Iran Replacing Soviet Union as Middle East Power Broker?

by Dan Ehrlich

Big power meddling in the region may be just another Obstacle in the way of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

The US has been trying to get as many nations as possible lined up for even tougher sanctions against Iran in light of that country’s accelerated nuclear enrichment program. But, in the past, such action has been shown to be ineffective when dealing with fanatical regimes, i.e., North Korea and Iraq. And now a new dimension seems to be appearing as Iran reportedly nears critical mass with its first operational reactor.

Results of a new Poll conducted by Zogby and the University of Maryland taken in Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates suggests the popular view in region is shifting toward a positive perception of Iran's nuclear program. The main reason for this is the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one they see never being resolved. But, it may also be a new reality among Arabs as to the future of Iran and how they might use this reality to their advantage.

The Arab governments, one one hand realize the ineffective nature of some sanctions, and on the other, they see the continuing close bond between the US and Israel. So, through the Arab League, they are pushing for closer relations with Iran, which might be seen as a snub to America. One could say, Iran is now seen as a replacement for the Soviet Union in the region, a counter-balance to the US.

If so, this is simply the often used Arab practice of going where the power lies, aimed at putting more pressure on the US to put more pressure on Israel.

In this way it can be argued the biggest roadblock in the way of Israeli-Palestinian talks isn’t the Israeli leadership or the Palestinians. It’s the United States…a nation beset by a self interested and na├»ve view of world affairs.

From Vietnam to Afghanistan foreign policy has not been a highpoint of American political life. US leaders have looked at these issues through American eyes, American interests and American sensibilities. The idea of trying to impress our ideals and even our lifestyles on developing nations has generally been one disaster after another that have cost us more than 60,000 American lives and upwards of 2.5 million people we were trying to save from “evil regimes.” This has partly been because our politicians continually play to the home crowd and Wall Street instead of being sensitive to the nations in question and the realities of why we’re engaged there.

For example, three of last four secretaries of state have been women. But no matter how well qualified, as they all have been, can we be sure they have been effective in dealing with an institutionalized male chauvinistic Islamic world that extends, in some areas, as far as misogyny? While they may have gained rave reviews at home, what do leaders, largely from a different planet than PC USA, think about them? And more importantly, do they take them seriously? This apparently isn’t a concern when making political capital in America.

The latest debacle is the Obama Administration’s soured relations with Israel’s conservative government. This is based on what the US views as a low blow against its plans for peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel. They key words here are “its plans.”

Any sovereign nation has a right to negotiate as it sees fit with its neighbors on the basis of its own interests and security concerns. While America is Israel’s benefactor, it isn’t in the front line of this conflict and doesn’t have the concerns and issues Israel has.

Israel is a Middle East nation largely populated by people proven to be genetically similar to Arabs…Semites. Israelis have learned, through the school of hard knocks, how to deal with their hostile cousins in what has been, since 1948, a life and death struggle. On the other hand, the Arabs, unable to militarily defeat Israel, have learned how to deal with the Israelis….through surrogates, the Palestinians, enacting pressure on the West, Israel’s main benefactor. This has kept the conflict simmering for decades. And, the emergence of a militant nuclear Iran only makes a bad situation worse.

From the mid 1960 onward, the localized Arab-Israeli conflict became an arena for superpower posturing. It was the US vs. Russia. But, with the demise of the Soviet Union, the Arab states turned to their Palestinian surrogates to enact even greater pressure on the West. This was spurred on by a burgeoning refugee population in Lebanon and Gaza….a growing population that still hasn’t been allowed to leave and resettle in Arab lands. Since this hasn't been too fruitful, the growing Iranian power in the region is a natural next step for the Arab states, even though most don't care much for Iran on religious and poilitical grounds.

What people such as former President Jimmy Carter never seem to bring up is an Arab League edict pushed by the Saudis, which denies citizenship to Palestinians seeking to settle in other Arab countries, of which there are 22. The Palestinians’ brother Arabs want to keep them penned up so they won’t abandon the fight against the Infidel, located in one country, which is really the root of this conflict.

For its part, Israel has long felt it is unique in the region, a relatively small non Islamic ancient people with a tiny piece of land to call home. And when more than a half million Jews were driven out of Arab countries, they were told to go to Israel by the very Arabs who were showing them the door. Unlike the Palestinians, they were accepted by their brothers with open arms.

Another thing that Carter and western nations have never grasped is the eternal clock that guides the Arab World. Where we in the west demand instant results and gratification, the Arab mindset is timeless. They will wait 1,000 years to get what they want since most of their societies are stagnant with populations going nowhere. Osama Bin Laden, in his alleged messages, continually brings up a call to arms against the Crusader Infidels. In this way, this thinking blinds and frustrates our politicians whose timeframe is in four-year increments.

It should be obvious that sensible two-state solution, similar to the creation of Pakistan from India, now backed by most of the known world was initially an invention of the Arab League to gradually weaken Israel. Still, this solution would have been easy to achieve prior to the Hamas takeover of Gaza by the Arabs simply making an unconditional peace with Israel. Ah, but there’s the rub…conditions, such as millions of refugees returning to Israel (without mentioning Jewish refugees from Arab lands) and giving Jerusalem to the Palestinians. In effect what the Arabs would like to do is gradually dismember Israel into the very U.N. partition plan they rejected in 1947.

Yet, for its part Israel set-up this scenario by overplaying its victorious hand with territories captured in the 1967 war… you may recall the West Bank and Gaza originally belonged to Jordan and Egypt.

But, after Israel’s right-wing Likud Government’s 1982 actions in Lebanon ignited the first long-term Palestinian uprising, Jordan and Egypt never again asked for the return of these lands…the feeling was better let the Israelis deal with this growing chaotic mess. This turned out to be a political disaster for Israel, one of its own making which allowed it to keep the simmering occupied territories as a long-term migraine headache.

Yet, one key thing that seems to have been lost in history is there never have been international recognized borders decided for Israel. The only definite proposal was the 1947 U.N. partition plan that the Arabs rejected eventually igniting the 1948 Arab Israeli War. That ended with temporary borders drawn on cease-fire lines.

Today, America's main concern is preventing a nuclear armed Iran creating an atomic free-for-all in this unstable region. Realistically, it’s difficult to see how this can be accomplished other than regime change or military intervention since sanctions have been ineffective. But, they do play well at home, where the last thing our people want is another war on our hands.

Netanyahu feels in the long-term nothing he can give many of the Arabs such as the Palestinians, Syrians and Libyans, among others, will be enough except Israel’s demise. The reality today, long-term, is the same as it was in 1948. The Arabs, especially those of the extreme Wahabist Muslim faith, will never accept a non Islamic entity in a position of primacy on what it considers its side of town. The Prime Minister also knows the only way he can deal with his neighbors is through a position of strength and command of the situation.

The Gaza onslaught was an extremely bad example of how to fight an insurgency. Rather than risk their own troops in the standard house to house search, Israel used aircraft and artillery to destroy large areas, killing many civilians in the process. The international condemnation was enormous. Yet, in its aftermath, the number of attacks from Gaza has gone down. And, Israel’s much maligned defensive wall separating it from the West Bank has all but stopped suicide bomb attacks.

However, America and Europe are frequently at odds with the view, mainly because it’s not what they want and not their problem. This bolsters the Arabs and serves to undermine Israel’s position thereby prolonging the conflict indefinitely.

Of course this is part of the grand hypocrisy in American foreign policy. When our interests are at stake we will do whatever it takes to make our point, i.e., the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad and our own fence of the Mexican border. In can be argued more civilians have been killed during our Iraq onslaught than all the Arab-Israeli wars combined.

The reality remains this endless conflict has been fueled and kept alive by big power involvement in the region. Without such active involvement peaceful coexistence might be much closer today. Yet, the rise of Iran is another matter that complicates things even more.

In the realpolitik of the Middle East most Arab countries now tacitly accept Israel as a present day reality, one they had thought, along with America, they could use as a bulwark against what they see as Iran’s imperial ambition of becoming a new version of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

When the Ottoman Empire dissolved after WW1, it left a power vacuum in the region. With the discovery of oil in the Persian Gulf region, Britain officially, under its mandate from the League of Nations anointed the Al Saud Family the guardians of Islam. It would later become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Yet, other tribes in the region feel they are the rightful heirs to this title. But they have been too busy being held at bay by Israel to pursue their own ambitions. For example, Egypt's long-gone leader Gamel Nasser had delusions of grandeur, creating a very short-lived alliance with Syria called the United Arab Republic.

An Egyptian academic teaching in London once told me, the belief by the Arabs that Israel has atomic weapons has had a positive effect in preventing another major regional conflict since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Yet, at the time he never dreamt of the effect of two nuclear powers in the region. The big question now is, will Israel attempt a military strike against Iran? And will it be assisted by the US?

The main lesson the world learned from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident was that even a relatively small radioactive discharge can cause a disaster over a wide area. And this lesson has been taken in by the Arab world, which fears Iran’s atomic ambition.

It knows if Iran, or anyone else for that matter, attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, bordering states such as Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and especially the Palestinians could be destroyed as well. Shock waves and atomic radiation know no borders.

You might say, the Arab-Israeli conflict would be settled in one blow, with the suffering survivors envying the dead.

We can only hope Iran realizes this, too. And we can also hope if and when they get the bomb their maniacal leadership doesn’t adopt the standard terrorist logic of accepting collateral damage for their idea of the greater good.

Today Iran looms as a greater threat to sovereign Arab nations than Israel ever did. Like the Turks, the Iranians, although Muslim, are not a Semitic people, whereas the Israelis are. Oh yes, since most Arabs are Sunni Muslims they dislike the Iranian Shiites. On the other hand, the Arabs may now feel they can use closer relations with Iran to make America jealous. If this sounds like a soap opera, you’re right and like a soap opera it never ends.#

No comments:

Post a Comment

comments here: