The United States’ regional strategies in the Middle East face multiple challenges and it needs strong nerves and robust realism not to overreact. Importantly, the temptation to display ‘muscular’ diplomacy must be curbed. Thus, the decision by the Trump administration on Monday to certify for the second time Iran’s compliance with the July 2015 nuclear deal signifies strategic maturity.
However, this judicious decision does not mean that the sea of troubles is receding. The media leak by the Washington Post, attributed to US intelligence officials, exposing that the UAE had pre-planned the rift with Qatar, can only be seen as a display of Washington’s disenchantment with the ‘boycotting states’ (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain) and a gentle warning to them not to exacerbate tensions. The UAE, in fact, was just about to initiate Qatar’s formal expulsion from the GCC when the ‘media leak’ created a new ‘fact on the ground’ and Abu Dhabi hastily beat a retreat.
In geopolitical terms, the rift in the Gulf puts the US in a quandary. Whatever hopes it had of creating an alliance system between the Gulf Arab Sheikhs and Israelis to contain Iran have evaporated. The fallout in the Gulf doesn’t lend itself to resolution easily. Which means two things: a) US’ containment strategy toward Iran has floundered; and, b) US’ regional allies are bogged down in an internal quagmire that preoccupy then for a conceivable future.
Enter Israel. Unsurprisingly, Israel is both despondent and furious that its best-laid plans to confront Iran (with American help) have collapsed. The implications are most serious for the Golan Heights, the Syrian territory under illegal Israeli occupation since the 1967 War. Put simply, Iran is on a roll and with the support of the Shi’ite militia supported by it and Hezbollah, Syrian government forces may push toward territory straddling Golan Heights which Israel had planned as a buffer zone controlled by by al-Qaeda affiliates (with Israeli military backing).
On Sunday, in a sudden outburst, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the recent US-Russian accord on the ‘de-escalation zone’ in Southern Syria. It is a disturbing signal that Israel might be planning a military operation in Syrian territory to consolidate a buffer zone straddling the Golan Heights. Any Israeli invasion is assured of success because of its military superiority. But the question is, what happens thereafter? Without doubt, Syrian government, Iranian militia and Hezbollah will open a ‘resistance front’.
Succinctly put, Netanyahu feels let down that Trump is not unleashing a war on Iran and is piling pressure at a time when Trump’s popularity is at a abysmally low point and the US media is smelling blood that the investigations over the so-called Russian meddling in the November election is now touching the president’s son and son-in-law as well. The Jewish lobby controls the US media.
Significantly, The Al-Masdar News from Beirut reported on Monday that Russian military has deployed to the proposed ‘de-militarization’ zone in southern Syria. Indeed, the Russian media have shown irritation toward the Israeli belligerence and have questioned Israel’s intentions in consorting with al-Qaeda and ISIS groups.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that the US-Russian accord on ‘de-escalation zone’ in southern Syria was finalized only after making sure that “Israel’s security interests are fully taken into consideration.” Of course, it is possible that Israel since shifted the goal post, typically. Plan B could be to invade Syria. Or, Israel could be bargaining with the Trump administration to get a bigger say in any Syrian settlement. Or, Israel is aligning with the Russophobes in the Washington establishment who never really warmed up to Trump’s 126-minute dalliance with President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg.
In view of the above, clearly, Trump administration’s decision Monday to certify on Iran nuclear deal signals that it understands the limits to the US’ capacity to confront Iran in the overall context of regional realignments, which run on several templates:
- Iran’s dominating presence on the ground in Iraq and Syria;
- Iran’s unwavering support of President Bashar Al-Assad;
- The US-Turkish alienation in northern Syria;
- Turkish-Israeli antipathies;
- Rift among the US’ Gulf allies;
- The collapse of the Syrian rebel groups;
- The impending defeat of ISIS;
- Stalemate in the war in Yemen; and,
- The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
Quite obviously, Iran is a serious player in the geopolitics of the ‘Greater Middle East’. The point is, a direct high-level contact between Washington and Tehran will be a ‘force multiplier’ for US diplomacy. Outsourcing to Moscow the job of getting Tehran on board assumes that Iran doesn’t have its own interests. That is far from the case.
(Read my opinion piece in Asia Times, Trump’s Iran policies are in a cul-de-sac.)
Source: Indian Punchline