On the very day that Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke before the US Congress, Iranian forces and their Shiite Iraqi surrogates were on the verge of an offensive against the Sunni Arab city of Tikrit. At the same time that the Obama administration is hailing a potential nuclear deal with Iran, it is simultaneously bemoaning Iran’s growing domination of the region. This crucial de-linkage — of Iran as a nuclear threshold state without economic sanction and its budding hegemony throughout the Middle East — has become the true foreign policy legacy of this inept Democratic Party administration.
On the nuclear issue, Obama’s 2014 claim that “no deal is better than a bad deal” has now morphed into its reverse. The new motto for the administration should read that a bad deal is better than no deal. Because that is exactly what this administration proposes. In two short years this president will be gone, yet the consequences of his actions will remain throughout the region, and in 2025 Iran will be free to do anything it wants in the nuclear field. By then, either the domination of the Middle East by Iran will have been blocked by a Sunni-Israeli counter-offensive, or the true consequences of the Obama legacy will have become clear.
Israel no longer has the luxury to sit out the Syrian Civil War. What America failed to do, Israel and its Sunni allies must now do. Iranian and Hezbollah aggression simply can no longer be tolerated. And an Iranian-Shiite puppet state in Baghdad will have meant that Obama’s Iraq policy has also ended in complete failure. Within this regional abyss, the potential short nuclear deal with Iran means that Israel and its Sunni allies have a mere decade before the current conflagration moves toward the threshold of Armageddon. Because with such a miniscule sunset clause (when the deal ends), Iran will become a nuclear threshold state soon. The Obama administration has completely misread the Middle East clock. Israel and its neighbors live in the Islamic time zone. Two years or even ten years mean very little. Iran is not on secular election-season time; a supreme leader will not be gone in two years when Obama retires. Iran will continue with its hegemonic regional project until such time as it is stopped, period. The fact of the matter is that, instead of the nuclear deal lasting for at least three generations, its short sunset clause will inevitably push the region further into conventional war. And that expanding war will happen soon.
But we now live in a world that has bifurcated along its European and East Asian axis. The vacuum created by the Obama administration in the Middle East has paralleled a pivot into the Ukraine, and increased tension in the South China Sea and off the coast of Japan. Within the last year a Russian-Chinese entente has been created. And soon those two powers will be holding joint naval exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Turkey and even Saudi Arabia are in the midst of a relations balance between China-Russia on the one hand and the United States/NATO on the other.
Recently I wrote a response to an op-ed piece published by the Moscow director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dmitri Trenin. The piece was entitled “From Greater Europe to Greater Asia” and spoke of a world divided and a Russian Middle East policy in transition. Here was my response to Mr. Trenin’s analysis: “Russia’s Middle East policy must conceptualize a balance within the region that is both solid and long-lasting. The Iranian hold on Syria and Iraq will continue to be opposed by the Sunni Arab states (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) and very possibly Israel. The potential contours of the proposed Iran nuclear deal will only intensify the regional conflict. Nuclear proliferation is likely. The US-Iran relationship is in a state of flux as are Russian-Egyptian and Turkish-Russian. The whole region is in turmoil and the prospect of escalation and miscalculation is clearly troubling. A geopolitical map, whereby the G-5 is divided in Europe and Asia, is a highly dangerous construct. The Middle East and the Mediterranean could become a flashpoint (big power) as Iranian power becomes challenged locally. The problem of NATO expansion in Europe must not become a great power showdown in Syria. Sino-Russian policy in the Middle Eat must reflect an end to all forms of hegemony from powers within the region and outside the region. Only a nuclear-weapons-free zone and a commitment to a permanent peace will eventually solve the problems of Iraq and Syria. In the final analysis, it will take a hundred thousand blue UN helmets to save the Levant. Without US-Russia-China cooperation the black hole at the center of the geopolitical divide will only get wider and its vortex more powerful”.
The Obama administration has never had a Middle East foreign policy, only a simplistic nuclear negotiation. But what is even more clear is that the vacuum created at the center of the Middle East by the absence of US leadership and resolve has become far more dangerous because of divisions in Europe and the Far East. Israel must respond to Iran, but the best way to move forward is to diplomatically drive the agenda of the region, not by war. Within ten years (much likely sooner), the Middle East will be on a trajectory toward a vast nuclear arms race. What good is the Israeli nuclear arsenal in such an environment? But other than the seriously flawed nuclear negotiations or the prospect of a very serious war, what alternative strategy does Israel have which could dramatically change the situation?
In order to entice the Russians and the Chinese to alter their support for Iran, three things must happen. First, none of the permanent members of the UN Security Council should have any basing rights within a future Middle East. The era of superpower hegemony must come to an end. Second, The UN Security Council must authorize a large Muslim-nation-led UN peacekeeping force to compliment a Security Council no-fly zone in Syria. This must be accompanied by a return to the political initiative first enacted by the UN in June of 2012. And third, the Helsinki Conference on a nuclear-weapons-free zone must be convened and expanded to include the concept of a permanent Middle East Zone of Peace. Within this zone, all aspects of regional hegemony would be outlawed. To be effective, it must include the many and various forms — conventional, asymmetric, alliance system, outside powers and nuclear-chemical-biological — of warfare. In other words the Middle East vacuum must be sealed through major power cooperation, over-the-horizon international policing, and a permanent inside-the- region balance of power. This Middle East Zone of Peace must provide for very strict rules of behavior.
Anyone who has read my blog knows that I am the author of a 12-point Middle East regional peace plan (Times of Israel, Feb. 27, 2015). This plan lays out the concept of a Zone of Peace, which would include the cooperation of all states in the Middle East and the UN Security Council. But it also removes all foreign naval and military air resources from the region. And it declares that all the states of the Middle East must be free from the threat and reality of military attack. Inclusive in this Zone of Peace would be a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
Without a successful P-5+1 negotiation, Israel will be left with either the dire choice of maintaining its nuclear monopoly by a solo war against Iran, or the development of a diplomatic alternative. Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great leader, and he gave an extraordinary speech in Washington DC. But he doesn’t know Iranian history, and because of this he doesn’t have a balanced diplomatic alternative.
Yes, there is grave danger in the world today. But the days when America could go it alone in the Middle East are clearly over. American power used outside the confines of Russian-Chinese coordination will be met with resistance. This resistance will come either within the region or outside the region. But be forewarned, it will come. And as far as Israel is concerned, in a great-power world of transition and flux, the Jewish state needs to offer everyone a diplomatic solution that clearly stands within the prophetic traditions of the Jewish people. The whole world is waiting for an idealistic, yet realistic, Israeli regional alternative.