We're posting new material at GoingToTehran.com. Please join us there.

The Race for Iran


National Security Adviser James Jones was the headline speaker at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s 25th-anniversary gala dinner in Washington last night.  Substantively, General Jones’ speech focused on “two defining challenges” confronting the United States and its allies in the region: 

“preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, and forging a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians as part of a comprehensive peace in the region.” 

Unsurprisingly, Jones drew a specific relationship between these two challenges, explicitly linking progress in brokering negotiated settlements on the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian tracks and improved chances for successfully containing Iran:        

“One of the ways that Iran exerts influence in the Middle East is by exploiting the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.  Iran uses the conflict to keep others in the region on the defensive and to try to limit its own isolation.  Ending this conflict, achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians and establishing a sovereign Palestinian state would therefore take such an evocative issue away from Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas.  It would allow our partners in the region to focus on building their states and institutions.  And peace between Israel and Syria, if it is possible, could have a transformative effect on the region.  Since taking office, President Obama has pursued a two-state solution—a secure, Jewish state of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a viable and independent Palestinian states.  This is in the United States’ interest.  It is in Israel’s interest.  It is in the Palestinians’ interest.  It is in the interest of the Arab countries, and, indeed, the world.  Advancing this peace would also help prevent Iran from cynically shifting attention away from its failures to meet its obligations.” 

In strategic terms, belief in this particular kind of linkage—that, by pushing on Arab-Israeli peacemaking, the United States can marginalize and contain the Islamic Republic and its regional allies—is the equivalent of believing that the earth is flat:  both ideas are wrong and stand in the way of real progress.  But Arab-Israeli peace should be pursued on its own merits—not as part of a futile effort to diminish a pivotal state in the region—and with a realistic assessment of what it will take to broker regional peace. 

In response to General Jones’ remarks, we want to highlight three of our recent pieces, “Getting the Iran-Palestine Connection Wrong”, “Syria Is Emerging as Important Player in the ‘Race for Iran’”, and “Syria’s Strategic Ties to the Islamic Republic: Diplomacy in the Post-Iraq/Post Peace Process Middle East”.  We believe that these pieces provide a much more accurate picture of the Middle East’s strategic dynamics and a better guide for policymaking by the United States.  Three points deserve special emphasis: 

–First, it is simply not possible today—if it ever were possible at some point in the past—to achieve Israeli-Palestinian or Arab-Israeli peace in a manner that excludes and marginalizes the Islamic Republic and its regional allies.  HAMAS and Hizballah have become indispensable political players in their respective national and regional contexts.  For multiple reasons, the United States cannot get sustained peace agreements on the Palestinian and Syrian tracks without their buy in.  And that means the Islamic Republic is bound to be at least an indirect party to any serious Middle East peace process.        

–Second, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants better relations with the United States and a peace settlement with Israel that meets well-established Syrian red lines.  But, as President Assad made clear to us and has repeated publicly, Syria’s relations with Iran, Hizballah, and HAMAS “are not on the table”.  That is why Assad has, since late 2008, adopted a position on Arab-Israeli diplomacy emphasizing the need for a “comprehensive” Arab-Israeli settlement, encompassing the Palestinian track along with the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, and with HAMAS playing a central role on the Palestinian side.  In this regard, Assad underscores that he can play a critical role in bringing HAMAS and other “rejectionist” groups into a truly comprehensive regional settlement—a settlement that would also normalize Iran’s standing as an important regional player.  (And, as senior figures in HAMAS have pointed out to us, if the United States and others do not deal with them, in a relatively short period of time we may be dealing with much more radicalized set of actors on the ground in Gaza and, perhaps, elsewhere.)

–Third, the Obama administration continues to buy into a Bush-era delusion: that concern about a rising Iranian threat could unite Israel and moderate Arab states in a grand alliance under Washington’s leadership. In reality, the prospect of strategic cooperation with Israel is profoundly unpopular with Arab publics.  Even moderate Arab regimes cannot sustain such cooperation.  Pursuit of an Israeli-moderate Arab coalition united to contain Iran is not only delusional, it will continue to leave the Palestinian and Syrian-Lebanese tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict unresolved and prospects for their resolution in free fall—as these tracks cannot be resolved without meaningful American interaction with Iran and its regional allies, HAMAS and Hizballah.

Reflecting the politically convenient paradigm that currently prevails in the Administration he serves, General Jones continues to draw the wrong relationship between Iran and Arab-Israeli peacemaking.  In reality, the relationship between Iran and Arab-Israeli peacemaking runs in exactly the opposite direction from that described by General Jones:  today, one of the reasons that the United States needs a better and more productive relationship with the Islamic Republic is that it will be impossible to achieve Arab-Israeli peace without U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.

Is there a strategist in the (White) House? 

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett



  1. James Canning says:


    That James Jones served under that idiot Paul Wolfowitz is a fact well worth keeping in mind. Richard Perle and Wolfowitz have advised Netanyahu on ways and means of duping the American public so that Israel can keep the Golan Heights and the West Bank, relying on the American taxpayers to foot the bill. Is a hundred billion dollars per year a fair guesstimate of the cost to the US of “protecting” Israel (meaning, enabling continuing insane oppression of the Palestinians)?

  2. James Canning says:


    Interesting points. No question, many Americans were highly excited to see the devastation unleashed on Iraq in the opening days of the insane Bush administration adventure. Did Kissinger suggest there were elements of blood lust at work? He talked to Charlie Rose about the need many Americans felt to wreak revenge on someone, for “9/11”, even if they had nothing to do with the terror attacks that day. Katie Couric shouted on camera about how “We’re all nocons now!”! What total stupidity.

  3. R.d. says:

    James Canning says:
    that the US military is highly effective. Vastly expensive to the point of utter lunacy, yes, but highly effective, most definitely not.

    James, your statement is “generally” accurate, however, not for those innocent people who end up killed, injured, refugee, etc. The atomic bobs on Japan in wwii were not just a message to the Japanese, they were as just a message to the soviets, we have them and we’ll use them.

    The war on iraq and else where is also sending the message we’ll use our guns. Though there are always un-intended consequences, at this point the sum of those consequences have not created enough pain/concern for those lunatics who promote them.

    so long as their bets are covered the expense to the public in general is not much of an issue, unless the saner voices can counterbalance (i.e. jack Kennedy and the missile crises).

  4. Shabnam says:

    Jones where are you?

    “I am saying one thing. There will be no freeze in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu declared, adding that he considered any precondition for peace talks to be unacceptable.

    You and your president are NOTHING but a zionist puppet. Then the whole world tells you either act now or get lost.


  5. kooshy says:

    Liz thank you for the fantastic link, to Christopher Dowd rebuttal to NYT editorial specially these parts

    “Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd should have been released long ago. It now seems that Iran’s mullah-led government has made them pawns in the political chess game with the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program. That’s unconscionable.

    Really? That’s “unconscionable?” Really? Never mind that the US government held 5 Iranian diplomats for 2 1/2 years with no charges of any sort with even the Iraqi and Kurdish regional governments demanding their release. The Times thinks that Iran, surrounded by US armies and armadas and threatened on a near daily basis with attack “options” which include the nuclear option, is acting irrationally here in holding three American “Hikers” for going on 9 months now? And let’s not forget that the US is a country whose major politicians speak routinely of funding covert ops in Iran to destabilize its government. Nope- Iran is being a bad freedom hating country here in holding these poor Americans for no logical or rational reason! But that doesn’t even begin to fathom the bottom of the hypocrisy barrel in this editorial.

    Iran using Americans as pawns in a political “chess game”? Why don’t I think the Iranians see their predicament with the US to be a “game”? Oh right- cause unlike the Time’s editorial writers and virtually all Americans- a war with the US will be fought on their soil and it won’t be a “game” for them. Unlike our political elite- war has consequences for Iran’s leaders. It isn’t a sick pastime for them like it is for our leaders. It is life and death for millions of their citizens.”

    “The scariest thing about this editorial is that foreigners will read this- foreign intelligence political analysts will read this editorial and pretty much conclude the same thing I have here- we are ruled by an elite that is utterly incapable of introspection of any serious sort and that somehow actually thinks it still has the moral high ground to lecture other countries on human rights and due process.”


  6. James Canning says:


    Interesting article by Zachar Karabell. However, I do not agree with his contention that the US military is highly effective. Vastly expensive to the point of utter lunacy, yes, but hightly effective, most definitely not.

    I also question Karabell’s contention that “9/11” brought foreign policy back to the fore. What “9/11” accomplished was to frighten the American public so that warmongers hoping for colossal profits from re-engagement of the war machine, got untracked. And the US squandered well over $ 1 trillion. The war hysteria was also useful for the neocons hoping to secure permanent oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis, with the gigantic costs of the idtiotic scheme footed by the ignorant American taxpayers.

  7. James Canning says:

    Does anyone know why the new US amabassador to Syria is saying so little? I very much agree with the Leveretts that Bashar al-Assad is available to help the US work toward preserving peace in the Middle East. Foolish neocons in the Bush administration labored to block a deal between Syria and Israel. Elliott Abrams suffers from the delusion American military power can enable Israel to keep the Golan Heights.

  8. James Canning says:

    I continue to be astonished that James Jones could say, to Winep, that there may be a way never to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict! If this is not abject stupidity, what is it? Does Jones think the problem of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians would no longer be relevant to the global community, if Hamas and Hezbollah lose support from Iran? Even if Iran did not give a fig for justice for the Palestinians, the problem would persist. If Jones does not grasp that fact, we are in real trouble.

  9. Castellio says:

    Alan rightly points to the phenomenon that “the US uses pressure on Iran to extract concessions from Israel”, all the while deluding themselves that this is a clever way to hit two birds with one stone.

    What it really does, however, is continue the demonization of Iran, which in itself gives added cover for the on-going displacement and extermination of Palestine.

    But its a winning strategy within American domestic politics, and ethics / international relations be damned. America continues to push for a long war.

  10. R.d. says:

    Obama Needs a Reset Button on His Own Foreign-Policy Machine: The U.S. president may be a 21st-century leader, but his government is still stuck in the Cold War – Zachary Karabell, Foreign Policy:


    It is ironic to see this cancer (US F.P.) turning terminal despite the voices raising red flags. It resembles a train wreck with no conductor on board.

  11. Rehmat says:

    Iranians don’t hate Israelis because they’re Jewish – as Iranians (Persians) always have Jewish communities among them. They even had one Jewish Queen (ESther). Currently, Iran is home to largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside Occupied Palestine. Iranian and their leaders are against Zionist-regime which they, like many in other countries, believes and righfully that – is a western colonial outpost to keep the Muslim heartland unstable and bloody.

    Dr. Ahmadinejad has never called for the destruction of Israel as a country or the expulsion of foreign Jew settlers from Palestine. It was the distorted translation of his speech by Israeli MEMPRI which has been repeated by Zionists for the last five years.

    Iranian journey: From an ally to Israel’s Enemy No.1

  12. Alan says:

    I suppose it is possible to achieve an I/P peace before rapprochement with Iran insofar as neither Hizballah nor Hamas will stand in the way of a just settlement for the Palestinians. In reality, it is probably only Hamas who can deliver a just settlement at the moment. Obama has made overtures to Hamas in the past, yet seems to have been instrumental in upsetting a Fatah/Hamas reconciliation last year. His actions now on that front will inform much of what happens next.

    The truth is, as we all know, the Iran and Palestine issues are separate and distinct. I believe it is less the material support Iran provides, it is much more their willingness to stand up for the rights of the Palestinians that wins them so many plaudits, something Erdogan has learnt over the last year or so. After all, the Saudis provide much more material support to Hamas but offer practically no political support and are derided as US/Israeli stooges.

    It all means little or nothing of course – Israel will kill anything before it sees the light of day. Therein lies the real risk to getting this wrong – that the US uses pressure on Iran to extract concessions from Israel. Both arenas will end up in a downward spiral if Obama tries this.

    Jim Jones himself once conceded that the US do not trust Israel one inch. Surely he can’t think otherwise now?

  13. Liz says:

    It is the US that’s cynical, not the Islamic Republic. Reading this will help some understand why Iranians show such contempt for the Israeli regime:


  14. kooshy says:

    I can imagine mid level bureaucrats in State Department here, and the Ministry of foreign affairs there, who are in charge of reading and monitoring this blog, are frustratingly shaking their heads, damn if it wasn’t for those spoiler Israelis and Palestinians we could have had our fiesta now.

  15. Shabnam says:

    {One of the ways that Iran exerts influence in the Middle East is by exploiting the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. Iran uses the conflict to keep others in the region on the defensive and to try to limit its own isolation.}

    Good, you know how to solve the problem. Then, why don’t you act immediately to solve it? You should honor resolution 242 right away. Are you going to pressure Israel, same way as you pressure Iran, to honor resolution 242 for creation of a viable Palestinian state? Furthermore, Israel must return occupied land in Golan height to Syria. Are you ready to pressure Israel to do it as soon as possible?
    We have seen no pressure from Obama or you on Israelis to stop illegal building of the settlement. So far, we have seen no pressure from Obama on Netanyahu to join the NPT. We have seen no pressure on Israelis to allow the UN inspectors to visit and inspect Israel’s bomb making facilities. We are witness to new cases of targeted assassination of Palestinians, Iranians by Israel. There is no pressure on Israel to stop killing Palestinians. We have seen no pressure on settlement building in the West Bank, East Jerusalem. Are you going to continue the status quo? Israel must leave the occupied Golan height as well. Are you going to go after Israel? People have no respect for the status quo and do not want to waste their time by listening to more nonsense like in the past.

  16. Sakineh Bagoom says:

    It is clear that Obama administration lacks a clear strategy vis-à-vis Iran.
    Putting a general in front of an Israel-First Zionist club, WINEP, to grovel and to thank them for letting him speak, so that he can conflate all the problems in the world with Iran is a joke. He touched on all the AIPAC’s TPM.
    I hear the Madagascar lemurs are pooping blue. It must be Iranians’ fault.
    Speaking of lemurs, aren’t we getting closer to the edge of that steep cliff waiting to jump off?

  17. Pirouz says:

    Is there a strategist in the (White) House?

    Yes there is! The strategy is forever Israel first. Any other interest be damned for getting in the way.

  18. Fiorangela Leone says:

    has no one in the Obama administration researched the Annapolis Conference, figured out why it achieved nothing, and made the commitment not to repeat the failures? The focal point of the Annapolis conference was, “How shall we marginalize Iran and exclude Hamas and call it making peace between Israel and Palestine?”

    It didn’t work then. Why would it work now?

  19. Eric A. Brill says:


    Good post.

    “Michele A. Flournoy, the Undersecretary of Defense during a press briefing in Singapore a few days ago said: ‘Military force is an option (against Iran) of last resort. It is off the table in the near term. Right now the focus is on a combination of engagement and pressure in the form of sanctions.'”

    Substitute “Iraq” for “Iran,” wind back the clock eight years, and one might accuse Ms. Flournoy of verbal plagiarism.

  20. Rehmat says:

    Isn’t it what one would call “The pot calling the tea cozy black!”

    Gen. James L. Jones, who served earlier under ‘Israel-Firster’ deputy defense secretary Paul D. wolfowitz – called upon the Arab puppet rulers to show the courage of Anwar Sadat (Egypt) and King Hussein (Jordan) and make peace with Zionist entity in order to “stop Iran cynically using the conflict to deflect attention from its nuclear program”. Earlier, Jones had told the Zionist think tank, Washington Institute for Near East Policy: “Everyone must know that there is no space – no space – between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. It is as strong as ever”.

    Michele A. Flournoy, the Undersecretary of Defense during a press briefing in Singapore a few days ago said: “Military force is an option (against Iran) of last resort. It is off the table in the near term. Right now the focus is on a combination of engagement and pressure in the form of sanctions. We have not seen Iran productively in response”. Michele A. Flournoy is a member of the powerful Zionist think tanks the CFR and an affiliate of the Center for a New American Security (CNAC).


  21. Eric A. Brill says:


    “Let’s remember that the neocons thought taking out Saddam Hussein would greatly diminish pressure on Israel to stop oppressing the Palestinians.”

    Exactly. They not only thought that, but they were correct.

  22. James Canning says:


    Good points. Let’s remember that the neocons thought taking out Saddam Hussein would greatly diminish pressure on Israel to stop oppressing the Palestinians.

    Obama’s advisers need to grasp the fact Israel must get out of the Golan Heights and the West Bank. Period. And stop dreaming of a magic solution involving taking out other governments etc.

  23. Eric A. Brill says:


    “Is James Jones a shameless liar, as well as a person lacking common sense in thinking about how to deal with the problems of the Middle East?”

    Despite my facetious reply, my sense is that Jones really would like to settle the Arab/Israeli problem, and that that indeed is his principal objective in linking that conflict with Iran.

    But, while Jones’ intentions may be honorable, establishing the linkage nonetheless creates a danger that others with less noble motives may be only too happy to highlight and exploit: the perceived need to settle one or the other of those “problems,” since each problem worsens its “linked” problem and, therefore, the solution of either problem will make the other one disappear entirely or at least become much less serious. It follows that, if the Arab/Israeli conflict can’t be settled (and what do you suppose the view of these “link-exploiters” is on that question?), then which problem does that leave, and how might they suggest the US solve it?

    In short, much though it might distress (not) these “link-exploiters” to urge the US to attack Iran, that is a sacrifice they might bring themselves to make for the greater good of solving the Arab/Israeli conflict. Nobel Peace Prize short list, for sure, and all at the bargain-basement price of a few large bombs dropped on a country they and their friends don’t much like in the first place.

    Cynical? Reasonable?

  24. James Canning says:

    Is James Jones a shameless liar, as well as a person lacking common sense in thinking about how to deal with the problems of the Middle East?

    The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia was in Washington recently, telling the thick-skulled Obama people that the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians was the greatest threat to peace in the Middle East. Not Iran. Repeat, for James Jones’s benefit: NOT IRAN.

  25. James Canning says:


    Great post. And truly alarming. One might add here, that Jones was addressing an offshoot of Aipac, and we know Aipac stooges in the US Congress number in the hundreds.

  26. James Canning says:

    So, James Jones shows himself to be as deficient in strategic thinking capability, as Hillary Clinton, Dennis Ross and Bob Gates!

    Condoleezza Rice had zero strategic thinking ability, when she was selected by G W Bush to serve as his National Security Adviser. Cripes! And she knew next to nothing about the Middle East.

  27. Eric A. Brill says:

    Jones said:

    “One of the ways that Iran exerts influence in the Middle East is by exploiting the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. … Ending this conflict, achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians and establishing a sovereign Palestinian state would therefore take such an evocative issue away from Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas.”

    The last part of Jones’ remark somehow got clipped. I think it went something like this:

    “Of course, another way of taking this evocative issue away from Iran, Hizballah and Hamas would be simply to bomb Iran back to the Stone Age. I am not suggesting, of course, that the US would prefer this solution, but it is worth noting that it would also eliminate the need ever to settle the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, since the Arabs and Israelis would barely notice they even have a conflict if it weren’t for those darned Iranians always stirring the pot.”