When the Emirates deal hit the headlines, Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a member of the Norwegian Parliament, promptly nominated Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize: “He has done more [for] peace between nations than most other Peace Prize nominees.”
True, Trump has pulled off a masterpiece, acting with out-of-character discretion and without a tornado of tweets. The UAE was followed by Bahrain, and in due time, Oman and Saudi-Arabia may join in, especially since the “Gulfies” never act without Riyadh’s blessing. Morocco and Sudan could be next.
This diplomatic coup is withdrawing the strategic map of the Middle East. But Trump could not have done it without Iran’s “Supreme Leader,” Ali Khamenei, who unwittingly wrote the script and set the stage. Though rarely seen in public, the Rahbar has been the Islamic Republic’s highest authority since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. He has the ultimate say over foreign and military policy. Whatever Iran’s ungodly role in the Middle East, he should share the Oslo stage with Trump.
A Peace Prize for Khamenei? It sounds like satire running amuck. After all, the Islamic Republic has been the single-most dangerous denizen of the Middle East. Here is the shortlist: At home, the regime has killed thousands of dissidents. Under Khamenei, Iran has asphyxiated the democratic “Green Revolution.” Corrupt down to the lowly mullah level, these pious revolutionaries have immiserated the nation long before Trump’s brutal sanctions began to grind down the economy.
Nor is Iran a model citizen abroad. Continuing where the Shah had taken off with four reactors acquired in the seventies, the theocracy has diligently assembled the building blocks of a nuclear armory, and never mind the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) Barack Obama had touted as a path to a no-nuke Iran.
Khameinist Iran has trained and armed terror groups in the region and beyond. Starting with next-door Iraq, it has built a “land bridge” across Syria all the way to the Mediterranean—to Beirut in the north and Gaza in the south. In the words of the Lebanese-born U.S. scholar Fouad Ajami, Iran has “bought itself a border with Israel.” Its Quds Force ranges across the Levant. In Yemen, Iran is fighting a cruel proxy war against the Saudis. It threatens tanker traffic in the Gulf and bombs Saudi oilfields.
This rap sheet is to make a larger point. A big chunk of the credit for the diplomatic revolution just celebrated in the White House must go to Khamenei. Why else would the Gulf potentates treat with the despicable Yahud who figures as “ape” and “swine” in the Koran? Why would the Hundred Years’ War against the Zionist project pale now?
The answer is “Imperial Iran,” which transformed ancient enmities into a marriage of convenience between Muslims and Jews. What was feted as a “miracle” is actually nothing new under the sun. In Christendom, think about the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) high schoolers learn to view as faith-driven mayhem. Not so. It wasn’t Protestants vs. Papists, but an all-out hegemonic conflict between Catholic France and Catholic Habsburgs. The French had no qualms about allying with the Protestant Swedes and the Lutheran princes of the Holy Roman Empire. Protestant Denmark played both sides of the street. Power beat the pulpit.
Thus again in the Middle East today. Against Iran, the Israeli infidels are God-sent. For the Gulf states, Iran is the supreme ideological and strategic foe right next door. Israel, on the other hand, is at a safe distance, and it does not want to overthrow Sunni regimes. As a nuclear-armed regional superpower, the Jewish state is the only real counterweight against the grasping heirs of Darius who ruled the entire Middle East at the height of the Persian Empire.
Closely linked to the United States, Israel looks even better than America, the midwife of this progressive realignment, with foes and friends trading places. The U.S. has proven a fickle protector. Most recently, Obama tried to make nice to Tehran at the expense of Israel and the Arabs, a traumatic turn that along with the JCPOA accelerated the rethink.
Israel is a much lower risk because it shares with the Sunni states the same deadly threat posed by Iran. It’s the old saw: “The enemy of my enemy…”—but with an extra bonus. As a global power, the United States is always open to new flirts, and it regularly abandons local favorites. Jimmy Carter ditched the Shah in 1978. Barack Obama dropped Egypt’s Mubarak and opened the way for the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor have Arab potentates forgotten Ronald Reagan who not-so-secretly supported Saddam in his Eight Years War against Iran in the 1980s. George W. Bush brought him down in 2003. But the Israeli-Arab marriage will endure as long as Iranian imperialism does. Robust interests make for reliable bedfellows.
So, if justice were to be done, Ali Khamenei should get half the Nobel because, against all Iranian interests, he played the matchmaker. Let’s fantasize some more. For the make-believe Oslo ceremony, the Supreme Leader should bring along a whole coterie of henchmen. One honored guest should be the present commander of the Quds Force, a branch of the elite Revolutionary Guards, who have executed military and clandestine operations abroad since 1988.
Posthumous recognition should go to his predecessor Qasem Soleimani who masterminded Iran’s march to the Med from 1998 to 2020 when he was killed by an American drone. Merit badges should be pinned on the scientists and engineers who worked on nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. They all strained hard to turn Tehran into an existential threat to Israelis and Arabs alike.
The list goes on. In this fantasy scenario, Barack Obama gets a special mention for his JCPOA that could merely slow down Iran’s nuclear quest, fanning fears from Cairo to Riyadh. Donald Trump would get the other half of the Prize for his masterly diplomacy without the bragging and hyperbole that normally attend his global antics (the grandstanding came after the fact).
In particular, No. 45 deserves kudos for talking Binyamin Netanyahu out of the partial annexation of the West Bank. Incorporation would have been the deal-breaker, a lethal insult to both Palestinians and the Arab states. The Abraham Accords were enough of a blow, putting paid to Palestinian dreams about wielding a veto over Arab policy toward Israel.
This time, the Arab League did not even protest. Silence is the loudest proof of connivance. It warns the Palestinians that history may be passing them by. The “core” of all Middle East conflicts, demanding “Palestine first,” has dwindled into a sideshow on a stage that now runs from North Africa via Ankara to Afghanistan. The drama is dominated by an intra-Islamic civilization of clashes where Israel is but a mighty bystander.
The actors are Muslim states, sects, and tribes driven by interest, fear, and greed for power. The Palestinian “core” has always been a convenient fiction fed not so much by sympathy for the Palestinian cause as by resentment of Israel and its patron America. The so-called center of all conflicts has been shrinking into a nuisance ever since the Egypt-Israel peace. Note that it was signed on March 26, 1979, less than two months after Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Tehran.
Of course the Peace Prize for Khamenei and Trump is a figment of the dramaturgical imagination. Neither will get it, for this duo is neither inspiring nor loveable. Certainly, the Supreme Leader is no peace monger; Iran stands for dominion, subversion, and revolution. But bizarrely, Allah’s vanguard has done right by its intended victims, turning arch-enemies into allies. So chalk one up for Hegel’s “cunning of history” which undoes the best-laid plans of mice and mullahs. Power will beget counter-power, pushing aside culture and faith.
There is a hitch, though. Robbed of their veto and betrayed again, the Palestinians won’t go away. So, let’s dream on by fielding another unlikely candidate for the Peace Prize down the line: Binyamin Netanyahu. Israel’s eternal prime minister might just join the august company of laureates Menachem Begin (1978), Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin (both in 1994). Picture “Bibi,” swollen with pride over the Abraham Accords, superseding tactical cunning with wisdom and generosity—admittedly not his greatest fortes. Israel is no longer the waif of 1948, nor the almost-casualty of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. This little superpower has gained peace from the banks of the Nile to the shores of the Gulf. It has a per-capita income slightly higher than France’s, Britain’s, and Japan’s. Plus, an army that, soldier-for-soldier, is probably the best in the world.
Isn’t this the moment for magnanimity in victory—for a good-faith initiative in the Palestinian-Israeli arena: two states, one peace? There are a hundred reasons why failure may be fated once more. And Abu Dhabi is not Ramallah the capital of a failed non-state. But as the Romans preached: Carpe diem, seize the moment—and a peace prize, to boot. If Netanyahu survives the courts and the coalition warfare at home, he might not only pocket a shiny Nobel but also score one against Henry Kissinger who famously quipped: “Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic politics.”