US-Middle East relations at a crossroads: too late for Israel, too early for Russia?
Israel has for long relied heavily on the American deterrence and influence in the Middle East to secure its interests, in particular security.
Today, even the Americans are not confident about their country’s influence in the Middle East. Skeptics who argue that the US is on the decline are on the rise.
Graham Fuller, former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council at CIA and a respected author, argues: “Things are getting worse for the US, not because of our weak policies but because the times are changing, our capabilities and energies [are] limited, and we haven’t recognised it yet. We can’t afford to keep on doing those things we shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.”
I do not subscribe to the argument that the vacuum left by a possible retreat of America in the Middle East will be filled in by Russia, for many reasons.
However, the perception of the Arabs with regard to the future role of the US has slowly but surely shifted for many.
Many US allies believe that America is turning its back on them. The Egyptian leadership has cast doubts on the US reliability. Perhaps turning to the Russians for weapons is a logical conclusion of the emerging perception among the Egyptians that the US has neither vision nor strategy for the wider Middle East.
While America’s allies are sometimes wrong, they think that a deal with Iran that fails to put an end to Tehran’s nuclear programme may be bad for the region in the years to come. This may be the reason France “sabotaged” the talks in Geneva.
Key US allies in the region are certain that Tehran is acting in bad faith, yet Washington seems desperate to reach any deal with Iran.
Implicit in the US wheeling and dealing is Washington’s notion that its interests should not always be in line with those of its allies’.
Some leading columnists describe the behaviour of US allies in the region as “ingratitude”.
Thomas Friedman says: “We, Americans, are not just hired lawyers negotiating a deal for Israel and the Sunni Gulf Arabs, which they alone get the final say on.”
Meanwhile, the US Congress is debating whether to impose additional economic sanctions on Iran.
Obama does not favour imposing new sanctions when he thinks that a deal may be signed in the near future.
He has been trying to convince hardliners in the Congress of his perspective on the issue of Iran and sanctions.
If the Congress fails to impose new sanctions — which would comfort the president — it would send a bad signal to US allies and it would make America look less reliable.
Not surprisingly, and regardless of whether Washington will sign an agreement with Iran, key Arab states feel that not only has the US let them down in one of the most critical moments, its shifting of gear is also a sign of weakness and decline.
Some analysts in the Arab region are jumping to a premature conclusion about a possible role for Russia in the region. Few of them still believe in the existence of the “American moment” in the Middle East, which was obvious in the aftermath of the Cold War.
This must be disturbing news for Israel, which has deliberately missed every single opportunity to make peace with the Arabs in a historical reconciliation.
Perhaps it is not too late for Israelis to reconcile with the Arabs, but this takes leadership that Israel does not have. Over the last decade and a half, it is hard to find Israeli leaders who fit the bill of true leaders.
By Hassan Barari