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Treacherous Alliance

Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States

trita parsi
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Treacherous Alliance
    Book Description:

    In this era of superheated rhetoric and vitriolic exchanges between the leaders of Iran and Israel, the threat of nuclear violence looms. But the real roots of the enmity between the two nations mystify Washington policymakers, and no promising pathways to peace have emerged. This book traces the shifting relations among Israel, Iran, and the United States from 1948 to the present, uncovering for the first time the details of secret alliances, treacherous acts, and unsavory political maneuverings that have undermined Middle Eastern stability and disrupted U.S. foreign policy initiatives in the region.

    Trita Parsi, a U.S. foreign policy expert with more than a decade of experience, is the only writer who has had access to senior American, Iranian, and Israeli decision makers. He dissects the complicated triangular relations of their countries, arguing that America's hope for stability in Iraq and for peace in Israel is futile without a correct understanding of the Israeli-Iranian rivalry.

    Parsi's behind-the-scenes revelations about Middle East events will surprise even the most knowledgeable readers: Iran's prime minister asks Israel to assassinate Khomeini, Israel reaches out to Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War, the United States foils Iran's plan to withdraw support from Hamas and Hezbollah, and more. This book not only revises our understanding of the Middle East's recent past, it also spells out a course for the future. In today's belligerent world, few topics, if any, could be more important.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13806-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. 1 introduction: an eight-hundred-pound gorilla
    (pp. 1-16)

    “This regime that is occupying Qods [Jerusalem] must be eliminated from the pages of history.”¹ With these words, spoken at an obscure conference in the Iranian capital of Tehran in October 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hard-line Iranian president, brought to the boiling point a rivalry between Iran and Israel that has been simmering for more than fifteen years. Always treated as a peripheral conflict, Israeli-Iranian tensions were often avoided by decision-makers in Washington, who focused on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute or on Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s impulse for conquest. In doing so they failed to recognize that the geopolitical rivalry between...

  6. part one. the cold war era

    • 2 an alliance of necessity: the secret friendship of the shah
      (pp. 19-28)

      After the First World War, the British controlled Palestine in quasi-colonial fashion, in a mandate sanctioned by the League of Nations. The Zionist movement, which had begun at the end of the previous century and encouraged Jewish immigration to Palestine with the eventual goal of creating a Jewish State, flourished under the mandate. The growing Jewish population clashed repeatedly with the Arab majority, which was unalterably opposed to a Jewish State and which itself wanted independence from Britain. At various periods during the mandate, the British suppressed both Arab and Jewish guerrilla rebellions. Exhausted after the Second World War, financially...

    • 3 rise of israel, rise of iran
      (pp. 29-38)

      The essence of the Iranian-Israeli entente of the 1950s and 1960s wasn’t the inevitability of a non-Arab alliance against the Arab masses, but a congruence of interests formed by Iran’s and Israel’s common vulnerabilities. They shared interests because they shared common threats. The balance of power—and not the non-Arab makeup of the two countries—paved the way for the Iranian-Israeli entente. But the logic of the balance meant that the very basis of the alliance was threatened if either country overcame its differences with its neighbors or if one gained enough power to deal with the threats on its...

    • 4 iran’s quest for supremacy
      (pp. 39-48)

      Regional primacy has been the norm rather than the exception for Iran throughout its three-thousand-year history. Between 550 B.C. and A.D.630, Persia was one of the world’s leading powers, defeating the armies of Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Athens, and Rome. The Persians established the world’s first empire, stretching from Libya in the west to Ethiopia in the south, Bulgaria in the north, and India in the east. In the empires of the Parthian and Sassanian dynasties, mighty Rome found its match. Iran has vast natural resources, a unique geostrategic position, a vibrant culture, and a population that dwarfs those of most...

    • 5 sealing demise in the moment of triumph
      (pp. 49-60)

      The Yom Kippur war forced Israel to reexamine the nature of its relations with Iran. In a time of war, when Israel faced an existential threat, the Shah did not come to Israel’s aid to balance the Arabs. Instead the Shah, aiming to solidify Iran’s own position in the region, balanced Iran’s relations between the two sides.

      The war had shown that Egypt’s turn to the West did not necessarily translate into avoidance of war with Israel. With or without Nasser, Egypt remained a formidable foe and a serious threat. At the same time that Israel was confident about the...

    • 6 megalomania
      (pp. 61-67)

      Within the context of the pragmatic entente between Iran and Israel, Tehran’s conduct on the Kurdish question marked the continued weakening—but not breakdown—of the alliance. Despite the Algiers Accord, Iraqi-Iranian relations remained tense until the end of the Shah’s reign, and Tehran and Tel Aviv continued to share many geostrategic interests even though one crucial element of cooperation had been eliminated. Thinking beyond threats, the Shah made it his primary goal in the region to solidify Iran’s position by securing Arab support for Iran’s aspiration to be primus inter pares.

      Though Israel wasn’t a contender for regional leadership,...

    • 7 the rise of begin and the israeli right
      (pp. 68-78)

      June 21, 1977, marked the victory of the right in Israel. After several decades of Labor Party domination of the Israeli political scene, the Likud Party, under the leadership of Menachem Begin, finally took over the Israeli Knesset and the executive branch. As it turned out, Israel’s step to the right became a source of friction between Tel Aviv and Tehran.¹ Born in Poland in 1913, Begin was a student and later rival of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism and the intellectual father of the Israeli right. After moving to Palestine after the outbreak of the Second World...

    • 8 enter the sign of god
      (pp. 79-86)

      On February 11, 1979, the Persian dynasty was replaced with an Islamic one. The revolution was a momentous event not only for Iran—it also sent shockwaves throughout the entire Islamic world. Through a popular revolution a pro-American dictatorship in the oil-rich Middle East had been replaced with the modern world’s first theocratic regime. The Middle East would never be the same again. The Shah’s swift downfall took the West by surprise, though signs of growing discontent in Iran were hardly hidden. The Israelis were equally dismayed but did not experience the same surprise. Built on the back of the...

    • 9 ideological shifts, geopolitical continuities
      (pp. 87-96)

      By the time of the 1979 revolution, Iran’s power in the region was declining in comparison with its neighbors—particularly Iraq. Already by 1978, Iran’s position as the region’s undisputed power rested on shaky ground. The chaos that swept the country with the revolution served only to make matters worse. Iran’s military spending fell from $16.6 billion in 1978 to $7.7 billion in 1979, and scores of Iranian officers either fled the country or were killed by the revolutionaries, thereby dissipating much of the country’s military know-how. Between 1979 and 1980, Iran’s armed forces lost more than one hundred thousand...

    • 10 saddam attacks!
      (pp. 97-109)

      Rather than winning Arab friends, the Khomeini government’s policies won it only enemies. Iran’s efforts to challenge the regional status quo turned it into a pariah state, shunned by most and feared by all.¹ Iran’s claims to leadership of the world’s oppressed Muslims put it at odds with Iraq—which sought to uphold the pan-Arab flag after Egypt’s fall from grace with the signing of the Camp David Accord with Israel—and Saudi Arabia, which, as the birthplace of Islam and custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, viewed itself as the undisputed caretaker of and ultimate authority on the Islamic faith.²...

    • 11 scandal
      (pp. 110-126)

      The world was a different place in 1983 than it is today. As a special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, Donald Rumsfeld was courting Saddam Hussein in Baghdad; Israel was lobbying Washington not to pay attention to Tehran’s calls for the destruction of the Jewish State; neoconservatives were masterminding a rapprochement with Khomeini’s government; and Iran—not the United States—was considered out of touch with reality for fantasizing about a rising Shia crescent.

      Rather than countering Iran’s influence in the region and warning the West of Iranian hegemony, Israel, by invading Lebanon, inadvertently handed Iran its only success in...

    • 12 the dying gasp of the periphery doctrine
      (pp. 127-136)

      Israel’s strategic breather was coming to an end by 1987, a year after the Iran-Contra scandal broke. As Iraqi prospects for victory grew after the United States began providing Saddam Hussein with intelligence on Iranian troop movements, Tel Aviv concluded that a continuation of the war would be too risky and viewed a stalemate as the best possible outcome.¹ The guiding principle of Israel’s policy continued to be to avoid any actions against Tehran that would jeopardize what Tel Aviv considered to be the inevitable return of Iran as a non-Arab, peripheral ally.² Even when it had become clear that...

  7. part two. the unipolar era

    • 13 the new world order
      (pp. 139-156)

      Between 1990 and 1992, the Middle East underwent two shocks of unprecedented magnitude—the defeat of Iraq in the Persian Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. These geopolitical tsunamis significantly changed the way Iran and Israel viewed each other. The common threats that for decades had prompted the two states to cooperate and find common geostrategic interests—in spite of Iran’s transformation into an Islamist anti-Zionist state—would no longer exist. While they both benefited from these events, the uncertainty of a new world order brought with it new dangers. As this new order in the Middle...

    • 14 trading enemies
      (pp. 157-171)

      The Israeli public was exhausted when it went to the polls in June 1992. Several years of the Intifada, the Palestinian uprising that had begun in December 1987, had taken its toll on the Jewish State.¹ Israelis realized in increasing numbers that the occupation—which Israel had generally justified on security grounds—had become a security threat itself. “The occupation was no longer a routine that we could safely ignore. Israelis were worn out from the conflict and wanted peace, and peace of mind,” wrote Uri Savir, who later negotiated the Oslo peace accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).²...

    • 15 from cold peace to cold war
      (pp. 172-189)

      The Labor Party’s campaign to isolate Iran took Tehran by surprise. The Iranians thought Israel would continue to dismiss Iran’s usual tirades against the Jewish State, just as it had in the 1980s. The unspoken understanding between the two was still valid as far as the Iranians were concerned: Iran would remain nothing more than an armchair critic; it would continue to issue colorful diatribes against Israel while paying lip service to the Palestinian cause. Israel, in turn, would turn a deaf ear to Iran’s rhetoric and remember that Tehran’s slogans did not reflect Iran’s real policy. But Rabin and...

    • 16 with likud, the periphery doctrine returns
      (pp. 190-201)

      In spite of Israel’s rhetoric about mad mullahs and the irredeemable ideology of the Islamists, many Israelis understood the strategic calculus behind Iran’s opposition to the peace process. Both Washington and Tel Aviv recognized that the peace process and Israel’s diplomatic efforts to form a new order in the Middle East were damaging to Iran’s strategic position.¹ The new dividing lines of the Middle East would no longer be Islam vs. the Arab-Persian split, as Iran preferred it, but rather between those within the Oslo process and those outside of it.² And peace with the Palestinians could lead to peace...

    • 17 khatami’s détente
      (pp. 202-222)

      Iran had what some consider a second revolution on May 23, 1997. Defying Tehran’s political and religious establishment, the Iranian people used what little room they had to send a clear signal to the ruling regime: Change must come! Turning out in massive numbers, they went to the polls and elected an unknown librarian, Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, as their next president. Khatami ran on a platform of rule of law, democracy, improved relations with the outside world, and an inclusive political system. Thanks to a record turnout of women and youth, Khatami won a landslide victory over his conservative opponent....

    • 18 betrayal in afghanistan
      (pp. 223-237)

      The entire world was holding its breath as America suffered through “indecision 2000.” For Israel and Iran, the outcome of the six-week presidential election dispute could become the single most important factor determining the future of the Middle East. In both capitals, it was thought that if Al Gore and Joe Lieberman won, they would continue the Clinton administration’s Middle East policies: strong support for Israel and the Middle East peace process, along with significant pressure to sanction and isolate Iran (even though Clinton, toward the end of his presidency, sought to reach out to Iran). Rightly or wrongly, the...

    • 19 snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
      (pp. 238-258)

      It was September 2000, a year before the explosive 9/11 terrorist attacks. But Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Cheney aide I. Lewis Libby already had their collective eye on Iraq as they gathered at the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century in Washington, D.C.¹ Under the auspices of this organization, they drafted a document stating their vision of America’s role in the Middle East, which included an attack on Iraq. Called “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” their report argued that the United States must have...

  8. part three. looking ahead

    • 20 facing the future, facing reality
      (pp. 261-284)

      Since the end of the Cold War, Israel and Iran’s rivalry has stood in the way of many of America’s strategic objectives in the Middle East. Both states have undermined U.S. policies that they deemed beneficial to the other. Iran worked against the Middle East peace process to prevent the United States from creating what Tehran feared would be an Israel-centric Middle East order based on Iran’s prolonged isolation. Israel, in turn, opposed talks between the United States and Iran, fearing that a U.S.-Iran rapprochement would grant Iran strategic significance in Washington at Israel’s expense precisely because Iran was a...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 285-340)
    (pp. 341-342)
    (pp. 343-344)
    (pp. 345-346)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 347-361)