Saturday, August 16, 2014

An Arab-Israeli rapprochement?


One of the weirder consequences of the current crisis in the Middle East (and no, it hasn't been lost on me that the acronym ISIS forms part of the word 'crisis') is that it may be making allies out of old enemies.  Citing an unnamed Saudi Arabian newspaper, Jerusalem Online reports:

An international Saudi newspaper, which is the mouthpiece of the royal family based in Riyadh, declared that there is no longer an Israeli-Arab conflict, but an Israeli-Turkish-Iranian conflict.  The paper declares that if Israel wants to do a big deal with the Arabs, now is the time.

Under the headline “there is no more Israeli-Arab conflict,” the article indicates that the attacks on Israel come from Gaza, who carries out the mission of Iran with the assistance of the Muslim Brotherhood and their patrons, Turkey and Qatar.

“Even the nature of the conflict changed,” the author of the article explained. “Conventional warfare, where armies of countries face enemies in the combat zone, has been replaced by asymmetrical warfare, where the army fights against guerilla movements in the cities. The conflicts between Israel and the Arab states, led by the 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars, are no longer the reality. Israel is now fighting political movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah, not the Arab countries, and the patronage of these movements come from Iran and Turkey. Of course, they are not Arab countries.”

“The disconnection of the Arab states and the rhetoric against Hamas in the Arab world, especially in Egypt, indicates a profound change in the perception of the conflict across the Arab world,” the article stressed. “The rhetoric of the current round turned Israel against Hamas, Turkey, Iran and Qatar. The support in the Arab world for Hamas is voiced only on twitter and other social media forums.”

The article stressed that Qatar, the only Arab country that supports Hamas, is isolated from the rest of the Gulf countries, after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha: “So, what was once the Arab-Israeli conflict no longer exists.”

“The good news is that if Israel wants to achieve a great deal with the Arabs, now is the time to do it,” the Saudi newspaper declared. “Arab countries are now in the worst political situation they have been in for some time. Given the current political upheavals, they are now ready to sign a comprehensive deal with Israel.”

There's more at the link.

I find it suspicious that the Saudi Arabian newspaper was not identified - not to mention the fact that I can't find any mention of the article elsewhere (EDITED TO ADD:  Thanks to reader Peter B. who provided a link to the original Saudi Arabian article in Comments)Nevertheless,  It may well be an accurate portrayal of Saudi thinking on the matter - and more than just Saudi.  Consider these factors:

  • President Obama's refusal to act in the Middle East has led both sides to distrust his motives and intentions.  This has been increasingly visible in recent years.  Since the ultimate 'power broker' in the Middle East now appears powerless and broke, both sides will be looking to their own interests in the years to come.
  • Saudi Arabia is home to Wah'habi Islam, one of the most fundamentalist strains of that faith.  For decades that country has been the leader of the 'rigorous interpretation' schools of Islam.  Now it's finding its dominant position threatened.  Qatar, formerly reliably Wah'habist, is increasingly supportive of radical Islamic sects, as is the Turkish government, which is increasingly hardline Islamist in focus.  Both have supported the Islamic State, although Turkey is growing cooler to them.  IS now controls much of Syria and Iraq and has proclaimed a new Caliphate there, opening announcing their intention to extend its dominance over the entire Islamic world.  IS ideology is even more fundamentalist than Wah'habist, up to and including executing anyone and everyone who differs from their interpretation;  and it's much more closely aligned with Al Qaeda and terrorist Muslim organizations throughout the Middle East.  That's enough to scare the living daylights out of the conservative Saudi royal family.  In order to deal with this radical new enemy at their gates, it would definitely be in their interests to end older conflicts that might otherwise distract them.
  • In Egypt popular pressure led the military to overthrow the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood regime, which developed out of the same extremism that formed Hamas and Hezbollah.  Israel couldn't be happier about that, of course.  It was noticeable during that country's recent military operations in Gaza that Egyptian forces played a supporting role along their border with the latter state, destroying most of the smuggling tunnels controlled by Hamas and ensuring it couldn't bring in new weapons with which to resist Israeli incursions.  I'm willing to bet that Saudi Arabia was entirely in favor of this development, because it weakened Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood - both of which have voiced support for IS and Al Qaeda in the past.
  • Israel has largely neutered the immediate threat from Hamas.  I was expecting Hezbollah to mount distraction attacks from Lebanon against Israel, trying to divide the latter nation's forces and resources, but this didn't happen.  I'm willing to bet that was for two reasons.  First, Hezbollah answers to paymasters in Syria and Iran, both of which are profoundly affected by IS actions in Syria and Iraq.  Second, Hamas was loyal to neither Syria nor Iran, and those countries would be more than happy to see its influence in the Middle East reduced.  Since Israel was doing this very effectively on their behalf, they probably exercised their influence to restrain Hezbollah.
  • Israel would like a relatively free hand to deal with the Palestinian problem.  If it can get that by making at least an unofficial, off-the-record peace with old enemies across the Middle East, that's very much in its interests.  Similarly, Syria would appreciate being able to put its historic conflict with Israel behind them, thereby freeing its armed forces to take back territory it's lost to IS;  and Iran would like to do the same in Iraq, probably looking to a longer-term union with Shi'ite provinces in that country while dismantling IS in the Sunni Muslim provinces.  All of those states would benefit greatly by no longer having to worry about their relationship with Israel.  Israel, on the other hand, is profoundly concerned about Iran's nuclear program:  but if they can come to a meeting of minds over the situation in Iraq, if Israel gives Iran a free hand there and doesn't object to the annexation of Shi'ite Iraqi provinces into a 'greater Iran', will Iran in turn give 'guarantees' to Israel concerning its nuclear program?
  • To add to the fun, Syria is a Russian client state, and Russia has just signed a very big trade and nuclear technology deal with Iran;  so Russia would like to see any potential conflict between those states and Israel taken off the table.  If it can use its influence to help arrange that, it'll bolster its position in the Arab world and the Persian Gulf, and also represent a slap in the face to President Obama - which President Putin would dearly like to deliver.  Furthermore, Russia has its own problems with fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, and would prefer that IS not be in a position to influence or assist its dissidents.

Put all those elements together, and one starts to see a very interesting picture emerge, with all sorts of geopolitical implications.  If I were IS, I'd be getting a little worried round about now . . . and I'd love to be a fly on the wall to listen to the back-channel, strictly off-the-record discussions that I have little doubt are currently being conducted between Israel, Saudi Arabia and other states - perhaps with Egypt acting as an intermediary.

Peter

7 comments:

Peter B said...

Asarq al-Awsat

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/08/article55335312

Peter said...

@Peter B: Thank you very much! I'm glad to have a link to the original.

PapaMAS said...

That would be a good thing if it happened, and if it lasted. I'd be concerned the bumbling clowns at our State Department would burst into the discussions and perform their usual Keystone Kops routine, totally messing things up.

Graybeard said...

Very interesting developments, essentially a continuation and extension of the Saudis letting it be known that they would allow IDF jets to fly through their airspace to attack Iran. I think the Saudis are looking at Israel in the Mideast mindset of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend".

Also recall the claims (discredited by the MSM) that Obama's administration is infiltrated to the top by Muslim Brotherhood, and the really big decisions are made by Valerie Jarret, who is Iranian-born. I'm sure that Mideast leaders can sense their loyalties.

As PapaMAS implies, Clown Shoes Kerry is perfectly capable of stepping on any political land mines and mucking things up.

Peter B said...

Another factor: Israel is rapidly developing its natural gas fields which will threaten the near virtual monopoly Russia now enjoys over Europe's supplies.

Rolf said...

Interesting, indeed. The powerful want to stay on top, and I'm sure Saudi would not be saying this if they were not worried about IS. The whole region has serious demographic, economic, and political problems. It may be that the only thing that could shake up the ugly and unproductive status quo of the last 40 years is an apparently existential threat like IS. I don't think they really are, they are too small now, but if they have enough momentum to get the rest of the big players worried, then good might come of it. I could easily see IS gaining more power, and having it e/de/volve into a regional ethno-religous war, similar to the Catholic/Protestant wars in Europe centuries ago, leaving millions dead and more displaced, before it's over. Not a good thing, but perhaps a necessary thing, to clarify the future of Islam in the world.
Wouldn't that be ironic-Captain Zero's blundering in the ME results in massive bloodshed AND dramatic improvements in ME politics.

Will Brown said...

A not-so-minor flyspeck on your Prognosticators Orb: Jordan.

All of the participants and events you note revolve in one way or another around Jordan. Without their active support, none of your speculations can have any stability, when they can even occur at all. Added to that, the apparent absence of any Jordanian involvement in M.E. events makes me want to do that "fly on the wall" thing there most of all.

If the Saudi's are actually interested in a brokered deal with Israel, I suggest the Jordanians as the pivot for that particular circular spasm.