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US should act in Mideast now to avoid messier cleanup later, says expert

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June 11, 2015 00:16

Ariel Cohen: Iran going nuclear would lead to Saudis following suit.

Ariel Cohen,senior fellow at the Atlantic Council

Ariel Cohen,senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. (photo credit:Courtesy)

By decreasing its footprint in the Middle East at a time of growing threats, the US is putting off what inevitably will turn out to be much costlier interventions down the road, a prominent US-based expert tells The Jerusalem Post.

By putting off action against threats such as nuclear proliferation, the spread of jihadists, and failing states, “the US is losing stature” and creating a more dangerous situation where there is “more chaos, interstate competition, and as a result costs of doing international business will be rising,” Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the director of the Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security in Washington, told the Post in an interview on Tuesday.



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Cohen, an expert on Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and energy, draws a parallel to the threat from Islamic State and the failure of the Clinton administration to nip al-Qaida in the bud when the organization was smaller and weaker.

Often, the Obama administration does not appreciate the value that force or the threat of the use of force has for an effective foreign policy, explained Cohen, who has testified before committees in the US Congress and lectures for the US military and other government agencies.

Regarding the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, Cohen argues, much like the Israeli government, that the deal being talked about now would be dangerous and would make Iran a threshold nuclear state.

It would not just be dangerous for Israel, but would likely lead to nuclear proliferation by Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, he said.

Sunni states and Israel perceive “a shrinking US role as a guardian of the existing security framework,” he said, pointing out that the lack of action to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons to protect itself from Russia and to impose order in Libya after Muammar Gaddafi further promotes this kind of thinking.

In Libya, for example, Islamists killed the US ambassador in 2012 and it did not spur a quick reaction to restore order.

And as a result of this perception, Middle Eastern states are looking for alternative ways to defend themselves, whether by acquiring nuclear weapons or looking for military partnerships with other countries such as Russia.

The Egyptian government, which has had strained relations with the US since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took over in June 2014, has increased cooperation with Moscow, including reports of unprecedented naval exercises and military arms deals, noted Cohen.

Within this context, the Egypt-Russia naval maneuvers this week can be understood as a first step to greater cooperation, he continued.

Russia and Egypt are holding their first-ever joint naval exercise, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday, strengthening the ties between two states that were once Cold War allies.

The eight-day drills off Alexandria, which began on Saturday, will include supply and communication at sea, search operations, all forms of defense at sea and firing exercises.

“This shows how deeply Egypt is upset about US unreliability,” asserted Cohen.

An increasing list of governments are unhappy with the restrictions put on US weapons systems, which has opened up the market to countries such as France and also Israel.

Asked about the civil war in Syria, Cohen said that despite reports of Iran increasing support for President Bashar Assad, his army appears tired and keeps losing towns.

“It looks like the scale is tipping against Assad and in a year the regime situation could be worse, but it is too early to tell if it will collapse,” he said, Manpower is the key factor and the Sunni rebels have an unlimited supply while the Syrian army and ally Hezbollah are limited in this regard, he said.

Commenting on the exploitation of Israel’s offshore gas reserves, Cohen said, “Israel needs to get its act together” and move forward now, as the “delays are very damaging.

“This is a unique situation in which time is of the essence. Israel should not miss this wonderful opportunity,” Cohen added.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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