It is now widely accepted — and lamented — that US President Barack Obama failed dismally in his attempt to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Defeated by Israel's hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and by Israel's friends in the US — lobbyists, Congressmen and women, neo-conservatives, Christian Zionists, and assorted Arab-haters both inside and outside the administration — the president threw in the towel.
What is less well understood is that Obama was also defeated in another major area of foreign policy — relations with Iran. When he came to office he vowed to ‘engage' with the Islamic Republic, but this admirable objective was soon supplanted by a policy of threats, sanctions and intimidation aimed at isolating Iran, subverting its economy and overthrowing its regime.
Israel and its friends led the campaign against Iran, demonising it as a threat to all mankind, and forcing the US to follow suit. Israel has repeatedly, and very publicly, threatened to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, and has done its best to drag the US into war against it, in much the same way as pro-Israeli neo-conservatives — such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon — manipulated intelligence to push America into war against Iraq in 2003, with catastrophic consequences for the US.
Why did Wolfowitz and his friends do it? Because they feared that, having survived the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussain's Iraq might just possibly pose a threat to Israel. It had to be destroyed. Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister at the time, himself something of a Christian Zionist, was foolish enough to tag along. The war totally discredited him.
Having brushed the Iraqi fiasco under the carpet, Israel and its friends are now doing it again. In recent weeks there has been a flurry of reports that Israel was planning to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities this September — a bluff clearly intended to pressure the US into taking ever tougher measures against Iran so as to make it unnecessary for Israel to attack.
In addition to such a transparent propaganda ploy, Israel has in the past two years murdered a number of Iranian nuclear scientists — two were killed and one was seriously injured last year and a fourth was killed last month. Mossad has made murdering its enemies something of a speciality.
Apparently with American help, Israel has also sought to sabotage Iran's nuclear programme by introducing a virus, Stuxnet, and possibly other viruses, into its nuclear facilities. Not surprisingly, Tehran now views the US and its aggressive Israeli ally as one and the same enemy.
Assassinations and other acts of state terrorism are short-term expedients which usually end up being paid for dearly. Countries have long memories. Hate is not easily expunged.
Why has Netanyahu chosen to portray Iran's nuclear programme as the gravest threat to the survival of the Jewish people since Hitler? He must know that this is pure fantasy. Ehud Barack, his defence minister, has himself admitted that Iran poses no ‘existential threat' to Israel. With its own vast nuclear arsenal, Israel has ample means to deter any attack.
But a nuclear Iran — if it ever came to that — would indeed pose a different sort of challenge to Israel: it would not threaten its existence but it would curtail its freedom to strike its neighbours at will. Israel has always sought to prevent any of its neighbours acquiring a deterrent capability.
It wants to be the uncontested military power from Tehran to Casablanca. Hence the hysteria it has sought to generate over Iran's nuclear programme and over Hezbollah's rockets. How dare Israel's neighbours seek to defend themselves!
In recent weeks, the troubles in Syria have encouraged Israel and its friends to seek to disrupt, and if possible destroy, the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis which has challenged the regional hegemony of Israel and the US. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), part of the Israeli lobby in the US, has been particularly active in rousing opinion against all three members of the axis.
The US has already paid dearly — in men, treasure, and reputation — for its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It remains trapped in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre of war. It must surely know that there can be no settlement in Afghanistan without Iran's support.
But the relentless demonising of Iran goes on. Last week, David S. Cohen, undersecretary for Terrorism at the US Treasury — a job which seems reserved for pro-Israeli neo-cons to wage economic warfare against Tehran — made the excitable accusation that "Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world today".
Instead of such mendacious propaganda, the US would be better-advised to listen to Turkey and Brazil. Having approached Iran with respect and understanding, these two powers concluded a deal in May last year whereby most of Iran's low-enriched uranium would have been swapped for fuel for Tehran's research reactor.
Had the US conceded Iran's right to develop a peaceful nuclear programme, as allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the deal could have provided the basis for a global settlement.
Obama rashly dismissed this highly promising approach. Instead, yielding to his ill-intentioned advisers, he pressed for a new round of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. But by making an enemy of Iran, he has simply increased the bill the US will eventually have to pay — in Afghanistan, and no doubt in Iraq and elsewhere as well.
Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs.