By: Massoud Hedeshi
A great deal of drama has been recently evident in the global media portraying a “personal” rift between the US president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While it is apparent that racial undertones have accompanied the treatment of President Barack Obama since his election in 2008 both within the United States and among the Israeli population, the widening rift between the US and Israel has far more important reasons than Netanyahu’s irrational behavior, pervasive racism in Israel and the US, or even the two leaders’ claimed perceptions on Iran’s non-existent nuclear “threat”.
Back in the mid-1960s, Soviet-backed regimes in Syria, Iraq and Egypt were pitted as part of a Cold War standoff against America’s allies in the region. The Six-Day War in 1967 in particular saw a rise in Israel’s military utility for US interests in containing Syria and Egypt, both of which hosted Soviet naval bases.
Iran and Turkey were on board with the pro-US alliance, and played equally important roles in confronting Iraq and the Soviets. US dependence on, and control over the flow of cheap oil through the Persian Gulf was a strong driver for US interventions, and there was no talk of a ‘special relationship’ with Israel.
However, the US became Israel’s main military protector once France withdrew from this role in the aftermath of the 1967 conflict.
Israel played a crucial role for US’ Cold War interests in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and even more so following the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict. Since then, Israel has been the largest recipient of foreign aid in the world on a per capita basis, receiving around US$3 billion a year in official military ($1.8 billion) and economic aid ($1.2 billion) from the US alone over the past 30 years or so, and exceeding $121 billion since the establishment of the State of Israel. 
To put this figure in perspective, the amount of official aid provided by the US to each Israeli citizen (including its rising proportion of second class Arab citizens) has in recent years amounted to $360 per person per year.
In contrast, total US aid to the world hovered around $25 billion in 2012 , amounting to about $5 per person in recipient countries in that year. To give a more concrete example: Israeli citizens receive close to 10 times more aid from the US alone than Ethiopian citizens get from the whole donor community combined.
This exorbitant cost not just in terms of US taxpayer support for propping up the apartheid regime in Israel, but also in terms of frequent proxy wars and the damage to the US’ reputation in the world was deemed worthy by US leaders in the Cold War context and against the challenge to US power emanating from the Middle East region’s Soviet allies.
In stark contrast to the Cold War allegiances of various countries in the Middle East region, Iran’s insistence on an independent path following the revolution in 1979 presented a shock to the established global order. The Iranian revolution necessarily focussed on pushing back US influence in Iran, as the late Shah was largely seen by Iranians as a puppet of the Americans in a disconcerting alliance with the world’s only two apartheid regimes – in Israel and South Africa.
In a preemptive bid to avoid a repetition of the US’s Operation Ajax in 1953, when the US and UK engineered the fall of Iran’s popular prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh and returned the exiled Shah to rule over Iran (the second time he was placed on the throne by foreign powers), a group of revolutionary Iranian students stormed the US embassy in November 1979 and held its staff hostage for 444 days. Thus began a four-decade long enmity between the US and Iran.
At the same time, a strong fear of contagion among the despotic rulers of Iran’s neighboring Arab countries aligned them with the hegemonic tendencies of the US in a bid by both camps in the Cold War to defeat the Iranian revolution.
The opportunity presented itself in September 1980 when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, mistakenly believing that the weakness of Iran’s decimated military in the immediate aftermath of the revolution would make victory inevitable.
The eight-year war, however, resulted in the consolidation of the power of the Islamic revolutionary forces in Iran, and mass mobilization of the population, whose enormous sacrifices served to further justify their belief in the righteousness of their revolutionary bid for independence and non-alignment with the East or the West.
From the Iranian perspective, the fact that Saddam Hussein was militarily and financially supported by the West, the Soviets, and all but Syria and Lebanon among the Arab states, was further proof of the need for defending Iran’s independence and pride in the world. This “unholy” international alliance against Iran’s choice to be “neither Eastern, nor Western, but Islamic Republican” effectively aligned most Iranians behind their revolutionary leadership and resulted in a successful defense of the integrity of the country by the time the war was ended in 1988.
The war period can be viewed as a costly test of Iran’s stability and viability as a modern nation state – an imposed, deadly challenge that was eventually overcome by the nation at a very high cost.
Unlike Iran, the majority of the region’s modern Arab states as well as Israel/Palestine, and, to a lesser extent, Turkey have had their borders determined by foreign colonial powers, a simple fact that can be readily witnessed by the unnaturally straight lines on most of these countries’ maps.
Human history teaches us that no border is permanently fixed. History also teaches us that Iran should be viewed as the pivotal and most durable power in the Middle East region.
From the Iranian perspective, it is not just the regional states that are the new kids on the block, but so are their colonial masters that drew up their borders. Such powers come and go in time, be they Greek, Roman, Arab, Mongol, Ottoman, British, Russian or American.
The last time the Persians invaded another country, the US had not even come into existence. Iran left her empire-building ambitions behind a long time ago, and instead opted for peaceful coexistence with her neighbors.
It is therefore with no small measure of comical astonishment to the average Iranian to hear an American politician refer to Iran as some kind of a threat to Iran’s own region when American military bases with hundreds of thousands of American troops and untold numbers of deadly weapons of mass destruction are physically encircling Iran, 10,000 miles away from their own home, and having wreaked havoc, death and destruction not just in Iran’s neighborhood but all across the globe since the end of World War II.
To the average Iranian, it is simply ludicrous to note that the country with the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons tries to lecture others about the evils of proliferating such weapons. Nuclear proliferators such as Israel and the US in particular appear to have no appreciation of the need for integrity in their policy positions. Legitimacy has become a dirty word in today’s international relations.
Regardless, and despite the Ukrainian crisis, the Cold War is over in the Middle East. Russia today, with a population of 146 million, is not the Soviet Union of yesterday that had around 300 million inhabitants in 1991, and it has no capacity to impose its will on countries in the Middle East. Russia has no imperative to block NATO’s expansion in the Middle East in the way it does in Ukraine, as Turkey is already a member of NATO.
Furthermore, the US’s violent addiction to Middle Eastern oil has declined significantly with a steady rise in its domestic production of oil and gas in recent years. Added to this is America’s costly military failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Libya and Syria, and the chaos and destruction that US interventionism has brought to the Middle East with no discernible benefits.
And then there is the rise of China, and what American imperialism describes as “a need to pivot to Asia”.
In this context, the Obama-Netanyahu drama is no more than a sideshow to a greater reality: apartheid Israel has passed its sell-by date, as the US perceives a strategic need to withdraw from the region. An aid-dependent Israel is in no position to replace America’s security role in the region. Israel is in fact seriously concerned about its own failure to establish a stable, economically viable and secure state after seven decades of war and enmity with its neighbors.
It is therefore of no surprise to witness a long and arduous process of negotiations between the US and Iran at this juncture. Contrary to the stated aims, these talks are not about nuclear weapons. In fact, the intelligence services’ estimates of both the US and Israel have for some years clearly stated that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful.
Unless one is to believe that American and other big-power leaders are sitting down for years on end with their Iranian counterparts to discuss a non-existent issue, the talks must be really about wider issues. In brief, they are about recognizing Iran’s power and standing in the region, and coming to an agreement on Iran’s role in the security of the region, as a non-aligned, independent power.
Iran’s apparent confidence in these talks is based on the knowledge that it is the US and its allies that need to come to terms with reality, as they have dug themselves into an irrational and perpetual war quagmire that has brought them to the brink of bankruptcy, and backfired at home with regular “terror” attacks with no end or solutions in sight.
Their main problem is not so much with recognizing Iran’s standing in the region. Rather, they do not know how to save face against their own populations, which have been subjugated to their leaders’ fear-mongering and lies about Iran’s intentions for so long.
Moreover, in a world that has for so long been dominated by the imperial hubris of a few, acceptance of a truly non-aligned state is hard to swallow, as Iran could become a model for other nations aspiring for genuine independence based on a home-grown system of governance.
Until an agreement is reached, we will have to continue to be bewildered by the preposterous theatrics of the likes of Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and various assortments of absurd American politicians singing and dancing on camera to the tune of war, and making a mockery of international law and order and the long-forgotten Charter of the UN.
Let us hope that rationality will prevail.
Massoud Hedeshi is an analyst and a freelance consultant with 20 years of work experience in the development aid business.