be discerned. In Israel, while the media discuss Israeli policy toward Iran far more profoundly and honestly than U.S. media do, groupthink has taken firm hold at the political level, leaving those Israelis concerned about Netanyahu’s warmongering with no political representation. Adaptation this is, albeit not in a direction likely to enhance either Israeli security or Israeli democracy. Groupthink is almost never a wise strategic course. Somewhat less visibly perhaps, from the outside, Iran too is adapting, as its domestic politics become increasingly bitter and divided. Indeed, Prediction #4 is essentially a rewording at a different level of analysis (state rather than two-state system) of Prediction #1, since the very meaning of co-evolution is that each state is not only adapting but adapting in tandem with the other.
In sum, the analysis done in 2007 made predictions that amounted to a warning that the two states would each harm themselves by failing to change course, and that warning has proven on target. The respective regimes have only themselves to blame for not heeding the warning; its accuracy supports the methodological argument that scenario analysis constitutes a useful tool for sharpening thinking about complex foreign policy dilemmas.