Iran is the secret matchmaker in Israeli-Arab relations - opinion

Despite their own propaganda and rhetoric, the secular Arab regimes long ago figured out that the Islamists were a far greater threat than the Zionists.

A COMBINATION picture shows Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A COMBINATION picture shows Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, may not want to admit it, but he can add shadchan, matchmaker, to his title in recognition of his contribution to ending Israel’s isolation in the Arab world.
Iran’s desire to destroy “the criminal Zionist regime” and spread its Shi’ite Islamic revolution by overthrowing the secular Sunni Gulf states has given substance to the ancient proverb about the enemy of my enemy being my friend.
Despite their own propaganda and rhetoric, the secular Arab regimes long ago figured out that the Islamists were a far greater threat than the Zionists and quietly began reaching out, often with the help of the Great Satan in Washington.
A confluence of events made 2020 the year when long-standing though largely clandestine diplomatic, security and commercial relationships emerged into the open, thanks to a pair of catalytic politicians looking to score political points with their domestic bases.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was promising nationalist and settler parties he would annex up to 40% of the West Bank, and President Donald Trump wanted foreign policy achievements to shore up support for his reelection campaign.
United Arab Emirates leader Mohammed bin Zayed made Netanyahu an offer he couldn’t refuse: Drop your annexation plans and we will publicly make peace, and others may follow. MBZ, as he’s known, feared annexation would kill changes for a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict, even if that remains far in the future.
The mercantile Trump saw not only a potential Nobel Prize, but a great business opportunity for his wealthy donors in the defense industry. He was ready to stifle Israeli objections and sell the Emirates the F-35s, drones and missiles it wanted. He might not understand diplomacy, but he does know a good business deal when he sees it. He was embracing Henry Kissinger’s policy of recycling petrodollars: You’ve got lots of money from selling oil and we’ve got lots of weapons to sell you.
Bahrain soon joined the Abrahamic Accords, followed by Sudan; Trump is saying others are on the cusp, possible Oman, Morocco and Kuwait. The biggest prize is Saudi Arabia. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, went there this week to try to close the deal, following Netanyahu’s not-very-secret meeting last week with his clandestine ally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
The Wall Street Journal and other publications report MBS is withholding formal peace with Israel until he can present it as a gift to incoming President Joe Biden in hope of countering his image as Trump’s boy and to repair the kingdom’s low standing. The president-elect has been critical of the kingdom’s abysmal human rights record and has said he wants to “reassess” relations.
Trump ripped up the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) because he wanted to destroy Barack Obama’s signal foreign policy achievement. Substance was secondary. He boasted his “maximum pressure” campaign would force Tehran to accept tougher terms, but that was a farce; he never proposed an alternative or sought negotiations. None of the other signatories supported his strategy, assuming he actually had one.
IRANIAN-AMERICAN JOURNALIST Jason Rezaian writes in The Washington Post that Trump’s policies have done nothing to loosen the regime’s grip on power and instead enabled it to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium. Some experts believe they may have enough for two missile warheads.
Trump in recent weeks has been threatening a preemptive attack on Iran, according to leaks from administration officials trying to talk him out of it.
Last week’s assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the man who was in charge of Iran’s military nuclear and ballistic missile programs, is widely blamed on Israel.
Some observers question whether the timing was an attempt to provoke an Iranian military response that would give Trump the excuse he wanted to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Another theory is the assassination was intended less to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program than to sabotage Biden’s pledge to rejoin the JCPOA and repair relations with the Islamic Republic. The president-elect has been unclear about whether he just hopes to rejoin or demand fixes in the pact as a precondition.
Writing in The New York Times this week, Tom Friedman warned not to rush into the old agreement but to use that as leverage to focus on a more immediate threat, Iran’s “export of precision guided missiles.” The greatest danger posed by Iran is not its future development of nuclear weapons – any use would be suicidal, which the ayatollahs are not – but the very present-day reality of its conventional drones and precision-guided cruise missiles in the hands of its proxies, particularly Hezbollah.
Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, Alexander Haig, was among the first to call for a military alliance of Israel and the secular Gulf Arab states. He was prescient but premature. The Soviet threat has been replaced by the more dangerous one from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and reality is finally getting Arab attention. So is another reality: the US pivot from the Middle East to Asia. The region is a shrinking priority for America, which is now energy-independent and focusing on China.
Iran’s Sunni neighbors turned to an alliance with Israel, a nuclear-armed regional superpower with a superior intelligence force that proved itself by sneaking into Iran two years ago and stealing a treasure trove of its nuclear documents.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called an Arab alliance with Israel “a cause of insecurity and instability in the region.” Long passed is the day when most Arabs were saying the same thing. Today there is a widespread consensus in the region that Iran is the destabilizing threat and Israel is the friend with shared interests.
Iran is unsure how to respond to the Fakhrizadeh assassination, ranging from threats to blow up Israel’s oil refineries and the Port of Haifa, to random attacks by proxies, to holding their fire in the hope the new Biden administration will move to repair relations and ease or even remove sanctions that have crippled its economy.
The Iranians have been the matchmaker for Israeli and Arab peacemakers. Now they must learn to repair relations with a new American administration. No one expects peace but stability would be in the interest of all. Inshallah.