As the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convenes for their annual conference in Washington this week, legislators from both sides of the aisle are calling for a resolution voicing active support of a potential Israeli attack on Iran. Diplomatic talks between Iran and the UN have yielded limited results and there are concerns the country will soon complete weapons-level uranium enrichment. This anxiety notwithstanding, calls for such resolute military support are dangerous and unwise. If serious progress is to be made towards regional peace, three policies must change. First, unwavering Western protection of Israel must be removed. Second, constant threats of Western military intervention must be avoided. Third, the impact of international interest groups on Washington must be balanced.
Western intervention in the Middle East has long been subjected to accusations of neo-colonialism. Indeed, these attitudes are derived from legitimate complaints. American influence has become increasingly marginalized as the region’s former pro-Western dictators have been deposed. Somehow, the intrinsic fragility of Middle Eastern alliances, both internally and worldwide, has been lost in our foreign policy. Time and time again, the West has fallen into the trap of foreign meddling. By now, we should know better. In most cases, Israeli "security" has been a primary concern, even though the Jewish state has few regional allies and possesses one of the world’s strongest militaries. Why has Israel received such a special status at the cost of failed diplomacy throughout the Middle East?
Undoubtedly, the formation of a modern Israeli state was performed rationally and with good intentions. An extended period of Western anti-Semitism, one that culminated with the tragedy of the Holocaust, brought Zionism to the forefront of post-WWII reconciliation. Not only was the Jewish population devastated, their entire community infrastructure had been thoroughly dismantled. Opinions towards Jews in the Middle East, however, remained hostile. Indigenous Palestinians and their Muslim allies vigorously opposed the transformation of Palestine into a Jewish-majority and Jewish-governed state. At the time, non-Jews comprised 65% of colonial Palestine’s population.
Following the Palestinian partition, a region-wide violent backlash surfaced immediately. Ever since, the West has supported and armed Israel at all costs. In the beginning, military superiority and political meddling was enough to keep the country safe. But as this approach became increasingly counter-productive towards regional stability, the former imperialist powers began to transform their strategy. Aided by "diplomatic" measures, including financial incentives and established support for pro-Western dictators, Israel saw a marked downturn in the intensity of its conflicts. But this approach has not yielded real progress.
At one time or another, the U.S. has supported dictators in virtually every Middle Eastern state. These include, but are not limited to, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the Assad regime in Syria and yes, Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The rationale behind these alliances has varied, though all have operated under the auspices of Israeli protection. In Iraq, the American military supported Hussein throughout the Iran-Iraq War before withdrawing support and attacking Hussein in 1991 and again in 2003, when he was deposed. Today, U.S.-Iraqi relations have deteriorated, as the country has become a close regional ally of Iran.
So, what lessons can we learn from the impact of radically shifting alliances? For one, our approach is not working. The divisive nature of authoritarian rule makes it inherently unsustainable. All dictatorial regimes are certain to be deposed at some point. Predictably, the West often finds itself supporting a regime that has lost power, rendering many foreign alliances unrecoverable for decades. Because these alliances so often revolve around adamant support for Israel, precisely the target for many complaints during the Arab Spring, the U.S. has been unable to break this cycle.
Moreover, we should have learned that supporting Israel militarily further incentivizes the state to use violence as their only tool of diplomacy. Year in and year out, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved. By now, one would think that a new approach would have been taken, but the same aggressive policies remain. As Iraq has taught us, Western military intervention is rarely welcomed, especially when motivated by political rather than civilian interests.
The largest concern regarding this resolution, however, is the prospect of intervention where Israel is the only beneficiary. The hawkish Jewish lobby has persistently fought for resolute Israeli protection on Capitol Hill, while opposing lobbyists have been consistently marginalized. Do the Palestinians not deserve a place in American politics? Considering the plethora of interests involved, legislators would be wise to acknowledge opposing perspectives.
In many Middle Eastern conflicts, we have been able to argue that our own interests are at hand. A nuclear-armed Iran, however, poses minimal danger to the United States. Fears of a regional arms race or local instabilities are not enough to counteract the potential for a massive regional war if the U.S. were to intervene militarily in Iran. Even more, it is difficult to imagine Iran would ever come to the negotiating table again if such a resolution became doctrine. With a sea of uncertainty surrounding Iran and its nuclear program, do we really want to offer our military resources unequivocally? History has taught that strict alliances and armed intervention rarely yield the intended results.