November 2, 2010
Iran Could Ignite Israeli-Palestinian Agreement
Even before the bombs mailed from Yemen dominated the non-election news, talk around the coffee table was inevitably coming around to the Middle East. The phenomenon united news-savvy citizens sitting in a souk in Turkey; a hotel in Bethlehem or east Jerusalem; and even a trendy LA restaurant.
Initially phrased in terms like, “Is there going to be peace in the Middle East…in my lifetime?,” the parameters quickly narrow and more often than not “the Middle East” becomes rightly defined as “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Typically, the questions then become more in-line with, “Will there be a Palestinian state in a year?” or “Will the Palestinians bolt the U.S.-brokered talks and take their chances at the U.N.?” or for the better-informed, “Can Israel maintain its security if it swaps land?” or even “Are the Palestinians sure they want statehood now given all it implies?” Yet, most recently, we’re hearing conversations beginning with Israel and Palestine quickly turn to Iran, its region and finally global threat.
While Iran holds the world hostage with its advancing nuclear proliferation and its savvy, methodical wooing of super powers Russia and China; vulnerable Islamic nations including Syria, Lebanon and even Turkey, are sufficiently concerned that each is doing its best to hedge their bets – making noises pleasing to the hardliners while taking advantage of the Obama administration’s determination to leave the diplomatic door open even as sabers are rattled and oratory turns nasty. Witness the warm and fuzzy Al-Asad visit to Ahmadinejad replete with vicious anti-American diatribes that came exactly while pressure on the president to disengage from Damascus was growing perceptibly.
Western interests, led by the U.S., are focusing on those Muslim nations that have earned the appellation “moderate” – a code-word meaning if nothing else, they share with the West the fear of a nuclear Iran. Or at least enough of a fear to signal Western policy planners that it’s not out of the realm of reality to count the subject nation on the right side of the “Iran or the Rest” line-in-the-sand. All while keeping mind that none of this is black-and-white. Arab nations will not easily cast a pro-American shadow absent an adequate return; and last year, China replaced the European Union as Iran’s largest trading partner because of its ability to supply it with oil and petroleum. Russia’s relations, too, are based on economic exchanges with Iran.
Far from being a one-way street, both China and Russia seek to maintain their respective positions as super powers in part through access to Iran’s rich and abundant natural resources. The recent signing of an energy collaboration between Iran and Russia spanning a 30-year period illustrates the point, while on the China front, Beijing is selling oil to Iran to the tune of 12% of the fuel it uses and has opened a missile plant in the Islamic Republic. Natural gas deals lie in the future. Such tangible ties render the U.S. more vulnerable in these strategic power plays – particularly in its attempt to slap sanctions on Iran with the necessary approval of both China and Russia increasingly difficult to come by.
Meanwhile, back at teatime in Ramallah and Jerusalem, officials from both sides opine that a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would strengthen the moderate Arab alliance so badly needed as a regional block to the conflict Iran poses – the real mother-of-all-Mideast-conflicts. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf countries fear the doomsday combination of Iran’s military strength and fanatical political brain trust – arguably even more so than either Israel or the United States. It’s a perspective shared with me by dozens of Mideast sources, albeit most invoking anonymity although not a factor mitigating the veracity of the belief in a region where significant policy forms behind closed doors.
An old standard among Israel-Palestine arguing points suggests that Palestinians will not provoke or support Iran because Palestinians, too, reside within the bulls-eye of Iranian missile batteries. Today’s realities include mock drills in Jordan centering around the aftermath of a fictitious nuclear attack in the area of the Dead Sea, complete with participating experts assembled by the Prepatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Ban Treaty Organization The stated goal: that no nuclear explosion goes undetected.
Short of nuclear involvement, Iran continues to foment hostilities in the Middle East through massive deliveries of conventional weapons to terror proxies HIzbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Iranian- treachery prepares the environment to support Al-Qa’ida – both in presence and in philosophy – replicating the clear field the world terrorist network enjoys in Yemen. Extend to its logical conclusion where Prime Minister Erdogan’s blatant courting of Islamist hardliners threatens to take Turkey, and references to the world’s most dangerous region take on new meaning.
Fatah-Hamas reconciliation used to be an open-and-shut argument for supporters of Israel. But Iran’s unstoppable nuclear ambitions; Ahmadinejad’s incessant belligerence; and the abject fear the Islamic Republic is spreading throughout the Middle East is rapidly simplifying the equation, making choices and repercussions clear. In doing so, Iran appears to be more effective in illustrating the upside of an Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement than the American interlocutors have so far been able to do.