Column: The New, Confusing Middle East


Last Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made the first official visit by an Israeli head of state to the United Arab Emirates, where he laughed and joked with her Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Some Israeli experts described Bennett’s historic visit as a sign that the Middle East region has changed forever, with Sunni Arab states allied with Israel as a hedge against Iranian aggression.

But just a week before Bennett’s plane landed, the UAE’s national security advisor traveled to Tehran to heal a five-year rift with Iran. The Iranian Foreign Minister crowed that the two countries would open a new page. In other words, Sunni Arab states are hedging their bets.

Welcome to the confusing new Middle East, where Arab and Israeli leaders try to figure out how to jump as the US pulls back from its involvement in the region – and tries to focus on China’s rise.

It’s been a little over a year since the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Bahraini stood on the White House lawn alongside former Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu as they celebrated former President Donald Trump‘s Abraham Accords, which strengthened ties too Israel normalized. (Morocco joined later.) The Israelis now regard the eight daily flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai (part of the UAE) as the new normal.

But no matter how exciting it is for Israelis to have weddings in Dubai, Trump’s hopes that the Abraham Accords would bring final peace in the Middle East were far exaggerated. Iran‘s continued march towards threshold capacity to build an atomic bomb could spark a new regional conflict, and the unresolved Palestinian conflict could still explode.

So how can the Biden team avoid getting drawn into a war in the Middle East again?

This is the question I asked Martin Indyk, Distinguished Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations. As US ambassador to Israel and special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he has seen how grandiose peace plans work and fail. Now he has written the story of a famous diplomat who, in his day, did not believe that peace in the Middle East was achievable or even desirable.

“Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy” focuses on Kissinger’s years as Richard Nixon’s Foreign Secretary, stabilizing the Middle East and setting the stage for future peace talks.

So how does “order before peace” apply to today’s Middle East?

“With our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the cross-party consensus, we have signaled,” says Indyk, “that we do not want to be involved in another eternal war. What is emerging is a realignment in which Israel and Arab Sunni states are working together to rebalance Iran. The US is promoting this to calm the situation. “

But US diplomacy is still critical. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal left Iran free to enrich uranium at weapon level.

The Biden team is trying to bring Iran back into the deal, Indyk says, “but it looks like this deal is getting increasingly out of reach. We are offered less and they want more. “

So the Middle East is facing a situation in which Israel could prepare (not immediately) for a military strike against Iran, a move that could spark a regional conflict.

The Kissinger-style question arises as to how US diplomacy can convince Iran to withdraw from its enrichment efforts. Indyk believes that since any military outbreak, China could pressure Iran because it would threaten its oil supplies. Hmmm ….

But to gain time so that the situation can improve is Kissinger’s modus operandi.

But that doesn’t get the US or Israel off the hook. Buying time will increase the likelihood of a violent Palestinian explosion if not accompanied by a freeze of new settlements, economic development in Gaza and the West Bank, and a gradual return of Israel-held territory to Palestinian control.

Shaking hands in the Arabian Gulf will not be enough.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Philadelphia Inquirer / KRT)

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and board member of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers can write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, PO Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or by email at [email protected]


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