Iran nuclear deal, ISIS threat stimulating Sunni powers to unite - even with Israel

Arab leaders and officials have been meeting frequently in past weeks, likely discussing the threat of Islamic State and the Iranian threat.

February 27, 2015 06:29
3 minute read.

Foreign ministers of the Arab League take part in an emergency meeting at the league's headquarters in Cairo September 7. (photo credit: REUTERS)

As the US and Shi’ite Iran inch closer to a nuclear deal that many Sunnis and Israelis don’t trust and as Islamic State’s reach spreads, Arab leaders are frantically consulting on how to deal with the threats and some may consider a covert alliance with Israel, a former Pentagon Middle East adviser told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Harold Rhode, a senior fellow at the New-York-based Gatestone Institute and a former adviser at the Pentagon, said he saw the possibility of a “temporary tactical alliance with Israel” by Sunni Arab states.

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He recalled his experience in Washington during the First Gulf War when Iraq invaded Kuwait, when all of the sudden “the heads of all of the [US] Jewish organizations became buddy buddy with the Saudis and Kuwaitis.”

“They worked together as they needed the Jews, and the Jews reacted with great enthusiasm,” he said.

However, said Rhode, the moment Kuwait was liberated in the US-led war, “the Saudis and Kuwaitis began not answering Jews’ phone calls anymore.”

What this teaches us, he continued, is that when the Sunnis have a tactical need, they will seek a temporary alliance with the Jews, “but once the problem is solved, then the old relationship of enmity resumes.”

As long as Iran remains a problem, Israel can expect warmer relations with Sunni states, he said. “Iran is attempting to take over the Sunni world and that is the bottom line,” Rhode said.

Arab leaders and officials have been meeting frequently in recent weeks, discussing the threats from Islamic State and Iran, with improving ties between Tehran and the US always in the background.

Rhode said it would be difficult for Turkey to join a Sunni alliance against Iran because of its economic dependence on the latter country. “I cannot see a united Sunni front, because some support the Muslim Brotherhood and others the Saudi approach,” he said.

Arab leaders and officials have been meeting frequently in recent weeks, discussing the threats from Islamic State and Iran, with the improving relations between Tehran and the US always in the background.

Jordan’s King Abdullah arrived in Cairo on Thursday and held talks with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Sisi said that Jordan and the United Arab Emirates had offered military support to Cairo following the killing of 21 Egyptians in Libya by Islamic State. On Wednesday, the Jordanian monarch visited Riyadh and met King Salman.

Former Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, who has set himself up as a warrior against ISIS similar to Sisi, secretly visited Egypt twice last week and received 400 weapons of various types for his forces, the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported, adding that Haftar planned on meeting Israeli officials in a future visit to Amman.

Asked about the flurry of meetings among Sunni Arab leaders, Rhode said they have a real problem, which stems from the US pushing for a nuclear deal with Iran.

The rise of Islamic State has worked out well for Tehran, as it has supported its case for a better relationship with the US.

“Iran is cooperating with cunning,” he said.

Saudi commentator Abdulrahman al-Rashed reflected the mood in an article this week in Asharq al-Awsat and republished on the Al-Arabiya website: “In case Tehran signs a nuclear agreement with the West, Turkey can work with major blocs to prevent Iranian regional expansion, which also threatens it. Ankara can see how Iran is rushing to control Iraq and Syria, two countries that directly affect Turkey’s security and stability.”

However, the intense Sunni communication may only result in a partial Sunni bloc against Islamic State and Iran, since they are divided between those that support revolutionary Sunni movements (Turkey and Qatar), and those that want to preserve the status quo.

Sunni powers are not waiting for a nuclear agreement, but are actively trying to build an anti- Iran bloc, Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar- Ilan University, told the Post.

These Sunni states understand that the US may go for a grand bargain with Iran, which would turn Iran into its strategic partner, said Inbar.

Asked if Ankara could join such an alliance, he responded, “We may well see Turkey joining this type of realignment and even taking the lead.

“It is the most powerful Muslim state in the region,” noted Inbar. “We may well see the revival of the Ottoman-Persian historic rivalry.”

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