Dar Al-Hayat
May 26, 2009 - 12:00am

The Hebrew press is nearly unanimous that the meeting of President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House was a failure. Its failure resulted from two contradictory visions of the struggle in the Middle East. Obama set down a comprehensive view of how to save the United States from two failed wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. This can only take place in cooperation with Arab countries, as well as Pakistan and Iran. In other words, Israel has become one of the items of this comprehensive strategy aimed at securing US interests, and it should help in implementing this strategy, after imposing its conditions on successive administrations ever since its creation 60 years ago and up to the recent past.

Washington’s strategy to exit the war in Afghanistan rests on its experience in Iraq. It would not have been possible to arrive at the current situation of relative calm in Mesopotamia, and head toward a situation of settling the crisis through political means, were it not for an American settlement, and then an Iraqi settlement, with the Sunni tribes. The surge during the final months of the Bush administration did not settle things; thanks to these tribes’ cooperation with the peaceful and military efforts to eliminate al-Qaeda and its militants, and the fact that the Shiites and Iran stripped the Mehdi Army (led by Muqtada Sadr) off their political “cover,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cracked down on the organization, ushering in a suitable climate for a cooling-down period.

In Afghanistan, Washington has been carrying out a new strategy ever since Obama took office. It has increased the number of troops, and changed its commander. The US replaced its ambassador in Kabul. Washington has begun talking about dialogue with “moderates” in the Taliban. The White House has hinted at the importance of Iran, acknowledging its role in bringing down the Taliban regime. Washington has focused on its strategic depth in Pakistan, tasking that country’s army with fighting extensions of the movement inside its territory, which is how we can interpret the war launched by Islamabad against the Swat Valley. We can also place the summit meeting that gathered Hamid Karzai, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Asif Zardari in Tehran in the same context. Such a summit would have been inconceivable during the Bush administration. Bush was willing to launch a war, with Israeli encouragement, to prevent such a thing. It is the biggest indication up to now of the American intention to give Iran a role among its Asian neighbors. Or, it can be read as the beginning of practical dialogue between the two sides (Iran and the US), even if by proxy.

This is the situation on Iran’s eastern borders. Its western flank with Arab neighbors is more complicated, due to the existence of Israel and its aspirations to complete the collapse of strong states, following Iraq, and join others to a front that adopts the idea of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” in order to strike the Islamic Republic. The situation is different here. This front, which Israel talks about and promotes in the Arab and western media, is not realistic, for many reasons. Most importantly, the Arabs have rejected and continue to reject any attack on Iran, because it will plunge the region into endless wars. The Obama administration is completely aware of this danger and is unwilling to undertake an adventure of this scope (perhaps we can term it a “hellish” alternative) while it is trying to exit wars that are already raging. The White House is trying to form a “peaceful” alliance whose principle condition is that Israel recognize the most basic Palestinian rights, as a prelude toward opening up to Iran and containing it. We will not be surprised much if we soon hear news about an Arab-Iranian summit, like the tripartite meeting in Tehran. Such a summit would be aimed at preparing the climate for a US-Iranian dialogue, which Obama and his administration have discussed. The US president’s upcoming visit to Cairo will throw more light on this tactic.

Netanyahu, like Bush, lives in the geography of the Torah and its fables. Obama is working in the geography of the real Middle East, with its people, its rulers and its religions. This is the only way to exit the failed, destructive wars.


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