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Unless Jerusalem, Ankara and Riyadh are ready to band together, they need to cut Obama some slack
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Unless Jerusalem, Ankara and Riyadh are ready to band together, they need to cut Obama some slack

US President Barack Obama has chosen diplomatic means over military might to rid Syria of its chemical arsenal while pursuing rapprochement with Iran as a way of dealing with its nuclear program.

The responses of three close Middle Eastern partners to Obama’s choices have been close to hysterical. The most dramatic has been the Saudi response. Riyadh sees the US's decision to pursue diplomacy as a failure to effectively deal with the civil war in Syria. Furthermore, it is concerned that the opening of a diplomatic detente between Washington and Tehran would strengthen Iran's regional status.

The Saudis expressed their anger with the Obama Administration by renouncing their newly gained seat on the UN Security Council. Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that that the decision to boycott the council was meant as a "message for the US."

At the same time, there have been indications of growing tensions between the US and Muslim NATO ally Turkey over what is seen by Ankara as the abandonment of the earlier American commitment to oust Syria's Bashar Assad from power, thus leaving the Turks alone to contend with the repercussions of the civil war across the border.

Reflecting its growing displeasure with Washington, Turkey announced last month that it had selected a Chinese company that was under US sanctions for selling military equipment to Iran, over its US and competitor, to build a new long-range missile-defense system.

And then there has been the growing anxiety in Jerusalem over the Obama Administration's welcoming response to the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's "charm offensive" and the willingness expressed by officials in Washington to negotiate a deal to defuse the nuclear crisis with Tehran that could include the lifting of the current economic sanctions on Iran.

It's no secret that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu doesn't trust the White House to stand-up to Iran and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Hence the talk in Jerusalem about the danger of "appeasement" and "Munich."

It's an axiom of international relations that the national interests of even the closest allies don't always converge. Diplomatic tensions between Washington and traditional allies like Britain, France and Germany were common occurrences during the Cold War and its aftermath.

Historically, the Americans certainly haven't always agreed with the leaders in Riyadh (over oil prices and policy toward Israel), Ankara (over the Cyprus war and the invasion of Iraq) and Jerusalem (over the issue of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank) with such disagreements frequently getting very ugly.

But the current disputes seem to reflect not only major strategic disagreements between Washington and its long-time partners in the Middle East, but have also given rise to the doubts that the three share about US commitment to their security.

If anything, it seems that on some level there are more common interests between the Saudis and the Israelis over the threat posed by Iran and its ally Syria, and over the need to support Egypt's military, than between the two governments and Washington. At the same time, both Israel and Turkey recognize that while the need to maintain stability in the Levant is of marginal concern for the United States, it is central to their core national security interests.

From that perspective, a Bismarck or a Metternich would conclude that if, indeed the Saudis, Israelis and the Turks are driven by common security interests and are worried about the US commitment to protect them, well, then why don't they band together against the perceived threat from threat and try to bring order to Syria?

After all, the combined Israeli, Turkish and Saudi military power -- not to mention their impressive economic resources -- would make for an unbeatable regional alliance. These three governments may not dream the same religious or ideological dreams, but they at times share the same strategic bed. So why not work together to advance their common interests, in the same way that the democratic, authoritarian, communist and Islamist governments in Southeast Asia do?

That of course would require that the three governments bridge their differences over such issues as Jerusalem, the Jewish settlements, and the Palestinian "right of return" or at least place them on the back burner as long as Iran remains a threat and Syria continues to ferment.

But if these governments are not willing to take such steps in order to protect their security, what right do they have to criticize the US for forgoing the high costs in blood and money to do the job for them?

Leon Hadar is a senior analyst with Wikstrat, a geo-strategic consulting firm, and teaches international relations at the University of Maryland, College Park.



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