Sunday, June 16, 2013

Distracting obsession

When Pres. Barack Obma took office in 2009 he did so with the desire, like all new Presidents, to solve the conflict between the Arabs and Israel.  He stated then that all other conflicts in the Middle East were derived from the Israel-Arab conflict and that if the Arabs could be satisfied with the creation of a Palestinian State brought about by US intervention then they would be grateful to the US and would change their hostile attitude fundamentally.  That was why Obama chose to give a speech to the Arab World from Cairo in 2009 and then avoided visiting Israel. 
It took until 2013, after the so-called Arab Spring uprisings, the fall of US-ally Pres. Mubarak, the take-over of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood, the expansion of sectarian violence in Iraq,  the Syrian civil war and the nuclear threat from Iran, for the reality to sink in and the realization that the only dependable ally the US has in the Middle East is Israel.  That was why for the first foreign visit of his second term Obama visited Israel, and although he appealed directly to the Israeli people over PM Netanyahu's head to bring pressure on their government to force them to make peace, nevertheless he showed greater friendship towards Israel than he had ever done hitherto. 
There has been a gradual realignment of forces in the Middle East.  From an excessive focus on the Israel-Arab axis, there is now a greater awareness of intra-Arab Sunni-Shia strife, in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon that has nothing to do with Israel.  The lines are drawn between the Sunni Muslim States of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, allied to the Sunni elements in Syria and the Shia axis of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.  When the death toll in Syria hit 50,000 I asked how high would it have to go before the US and its allies intervened.  Now we know that the figure is 100,000 deaths, because that is the current US estimate (actually 93,000 minimum), and now Pres. Obama, on the basis that Sarin gas has been used by the regime (that was already reported by Britain, France and Israel), has reversed his policy and agreed to supply the "moderate" Sunni rebels in Syria with arms, and may even consider a no-fly zone, starting along the Syrian-Jordanian border.   
It is not only the Sunni-Shia conflict that is distracting US (and UN) policy away from a near obsessive focus on Israel and the Palestinians, but also the other local potential conflicts, including the possible spill-over of the Syrian conflict to Iraq and Lebanon, the potential conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia over the damming of the Nile and the current upheaval in Turkey.  Truth be told, the Palestinians are a minor irritation compared to the real danger of the Hizbollah intervention in force (at least 5,000 fighters) tipping the balance in favor of the regime, leading to a pro-Iranian victory in Syria.  The US and its allies have commited themselves to toppling Pres. Assad, and the Iranian-Russian alliance cannot be allowed to prevent that.  As the Syrian debacle really takes center stage, so the Israel-Palestinian conflict fades into the background.  The US might yet be glad that Israel has its "back."


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