By Saeed Naqvi*
Just when the US thought it would mop its brow, having tried hard to tame the West Asian rodeo, the Israeli horse has kicked up dirt. Americans, like everyone else, were waiting for Benjamin Netanyahu to lose the March 17 elections, before proceeding with their script of a nuclear deal with Iran towards some conclusion in the coming weeks.
Does the Netanyahu fourth term throw a monkey-wrench in the works John Kerry has been pursuing with such dedication?
His primary strategic goal is to sign a nuclear deal with Iran. Since a military option was just not feasible, keeping Iran out of regional balance of power was impractical for the US. Without Iran in the regional solar system, the US would have to be ready for intervention to keep the regional equilibrium. This doesn’t serve a useful American purpose any more.
Riyadh, Cairo, Ankara are regional power centers Jerusalem was comfortable with. In this galaxy, Jerusalem, and to a lesser extent Riyadh, had relied even on a recently reluctant Washington. Jerusalem was a special case. It was more equal than others.
With new legitimacy about to be conferred on Iran, Tehran will automatically become an important power for regional balance.
This amounts to a relative decline in Israel’s regional status and Israel will resist it until Israeli lobbies around the world including the US see the writing on the wall. Unfortunately for Israel, Netanyahu has manufactured victory on such an uncivilized platform – no state for Palestinians, and racist venom for Israeli Arabs – that the international community would have difficulty engaging with him. Of course, he will turn, but then he will be a proven turncoat.
Even the Saudis, who in recent years made common cause with Israel against Iran, will have difficulty resuming with an Israel so configured.
The new balance of power the US has finally persuaded itself to create in the region is attended by a paradox. Riyadh, Cairo, Ankara, Israel – no one wants the status quo to be altered. And get the situation on the ground is slowly eroding the status quo.
In shaping the new balance of power, Washington does come across on occasion as playing a double game. Take Washington’s reluctance in launching air strikes against the ISIS when it had just begun to menace the region. Barrack Obama let the cat out of the bag. Airstrikes against the ISIS at that stage, he said, would take the pressure off Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in Baghdad who had lost US confidence. Maliki had to leave. To that extent the Americans played the ISIS hand in helping shape a local situation.
Likewise, during the siege of Kobane, US power helped Kurds, not the Turkish hegemon. So pressure here, tinkering there all, to avoid anyone becoming too powerful.
An abridged version of recent history can begin with the mess left behind by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, given total charge of the Syrian operations by the late Saudi King. The most macabre cruelty was perpetrated on world TV by forces financed from outside and supported by the West. Hillary Clinton, the then Secretary of State and a possible Democratic Presidential candidate, demanded with an imperious wave of the hand. “Get out of the way, Assad!” Years later, John Kerry sees no future for Syria without Bashar al Assad being part of the solution. But isn’t this what Iran and Russia have been saying from the day a gameplan was designed to break the Iran, Syria, Hezbullah, Hamas chain by, first, bringing about regime change in Damascus?
After four years of exertion, there is no regime change. Someone has eaten crow but the world didn’t see it. Meanwhile, the ISIS continued to menace all and sundry including the Saudis whose General, incharge of the Northern Border with Iraq, became a recent casualty.
The Sunni-Sunni tussle intensified when the ISIS virtually took over Tikrit, once Saddam Hussain’s stronghold. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif flew to Baghdad to sign an agreement which removes visa requirements for Iranian citizens (troops). Flushed with reinforcements, Iranian troops broke the back of the ISIS in Tikrit. Obviously, the regime in Baghdad is beholden to Iran. Likewise, the Houthis and Shia Zadidis of Yemen have trusted Iranians as overseers. Can Iran be kept out of a regional balance now?
This exponential growth of Iranian influence is anathema to Israel, Cairo, Ankara and Riyadh but they have to lump it because the alternative is for the US to remain directly engaged in Arab-Arab squabbles much to the neglect of more urgent business in the Pacific where China and a Sino-Russia axis are sources of anxiety. An unexpected source of comfort to all those supporting a two state solution in Israel is Netanyahu’s last minute denial of a Palestinian state. Nothing will help the Palestinian cause more.
(Saeed Naqvi is a commentator on political and diplomatic affairs. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])