Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Who’s the Problem?

Just last week Hillary Clinton was lecturing Congress (and thereby Israel) that unless Israel made progress with the Palestinians the Arab states would not support Israel with regard to Iran. Well, lo and behold, it seems the Arab states are indeed concerned — but with the Obama “engagement” strategy with Iran. Dennis Ross (who hasn’t been seen or heard from in weeks) is being dispatched to the Middle East, and we learn:

Arab governments have been seeking assurances from Mr. Ross and other U.S. officials that Washington’s overtures toward Iran won’t undercut their security interests, U.S. and Arab diplomats said. The Arab governments are asking the U.S. to consult regularly with them as President Barack Obama seeks to hold high-level negotiations with Tehran aimed at ending its nuclear activities.

“The discomfort among the Arabs is quite real. They have deep anxieties about Iran,” said a senior U.S. official working on the country. “The first thing is to be in the position of consulting with them, and taking into effect their concerns.”

So it’s not Israel’s approach to the Palestinians or lack thereof which has friendly Arab states in a tizzy, but Obama’s Iran policy. This is rich, indeed. And the Arab states have good reason to be concerned:

 Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Tehran last month, alleging Iranian diplomats were seeking to convert Moroccan citizens to Shiism, Iran’s predominant religion. Egypt this month arrested 50 members of Iranian-backed Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia and political party, for allegedly seeking to undermine President Hosni Mubarak’s government while transferring arms to the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Yes, the Arab states would like Ross to repeat the mantra that Israel must engage in “negotiations” with Palestinians (with whom exactly and to what end is unclear), but the gravamen of the Arab states’ concern is that Obama is engaged in an open-ended and foolhardy “talk” strategy with Iran while Iran pursues regional hegemony. Ross will try to convince them otherwise.

The bottom line: the Clintonian spin that Israel needs to shape up before Arab help on Iran is forthcoming is hogwash. If there is cause for concern among the Arab states it is Clinton’s boss and his penchant for denial about the intentions and behavior of rogue states.