As I write this blog, the new Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just left his meeting with Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, on his way to confer with King Abdullah of Jordan. On Netanyahu’s schedule are additional meetings with leaders of the other authoritarian Arab leaders, all clients of the United States: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates.
Netanyahu has an important message for them, as original as President Richard Nixon’s recognition of Communist China or Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. The message goes something like this. The critical struggle is not between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank. The critical struggle is between the current regimes aligned with the United States on one side and Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah on the other. The Iran group seeks regime change in the American clients, the overthrow of their governments and the installation of religious insurgent governments or Shi’ite leaders.
Netanyahu would continue: Israel, on the other hand, has no such ambitions. Israel, also an ally of the United States, has no interest in the thousand year battle between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. Israel has no desire to change the leadership in the Sunni countries. Furthermore, in response to Arab suggestions, Israel is prepared to ease the condition of the Palestinians on a triple track:
1. Political: To renew peace negotiations with the Fatah Palestinians
2. Security: To strengthen Palestinian police with training and authority
3. Economic: To increase the number of jobs in Israel for qualified Palestinians
Please note that there is no mention of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state which the Arab dictatorships and the Obama Administration support and which Netanyahu strongly opposes.
Netanyahu’s strategy is to exploit the Arab fear of Iran’s military power and its subsidization of the insurgency movement against the Arab dictatorships. Complicating the future of the region is the agreement that the U. S. move its military from Iraq by the end of 2011. If and when that happens, the two biggest military forces in the area will be Iran and Iraq, both ruled by Shi’ites. The Sunni regimes will be vulnerable and may be forced to seek a better relationship with Israel, a dominant military power and the one backed by the U.S. as far as the eye can see.
The Saudi 2002 peace plan promulgated by Saudi King Abdullah remains an intriguing possible basis for U. S. – Saudi cooperation on the Israeli – Palestinian issue. Abdullah’s proposal was endorsed by the entire Arab League at its 2002 summit. Israeli President Shimon Peres and then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have referred to it favorably, and Barack Obama praised Abdullah for making the peace proposal.
Netanyahu has strongly opposed the Saudi plan. His diplomatic offensive may be designed to prevent the U.S. and the Arab states from implementing the Saudi initiative in whole or in part.