Cowering America May Cause Double Jeopardy for Israel

Daniel Diker, Director ICA, at the JCPA sends analysis of the dangerous double message the US is sending the Middle East.

Ruler of Oman Sultan Qaboos, left, walks with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, centre, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Gulf Cooperation Council opening session in Doha on Monday Dec. 3, 2007.
(AP Photo/Abdul Basit)

Dan Diker, Director ICA, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
December 8th, 2007–

The scene last Monday of Iranian President Mahmaoud Ahmadinejad walking “hand in hand” with Saudi leader King Abdullah at the Gulf Cooperation Council’s annual Summit in Doah, Qatar is worth a “thousand words”. Abdullah’s readiness to cozy up to Ahmadinejad at a time when Iran threatens to replace Saudi Arabia as the new hegemone in the Middle East could be the latest signal of how terrified the Sunni Arab establishment- particularly the Gulf states- are of Iran’s rising power. It is also seems a graphic indication of Saudi and “Gulfie” nervousness over their perception of America’s growing weakness and loss of political will opposite Tehran.

It was little coincidence that the Abdullah /Ahmadinjad photo op took place virtually in tandem with the release of the US National Intelligence Estimate that partially whitewashed Iran’s Nuclear Weapons’ program.

On the face of it, Ahmadinejad’s address of the Sunni Gulf Cooperation Council- the fiorst for any Iranian President — that included Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman, seems counter intuitive. Wasn’t the GCC created to offset the very threatening Iranian regional influence it now appears the Gulf States are ready to honor?. IN fact, as the Washington Institute’s Simon Henderson points out in a December 7th analysis, the UAE set a precedent in November by impounding an Iranian-bound shipment of undisclosed material banned by UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747 because of its potential use for nuclear weapons or missile programs. The Washington Institute’s brief also notes that Bahrain’s crown prince for the first time openly accused Iran in a recent interview of seeking nuclear weapons.

And didn’t the same Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and other “gulfies” send senior officials to Washington’s Annapolis Conference two weeks ago, to show the “angered” Iranians that the US could lead the coalition of Arab Sunni States to Isolate Tehran’s Islamo-fascist regime?

So how can what looked like the beginning of a kiss and make up” session last week between Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Sunni Gulf rivals be understood?

In fact, last Monday’s release of the latest and US National Intelligence Estimate that declares that Iran ceased its nuclear weapons program in 2003 helps vindicate Iran’s declarations that it maintains no nuclear weapons program.

While the Arab states don’t believe that for a minute to which their participation at Annapolis attests the US “about face” on Iran’s race for nuclear weapons undermines the efforts of President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to isolate Iran by coalescing Sunni Arab, and Western countries and to some degree Israel via diplomatic pressure to concede on the Palestinian issue. But the US intelligence bureaucracy’s “slap in the face” to the White House also embodies a symbolic power for Iranian and Arab eyes.

For Arab Sunni Gulf States who are worried about Iran’s ascendancy under a nuclear umbrella, the National Intelligence Estimate submitted by 16 US Intelligence agencies underscores growing confusion, disunity, and discord in Washington. That apparent lack of US unity and purpose for them spells weakness, and a lack of political will, as a number of leading Islamic affairs experts inside and outside the Washington’s beltway have been warning for some time. At the same time, Iran continues to March ahead with its Atomic weapons plans while destabilizing the region via proxy terror groups in Iraq, Hizbullah, Hamas, in and promising to liquidate Israel, the US’s key Middle East Ally.

Despite palpable Arab fears of Iran– particularly a nuclear one –as Jordan’s King Abdullah II expressed in 2004 when he expressed Arab league jitters over what he coined the Shiite crescent”– the Near East’s leading scholar Professor Bernard Lewis has long reminded the West that Arab political culture runs with the “winning horse”.

This is the also the context in which the recent US hosted Annapolis Conference should be considered. Instead of pressing for victory against Iran, Bush’s summoning much of the international community to Washington to advance Palestinian Israeli peace and to send a message to Iran was likely perceived somewhat differently in the Middle East. In the context of Professor Bernard Lewis’ “winning horse” analogy, Bush in the Arab and Persian mind may have appeared more like the school “weakling who needed to turn to the rest of the class to back him up to send a threatening message to the class bully, in this case the 120 pound Ahmadinejad.

So with the US National Intelligence Estimate weakening massive US diplomatic efforts to mobilize the international community against Tehran, Arab states prefer to mingle with Iranian power than American uncertainty.

The NIE report also jeopardizes Israel militarily and diplomatically. First, the chances of an American led attack against Iranian nuclear installations now are far less likely. That could leave Israel alone to defend itself militarily against a nuclearizing Iran. It’s not a dissimilar position in which the Jewish State found itself in June of 1981 when it faced the prospect of an atomic Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Diplomatically, Israel has already “eaten straw” even before the post Annapolis diplomacy gets underway opposite the Palestinians. For months Israel’s senior political leadership has indicated privately and hinted publicly that its readiness to pursue bi lateral peace talks under US sponsorship is a diplomatic quid pro quo for US efforts to create a broad International coalition against Iran with the support of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States. Last week’s National Intelligence report undermines the very foundation of American pressure on Jerusalem and Olmert’s agreement to do a “dance” at Annapolis and solve the Palestinian issue by 2008

But despite the American administration’s appearing at least half castrated opposite Iran and with the Gulf states reengaging with Ahmadinejad, Israel will still be expected to make far reaching concessions to the Palestinians to “keep its part of the bargain”

However, pressure on Israel to solve to Palestinian issue without commensurate US leadership against Iran reinforces the fatally mistaken message encapsulated by the 2006 Baker Hamilton Report and illustrated to many at Annapolis:

That solving the Palestinian Israeli conflict instead of first neutralizing ascendant Iran seeking Nuclear weapons is the key to peace and stability in the Middle East.

My traveling companion Scott Johnson at Powerlineg> has more on Daniel Diker’s essay.

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