Thursday, July 5, 2018

Donald of Arabia

The article is long, detailed and well reported. Writing in the New Yorker, Adam Entous explains the shifting alliances in the Middle East. I have often reported on it here, so I will give the Entous article some attention.

Strikingly, Entous opens with an account of how badly the Obama administration damaged the American-Israeli partnership. At a time when well-thinking people are whining in their lattes over Trump’s worsening relations with certain European allies— many of whom are now aligning themselves with Iran in a last, desperate attempt to stay relevant— they fail to remark on what a mess Obama made of America’s relations with Israel.

Entous seems inclined to blame it on the Israelis, and especially on the Likud, but still… the Obama administration also made a shambles of relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In some part, Entous works hard to cleanse Barack Obama of the charge that he was pro-Iranian and anti-Israeli. At one poignant moment in the article Entous quotes Obama saying that he is a “liberal Jew.” He did not seem like such a good Jew when he was abstaining from a United Nations Resolution designed to punish Israel. The sophisticated foreign policy hands in the Obama White House went out of their way to punish Israel for not being sufficient compliant towards Obama.

And yet, Entous also explains that the Obama administration was on very friendly terms with the Palestinian Authority. He does not mention Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright and the latter’s support for Hamas. As for the Iran nuclear deal, Entous argues the administration point that it was designed to moderate Iran and to bring it into the world. In truth, it has not worked out that way. It seems more likely that Obama was either suckered by the Iranians or that he wanted to punish Israel.

The foreign policy establishment has long believed that peace in the Middle East needed to pass through an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. The Obama administration, as did past administrations wagered on the deal and imagined, for reasons that seem to bespeak bias, that the main obstacle to peace was Israeli intransigence.

Might one not imagine that this attitude stoked Palestinian intransigence, making peace more difficult to achieve.

Similarly, Entous goes on for paragraph after paragraph about Israeli and especially Likud settlements and hostility toward peace. He spends precious little time outlining Palestinian terrorism or even the Hamas wish to kill all Jews, no matter where they live. One finds it difficult to understand why anyone would want to reward such behaviors.

With the Trump administration America has refused to play honest broker between a major  ally and a band of terrorist thugs. Entous describes the Trump foreign policy team and Trump himself as a bunch of uncultured, uninformed, unprepared, inexperienced bumblers. He intimates that Trump is being manipulated by Bibi Netanyahu and especially by American evangelical Christians…. who support Israeli more strongly than do American liberal Jews.

Anyway, the Trump administration has been markedly and openly pro-Israeli. Those who expected that Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates would turn away from Israel were shocked and surprised to see relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors improving exponentially.

After all, Trump led the American delegation to Riyadh in May, 2017 where Sunni Arab states turned away from terrorism. While Trump was greeted at the Riyadh airport by the King of Saudi Arabia, Obama was welcomed on his last trip by the mayor of Riyadh. You do not need to be too sophisticated to read the message. It was not just Israel that was thrilled to be rid of Obama.

Entous credits Netanyahu with the most important realignment of Middle East relationships. Were it not for the fact that he presents Trump as Bibi’s marionette, Entous recognizes the important diplomacy being conducted by the prime minister of Israel:

With Obama finally out of the way, Netanyahu could concentrate on getting the Trump team to embrace his grand strategy for transforming the direction of Middle Eastern politics. His overarching ambition was to diminish the Palestinian cause as a focus of world attention and to form a coalition with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to combat Iran, which had long supported Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and had taken strategic advantage of the American folly in Iraq and the war in Syria.

After trying to rationalize Obama’s policies, Entous continues:

But the Israelis, the Gulf states, and now Trump believed the opposite—that Iran was the principal enemy in the region and that the nuclear pact showed weakness, and only fuelled Iranian expansionism. Before the Inauguration, Netanyahu had taken the bold step of quietly dispatching Yossi Cohen, the head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign-intelligence agency, to Washington. Cohen briefed Flynn on the Iranian threat, in an attempt to insure that the two governments would be closely aligned in their approach.

He notes the work done by the United Arab Emirates in forging good relations with Trump:

There was one other Middle Eastern ambassador who had extraordinary access to the new President’s team: Yousef Al Otaiba, of the United Arab Emirates. Otaiba had been introduced to Kushner during the campaign by Thomas Barrack, a Lebanese-American billionaire who was raising money for Trump and was friendly with Otaiba’s father. Barrack knew that Kushner was already working closely with Dermer, and he thought Trump’s team needed to hear the Gulf Arab perspective.

Traditionally, Gulf leaders frowned on contact with Israeli government officials, but Otaiba’s boss, Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the most politically important of the emirates, took a different view. Bin Zayed, known as M.B.Z., believed that the Gulf states and Israel shared a common enemy: Iran. Like Netanyahu, M.B.Z. considered Iran to be the primary threat to his country.

The relationship had been ongoing for decades.

With M.B.Z.’s blessing, Suwaidi started bringing delegations of influential American Jews to Abu Dhabi to meet with Emirati officials. A senior Emirati leader attended one of the first sessions, more than twenty years ago, according to a former American official, who recalled him saying something that shocked the Jewish leaders in the room: “I can envision us being in the trenches with Israel fighting against Iran.” They assumed that he was telling them what he thought they wanted to hear, but the official said that, for Emirati leaders like M.B.Z., “it’s the old adage: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In 2015 the alliances shifted yet again when Saudi King Abdullah died and when the new King Salman handed most authority to his son, Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS:

M.B.S., as he is known, shared M.B.Z.’s views on Iran and a less ideological approach to the Jewish state. In meetings with American officials in Riyadh and Washington, M.B.S. routinely remarked that “Israel’s never attacked us,” and “we share a common enemy.” He privately said that he was prepared to have a full relationship with Israel. Like M.B.Z., M.B.S., in conversations with U.S. officials and Jewish-American groups, expressed disdain for the Palestinian leadership. He, too, seemed eager for that conflict to be finished, even if it meant the Palestinians were dissatisfied with the terms.

We have reported several times on this blog that the key shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came when the Palestinians lost the support of Saudi Arabia. Entous provides more evidence for the argument.

By 2016 the Israeli Mossad was working behind the scenes with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. to counter Iranian influence in the region.

Israeli intelligence officials say that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, feels more isolated than ever. In the past, support from Arab states gave the Palestinians the confidence to resist U.S. and Israeli pressure to soften their demands. That backing has always been contingent, but it now seems more precarious. …

Remarkably, M.B.S. met with Jewish-American organizations in New York in March and criticized Abbas for rejecting offers of peace. “In the last several decades,” he said, “the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given. It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.”

Again, the new alignment has left the Palestinian cause to the side. As I have suggested, the war between Israel and the Palestinians is now over. The Palestinians lost.

Entous concludes:

Recently, co√∂peration among Israel and the Gulf states has expanded into the Sinai Peninsula, where M.B.Z. has deployed Emirati forces to train and assist Egyptian troops who have been fighting militants with help from Israeli military aircraft and intelligence agencies. U.A.E. forces have, on occasion, conducted counterterrorism missions in Sinai. Although Netanyahu would like to make these new relationships more public, he doesn’t want to put M.B.Z. and M.B.S. at risk. Eventually, Netanyahu hopes that those leaders will take steps to recognize Israel—a moment that the Palestinians, especially in their current state, would be loath to see.

The Palestinians seem to be the likely losers in the new New Middle East. As a senior Arab official said of the strategic alliance, “With or without a peace plan, it’s happening.” A senior Trump adviser said, “Iran is the reason why this is all happening.”


Sam L. said...

The Palis do not "seem" to be the "likely" losers; they are the definite losers. Pali "leaders" have led them into the box canyon from whence there is no escape. Of course, had the leaders changed course, they'd would not have had the opportunities for graft that they did.

Gringo said...

The Obama administration, as did past administrations wagered on the deal and imagined, for reasons that seem to bespeak bias, that the main obstacle to peace was Israeli intransigence.

One would think that Arafat's turning down the peace deal in 2000- coupled with shortly thereafter having the Palis go on a rampage- might have led to differing opinions.

Martha Gellhorn's 1961 article in The Atlantic Monthly, The Arabs of Palestine, is still relevant.

Sam L. said...

Obama did not like Israel and Israelis. My guess is, it's because they had ideas, made plans, and accomplished them They were successful. Also, they weren't impressed by Obama (which we know to be a severe blow to his vanity).