Much of the US will not view Tehran as being a country that it can do business with until it renounces the hostage incident and other similar behaviors that violate Western norms.
There is no horizon for ending hostility between the Islamic Republic on one side and the US and Israel on the other.
One would think the US’s greatest hostility would be for a country that killed 58,000 of its soldiers and that Israel’s greatest hostility would be for a country that killed more than 2,500 of its soldiers in a single war.
But 40 years after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis, the Islamic Republic appears to have the most hostile relations with the US and Israel, as opposed to Vietnam and Egypt. Rather, the two latter countries have achieved solid peaceful relations with the US and Israel, respectively, despite the history of traumatic wars.
In contrast, Iran has fought no general wars with either the US or Israel and shares no borders with either country.
The hostility between the countries is then far more ideological.
It is due to specific events that have penetrated deep into the national psyche and also broad opposing interests that preserve a state of conflict as opposed to Vietnam and Egypt, which reached peaceful relations once particular disputes were resolved.
Framing the relations between the three countries were the close relations between the shah of Iran with the US and Israel.
The CIA even overthrew Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1958 to maintain the rule of the shah.
While Israel did not play such an active role in propping up the shah, it had close relations with him as part of David Ben-Gurion’s strategy of making non-Arab Middle East allies to balance against the Middle East Arab threats.
Ironically, 40 years later, it is Iran that is the lasting threat against Israel as many of the moderate Sunni Arab countries are trying to find ways to live a stable coexistence with Israel, even if there is not yet formal peace with some of them.
It is possible that Iran would have hated the US and Israel in any scenario as the Great Satan of secularism in the West and the Little Satan of bringing secularism/non-Islam into the Middle East.
But the fact that Iran Revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini viewed the US and Israel as in league with and propping up the hated secular shah definitely aggravated relations from the start.
For Iran, its decision to break into the US Embassy and hold 50 US diplomats and guards hostage for 444 days – violating the most basic rules of Western civilization of immunity for diplomatic missions – was its way of spitting on the West’s secular order and rules that it believed were used to enslave it.
IN CONTRAST, Egypt and Vietnam’s opposition to Israel and the US, even with some ideological components, eventually was mostly related to removing Israeli and US troops from their territory, and was not a founding part of their identity.
Iran also has sought to export its revolution from day one to create a wider Shi’ite caliphate, whereas Egypt and Vietnam’s ambitions were generally more limited (even by the Yom Kippur War, there is strong evidence that Egypt’s war aims were limited to the Sinai.)
Much of the US will not view Tehran as being a country that it can do business with until it renounces the hostage incident (which it will celebrate this week as a major achievement) and other similar behaviors that violate Western norms (piracy against US-allies oil tankers.)
Another complication is the distrust that emerges from Iran being run as a theocracy.
Nine countries in the world, including Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea, possess nuclear weapons.
At times, the US and Israel have viewed all of those four listed countries and their nuclear weapons with suspicion.
But no one took the trouble to preemptive strike their nuclear facilities to block them from getting a nuclear weapon as Israel would be expected to do if the Islamic Republic got close.
Despite Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying he issued a religious prohibition on nuclear weapons as being un-Islamic, Israel and the US are more worried about Iran using nuclear weapons than the above countries because its Islamic zeal is viewed as anti-rational.
While some of Israel’s enemies talk about wanting to re-conquer specific areas from Israel, Iran simply wants to “wipe it off the map” – as its various leaders have said over the years. This makes the nuclear weapons conversation far more serious.
Under the Obama administration, there was a brief attempt to find some middle ground with Iran, but that ended mid-way through US President Donald Trump’s tenure.
One could blame the Trump administration for pulling out of the nuclear deal, or blame Tehran for taking every opportunity to sabotage the spirit of the deal and to try to use the deal as leverage for more expansive aggressive behaviors in the region.
Regardless of who is to blame, the enmity between the countries to date has overcome any attempts to bridge the gaps between them and to lower the flames on the nuclear standoff.
Also, whereas Russia, China and Pakistan certainly interfere with some of their neighboring countries’ stability, Iran’s proselytizing to export its Islamic ideology is viewed as a greater and more anti-rational threat.
Finally, Iran’s theocracy lends the whole country to be more willing to entertain or at least to propagate conspiracy theories.
In the last few days, Iranian officials have argued the laughable ideas that the US is responsible for the protests in Iraq, Lebanon and even for helping create ISIS.
This may be the most lasting reason for the continued hostility between Iran and the US and Israel.
Iran’s wounds of the past, both real and perceived, are simply too deep to achieve rational policies aimed at greater stability. Until a new generation rises that moves beyond those wounds and beyond the goal of regional hegemony, there is no reason to expect the hostility will have gone down when the Islamic Revolution is marked in future decades.