Bring Iran into the tent but not for containment

By Jin Liangxiang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 14, 2020
Adjust font size:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, on Aug. 31, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

On September 15, President Donald Trump will chair a ceremony inaugurating normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE in Washington, with leaders of the two countries being present. 

As noted by some observers, the Trump administration possibly believes that this arrangement will pave the way to build a peaceful alliance between Israel and Arab countries. This move might truly serve to contain Iran, but does not mean solution of the Iran problem.

As is well known, the Middle East has long been defined by words like turbulence, insecurity, instability and uncertainty. The absence of peace could be attributed in part to the lack of an inclusive security mechanism or structure in the region. 

Regional actors should be playing a decisive role in security issues via dialogue and negotiations within the mechanism, while external actors should push the various conflicting parties to solve disputes via dialogue instead of imposing solutions and arrangements, even though this is sometimes necessary.

Iran has long been defined in American academic and political discourse as a threat to regional security. The problem of Iran might truly exist as something objective as its growing strength and influence in the region that could be reasonably perceived as a kind of threat. Indeed, Iran does have a group of people keeping anti-American mentalities. 

However, the Iran problem could be more reasonably regarded as an outcome of the absence of an inclusive security framework in the region.

For many years, particularly during the post-Cold War years, the U.S. divided Middle Eastern countries into two categories, pro-American moderates and anti-American radicals. The moderates include the GCC countries – Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Palestine led by Palestinian Authority – while the radicals included Iran, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Qaddafi's Libya, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel is regarded as a special ally which sometimes is also called the 51st state of the U.S. 

Accordingly, the U.S. has taken the strategy of supporting the moderates and protecting Israel unconditionally while containing Iran and other radicals. And the U.S. was able to employ its own strategic resources along with those of the moderates to implement its containment policy.

It is true that for some time, this strategy has proved to be effective as the region remained relatively stable during the 1990s largely due to U.S. dominance. 

However, the problem of Iran and other called radicals have never been really solved. Instead, the sanctioning, punishing and confrontational nature of U.S. policy have even created strong dissatisfaction and even more hostility and even outright hatred among the so-called radicals, providing further seeds of instability.

Iran is a nation state with a population of 80 million and situated on the side of the chokepoint of the Hormuz Straits. Just imagine Iranian troops sitting on the other side of the Hormuz watching tankers carrying oil of its neighbors on the other side while its own oil cannot be exported due to unreasonable unilateral sanctions! 

The vulnerability of the strategy is self-evident particularly when the U.S. neither has sufficient resources to inject into the region nor enough to get deeply involved.

That might be the reasons why the U.S. and Gulf Monarchies perceive Iran's threat has been increasing rather than decreasing over the last decades and the reason why Iran has remained a threat to U.S. interests in the region for more than 40 years.

Suppose the U.S. had taken another approach, to put Iran in the tent, things could have evolved in the opposite direction. If the U.S. had not taken Iran as the target of its regional security governance, and if the U.S. had helped to establish a mechanism for dialogue with Iran as a part, the picture could have been different. The tensions between Iran and the U.S. and between Iran and Arab countries could be there, but would be less fierce. 

Worthy of mention is that Barack Obama's administration did create an opportunity to engage Iran. By negotiating a solution to the nuclear issue, Obama actually paved part of the road for future engagement with Iran and even for including Iran in the tent. 

Unfortunately, the Trump administration closed that door again by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and re-installing sanctions.

Building an alliance between Israel and Arab countries, as mentioned, is really something new as such alliance has never existed before, and might serve to keep pressure on Iran.

However, it cannot truly solve the perceived Iran threat as it follows the same old logic of perceiving Iran as the other side of the security story in the region, and of containing Iran as the way out. 

But as mentioned, if the U.S. really wants to reduce tensions in the region, it will have to work together with other major external powers to push for dialogue among regional actors and to build an inclusive mechanism with Iran in.

Jin Liangxiang is Senior Research Fellow with the Center for West Asian and African Studies, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

If you would like to contribute, please contact us at

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from