It was pure drama: The leaders of the United States, Britain, and France stepped onto the stage at the Pittsburgh Group of 20 meeting recently to unveil Western intelligence that showed that Iran had a second nuclear fuel enrichment facility under construction, which Iran had declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency the preceding Monday.
The Western leaders gathered in Pittsburgh implied that their revelation was just as devastating for Iran as a credible player.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates subsequently pronounced Iran to be “boxed in” and “in a very bad spot now.” But anyone who listened to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s interview with Time magazine’s correspondent on the day of the presentation, and to subsequent Iranian statements, can gather that Iran, at least, does not see itself as boxed in.
Far from it. Mr Ahmadinejad exuded confidence and non aggressively counseled President Obama not to go down this route.
It might seem counterintuitive to most Americans and Europeans, but Ahmadinejad’s advice might be worth pondering.
The Pittsburgh dramatics, in a sense, signal the culmination of three pivotal events that took place in the Middle East some 20 years ago. The first was the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989, the second was the 1991 Gulf War, and the third was Yitzak Rabin’s victory in the 1992 Israeli elections. The consequences from these momentous events are coming to a head for the US only now. Mr Obama’s course of action may determine whether this region is about to enter a new phase of bitter conflict or enter a new era of strategic change.
The first two events hobbled Iran’s traditional foes on its frontiers. Neither the imploded USSR nor Sunni Iraq, at war with a Western coalition led by the US, was in a position any longer to contain an emergent Iran. As a consequence, Iran’s place as a preeminent – if not the pre-eminent power – in the Middle East was guaranteed.
The arrival of a Labor government in Israel was pivotal to Iran becoming “the nuclear threat.” In a dramatic change of policy in 2002, Israel abandoned the Ben Gurion doctrine of allying Israel with the regional periphery (Turkey, Ethiopia, and Iran), an Israeli policy that persisted beyond the Iranian Revolution, and began to engage with its Arab “vicinity.”
To manage such a radical shift of talking peace to the former Arab “enemy,” a U-turn that bitterly split the Israeli electorate and alienated Israel’s supporters in the US, the Labor government in Israel began, from 1993 on, to identify Iran to its supporters in the US as the new existential “threat” – in place of the former threat of the “never-changing Arab inability to reconcile” with Israel. Subsequently the West would absorb the Iranian threat as its own, for very different reasons.