As the debate rages over the pros and cons of the Geneva agreement, it is appropriate to examine the circumstances, in the US, Europe, Iran and Israel.
The current US administration seeks to reassure Israel, its government and its people, of the sincerity of the Presidents’ pledges for the ensured security of this country. It’s strictly business as usual. As proof, we see this week, very senior naval, air force and Department of Defense officers and officials parading through the Israeli military apparatus. Only today, the US ambassador visited the Uvda air base where US aircraft are participating in a multi-national exercise. Ambassador Shapiro again reiterated the ironclad US commitment to Israel, and even in fluent Hebrew! Fair dinkum! As they say in Australia.
For decades, such events were intentionally shown, expressly as a signal to threatening neighbors. Well, so it has been until at least five years ago. Now it would appear that the signal is directed at the Israelis alone, as some kind of reassurance that rings rather hollow.
Up until 2011 Syria was the last great Arab power that still posed a serious challenge to the IDF, on Israel’s borders. That is, until that grand Syrian army began to implode. The Syrian Civil War saw Bashar al Assad’s fortunes eroding to a point of real desperation. The rebels were advancing on all fronts and it seemed that the regimes’ days were numbered. Around the same time, two things happened, Iranian and Hizbollah forces joined the Allawi army of Assad, and his forces used chemical weapons on a scale that eventually drew a sharp response from the West. An inept Obama had painted himself into a corner and now desperately struggled for a way to avoid having to bomb Syria. Such a move would endanger his new “baby” – the secret diplomatic back channel with Iran. Putin obliged, leading er, from the front, with the chemical weapons deal.
It remains to be seen if even one liter of chemicals will be destroyed. Even if it is all destroyed, the Syrians have the know how, and should they wish, within a short time could rebuild their production facilities and make more toxins, with minimal effort. First, of course, Assad must win his civil war, though his prospects are definitely looking brighter.
The Syrians made good use of their chemical weapons – they traded them for legitimacy – and gained a huge advantage in the war and in diplomatic standing. Together with this and massive external help, Assad has now reversed his fortunes and is in a strong position against the weakening rebels. He may yet emerge from this far stronger than before, if he can rebuild his economy.
It is therefore difficult to see exactly what the strategic master stroke of Obama has been here, though it is extremely photogenic with a media and public who will do anything to believe in a utopian, pacifist solution to any problem. In the age of “A Star is Born” and instant 5 minute gratification, this carries much weight.
Much has been said by both the proponents and opponents of this deal. What is interesting is the apparent shift in US policy toward Iran and away from the Sunni bloc and Israel. Is it possible that Obama seeks to balance Sunni influence, especially radical Sunni (read El Qaeda) forces with a more assertive Shia power?
There are also many in the Western left that would be happy to see Israeli power eclipsed by another local Middle East force, this is after most of the traditional powerful Arab opponents of Israel have self destructed or splintered away into corrupt and weaker entities. Israel stands now without a real conventional threat on its borders. For the Western left, Iran may be the new hope, the new lever that will at last bring about the so yearned for Palestinian quest – and the more extensive the better. ICBM’s and nuclear warheads render Iran’s distance from Israel irrelevant. The mere threat is enough.
For those that believe that the Palestinian issue is the source of all conflict and instability in the region, despite all signs to the contrary, a strong Israel bodes no good. There are those that assert that the Jewish state must be forced and weakened in order to settle with the Palestinians, and a nuclear Iran will be most useful a tool in the regional military sphere. Their expectation is that Iran will not actually use the weapons, rather they will only use the veiled and implied threat against Israel, in some kind of Cold War paradigm.
This may well explain the apathy in much of Europe to the alarms sounded by Netanyahu, and indeed, may be a similar motive for Obama and his administration.
In any event, with the possible exception of France – Europe appears fully unimpressed by the prospect of a nuclear Iran. One can only hark back to the 1980’s and wonder…
President Reagan had a plan to base US nuclear warheads in Europe and this evoked a massive turnout – of millions and millions of demonstrators in European capitals and at bases like Greenham Common, in the UK. Indeed, the outrage was huge and many protests turned violent. American warships were even banned from New Zealand under the premise that they had nukes stowed in them, ending that nations participation in the ANZUS treaty, and really, effectively ending the treaty itself.
Today, however, with a nuclear threat vastly more dangerous (from Iran), these sectors of the public are deafeningly silent! Not a word of protest is to be heard, not a single protester at the Geneva talks. One can only speculate what really motivates these people, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be a fear of the awful destructive power of nuclear weapons.
Both the deal in Syria and the Iranian understandings have important milestones in spring-early summer of 2014. Should both these arrangements founder, and it is likely they will, for whatever reason, the question is – what next?
The probable outcome will be Syria and Iran playing for more and more time, with Obama fully out of alternatives, he will just fumble along. Indeed it may be assumed that either he will dither by for the next three years making it up as he goes, or Iran will break out as a military nuclear power. Either way, Obama is not going to bomb anyone. Indeed, the good gentlemen in Stockholm and Oslo may as well award him with another Nobel Peace Prize before the fact, as they have already so wisely done.