Leon Hadar

It’s Geopolitics, Stupid!

Iran is probably the puppet master behind the Hamas attack on Israel as part of an effort to sabotage Saudi rapprochement with the Jewish state.

A week ago much of the talk among foreign policy types in Washington was the negotiations between US President Joe Biden, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to normalize Israeli-Saudi ties in return for a US-Saudi defense treaty.

The conventional wisdom at that time was that that mega-deal could be concluded by early next year, and that it would be seen as a major US diplomatic coup and a geo-strategic game changer.

Indeed, a peace agreement between a leading Islamic power, joined by other Arab countries, and the Jewish State, that would also involve a security agreement between Washington and Riyadh, could have helped contain Iran and reinforce the American pledge to strengthen the alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel.

It would have created a pro-American Middle Eastern military and economic bloc powered by the energy resources of the Persian Gulf and Israel’s high-tech industries and scientific centers. That would have been the most effective way to respond to threat posed by Iran and its regional satellites.

But in the aftermath of Saturday’s surprise attack by Hamas fighters into Israel it is hard to imagine Saudi-Israeli peace talks making any progress, which suggests that it was launched to disrupt the ongoing normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel under the leadership of Washington.

From a geo-political perspective, if there had been a Saudi-Israeli agreement, then the power balance in the region between Iran and Saudi Arabia would have shifted significantly in the Saudis’ favor.

In addition to a formal security treaty with the United States, the Saudis would have had access to US nuclear technology up to and including enrichment of uranium. To put it in other terms, the Saudis would have been closing in on the current Iranian advantage of being a hair’s breadth away from possessing bombs.

Under present conditions of all-out war by Israel on Hamas and the prospect of a bloody incursion into Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force, it is unthinkable for Saudi Arabia to proceed with normalization of relations.  This amounts to a serious blow has been dealt to the foreign policy of the Biden administration. Cui Bono? Iran.

Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, Iranian security officials helped the Hamas attack on Israel and gave the green light for the assault at a meeting in Beirut last Monday.

Officers of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had worked with Hamas since August to devise the air, land, and sea incursions, reported the Journal on Sunday.

Details of the operation were apparently refined during several meetings in Beirut attended by IRGC officers and representatives of four Iran-backed militant groups, including Hamas, which holds power in Gaza, and Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group and political faction in Lebanon.

Israel has blamed Iran, saying it is behind the attacks, if indirectly. ​​ “We know that there were meetings in Syria and in Lebanon with other leaders of the terror armies that surround Israel so obviously it’s easy to understand that they tried to coordinate. The proxies of Iran in our region, they tried to coordinate as much as possible with Iran,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said Sunday.

By disrupting an accelerating US-brokered talks to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel that Iran saw as threatening, this Iran-led effort delivered a major blow to US diplomacy in the Middle East, that was hoping to build a chain of American allies linking three key choke points of global trade—the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Bab El Mandeb connecting the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea.

In a way, what is emerging now in the Middle East is a new and very fragile balance of power under which the US, Israel and the Saudis are now facing an Iran-led bloc that includes Hamas and Hezbollah.

If Israel launches a ground attack into the Gaza Strip, Iran could order its Hezbollah to open a new front in the war with Israel in the north that could eventually ignite a regional war involving Israel and Iran.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Sunday that he has ordered American military ships, including an aircraft carrier and additional aircraft, to move closer to the eastern Mediterranean, sending a clear warning to Iran not to take steps that could lead to a multi-front war with Israel, and perhaps to direct US military intervention in support of the Israelis, creating the conditions for an all-out war in the Middle East.

The Iranians may assume that distracted by the war in Ukraine and the military challenge China poses to the US in East Asia, the Americans would lack the resources and the political will for a new military intervention in the Middle East and may decide to test that assumption.

About the Author
Leon Hadar is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Middle East Program. Dr. Leon Hadar served as Washington correspondent for The Business Times of Singapore and as the New York and United Nations bureau chief of The Jerusalem Post and The London Jewish Chronicle. He is a contributing editor with The National Interest and The American Conservative, having contributed regularly to The Spectator, and is a columnist and blogger for Haaretz (Israel). He holds three Master’s degrees, one in political science and communication from Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and two from the School of International and Public Affairs and the School of Journalism (where he was the recipient of the Henry N. Taylor Award) at Columbia University where he also received a certificate from the Middle East Institute. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from the American University, Washington DC. He has taught international relations, Middle East politics, and communication at the American University and the University of Maryland, College Park, and was the director of international studies at Mount Vernon College in Washington.
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