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Israel's Arab Friends
Obama ME Policy: Bringing People Together

Here at TAI, we’ve been tracking a growing Saudi-Israeli détente since 2013. Usually (though not always) this has been a matter of looking for subtle clues or reading between the lines. But yesterday, officials from each nation appeared together in public to push a common line. As Eli Lake, writing at Bloomberg, reports:

Since the beginning of 2014, representatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have had five secret meetings to discuss a common foe, Iran. On Thursday, the two countries came out of the closet by revealing this covert diplomacy at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. […]

It was not a typical Washington think-tank event. No questions were taken from the audience. After an introduction, there was a speech in Arabic from Anwar Majed Eshki, a retired Saudi general and ex-adviser to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Then Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who is slotted to be the next director general of Israel’s foreign ministry, gave a speech in English.

While these men represent countries that have been historic enemies, their message was identical: Iran is trying to take over the Middle East and it must be stopped.

At the end of May, Israeli PM Netanyahu made approving noises with regard to the Arab Peace Initiative—the framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace proposed by the late King of Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, the Saudi general named peace between the Arabs and Israel as the number one item on a seven point regional plan (number two was regime change in Iran), but added to Lake that Bibi needed to “accept” the API for it to happen. Thus the government of Saudi Arabia gets to protect itself against a public outcry, and can even argue it is pushing in a new—perhaps more effective—way for Palestinian rights, while the immediate work of building a united front with Israel against Iran continues.

To a large extent, American policymakers should rejoice at news like this: getting our Arab allies, led by the KSA, to play nicely with Israel and cooperate against regional enemies has been a longtime goal. However, it’s grimly ironic that it has been accomplished largely by a shared aversion on the part of the Arabs and Israelis to the Obama Administration’s policies. Consequently, while the immediate Saudi-Israeli goal is to enhance defenses against Iran and other destabilizing regional forces such as ISIS, the larger aim of this détente is also to make both countries less reliant on a U.S. they’ve come to think of as less reliable. Plus, Jerusalem and Riyadh probably hope that cooperation will enhance the pressure they can exert on the Administration regarding the forthcoming nuclear deal.

No other American president can point to this much cooperation between Arabs and Israelis taking place on his watch. The President is solving problems in the Middle East—if not necessarily the ones he intended.

Update: The Times of Israel is reporting that Saudi Gen. Eshki also gave an interview to Israeli Channel 10 News. While the substance of his remarks was largely similar to those he gave yesterday, in this case the medium—an Israeli television channel—may be the most important part of the Saudi message.

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  • Corlyss

    Obama ME Policy: Bringing People Together To Admire ME! As Much As I Admire ME!

    • Curious Mayhem

      It’s nice to have such a uniter in the White House.

  • Ellen

    Thank you for this illuminating opinion piece. One couldn’t hope to find anything this honestly written in our mainstream media today, unless Bret Stephens is up to it.

    Yes, one of Obama’s main legacies in the MidEast will be a rapprochement between Israel and the few Sunni Arab states left standing after the Sunni-Shiite war reaches its climax (soon). Of course, the house of Saud is not likely to be left standing for all that long. On that issue, the Iranians are correct. They will fall in due course due to their internal contradictions that Marxists love to prattle about. But, with God’s help, the Iranian internal contradictions will strike a blow first, and the Shiite theocracy will drop dead before the medieval absolute monarchy in Arabia does so.

    This rapprochement will come entirely at the expense of European influence which is ebbing away as we speak, and at the expense of American influence. Obama is making himself very dispensable during his last 18 months. That is where Leading From Behind eventually puts you – in the disposability bin.

    • JR

      The Law of Unintended Consequences. It is not always a bad thing.

    • Curious Mayhem

      Leave No President Behind!

  • JR

    Nice troll post TAI. I see what you are doing here.

  • FriendlyGoat

    I don’t know whether Saudi Arabia can convince the rest of Islam that Israel has a right to exist, but if they can at all—–THIS is how to do it. There has never been any doubt in my mind that Obama actually is brilliant. HOWEVER, I am willing to concede that these developments are not the outcome of his “master plan”. They are the result of some chaos and some realization in the minds of all parties that USA citizens are tired of mediating the Arab-Israeli squabble, that we can’t unilaterally fix their region and that we’re not going to. SOMEBODY from Islam is going to have to grow up. If it’s Saudi Arabia, fine. Getting to that point after everything else that has been tried and failed in diplomacy for decades doesn’t diminish Obama to me. Glad to see TAI’s last paragraph.

    • JR

      I’m with you on this one. We disagree on Obama’s brilliance, but at some point, who cares what you and I think about one man. IF, and it is a big IF, we get a rapprochement between Judaism and Islam (something that is eminently possible, if history is any guide) than how it gets done is irrelevant.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Sounds good to me. The historians will review Obama for years or decades and—–if we’re still alive—-we can see what they all say.

        • JR

          Call me a cynic, but if things turn out OK, there will be a freakin’ conga line of people claiming that their brilliance was solely responsible. If things turn out poorly, there will be a freakin’ conga line of people claiming it is most certainly NOT their fault.

          Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

          John F. Kennedy

          BTW, this quote has been around for thousands of years. Shows how much things changed. 🙂

          • FriendlyGoat

            You’re right. And, as for Obama, those who like him will like him. And those who don’t, won’t. George W. Bush is suffering the same division in retrospect.

          • JR

            If we are being philosophical, I think this era will be judged extremely harshly in the quality of political leadership category. We are in the interregnum, the period when old rules no longer work for new realist and we are trying to figure new ways. Our “leaders” have done a remarkably poor job as far as I am concerned.

  • Proud Skeptic

    Tongue in cheek article, I assume. Yes, during the last few years, because in part of the US refusal to go in and solve the problems for the Arabs it has made it necessary for the Arab countries to get their act together and defend themselves.

    That said, if this was Obama’s intent all along what was the purpose of being so confrontational with Netanyahu? Why the insistence on Palestinians getting their own state? Would Obama REALLY put himself in the position of having his Camp David summit be rejected by anyone in the Mid East who mattered? Why would Obama make a fool of himself in front of everyone on the Iran nuclear negotiations…causing Saudi Arabia to announce that it might be time for it, too to go nuclear?

    And then, there’s Syria and the red line…

    Nope…this was not a plan. But the outcome might eventually be the right thing for the area.

  • adk

    Recall that from the very beginning of his first term, Obama began pressing Israel for unilateral concessions to Palestinians to resume the “peace process”. Israel’s main concern then, as now, was Iranian nuclear program, so Obama told Netanyahu that making progress with Palestinians was a pre-condition for the Arab support of dealing with Iran. Here’s what Obama publicly said about that

    “If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians – between the Palestinians and the Israelis – then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat.”

    Then came Wikileaks dumps of hacked American emails, and the truth turned out to be the opposite of what Obama said. The Saudis and other Gulf Arabs repeatedly told Obama about the danger of Iran without ever linking it with the Palestinian issue. “Cut the head of that [Iranian] snake,” the Saudi King told Obama at one of their face-to-face meetings.

    So Obama lied through his teeth to Netanyahu as well as to everybody else (“Iranian nuclear program is unacceptable”, “All options are on the table”, etc.) while simultaneously trying secret channels to launch detente with the ayatollahs.

    In good times, the Saudis and other sundry Sunnis could afford posturing about the paramount importance of the Palestinian issue to them; threatened with their survival, they’ll do what they have to.

    These days there are only two government groups consistently dedicated to Palestinians no matter what — Obama administration and the Europeans, and to the latter it’s a cheap way (they think) to curry favors with Arabs and to express traditional European anti-Semitism.

    I wonder what that infamous video tape of Obama’s speech on which LA Times has been sitting for some seven(?) years now will reveal if it ever gets released.

    • JR

      Obama is a proud supporter of Muslim Brotherhood in all its iterations, including Hamas. We don’t need a video to see that. What he didn’t, and still doesn’t, seem to get is nobody, BUT nobody, in the Arab world gives a flying fudge about the Palestinian cause, unless it is used to demonize the hated JUUUUUIIIIICE. So when all was quiet on the Iranian front, Saudi Arabia et al really “cared” about Palestine and the related nonsense. But since now there is a real threat emanating from Iran, the focus shifted away from BS and towards survival. Since there is 0.0% chance of Israel attacking Saudi Arabia, all of a sudden we are seeing the levels of rapprochement that were unthinkable before Obama. All things considered, I don’t think situation in the ME is all that bad. Having Iran waste resources and elite troops on a vanity project like Assad is icing on a cake as far as I am concerned.

      • Ellen

        I would agree with all of that except I cannot fathom what Iran thinks it is getting out of supporting a genocidal murderer from a small likely to disappear heterodox sect of Islam. The Alawites are historically hated by their Sunni neighbors because they are considered heretics. Under the Assad dictatorship they added to their stigma by becaming accomplices to a murderous and economically predatory regime that has now put Syria back by 50 years in its development. Iran’s reputation in the Arab world is now worse than Israel (which says a lot), and it is bleeding money and soon manpower on a clearly lost cause. Talk about imperial overstretch. This is way beyond that. The theocrats in Iran clearly have a death wish for their Islamic project. They are rushing headlong into their own demise. Good.

        • JR

          Unlike other people who comment on TAI, I can’t read minds of leaders in the ME. What I think is going on is the result of Iran’s “Best defense is a good offense” strategy. The idea is to always be on the offensive, always portray yourself as a strong horse on which everyone should bet. Which is all well and good… The downside of this strategy is that it makes a retreat of any kind, however strategically beneficial it may be, pretty much unthinkable. Iran made a big show of how it supports Assad, how with Iranian help, he cannot fall. So now, they have to make good on that, which inevitably involves dedicating more and more resources to a fight that there is little hope of clearly winning. It is always important to remember that our adversaries are not some master strategists playing 5 dimensional chess. They are human beings with all the vanities, insecurities and stupidity associated with that.

          • Curious Mayhem

            I just pay attention to what ME leaders say and do. I infer the mentality. For Westerners, it takes a lot of time and patience to “get” it. There’s a whole cultural framework, largely unconscious, that you have to illuminate and identify before you can appreciate that the ME really is different, with its own rules.

    • Ellen

      Totally correct. Unfortunately for Abbas, Erekat and the rest of that den of thieves, their two and only remaining supporters in the global political arena are both fatally distracted and wounded. Obama is focused now on his legacy issue which is Iran, and has given up on the Palestinians entirely.
      The Europeans will never give up on the Palestinians, because this is the only “acceptable” way they can express their anti-Semitic views without severe blowback. However, they are more than occupied with the impending Grexit and possibly Brexit. The EU is finally coming apart at the seams, and even our lapdog pundits are now admitting that Europe will probably never recover its economic health, regardless of what macroeconomic tinkering it engages in.

      This year may be the first year in 135 years since the Zionist movement was established that Israel’s largest trading partner will be the Asian block rather than the EU block. It is really a historic change with many implications. European attempts to boycott Israel appear increasingly like the flailing of a dying civilization trying to beat up on a smaller power to prove that it is not yet impotent. But, it is.

      • Curious Mayhem

        When the euro collapses and the EU itself is threatened — very likely before the end of this decade — all this and more will happen, dumbfounding the already dumb.

    • Curious Mayhem

      See what I said above about the Palestinians. Obama cares not, and has never cared, about the issue. He’s after a major “legacy,” after all, his or Valerie Jarrett’s fourth-rate amateur theorizing about Iran and the Middle East.

  • Curious Mayhem

    Well, I’ve been waiting for this about a decade or so: “first date,” or “coming out,” or “The Likud-Wahhabi Accord of 2017.” Seems Gog and Magog are now best buds and steppin’ out.

    Seriously, folks, all of America’s allies are dealing with the once-serious superpower and the Narcissist-in-Chief. So of course, cats and dogs are living together, the wolf and the lamb lie down together for a nice chat, and a once-great superpower, now a second-rate Eurasian backwater, Russia is wondering why it’s having such great luck.

    And this has nothing whatever to do with the Palestinians, except for the need to stop the MB-style “substate actors” like Hamas and ISIS, both now with common sponsors (Qatar, Turkey). In 2009, everyone expected Obama and Netanyahu to come to blows over the Palestinians, even as Obama accepted and strengthened anti-Iran policy. In 2009, who knew what would really happen? That Obama would develop a serious fantasy/hard-on for Iran and do nothing — zip, nada — for the Palestinians? That the media would go into extreme distraction overdrive to change the subject, to avoid discussing what a disaster Obama has been? Really, who among us knew?

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