NEW YORK, March 27, 2008 - The Asia Society hosted a panel of experts to discuss the complex and often enigmatic relationship between Iran, Israel, and the United States. Moderated by Suzanne DiMaggio, director of the Asian Social Issues Program at the Asia Society, the panel traced the origins of tensions between Iran and the US, and between Israel and Iran, outlining the shifting perceptions held by each country as the region's balance of power has evolved over the past 50 years.
Trita Parsi discussed his book Treacherous Alliance—The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the US (Yale University Press, 2007), based on over 130 interviews with high-level officials in all three countries. He argued that Iran and Israel are not engaged simply in an ideological clash, but rather one with geostrategic roots, suggesting the conflict thus has the potential for solutions. Yet, diplomatic opportunities have been missed, according to Parsi, including a negotiating proposal floated by Iranian officials (but rejected by the US) in May 2003.
Walter Russell Mead explained the challenges the US faces in juggling the Sunni gulf states, Iran, and Israel, arguing that geostrategic conflicts can be as intractable as ideological ones. Daniel Levy highlighted several incidents that triggered the intensification of hostilities between Israel and Iran, notably the 1991 Madrid conference which excluded Iran, and more recently, the incendiary rhetoric by Iran's President Ahmadinejad. Looking to the future, Mr. Levy concluded that US credibility in the region is critical for stability, as a US unable to intimidate or inspire will ultimately undermine Israel's interests.
A highlight of the panel came when Levy and Parsi, responding to a question from the audience, discussed Iran's sizable Jewish population—its deep roots in Persian culture and history and its apparent lack of interest, across generations, in emigrating to Israel.
Listen to the excerpt: Iran's Jews (5 min., 50 sec.)
Listen on Demand (1 hr., 21 min.)