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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Jewish - Sunni alliance?

In the current issue of the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that their common enmity for Iran ought to bring about an alliance between Israel and the Sunni Muslim states in our region.
The conflict between Sunni and Shia is the most consequential in the Middle East because it is so profound and elemental. But precisely because it is so intractable, it might hold the key to solving another seemingly eternal Middle East conflict, the one between Muslim and Jew. The definitive Middle East cliché is, of course, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Well, it turns out that today, more than at any other time in the ruinous 100-year encounter between Arabs and Jews on the strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the two parties in the dispute have a common enemy: the Shia Persian Islamic Republic of Iran. President Obama’s skills and charisma just might bring Sunni Arabs and Israeli Jews together, but he will be helped inestimably if he considers that the road to peace runs not through Jerusalem but through Karbala. Consider the possibility of a grand, if necessarily implicit, Jewish-Sunni alliance as a gift to Obama from his predecessor.


At a Pew Forum discussion on Iran and the Middle East last December, Vali Nasr, the Iran expert (and adviser to Richard Holbrooke, the State Department’s envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan), talked about the rise of Iran, and the marginalization of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nasr argued, convincingly, that most Arab states have a deeper interest in containing Iran than they do in containing Israel. “Once upon a time we used to think—and some people still do—that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the key to solving all the problems of the region: terrorism, al-Qaeda, Iran, and Iraq,” he said. “I think the Persian Gulf is the key to solving the Arab-Israeli issue. All the powers that matter—Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even the good news of the region: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, etc.—are all in the gulf. And all the conflicts that matter to us—Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran—are in the gulf and then to the east.”

Israel, of course, considers Iran a threat to its existence. “Can Israel flourish—survive and flourish—in a Middle East in which Iran, under its current leadership, is nuclear?” asked Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, when I visited him earlier this spring. “I think it’s much better not to get to that point.”

The remarkable thing about this moment in the Middle East is that Arab leaders speak about Iran more critically than even Netanyahu does. In March, Morocco broke diplomatic relations with Iran over what it claimed were attempts by Iranian Shia to convert Moroccan Sunnis; in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak’s intelligence services spent the spring breaking up Hezbollah cells (Hezbollah being the Lebanese Shia proxy of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps). “Even if we forget that Iran is trying to obtain a nuclear capability, all gulf and Arab countries are extremely unhappy with the Iranian involvement in our region,” a senior official of the United Arab Emirates recently told me. “We see this today in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Yemen. We just saw the Moroccans breaking diplomatic ties with Iran because of that. We’ve been seeing that in one way or the other in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Sudan.”
Goldberg goes on to argue that if only Israel would 'freeze settlement growth,' the Arabs would respond by allowing El Al to land in their countries - even if we don't have diplomatic relations. Of course, the Arab states have already refused to do that. Goldberg also suggests that we should start by demarcating the borders of the 'Palestinian' state to encourage things to go forward. That would be a real concession.

Sorry but no. Those concessions would just be pocketed by the 'Palestinians' and the Arab countries and would become the starting point for a new round of negotiations after Israel does the dirty work of destroying Iran's nuclear capabilities. Any 'alliance' with the Sunni states would be temporary (at best) and the only contribution the Sunnis are likely to make is their silence in response to Israel doing the deed. We can get that much from them without any formal alliance and without making real concessions. In fact, that would probably be their natural reaction to an Israeli strike against Iran (think of Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's tacit silence for most of the time that Israel was bombing the crap out of Hezbullah in Lebanon in the summer of 2006).

Israel doesn't need the Sunni Arab states to 'help' with Iran. It has nothing to gain by enlisting them.


At 3:05 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

It is just as likely extremist Shiites and Sunnis will set aside doctrinal differences to fight Israel. Whether such an alliance, like between Iran and Hamas is deepened, depends on the resolution of the outcome of events in Iran. What should never forgotten is the Muslim World wants to bring about Israel's demise and at the end of the day, Muslim theological differences are completely irrelevant if that aim looks like it can be attained. Israel can have a temporary alliance of convenience with the Arab states but there is no chance that will be transformed from a mere coincidence of interests into real friendship much less than permanent peace in the Middle East.


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