Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is this "The New Way" for the Middle East?

Now this is interesting. Why? Well quite simply of course…

First contact was through ALD – that most venerable of news blogs – which listed this article in the National Journal

The Nonwar War Against Iran while the Iraq debate was gripping Washington over the past few weeks, the Bush administration was also shifting its policy toward neighboring Iran -- in a more confrontational direction.

U.S. officials, who asked not to be identified, say that the Iran policy has expanded from focusing chiefly on Iran's nuclear ambitions to challenging Tehran's suspected misbehavior across the Middle East. Indeed, one source said succinctly that the new policy is geared to "confront Iran in every way but direct armed conflict, using all means short of war."

Today, within the past few hours in fact, comes this interview with Gary G Sick in Council for Foreign Relations.

Gary G. Sick, a former National Security Council adviser on Iran, says an “emerging strategy” is developing that brings the United States, Israel, and Sunni Arab states in an informal alliance against Iran. He does not believe the United States would launch a military attack on Iran at this time because it lacks the military ability to be in Iraq and Iran at the same time.

Sick, founder and executive director of Columbia University’s Gulf 2000 Project that conducts research on Persian Gulf countries, also says a “very serious opposition” to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is developing in Iran. Because of this, he says the Iranians will soon be willing to seek a deal on their nuclear program.

Going back a few days there is this little piece from the Jerusalem Post
A quiet Sunni Arab strategic realignment was the topic of conversation among senior American and Israeli analysts - both official and unofficial - gathered
Sunday at the Herzliya Conference run by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of the IDF Herzliya, the opening day of the conference. Many were cautiously optimistic that Iranian influence in the Middle East could be curtailed, and that this process has already begun. The causes: isolation in the international system, economic mismanagement and a growing opposition to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Now whether this is policy or strategy matters little to me. That is mere semantics. What is becoming apparent is (at least I hope this is so) the evolution of a change from gun-boat (or gun-aircraft?) diplomacy as evidenced by GWB’s Iraq adventure to a far more subtle approach.

So, if we start here with NJ -

Bush's new emphasis on Iran's suspected role as a destabilizing force in the region articulates what Middle East experts say is a growing conviction among Washington's Sunni allies that Iran poses an immediate threat to their regimes' interests and stability.

"The administration believes that the Saudis had an epiphany, that Iran is the lens through which they now view all their security concerns," says Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert and the deputy director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "And that means the Saudis may be prepared to do a variety of things which previously they were not prepared to do."

Gary Sick puts it this way –

First, all three parties—the Sunni states in the Gulf, plus Jordan and Egypt—are very worried about Iranian expansion in the region and of Shiite expansion in the Middle East. And of course Israel is very worried about Iran and makes no bones about it quite openly. For the United States, I think there’s a perception that by focusing on Iran, you can remove some of the emphasis on Iraq, which of course is a catastrophe. So there are some advantages to all sides and there also have been real contacts among all of the parties, which I think go beyond just casual talk.

(Interesting little sideline there regarding Iraq, given the SOTU address yesterday – but that is a different story).

And from Jerusalem –

"The Saudis have stopped hiding the fact that there are joint interests for Israel and Saudi Arabia, and [Saudi officials] are telling the media that the Iranian threat is greater than the Israeli one," Col. (res.) Eran Lerman, director of the Israel/Middle East office of the American Jewish Committee and a former senior IDF intelligence analyst, told The Jerusalem Post

According to Robert Einhorn, a former US assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation and a member of the American Council on Foreign Relations, "there's a Sunni Arab-Israeli commonality of interest in containing an ideologically agressive Iran."

Einhorn even told the Post that the recent Gulf Cooperation Council declaration that the Gulf states would seek nuclear technology was "a message to Iran that others can do what they are doing and a message to the United States and the West that they had better stop Iran."

There seems to be general agreement on the birth of this new way – Lebanon and Palestine. The support for Hezbollah and Hamas coming out of Iran in particular is creating and or widening the political rift between Sunni and Shia. There are many pressures behind that, especially when you add the impact of Sunni refugees on Saudi Arabia and Jordan. But as these various articles point out the over-arching factor is the threat posed by Iran. NJ again –

The emerging Washington-Saudi-Sunni-Israeli alliance to counter Iran "makes perfect sense," says Kenneth Katzman, a veteran Iran and Iraq analyst at the Congressional Research Service. "It is something that is evolving based on commonality of interests of the Saudis and Israel and other Gulf states to counter Iranian triumphalism. The Saudis are facing Iran in Iraq and in the Gulf states. Israel is facing Iranian-backed Hezbollah on its northern border with Lebanon. The Saudis are interested in their long-standing client in Lebanon, the Hariri family."

Gary Sick is a bit more direct –

I do believe the whole Lebanese situation was the galvanizing moment for this emerging strategy. The action by Hezbollah in attacking Israel [last summer] was seen as an extension of Iranian power and an extension of its influence in the region. And the outcome of this, which is taking the form of Hezbollah challenging the Christian/Sunni government of [Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora, I think, is also perceived as an Iranian plot. I personally think that’s an exaggeration, at least in terms of Iranian direct control or involvement in this. But if you look at Hezbollah as an Iranian creature—which I don’t, but many people do—you come to the conclusion this is a battle between Israel and Iran or even, by extension, the United States and Iran, and that Lebanon is the battlefield where this is being fought out.

That final qualification is telling, and it needs to be remembered. But in terms of politik real for all of the participants it can easily be overlooked. It is telling because it comes as a reservation (which as I read it) is a direct consequence of the US approach to Iraq2 and its justification.

That there is a need to deal with Iran, as there was with Iraq, there is no question. I have had a major difficulty with the sabre rattling that has taken place in the past few months; with the sequence of events in all of the various theatres of international politics; and with the Iranian insistence on developing nuclear weapons capability. Given the Hollywood Western approach that Washington has seemed commited to until now; given the total lack of international support and enthusiasm for a repeat of Iraq2 in Iran; and given the current standing of the US Presidential Administration with the American electorate...

I can only say that the development of this "New Way" is about five and a half years too late.

1 comment:

T. F. Stern said...

The treat by aggressive Muslims, be they an organized state such as Iran, Syria or factions of zealots within those countries acting independently are not going away regardless of how many diplomatic solution seekers continue to hide their heads in the sand. Historically the Muslim creed has been to dominate their neighbors into submission with no regard or consideration of treaties. It would appear that the only way to contain such a threat is to remove their ability to make war, in other words, quash them and keep them bottled up.

The idea that Israel is a threat by virtue of their desire to survive a constant assault by their neighboring Muslim enemies is preposterous. Israel has been in a state of forced appeasement with the rest of the world determining how far Israel must bend over backwards to accommodate a so called peace.

That part of the world which expects to remain independent and free should make sure they have the back bone necessary to confront the Muslim attempt to take over as much as the weak will permit. While President Bush has made several tactical mistakes along with political blunders concerning his “war on terror”; the fact remains that if America withdraws and concedes defeat to the Muslim world, it will make it that much more difficult to defeat that threat later on. This is not an “if that threat occurs later on”, but a “when that threat makes itself more apparent to those who are intent on ignoring it now.”.