Ahmadinejad NY press conf 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Even before the bombs mailed from Yemen dominated the news, talk at the coffee table was inevitably coming around to the Middle East. The parameters would quickly narrow, and more often than not “the Middle East” would become rightly defined as the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Typically, the questions then become more like: “Will there be a Palestinian state in a year?” or “Will the Palestinians bolt the US-brokered talks and take their chances at the UN?” or for the better-informed, “Can Israel remain secure if it swaps land?” or even “Are the Palestinians sure they want statehood now, given all it implies?”
Yet, most recently, we’re hearing conversations beginning with Israel and Palestine quickly turn to Iran, and finally to global threat.
While Iran holds the world hostage with its advancing nuclear proliferation and its savvy, methodical wooing of Russia and China, vulnerable Islamic nations such as Syria, Lebanon and even Turkey are sufficiently concerned that each is hedging its bets – making noises pleasing to the Iranian hard-liners while taking advantage of the Obama administration’s determination to leave the diplomatic door open even as oratory turns nasty. Witness the warm and fuzzy visit of Syrian President Bashar Assad to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, replete with vicious anti-American diatribes, that came exactly while pressure on the US president to disengage from Damascus was growing.
Western interests, led by the US, are focusing on the “moderate” Muslim nations – a code-word meaning that, if nothing else, they share the West’s fear of a nuclear Iran. Or at least enough of a fear to signal Western policy planners that it’s not unrealistic to count the subject nation on the right side of the “Iran or the rest” line in the sand.
Yet none of this is black-and-white. Arab nations will not easily cast a pro-American shadow without an adequate return; and last year, China replaced the European Union as Iran’s largest trading partner because of its ability to supply oil and petroleum. Russia’s relations, too, are based on economic exchanges with Iran.
Far from being a one-way street, both China and Russia seek to maintain their respective positions as superpowers in part through access to Iran’s abundant natural resources. The recent signing of a 30-year energy collaboration between Iran and Russia illustrates the point, while on the China front, Beijing is selling oil to Iran to the tune of 12% of the fuel it uses, and has opened a missile plant in the Islamic Republic. Natural gas deals lie ahead. Such tangible ties render the US more vulnerable in these strategic power plays – particularly in its attempt to slap sanctions on Iran with the approval of both China and Russia.
MEANWHILE, BACK at teatime in Ramallah and Jerusalem, officials from both sides opine that a deal would strengthen the moderate Arab alliance that is so badly needed as a regional block to the conflict Iran poses – the real mother-of-all-Mideast-conflicts.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf countries fear the doomsday combination of Iran’s military strength and fanaticism – arguably even more so than either Israel or the United States. It’s a perspective shared by dozens of Mideast sources.
An old standard among Israel-Palestine arguing points suggests that Palestinians will not provoke or support Iran because they, too, reside within the bulls-eye of Iranian missile batteries. Today’s realities include mock drills in Jordan to prepare for a nuclear attack near the Dead Sea, complete with experts assembled by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Ban Treaty Organization. The stated goal: that no nuclear explosion goes undetected.
Short of nuclear involvement, Iran continues to foment hostility in the Middle East through massive deliveries of conventional weapons to Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iran thus prepares the environment to support al-Qaida – both in presence and in philosophy – thus replicating the clear field the world terrorist network enjoys in Yemen. Extend to its logical conclusion Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s blatant courting of Islamist hard-liners, and references to the world’s most dangerous region take on new meaning.
Fatah-Hamas reconciliation used to be an open-and--shut argument for
supporters of Israel. But Iran’s unstoppable nuclear ambitions,
Ahmadinejad’s incessant belligerence and the abject fear that the
Islamic Republic is spreading throughout the Middle East are rapidly
simplifying the equation, making choices and repercussions clear. In
doing so, Iran appears to be more effective in illustrating the upside
of an Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement than the American interlocutors
have been.The writer is
president and CEO of The Media Line Ltd., an American news agency
specializing in coverage of the Middle East. She is founder of the
Mideast Press Club.[email protected]