Iran has vowed to destroy Israel when it finally obtains nuclear weapons. Israel is threatening to attack Iran to keep it from getting nuclear weapons. The United States, while trying to restrain Israel, is working assiduously, if not productively, to delay or destroy Iran's nuclear enterprise.
Even for the war-torn Middle East, this is hot stuff, and George Crist suggests it won't end well.
"Unfortunately, neither side (the U.S. and Iran) has much desire to work to bridge their differences. Distrust permeates the relationship. Three decades of twilight war have hardened both sides. ... Soon it may no longer be twilight; the light is dimming, and night may well be approaching at long last," he writes in "The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran."
In other words, Crist is forecasting war and suggests that it will be the culmination of decades of public and private strife involving the two nations.
With conflict in the Middle East regularly in the news, Crist's exhaustive account is an especially timely and highly informative history of the events that have kept Iran constantly on the U.S. radar screen since the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Six presidents have struggled since then with the question of how to deal with Iran, and none has found the answer.
It might be hard for some people to remember, but the United States and Iran once were close allies. That was when the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, installed as the country's ruler during a U.S.-assisted overthrow of the government in 1953, led the country. A despotic ruler, the shah was overthrown in the Islamic revolution of 1979.
It was during the ouster of the shah that Islamic revolutionaries stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, a gross violation of international law, and held the Americans inside as prisoners for more than a year.
America's relationship with Iran has never recovered from that breach of faith, even though each side has tried from time to time to smooth out the differences.
The lot of the people of Iran is not a happy one. They replaced one despot, a secular Muslim who was in some ways quite liberal, with an even more ruthless group of religious zealots who deal with dissenters by killing them. Iran today is a much more grim and oppressive country than it was under the shah, with women particularly bearing the brunt of a religion-based authoritarianism.
That is the story Crist tells in "The Twilight War." Most Americans are familiar with the highlights — the kidnappings and killings of Americans that were sponsored by Iran, the Iran-backed bombing that killed more than 200 Marines in Lebanon, the showdowns in the Strait of Hormuz between U.S. Navy ships and Iranian ships, planes and speedboats. Shots have been fired on many occasions, but the incidents have never developed into a full-scale war.
In response to Iran's provocations, the U.S. has repeatedly sought to undermine the current government, even as it searched for, sometimes with disastrous consequences, the apparently nonexistent moderates who want to bring Iran back into the world community.
Today, Iran remains isolated, paralyzed by international economic sanctions that are destroying its economy as an inducement to the mullahs to abandon their goal of obtaining a nuclear bomb.
Although many of its efforts to strike at the U.S. have been nothing more than irritants, Iran has exacted a high price from this country on a number of occasions.
Iranian con men made fools of high-ranking officials in the Reagan administration in a series of events that became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. The affair was rooted in efforts by Reaganites to work with Iranian moderates to ease tensions between the two nations and free a number of American kidnapping victims. In the end, the U.S. traded weapons to Iran for promises to release prisoners that were mostly unfulfilled.
The political scandal of trading weapons for hostages and the subsequent funneling of money Iran paid for the weapons to the Contras fighting in Nicaragua was the biggest political disaster of Ronald Reagan's eight years in office.
Crist tells many complicated tales, like those of Iran-Contra or the U.S. attacks on Iranian facilities in Operation Preying Mantis, through the eyes and actions of the participants and the reams of documentation they generated.
His interviews with high-ranking military officers, top diplomats and even the soldiers on the ground outline the policy discord about Iran that existed within a series of presidential administrations. The story is less well told from the Iranian perspective — but not because Crist wasn't trying. He interviews numerous foreign sources, including Iranian actors, to document their point of view.
The bottom line is this: Iran wants to drive the U.S. out of the Middle East and has waged a political and military campaign to achieve that goal. The U.S. sees many vital national security interests at play, particularly with respect to international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, and will not allow itself to be pushed out.
Meanwhile, other Middle East countries, terrified of an all-powerful Iran, profess neutrality publicly but wish privately for the U.S. to destroy Iran. Those feelings are now magnified as Iran closes in on acquiring the bomb.
But it's a complicated tale. Deceit and treachery are the most-used tools by the leaders of governments in the Middle East, a disreputable collection of dictators who retain power by fighting off other would-be dictators.
One gets the feeling at the end that this is a conflict that cannot be bridged peacefully because too much has gone before. The leaders of Iran's dictatorial government remember all too well the close relationship the U.S. maintained with the shah. U.S. leaders feel similarly aggrieved.
Sometimes all that's left to do is fight over unresolved differences. Crist does a great job of explaining how the U.S. and Iran might be reaching that point.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 351-5369.