President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address to Congress, along with calling Ukraine a Russian “client state”, which infuriated the Ukrainians, referred to conflicts in the Middle East “…that date back millennia” It’s not clear what he was referring to, unless he thinks the Palestinians of today are the descendants of the Philistines of antiquity, which they, of course, are not. Nevertheless, what he referred to benignly as a “transformation” in the region became even more gut-wrenchingly chaotic and opaque, just in recent days alone:
As Obama was speaking, ten U.S. Marines were being held by the Iranians after their vessels were seized in the Gulf. The president did not make reference to them. Secretary of State Kerry declared their prompt return an indication of improving relations with Iran, although the ships have not yet been returned while their equipment is undoubtedly being analyzed by the Iranians/
Iran tested missiles in contravention to binding U.N. resolutions. In response, the U.S. Treasury Department declared new sanctions on Iran, which were removed by White House intervention a few hours later after Tehran threatened to abrogate the infamous nuclear “deal”, reached last July.
Iranian naval vessels sent rockets across the bow of the U.S. aircraft carrier “Harry S. Truman”. No reaction was detected from Washington, which instead stated that Iran was getting close to qualifying for the release of its frozen funds under the “deal”.
Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite cleric, and Iranian mobs burned the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. The Saudis and their Gulf allies broke diplomatic relations with Iran or downgraded them as a result.
A terrorist attack on the Saudi intelligence agency’s office in Qatif, the capital of the eastern province, which borders the Gulf and which concentrates both the Shiite population and much of the oil production of the petrokingdom.
The Turks agreed with Qatar to send air, naval and ground forces to the emirate, including 3000 troops. It should be noted that there is a major U.S. airbase in Qatar, which apparently no longer represents protection to the Qataris.
Pakistan substituting for an absent America promised Saudi Arabia nuclear retaliation should Iran attack the kingdom, basically threatening the physical obliteration of the Iranian regime.
Half a world away, North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb – or according to some intelligence services – faked such a test, which however did not explain how they simultaneously faked a small earthquake. North Korea, of course, has for years sold nuclear technology to Iran, greatly facilitating Iran’s search for nuclear weapons.
In the meantime, Israel received a new atomic submarine of the latest design from Germany, successfully tested a driverless patrol boat and will soon be receiving advanced military aircraft from the U.S. In addition, excellent economic and financial news was announced, including a substantial reduction in the debt to GDP ratio.
If Israel can put up with its dysfunctional political and religious authorities and still thrive economically and get stronger militarily it should be able to ward off dangers and take advantage of opportunities in the region, even those that “…go back millennia”.
* Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.