Five months ago, we wrote an article with a strange sounding title – Are Iran & Israel Destined to be Partners?. Our basic thesis was that the Middle East is caught in an Islamic Sunni-Shia civil war. Nothing is more brutal, more barbaric than a religious civil war as the current conflict in Syria demonstrates.
Situated on two sides of the Sunni middle eastern belt, core interests of Iran and Israel are parallel if not congruent, in our opinion. We wrote then:
- “Without such [militarily strong] an Israel in the Middle East, Iran would become the sole enemy of the entire Sunni Arab world. In other words, a strong Israel could actually be an unarticulated but core strategic interest of Iran. Conversely, Sunni hostility towards Iran lessens the pressure on Israel. This is why the Shah of Iran & Israel were semi-allies in the 1960s & 1970s. Regimes come and go but fundamental geostrategic interests remain the same.”
In such a situation, we felt, it was wrong for America to get caught on one side of this 1,400-year old intra-Islamic civil war. Therefore, we argued, it was necessary for America to change to a more practical, realpolitik type approach. Specifically, we wrote:
- “America will have to turn into 19th century Britain and play Middle Eastern players against each other the way that Britain played European powers against each other. That America will have to publicly display the charm of a James Garner while privately engaging in tactics of a Disraeli.”
This was a lonely position five months ago and it is still a contrarian one today. But we may not be all alone now. Because this week, Stratfor’s Robert Kaplan & Kamran Bokhari wrote an interesting article titled Balancing Shia and Sunni Radicalisms.
What do Kaplan & Bokhari mean by balancing Shia & Sunni radicalisms?
Their opening statement is revealing:
- “Don’t defeat Iran. Shi’ism is not America’s enemy. It is not in the long-term interest of the United States to side with the Sunni Arab states against Iran or vice versa.”
What is their view of a Sunni dominated Middle East?
- Remember that the United States had a bad, decades long experience with Sunni domination of the Middle East. It was Sunni dominance, in which the Shias were not sufficiently feared, that helped lead to a phalanx of Arab dictators — in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere — who had little incentive to quell anti-Americanism in their midst.
- The last thing Washington should want is to build a new Middle East around Saudi Arabia, which itself has entered a period of great uncertainty and is resolved to weakening Iranian influence in the northern rim of the Middle East at all costs — even if it means empowering jihadists.
- “The West should therefore be prepared in coming years for regionwide upheavals in which its alliances are rearranged.”
What is their message?
- “The U.S. estrangement from Iran has already lasted over a third of a century — a decade longer than the U.S. estrangement from “Red” China. This cannot go on forever.”
- “… the United States should, nevertheless, attempt to create conditions favorable for a robust American-Iranian dialogue that will balance its warm relations with Saudi Arabia.”
Welcome to our side Mr. Kaplan & Mr. Bokhari!
What about Israel & Iran?
This is the most complicated aspect of balancing Shias & Sunnis in a Disraeli-type realpolitik. It is also politically very sensitive in America. May be that’s why Kaplan & Bokhari didn’t touch it.
They should have because things are changing on the ground thanks to the Syrian civil war. Iran’s relations with Sunni Hamas have been virtually shut down. Iran’s Shia ally, Hezbollah, is now openly fighting on the anti-Sunni side of in the Syrian civil war. It is now an existential conflict for Hezbollah as well. So Israel no longer faces an Iran-led Hezbollah-Hamas phalanx as it did last year.
So conditions are getting riper for an America-led secret “understanding” between Israel and Iran. We reproduce below the secret “understanding” we proposed on January 26, 2013:
- “US will assure Iran that it will not attempt or support a regime change in Iran, privately remove sanctions, covertly assist Iranian economy through allies and allow Iran a major anti-Taleban role in Afghanistan.”
- “Iran in turn will give up its nuclear program, allow American monitoring of all nuclear facilities and support America’s war against Al-Qaida type movements in Middle East and Africa.”
- “Israel in turn will make nice to America’s public but festina lente efforts for an Israeli-Palestinian accord and gets what it wants the most – removal of Iranian nuclear threat”
We feel reasonably certain that Turkey will end up accepting if not actually supporting this deal to avoid being left out of an Israel-Iran “understanding”. Acceptance by Turkey will end up easing the pressure on Iraq from a Turkey-Kurdish energy deal and at least stabilizing the Baghdad-Kurdish dispute. A stable Iraq is an important American interest.
This leaves America free to maintain and even upgrade its warm relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, thus truly balancing America’s interests in both the Sunni and Shia spheres in the middle east.
None of this will help end the civil war in Syria but the above will ensure that war remains localized to Syria and perhaps to parts of Lebanon. That would be big in itself.
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