The Jewish State And Sunni Muslim World Against Shiite Iran
Despite rapprochement based on the shared interest of curbing Tehran’s ‘nefarious’ activities, obstacles remain to formalizing ties
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hailed burgeoning cooperation with Arab nations to counter Iran’s regional expansionism and potential nuclearization. Speaking at the United States-sponsored conference on Middle East peace and security in Poland, the premier asserted, “what is important…is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of combating Iran.”
The comments came after Netanyahu met with Oman’s foreign minister, who acknowledged that the “people of the Middle East have suffered a lot because they are stuck to the past,” before suggesting that the region is on the precipice of “a new future of prosperity for every nation.”
Netanyahu in October became the first sitting Israeli leader in two decades to travel to Muscat, and repeatedly has hinted of an upcoming official visit to another Sunni Muslim country.
For his part, United States Vice President Mike Pence said at the beginning of the summit that, “I believe we are beginning a new era with Prime Minister Netanyahu from the State of Israel, with leaders from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE all breaking bread together and…sharing honest perspectives on the challenge facing the region.”
According to Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a former national security adviser to two Israeli prime ministers and currently a member of the Likud party running in the April 9 elections, a new “silent alliance” is taking shape in Warsaw.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not on the agenda and Iran is. There is a dramatic [under-the-radar] change in the Middle East—the friction line used to be between Israelis and Arabs or Jews and Muslims, which is not the case anymore. Now,” he explained to The Media Line, “there are countries on one side supporting terrorism and Iran going nuclear. On the other side are those fighting terrorism or at least object to it and don’t want to see the Shiite atomic bomb.”
In this respect, the summit comes on the backdrop of the release of an Israeli intelligence assessment that Iran could achieve nuclear capability within two years should it begin accelerating uranium enrichment. Earlier this week, Tehran announced it is preparing to greatly expand technical infrastructure precisely for this purpose, while President Hassan Rouhani vowed to enhance his army’s capabilities.
As a counter-measure, the New York Times reported that the White House has intensified a covert initiative to sabotage Tehran’s development of ballistic missiles, which act as a delivery system for atomic warheads. The news follows two recent failures by Iran to launch satellites into orbit, an endeavor requiring technology applicable to inter-continental ballistic missiles that exit the Earth’s atmosphere during flight. American officials claim the secret program was created under former president George W. Bush and relies on recruited suppliers to ship defective materials to Iran’s aerospace industry.
“Iranian missiles are a concern that wasn’t addressed in the [nuclear deal] and the project has continued because [Tehran] is being supported by the Chinese and private individuals from Russia,” Dr. Soli Shavar, Director of the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa, told The Media Line. “Before reaching a point of regret for not having done enough to stop a potential regional war, we have to upgrade the efforts against Tehran and economic sanctions are not enough.”
Indeed, Dr. Shavar does not believe that the financial noose around the Islamic Republic’s neck will suffice to halt its ambitions, pointing to, as an example, the 1950s oil embargo imposed on Iran that failed to topple the government. In fact, this was only achieved through Operation Ajax, the 1953 U.S.-orchestrated coup.
“Usually countries don’t look to impose regime change because it’s not politically correct but we have reached a time…when there must be some kind of a joint activity to bring up a stronger and more capable opposition. The people of Iran against [clerical rule] want to hear that there is activity against the regime. They are fed up and have to know that other countries are trying to do something about it.”
To this end, President Trump’s confidant Rudy Giuliani spoke in the Polish capital ahead of a rally in support of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a collection of exiled opposition groups seeking to overthrow the mullahs. Last year, Iran was busted for a failed plot to bomb a meeting of the NCRI in the French capital, and recently was sanctioned for a botched attempt to target dissidents living in Denmark.
But many analysts argue there is a limit on the degree to which the Israel can openly cooperate with the Sunni Muslim world absent a peace deal with the Palestinians. This was seemingly reinforced Wednesday by a former Saudi intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to Washington in an unprecedented interview with Israeli media. Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud told Channel 13 that, “Mr. Netanyahu would like us to have a relationship and then we can fix the Palestinian issue…[but] from the Saudi point of view it’s the other way around.”
This position dovetails with recent reports that Saudi King Salman recently took back control of the Palestinian portfolio from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman due to the impression his son and heir to the throne was being too amenable to the White House’s reported attempt to redefine manners in which to address and resolve core issues of the conflict.
Notably, the Saudi prince’s interview aired a day after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in Riyadh with King Salman, who reiterated support for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with the eastern part of Jerusalem as its capital.
Given that the Palestinians are boycotting the event in Poland, coupled with Abbas’ rejection out-of-hand of President Donald Trump’s two-years-in-the-making peace proposal, there remains a significant obstacle to the formation of a united front to take on the Islamic Republic.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Netanyahu will undoubtedly work to solidify whatever inroads have been made with Arab states and, together with the U.S., apply pressure on Western European powers to take a harder line on Tehran, even as they move to unveil a so-called Special Purpose vehicle to allow continued non-dollar trade with Tehran with a view to circumventing U.S. financial penalties.
“Iran is very close to the bomb—whether it’s one year or two years it’s not that important,” Dayan stressed. “What has to be done now is sanctions, especially an oil embargo. At the same time, in Israel we have to threaten Iran because if we don’t they won’t take it seriously.
“Israel is not the U.S. and we can’t launch a four-month attack on Iran—but we can sting and this can be very powerful.”
(Maya Margit contributed reporting for this article)