Iran-Israel hostilities: Real or fictitious?
IN the previous article, I stated that the chronological path of the relationship between Iran and Israel has gone through many stages; it started with the “strategic partnership” during the days of the Shah, then “distant alliance when Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979 to the Cold War between Iran and Israel after 1991, leading to the current hostilities after the 2003 Iraq War. This article will continue to dissect the relationship between Israel and Iran by covering the stage of “distant alliance.” In the previous article, I said that after the Iranian Revolution relations with Iran began to deteriorate into a war of words. Khomeini was very much against Israel’s existence and declared Israel to be the “enemy of Islam” and “The Little Satan” (the US was called “The Great Satan”) and called for Israel’s destruction. He stated that “this cancerous tumor of a state (Israel) must be removed from the region.” This represented, to many observers, a major setback for the “peripheral policy.”
However, Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, who has researched the relationship between Iran and Israel through interviews and in-depth dialogues with a large number of politicians and analysts, believes that the “the alliance of the periphery” or “the periphery doctrine” was affected neither by the coming of Khomeini to power nor by the anti-Zionist speeches.
Despite Iranian opposition to Israel, Israel believes that Iraq posed an existential threat to Israel on a long-term basis. Iran appeared weak because of the chaotic domestic situation following the revolution. Iraq had an army more than four times the size of Israel’s and held the world’s third-largest oil reserves. Therefore, an Iraqi victory would have left Israel in a vulnerable position, and Iraq would have had undisputed hegemony over the Gulf region. It would have made the threat from the eastern front worse. Also, with the US intent on making Hussein their new ally, an Iraqi-US rapprochement would have had little bearing on Iraq’s hostility toward Israel. An Iranian victory, as unlikely as it appeared at the outbreak of the war, did not particularly worry Israel. Iran was thousand miles away and its ability to participate in a war against Israel was minimal, even if it did overcome Iraq. Thus, according to Professor David Menashri of Tel Aviv University, Israel’s foremost expert on Iran, “Throughout the 1980s, no one in Israel said anything about an Iranian threat — the word wasn’t even uttered”. Indeed, in October 1987, Yitzhak Rabin and Shaul Mofaz, the then Israeli minister of defense, said: “Iran is the best friend of Israel.”
As a result of these continuing threats, soon after the Iran-Iraq War broke out, Israel covertly armed Iran without the knowledge of the US in what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. This suggests that the relationship had not ended; it had simply changed to what has become known as “distant alliance.”
According to Ronen Bergman, an Israeli reporter and the author of The Secret War with Iran: The 30-Year Covert Struggle for Control of a Rogue State, in 1981 Israel sold weapons worth $75 million to Iran. As for Trita Parsi, he divides Israeli support for Iran into two stages: The first stage was from 1981-1983, during which, according to the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, Israel sold weapons worth more than $500 million dollars to Iran against Iranian Oil. Parsi quotes Ahmed Al-Haidari, an Iranian arms dealer who worked for the Khomeini regime, as saying that nearly 80 percent of the arms deals with Iran immediately after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war were made in Israel.
The second stage was between 1985-86. It took the form of arms shipments sent from the US to Iran through Israel. This became known as the “Iran-Contra affair” or the “Iran-Contra scandal.” Israel managed to convince the Reagan administration to supply Iran with badly needed war material (HAWK missiles, TOW antitank missiles and spare weapons parts) in exchange for the freedom of US citizens held hostage in Lebanon. In addition, intelligence support was also provided to Iran, according to numerous reports which show that Israel had trainers working to support Iran during the war.
The outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980 provided Israel with a unique window of strategic opportunity. Iraq had been neutralized as a threat to Israel and Syria had become isolated from the rest of the Arab world because it supported Iran. The war diminished the likelihood of a joint eastern-front attack by Syria, Iraq and Jordan.
Therefore, the threat from the Soviet Union and Iraq were the two primary factors that guaranteed cooperation between Iran and Israel. However the end of the Cold War and the fall of Iraq eliminated these factors as a driver of cooperation between the two states, thereby fostering an environment conducive to increasing the confrontation between the countries and altering the balance of power in the region. This will be discussed in detail in the next article (the Cold War stage).
• This is the second of a four-part series of articles. The third part will be published on Aug. 11.