The recent serious earthquake in the border areas between Iran and Iraq felt as far afield as Israel, might serve as a metaphor for the political upheavals taking place currently in the region.
You might think that the geo-political situation could not get more unhinged than it has been since the onset of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011.
You would be wrong.
The following seismic events are taking place simultaneously, and are obviously affecting each other, and all of them will affect Israel in ways impossible to determine now, but which will be of great significance for good or for bad:
Following the ill-considered Iraqi Kurdish referendum on independence, Iranian-backed Iraqi forces quickly occupied all the territory gained by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) since 2014 and more, and thereby greatly diminished the reputation of the fearsome PeshMerga Kurdish army. Coupled with the Iranian- and Russian-backed government forces in Syria and the turmoil in Lebanon, Iran is now well on its way to creating a Shiite arc of influence all the way to the Mediterranean coast, achieving a long-standing objective of the millennial Persian Empire.
The influence of Russia in the Middle East has risen exponentially, while the influence of the United States is greatly diminished. The abandonment of the KRG by the US after the referendum has not gone unnoticed by the Iranians, the Arabs or the Kurds themselves. The openly partisan policies and actions of the Obama administration in favor of relations with Iran have given way to the vague and vacillating policies and actions of the Trump administration. Leadership is a quality made up of trust, vision, charisma, and courage. The Trump administration has none of those qualities.
The astonishing events in Saudi Arabia. It is not necessary to mention all the things that are going on in the desert Kingdom; they are the daily headlines. Taken together, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), who has all the ingredients of leadership (perhaps in the case of courage too much, amounting to recklessness), Saudi Arabia has the potential to become the true leader of the Arabs, given the economic weakness of Egypt, in open confrontation with a triumphant Iran. It may very well, on the contrary, degenerate into open warfare between reformers and traditionalists.
What might all this mean for Israel? Israeli international outreach and influence has spread throughout South Asia, the Far East, Africa and is now moving into Latin America. This is all to the good. But Israel is physically IN the Middle East, as the Iranian/Iraqi earthquake reminded us. What happens around us is more important than anything else except Israel’s own strengths and weaknesses as a society. And it is becoming clearer that that “anything else” includes relations with America. Israel can no longer depend on the US, which doesn’t mean, of course, ignoring the US, which remains its most important defense and intelligence ally. But the days of the 2012 decision not to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities because the anti-Israeli Obama government said no are gone. Israel has to make its own decisions, with its own interests as paramount.
As to Iran and Saudi Arabia, only added danger could result from the Iranian offensive and Israel must work with the Sunni Arabs to counter this development, but do so as discretely as possible. It must also do whatever it can to resuscitate the Kurdish cause in Iraq and Syria. It is far from clear if all this will eventually work in Israel’s favor or the opposite. What IS clear is that the current events are more than validating the ancient cliché about reaching a turning point, and will be of intense significance for the future of Israel.
*Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Professor of Economics and National Security, The National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft, The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC. He was formerly with the US National Security Council and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
* Published by Globes [online], Israel business news, on November 26, 2017