How to influence Iran’s Israel policy

Khamenei’s opposition to the State of Israel is not rooted in an irrational hatred of the Jewish people; it is, rather, based on objective historical events and his subjective interpretation of them as well as his perception of the Israeli government’s future intentions.  He views the State of Israel as an aggressive entity whose leaders desire territorial expansion and regional domination, and the United States as its chief patron in this endeavor, in pursuit of its own economic and geopolitical interests.

While this view may be somewhat inflated in terms of Israel’s ability to project military power throughout the region, the fact that successive U.S. administrations have expressed rhetorical opposition to Israeli settlement expansions in the West Bank while taking little substantive action to halt them will make it difficult for the U.S. to convince Khamenei that his analysis of long-term U.S.-Israeli intentions is inaccurate.  He also views the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation as a fundamental moral issue regardless of the actual military threat Israel poses to the region.

Khamenei and the inner circle of clerical and military leaders who ultimately rule Iran may not be willing to compromise on their Israel policy under any circumstances—U.S. policymakers cannot know without testing them—but they will almost certainly harden their position in response to continued Israeli expansionist policies and de facto U.S. support for them.

Two questions revolve around the two-state versus one-state debate—one of justice and one of wisdom.  If U.S. policymakers are to make any diplomatic progress with Iran on their Israel policy, they must first acknowledge that Israeli settlement expansions are unjust and cannot continue without economic and political consequences, and then they must debate with Iranian leaders the wisdom of a two-state in favor of their conceived one-state solution.

An imposed one-state solution, in short, would likely result in civil war.  A two-state solution based on mutual trust and security, in contrast, would open the possibility of organic, positive sum commercial integration over the long-term.  No doubt the prospect for peace under a two-state solution would continue to be challenged by extremists on both sides but it would nevertheless offer the best chance of a just outcome for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Some historical perspective is worth consideration here.  Just a few decades ago the entire Arab world refused to recognize the State of Israel and remained in a state of perpetual war with it, agitating for its annihilation and restrained only by the threat of Israel’s superior organization and U.S.-supplied weaponry.  In 2002 and reaffirmed this year, the Arab world declared its willingness to accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

The best way the U.S. can both support Israel and sustain the global economic security that is dependent upon the Middle East’s energy supply is to encourage a regional political climate of moderation.  It can demonstrate leadership by using its economic leverage to discourage territorial expansionists within the Israeli government and by convincing Iranian leaders that a two-state solution is a more just and wise one, while impatience for justice, on the other hand, could lead to greater suffering and injustice for all.

Khamenei has the capacity to be both a principled and pragmatic political leader.  If U.S. policymakers can convince him to engage in direct dialogue, on a mutually respectful basis, he may surprise the United States by his willingness and ability to make principled and pragmatic compromises within a positive sum moral and security framework.  

The Obama administration and Congress should invest in mobilizing domestic political support among moderate Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Iranian-American and national security organizations in pursuit of this initiative.

Buonomo is a former military intelligence officer and graduate candidate in Middle East Studies at George Washington University.

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