Saturday, March 13, 2021

Middle Eastern Realpolitik

The Biden era is upon the Middle East. The Iranians have taken the measure of Biden’s tough talk and have decided that he is more bluster than substance, an empty head with a spine of jelly. Therefore, they have given the green light to their Houthi proxies in Yemen-- to launch more attacks against Saudi Arabia. 

Israeli site, Debkafile, has the story:

US goodwill gestures and warning signals have clearly lost their punch for Iran – even when backed by the mighty US B-52 bombers flying over their heads. After dozens of attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels outdid themselves on Sunday, March 8 by sending 14 armed drones and 8 ballistic missiles flying toward the Saudi petrol tank farm at Ras Tanura, one of the largest oil shipping ports in the world, and the residential area of Dharan that houses foreign oil workers, including Americans. A gag order from Riyadh concealed the scale of injuries and damage. (See attached picture.)

As one must assume, the Biden administration has told our allies in the region to hold back from retaliating. How else to explain their failure to respond to increasing aggression:

This escalating run of Iranian aggression has been ongoing for weeks without a comeback, whether from the US, Israel or Saudi Arabia. Even Israel’s systematic aerial campaign against Iran’s military presence in Syria is running out of effective steam.

The Iranians seem to feel that although their enemies loudly threaten to prevent their acquisition of a nuclear bomb, they are not about to go into action. Tehran has time meanwhile to safely advance on its quest for a nuke. The UN nuclear watchdog reported on Monday that Iran has started enriching uranium with a third cascade of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its underground plant at Natanz, further breaching Iran’s 2015 deal with major powers. The fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges was installed but not yet fed with uranium (Natural UF6), and installation of the fifth was ongoing.

One suspects that the restraint will end in time, when it becomes clear that Biden administration wants nothing else but to empower Iran. Besides, there are other ways to retaliate. Saudi Arabia is looking to strengthen its ties with China, for instance.

And the alliances between Israel and its Arab neighbors are advancing. Achai Vohra lays it out in a Foreign Policy article (via Maggie’s Farm):

Now, as U.S. President Joe Biden speaks of rejoining the nuclear deal with Iran, Israel is strengthening a once-unthinkable alliance with its Arab partners through strategic, technological, and business cooperation. Just last month, Israel called for the formation of a defense alliance with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, with Iran in its sights. It signed various deals with the UAE, the second-largest economy in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia, in tourism, health, agriculture, and the water sector. According to an initial estimate, bilateral trade between Israel and the UAE is expected to increase from $300,000 to $500 million a year.

Diplomatically, Israel is on the march in the region. The alliances are not merely military, they are also technological and industrial.

Israel is enhancing strategic cooperation by creating lobbies with a vested interest in the relationship through feel-good business ties. Business constituencies increase the stake in peace and reduce the chances of a conflict. Israel understands that and hopes that instead of being seen as a “war nation,” as has been the case, it can prove its worth as an ally—and not just against Iran. Israel is ready to cooperate in fields that even U.S. companies wary of the Gulf’s human rights record might not be—for instance, social media monitoring.

As has often been noted, the Palestinian cause has long since outlived its usefulness. Arab nations have decided that they are not going to commit cultural suicide for a bunch of anti-Semitic malcontents:

An additional reason for cooperation is the general fatigue of Arab countries with the Palestinian cause and the rise of national identities over a united Arab one. Analysts say many countries in the Gulf, or at least sizable segments of their populations, don’t wish to be held hostage to the Palestinian issue any longer and see relations with Israel as essential to diversifying their economies.

And also:

Aziz Alghashian, an analyst on Saudi Arabia’s relations with Israel, said Neom is considered the new arena where the two countries might cooperate next. “In general, Saudi is heading towards transforming its economy and making it more technological-based rather than oil-based, and Israel can help with that,” he said. “What Neom signifies is that the incentive for Saudi Arabia and Israel to cooperate openly is increasing. It also indicates that if Saudi Arabia and Israel would have normal relations or open relations of some sort, it will be motivated by Saudi prosperity rather than countering Iran.”

Biden administration missteps, like the animus toward Mohammed bin Salman, has caused the nations of the regions to ally against Iran:

Moreover, Biden’s animus toward Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and in general over human rights violations in the kingdom as well as the UAE and Egypt, is actually cementing ties. “Tense relations between Washington and Riyadh are leading to a new quartet—Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain. We might see them get closer whilst Biden runs the White House,” Guzansky added.

Obviously, this is modern day Realpolitik. Naturally, the weak kneed idealistic contingent is up in arms about human rights violations and the suppression of dissent. One might ask whether suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, counts as the suppression of dissent. One notes that the Saudi Crown prince’s liberalizing reforms are strongly supported by his people. 

So, the danger to these alliances lies in liberal Westerners and anti-Israeli Biden administration officials:

Within the Israeli expert community too, some of the government’s policies are criticized, especially when they entail aiding the suppression of dissent in Arab nations. Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, said Arab companies will be hesitant of purchasing Israeli products mainly because they would not want to “alienate customers.” She said business cooperation thus far has been in surveillance technologies, which might grow but at a cost. “It will further increase the repressive capabilities” of Gulf nations, Tsurkov said, “and their ability to track dissidents and surveil their private communications. Therefore, Israeli-Gulf cooperation will likely be quite detrimental to political freedoms.”

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