The US-Iran Syndrome: Leverage or Squander?

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Ettinger-Yoram photo SmallWestern leaders tend to sacrifice long-term, complex national security strategic goals on the altar of short-term, easily-grasped tactical gains. This is a derivative of flawed leadership and the fundamentals of democratic political systems and societies: the pre-determined, relatively-short political life-expectancy of leaders and legislators; the centrality of public opinion; the reservations about conducting wars overseas; the high-sensitivity to war casualties; etc.For example, in 2003, the US focused on the clear and present threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but downplayed its ripple effect on the larger context, including the threats posed by the Ayatollahs of Iran and other forms of Islamic terrorism. Thus, the US military toppled the repressive, terroristic, imperialistic Sunni-Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein, and transferred the helm to Iraq’s Shiites, who account for 50% of Iraq’s population, compared to 30% Sunni and 20% Kurdish.

However, empowering Iraq’s Shiites frustrated and threatened the senior Iraqi Sunni military, tribal and political personnel, driving them to the folds of Sunni Islamic terror organizations, such as ISIS, the Islamic Army in Iraq, Al Qaeda Iraq and the Mujahidin Army of Iraq.  Moreover, the devastation of Iraq – an historically geostrategic counter balance to Iran – has dramatically upgraded the regional and global power-projection of the Ayatollahs, paving the road to their domination of Iraq. This has provided a tailwind to their predominance in Syria and, increasingly, in Lebanon, intensifying regional volatility, and posing a lethal threat to all pro-US Arab Sunni regimes.  Thus, the spoils of a just US military victory were snatched by an arch-enemy, the Ayatollahs.

In 2017, the US has intensified its war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, bringing ISIS to the verge of defeat.  However, a defeat of the Sunni ISIS triggers ripple effects, such as bolstering the fortunes of two satellite regimes of Teheran: the Alawites in Damascus and the Shiites in Baghdad. Therefore, the failure to leverage the defeat of ISIS as a stepping-stone towards the toppling of the chief enemy, the Ayatollahs, would upgrade the regional and global, destructive power-projection of the “Death-to-America” Ayatollahs, whose machete is at the throat of all pro-US Arab regimes.

The grand design of the Ayatollahs is to coalesce territorial continuity from Iran in the Persian Gulf, through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon (and its 30%-40% Shiite component) on the Mediterranean, proceeding to topple the pro-US Sunni regimes in the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, gaining control over the paramount, strategic straits of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb, much of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, the Muslim World and then the world at-large.

Since their rise to power in 1979, the agenda of the Ayatollahs has been independent of – and drastically beyond – the Palestinian issue, but for one cardinal issue: they are aware that a Palestinian state in the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria would dramatically erode the power-projection of Israel (“the Little Satan”), which would deny the US (“the Great Satan”) and its Arab allies a most effective beachhead in the Middle East. The Palestinian issue has not been relevant to the Ayatollahs grand design – which is based on a 1,400 year old Islamic ethos – nor to the Saudi appreciation of Israel’s assistance in removing the Ayatollahs’ machete from their throat.

Contrary to Western foreign policy establishments, which profess negotiation and compromise with – and substantial concessions to – the Ayatollahs, the latter’s school curriculum highlights the megalomaniacal, supremacist, apocalyptic, terroristic, anti-US nature of the Ayatollahs, who pose a clear and present threat to the US homeland and national security.

On May 24, 2017, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, told the graduates of Imam Hossein Military Academy: “the Greater Jihad as steadfastness and defiance of the Arrogance Front [led by the USA]…must top the agenda of the Islamic Revolution….”  The Ayatollahs consider the July 2015 nuclear agreement a reaffirmation of Western vacillation, a tenuous, tactical agreement with “the modern-day-crusader, arrogant, Great Satan,” to be abrogated as befits agreements concluded with “infidels,” in accordance with the Quran and Muhammad’s legacy. Currently, the Ayatollahs employ the North Korean venue to obtain nuclear mega-capability, in order to remove the US mega-obstacle to the mega-goal of dominating the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and the world.

The Ayatollahs, on the one hand, and compromise, moderation, stability and peaceful-coexistence, on the other hand, constitute a classic oxymoron. Hence, a regime-change in Teheran is a prerequisite for reducing regional and global turbulence.

Moreover, while the opposition to the Ayatollahs is gaining ground, their ruthless regime, and the passivity of the West during the 2009 attempted uprising, precludes a peaceful transition of power.

Will the US leverage – or squander – the current offensive against ISIS, leveraging the tactical gain in order to score a strategic victory against the Ayatollahs?  Will the US preempt – or react to – the Ayatollahs’ access to nuclear capability? Will the US resurrect its independence of unilateral military action, highlighting its own national and homeland security considerations, or will the US sacrifice this on the altar of multilateralism, which yields the lowest common denominator of geostrategic effectiveness? Will the US and Israel follow a reality-based policy in removing the Ayatollahs threat, or will they be duped, and stalled, by a false linkage between the Ayatollahs and the Palestinian issue?

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This article was first published in “Israel Hayom,” July 7, 2017
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Author: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

Ambassador (Retired) Yoram Ettinger is an insider on US-Israel relations, Mideast politics and overseas investments in Israel's high tech. He is a consultant to members of the Israeli Cabinet and Knesset, and regularly briefs US legislators and their staff. His OpEds have been published in Israel and the US he has been interviewed in both Australia and the U.S. A graduate of UCLA and undergraduate at UTEP, he served amongst other things, as Minister for Congressional Affairs at Israel's Embassy in Washington. He is the editor of "Straight from the Jerusalem Cloakroom and Boardroom" newsletters on issues of national security and overseas investments in Israel's high-tech.

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