Iran, Israel, and the United States: What to Expect Next?
Is the JCPOA—now more than one year old—a vehicle for reducing Israel-Iranian tensions in the medium term? How will the outcomes of the impending U.S. and Iranian presidential elections affect both Iran and Israel’s security perceptions? Join us for a discussion with a panel of experts on what foreign policy adjustments we can expect from Iran, Israel, and the United States vis à vis each other in 2017 and beyond.
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Two experts offered analysis on the future of triangular relations among Iran, Israel, and the United States.
On October 31, 2016 the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Middle East Forum of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted the event “Iran, Israel, and the United States: What to Expect Next?” with Suzanne Maloney, Deputy Director, Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and Senior Fellow, Brookings Center for Middle East Policy and Energy Security and Climate Initiative, and David Menashri, Professor Emeritus, Tel Aviv University and Senior Research Fellow, Alliance Center for Iranian Studies and the Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University (TAU). Henri J. Barkey, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Menashri began the discussion by highlighting new developments influencing the triangular relationship among Iran, Israel, and the United States. First, he discussed the tense and difficult period of change the region as a whole is undergoing, including the bloodshed” in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. He stated not since the post-WWI period of nation-state formation has the region witnessed so much change. He indicated that there is a general feeling pervading the Middle East that the United States is desperate to disengage from the region. He also noted the reemergence of Russia as a power player in the region, most notably illustrated by its military base in Syria. Menashri said that Iran’s self-confidence about its nuclear program provides good reason for Israel’s concern. He concluded optimistically on Israel’s peace with Egypt and Jordan, and said Israel should reconcile the Palestinian issue by adopting a two-state solution, since the peace process has been in a deep freeze.
Maloney began her remarks by offering the U.S. perspective over the course of the past three years. She said the JCPOA marked the beginning of real conflict resolution in the protracted impasse between the United States and Iran. The backchannel diplomacy deployed by the Obama administration was successful in achieving this deal. She noted the debate regarding the Iran nuclear deal has shifted from one centered on the various logistical puzzles, such as the number of centrifuges allowed to remain open, to one now centered on the success of the deal in what it was intended to do. This begs the question: what was the deal intended to do? She stated that this deal was strictly an arms control arrangement, and therefore not intended to address issues outside of the nuclear realm. However, both countries pitched it “with an eye towards something bigger.” The Obama administration said it hoped the deal would serve as the first step toward better relations with Iran, while Iran sold the deal to its public as an end to its pariah status and as a path to restarting its economy. She asserted that although Iran is very different than it was post-Revolution in 1979, the current system of power does not allow for popular voices to have real influence. She concluded by stating she thinks the next U.S. administration will repair its relationship with Israel, which has been friction ridden the past eight years.
The first question directed toward the discussants asked how relations between Iran and Israel can be improved. Menashri brought up the importance of Cyrus the Great to both cultures and said they must build upon their shared histories. Next they moved to the topic of Yemen, and Maloney indicated the downside to Iran’s involvement in Yemen is its lack of full control over the Houthis that it’s funding, which is risky if the Houthis engage the United States. There is no upside for U.S. involvement in Yemen, and she noted that although Kerry wants the war to end, we still do not have full control of the groups we support in Yemen. The next question asked the discussants what the future of Iran’s power in Iraq is in regard to U.S. interest and the bickering between Iran and Turkey. Menashri replied that there has been a revival of Shi’a-Sunni animosity. Despite this, Iran’s interest in Iraq is not only a religious issue, since Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has never even identified as Shi’a. It has more to do with seeking to gain control where a central power has collapsed, which can also be seen in Syria. As for Iran and Turkey, they have the Kurdish issue in common, as an independent Kurdish state is a threat to both countries.
By Vanessa Sorrentino, Middle East Program
Henri J. Barkey
Middle East Program
The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Read more