The Middle East’s volatility – and it’s all Obama’s fault

I have written before about the strange political bedfellows and previously unthinkable alliances that are taking shape across the Middle East since the Arab “Spring” (aka deep winter) broke out. Here are some examples of how this is all playing out “in the field”:

Brett Stephens, formerly editor of the Jerusalem Post and now at the Wall Street Journal, says that Israel is diversifying its partnerships and moving away from America:

The United States “not being itself” is what’s new in the Middle East, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens.

“[T]he consistent theme is that, while the Jewish state still needs the U.S., especially in the form of military aid, it also needs to diversify its strategic partnerships.”

Stephens pointed to a new wave of high-level Israeli meetings with Arab and other world leaders as an illustration of what he was told and sensed while in the Holy Land:

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (right) shakes hands with former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal at the Munich Security Conference, Feb. 14. Photo: Israel Ministry of Defense

On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon publicly shook hands with former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal at the Munich Security Conference. In January, Israeli cabinet member Yuval Steinitz made a trip to Abu Dhabi, where Israel is opening an office at a renewable-energy association. Turkey is patching up ties with Israel. In June, Jerusalem and Riyadh went public with the strategic talks between them. In March, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi told the Washington Post that he speaks to Mr. Netanyahu “a lot.”

What struck Stephens about this shift was different from the more common response in Israel and abroad about the unlikely bedfellows that Israel and former enemy states made. Rather, he wrote, “This de facto Sunni-Jewish alliance amounts to what might be called the coalition of the disenchanted; states that have lost faith in America’s promises.”

Stephens concluded: “More than one Israeli official I spoke with recalled that the country managed to survive the years before 1967 without America’s strategic backing, and if necessary it could do so again. Nations that must survive typically do. The more important question is how much credibility the U.S. can afford to squander before the loss becomes irrecoverable.”

Another highly surprising alignment is the latest rapprochement between Israel and Turkey – which is making the Russians (previously Israel’s new best friend) unhappy:

While growing regional unrest seems to be bringing Israel and Turkey — the allies-turned-adversaries — closer together, it may be leaving a major player decidedly cold.

According to a report in Haaretz on Thursday, Russia is unhappy with the emerging détente between the two Middle Eastern nations, and made its reservations known to Israeli officials when diplomats met in Moscow Thursday to discuss regional developments.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold that his government, which has seen increased tensions with Ankara over the fighting in Syria, is unhappy with those developments: Moscow does not wish to see Turkey gain a foothold in Palestinian affairs, and doesn’t want to lose its status as Ankara’s main gas supplier.

Gold was in Russia Thursday, seeking to persuade Moscow not to go ahead with the delivery of S-300 anti-missile systems to Tehran, Army Radio reported.

S-300 missile system

Egypt is also unhappy with the prospect of increased Turkish clout in Gaza, and Haaretz reported the Russian and Egyptian positions may convince Jerusalem to back out of the deal.

Tensions between Russia and Turkey have soared over Moscow’s backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russia’s intense air campaign against what it claims are “terrorist” targets in its allied Middle Eastern state.

It’s probable that Turkey’s demands will not be fully met and therefore the reconciliation will remain incomplete. However, with Russia supplying S-300 missiles and fighter jets to Iran, they have no right to be unhappy with Israel and have no leg to stand on with their complaints. On the contrary, it is Israel who should be furious with Russia.

All this would never have happened if the US had only intervened in Syria when it should have done, and when it was still possible to remove Assad.

In fact, even Obama’s supporters are sickened by his Syria policy, as Lee Smith in the Tablet explains:

Even die-hard supporters of President Barack Obama’s “realist” approach to foreign affairs are nauseated by the White House’s Syria policy. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, a vocal supporter of the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, is fed up with nearly five years of the “fecklessness and purposelessness” of a Syria policy that “has become hard to distinguish” from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s. “Syria is now the Obama administration’s shame,” Cohen wrote last week, “a debacle of such dimensions that it may overshadow the president’s domestic achievements.” Ambassador Dennis Ross and New York Times military correspondent David Sanger also published articles excoriating Obama’s policies in Syria. There is a military solution, it’s “just not our military solution,” a senior U.S. security official admitted to Sanger. It’s Putin’s.

US Syria strikes

Perhaps most damning of the stink-bouquets was a Washington Post op-ed from former New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff. “It is time for those who care about the moral standing of the United States to say that this policy is shameful,” they wrote. “If the United States and its NATO allies allow [Putin and his allies] to encircle and starve the people of Aleppo, they will be complicit in crimes of war.”

They mention a new book written by US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power in which she excoriates US non-intervention in genocides throughout the 2oth and 21st centuries, and quote her outraged tweets about the US’s non-intervention after Assad gassed his own people.

As Ignatieff and Wieseltier suggest, Power is a handmaiden to war crimes. And no number of righteous tweets or broadsides against Russian diplomats can hide how the White House has used her monumental 2002 classic, A Problem From Hell, as a how-to manual in how to enable genocide and still maintain your soulful cred. From the very beginning when Assad opened fire on peaceful protesters, to the present, as Russia bombs hospitals, the United States has done nothing to stop Assad and his gory friends—and all the faux-outraged tweets and Putin-blaming in the world will not distract a single Syrian from the plain facts that the United States was not only indifferent to the destruction of their country, but has also diplomatically enabled their horrific suffering.

The authors go on to list several options the US could have taken to minimize Syrian civilian casualties including safe areas and no-fly zones but they refused to do even this.

The entire White House, from the president on down, is complicit in the crimes that Power tweets about.

More White House chicanery emerges with the report that there are doubts that the US will block Iranian purchases of Russian fighter jets:

Although the State Department has said that a proposed arms deal between Russia and Iran would violate a United Nations Security Council ban on weapons transfers to Iran, doubts are emerging whether the Obama administration will actually move to block the deal, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Thursday.

Iran announced earlier this week that it plans to buy $8 billion worth of planes, missiles, helicopters, and other weapons from Moscow.

Critics of the administration’s rapprochement with Iran are skeptical that any action will be taken to stop the sale. “The UN resolution to endorse the flawed Iran nuclear deal actually gives the United States and other members of the Security Council the power to review and legally block arms sales by Russia or other actors to Iran,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told the Free Beacon. “But as Russia and Iran further escalate their use of indiscriminate military force in the Middle East, the administration appears wholly unwilling to use this power.”

In addition to frustration over the administration’s failure to confront Iranian aggression in Syria, concerns have grown that the U.S. stopped enforcing existing sanctions on Iran after the nuclear deal was signed last year. The Obama administration has failed to take any action against Mahan Air for its ongoing sanctions violations, including transporting troops and weapons to Syria. It also did nothing to penalize Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who traveled to Moscow last year — reportedly to plan the joint Iranian-Russian defense of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad — despite being subject to an international travel ban.

None of this is lost on former Arab allies. The Saudis have criticized the US’s “soft power“:

“During the previous decade, Barack Obama’s presidency was characterized by an abstention from adopting military solutions and from dispatching American soldiers to combat zones, and [a preference for] political initiatives instead. The Syrian crisis is a conspicuous example of this. America’s military absence from the region, be it in Iraq or in Afghanistan, and its surrender of Syria, helped tarnish its image in the eyes of the  countries in the region. From these countries’ perspective, the U.S. has turned its back on them, while Russia and its allies have assumed this role. This had a significant impact on the image of the U.S. and President Obama, whose arrival at the White House can be seen as [heralding] the pinnacle of America’s soft power [policy]. He [Obama] disappointed the Arab states, which expected him to take a more sympathetic approach to their problems than his predecessor George Bush Jr.

The Russians however also do not get a free pass on their machinations in the region. Burak Bekdil of the Gatestone Institute writes that Russia is luring the Sunnis into war:

It should be alarming for the West if Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two important U.S. allies, have decided to fight a strange cocktail of enemies on Syrian territory, including Syrian forces, radical jihadists, various Shiite forces and, most critically, Russia — all in order to support “moderate” Islamists. That may be the opening of a worse disaster in Syria, possibly spanning over the next 10 to 15 years.

Syria strikes

The new Sunni adventurism will likely force Iran to augment its military engagement in Syria. It will create new tensions between Turkey-Saudi Arabia and Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government. It may also spread and destabilize other Middle Eastern theaters, where the Sunni bloc, consisting of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, may have to engage in new proxy wars with the Shiite bloc plus Russia.

Washington should think more than twice about allowing its Sunni allies militarily to engage their Shiite enemies. This may be a war with no winners but plenty of casualties and collateral damage. Allowing Sunni supremacists into a deeper sectarian war is not a rational way to block Russian expansion in the eastern Mediterranean. And it certainly will not serve America’s interests.

Turkey with Saudi Arabia are too weak militarily to damage Russia’s interests. It is a Russian trap — and precisely what the Russians are hoping their enemies will fall into.

The Middle East has always been a trap for meddling world powers who feel they can solve all its problems. Now we see that the Middle East is also a trap for those who will not meddle either.

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