From the Ben-Gurion decision not to attack the Arab Legion on the West Bank in 1948, until this very moment, the central strategic imperative of all Israeli final status scenarios is to maintain in perpetuity the Hashemite Dynasty in Jordan. With the Allon Plan of the late 1960’s, Begin’s Autonomy Plan, Shamir at Madrid with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, the Rabin-Arafat White House handshake, even the Netanyahu conversion at Bar-Ilan, the isolation of the Palestinians between Jordan and Israel was always viewed as the essential outcome of any negotiation. For nearly one hundred years, since Faisal wrote Weizmann, either a Jordanian tacit alliance or a near full-fledged peace treaty has been in effect (the final Jordanian border demarcation at the West Bank has yet to be initialed).
US Middle East policy has likewise favored numerous variations on the so-called Jordanian option. From the Rogers Plan, to Carter’s acquiescence at Camp David 1, with the Reagan Plan in 1982, through twenty years of Oslo, including of course King Hussein’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel, the US and Jordan have been staunch allies. Like Britain, up until 1956, American support for the Kingdom has been both deeply close (intelligence service cooperation) and very generous. King Hussein was a regular visitor to Washington D.C. and its Langley, Virginia suburb. So too, is his son, King Abdullah II, who also likes to vacation in the US and is American-educated (Brown University). During the Cold War, Jordanian help was essential in the eventual defeat of all Soviet designs on the region. For any number of US presidents, Jordan was a moderate beacon. A loosely-defined constitutional kingdom, Jordan could be counted on to support US interests. Most importantly, Jordan served as Israel’s vital buffer zone from any (Soviet-sponsored) attack from the east. The overthrow of the Hashemite King was considered a nightmare scenario for both Israel and the US. For Israel, it still is.
Enter the New Age, an Iranian-US rapprochement. Although difficult to imagine just five short months ago, the whole world is now abuzz with the implications of such an emphatic and astonishing shift in the very structure of the Middle East balance. And balance is the key word. The US does envision that by curtailing the Iranian nuclear program a semblance of equilibrium can be maintained. President Obama does not believe, however, that nuclear deterrence will work in the Middle East. Iran with a bomb is a direct threat to the US and makes military maneuverability risky, too many unknowns. Not that a nuclear exchange is inevitable, but the President believes that regional nuclear proliferation would be the likely outcome, and that would indeed severely complicate the situation. On the other hand, war against Iran is not in the Obama DNA. After all, as a Nobel Laureate (for absolutely no reason) and the 2008 and 2012 “peace candidate”, this President will not go to war without a Congressional Declaration.
So, how might an Iranian-US rapprochement change the region? First, the US would have to agree to recognize the fundamental strategic interests of the Islamic Republic (President Obama has already stated that regime change is now off the table). In other words, the US would be willing to accept an Iranian soft sphere of influence from Western Afghanistan, through Iraq, inclusive of Assad’s Syria and possibly with a lighter footprint in Southern Lebanon. In exchange, Iran would be without the bomb but with some level of civilian nuclear capacity (to be decided). The question becomes; with such a large Iranian sphere of influence, can the US be counted-on to hold the balance? And if not, who becomes the key to the balance? Because without a balance of power, Iran can achieve a kind of soft hegemony.
What is soft hegemony, you ask? Well, it won’t be overt. But, it won’t be timid either. Iranian oil money will flow to its regional surrogates. The Sunni opposition in Syria and Iraq will be defeated not by direct invasion but by Iraqi and Iranian financial clout to its loyalists. In Jordan, the economy will improve as investment streams from the new Shia Persian Gulf entice a desperate population. And what of the US? Its naval presence will be limited as it pivots toward Asia. The Iranian nuclear verification regime will prove trustworthy to the Americans. The oil will flow. The regional economy will improve as Japan and China will remain huge customers. The US will develop its own mammoth sources of oil shale (global warming be damned). Everyone will appear happy (except the Saudis, Turkey and Israel).– And the balance of power in the Middle East?– It will shift slowly, inexorably toward Iran.
Enter the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Whether the Israeli Establishment believes it or not ( I know they believe it), the idea that a near absolute monarchy can remain in power in perpetuity is an absurdity. Equally absurd is the Oslo premise that a demilitarized mini-state on the West Bank would never look east. The P.L.O. spelled it all out at Rabat in 1974. President Abbas was there, ask him—he’ll tell you. With one stroke of the pen (not on the Charter, of course), Arafat removed the Transjordan from the map of Historic Palestine. From that time forward, every Palestinian spokesperson has used the expression “from the river to the sea” to describe the geographic dimensions of their struggle for a mini-state on only 22% of “Historic Palestine”. Finally, in the Middle East, does anyone really believe that there could be an entity like a demilitarized state. Sooner or later (most likely sooner), the Palestinian mini-state must look east.
Iran, no doubt, will play a subtle game. It’s in their interest. Ahmadinejad was a goon. Rouhani is suave operator. In order to establish the Iranian sphere, the new Iranian President will make concessions. He’ll offer just enough to satisfy the West (Great Britain is already gushing with admiration). He’ll have the support of his own clerical leadership. Eventually, the sphere will move toward the Jordan. The slow destabilization of the Hashemite Monarchy will begin as the largest Palestinian community in the world (the Transjordanian Palestinians) proceed with their own Arab Spring. Step by step, the die will be cast. The New Age will begin. Unless Israel comes up with an alternative strategy, Persia will eventually be on the Jordan.