While elsewhere in the media the push to appease Iran is growing more popular, Jeffrey Goldberg is taking the opposite tack in his latest feature for the Atlantic, titled “How Iran Could Save the Middle East.”
His thesis is one that many Israelis, particularly President Shimon Peres, have been promoting in the last year. Namely, that Israel and the moderate Arab nations can come together in order to combat their mutual enemy: Iran. Goldberg rightly points out that the Sunni-Shia divide within the Muslim world is of paramount importance and that the Sunni nations such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia both despise and fear Tehran, especially now that its nuclear ambitions may well be realized.
The conflict between Sunni and Shia is the most consequential in the Middle East because it is so profound and elemental. But precisely because it is so intractable, it might hold the key to solving another seemingly eternal Middle East conflict, the one between Muslim and Jew. The definitive Middle East cliché is, of course, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Well, it turns out that today, more than at any other time in the ruinous 100-year encounter between Arabs and Jews on the strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the two parties in the dispute have a common enemy: the Shia Persian Islamic Republic of Iran. President Obama’s skills and charisma just might bring Sunni Arabs and Israeli Jews together…
According to Goldberg and David Makovsky (whom Goldberg cites as the “expert” who has thought all this through) Iran’s gains in Iraq and aggressive behavior elsewhere ought to be enough to motivate Arab/Sunni countries to cooperate with the United States and Israel against Iran. His formula for sealing this alliance is familiar. Israel must freeze Jewish settlements on the West Bank and make other concessions to the Palestinians that will give the other Arabs cover for more cooperation with the Jewish state. Then Israel and the Palestinians can move on to delineate the borders of a future Palestinian state, clearing the decks for a “Sunni-Jewish alliance” against Iran.
It’s an interesting idea but, like so many other bright ideas produced by “experts” such as Makovsky, it runs aground on the shoals of reality. Neither Iran-backed Hamas nor the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority are interested in coming to an agreement with Israel on borders. If they were, they could have had a favorable deal with Ehud Olmert last year (forget about Yasser Arafat’s rejection of another offer of state in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem nine years ago). Both Hamas and Hezbollah (funded and supplied by Iran) also have the ability to heat things up with terror attacks and rocket fire across Israel’s border any time they like because Israel’s self-defense measures against such actions inevitably stir up more Arab and Muslim hatred for the Jewish state. No matter how bitterly they criticize Iran in private, when push comes to shove Arab countries always play to the crowd by appealing to anti-Jewish sentiment.
The Hamas-Iran alliance shows that despite the deep enmity between Shia and Sunni, it is a gap that can always be bridged by the hatred for Israel and the West that has been fomented by a generation of anti-Zionist incitement in the Muslim world. Goldberg’s scheme is predicated on the notion that Israeli concessions will enable the Sunnis to trump Iran’s stance as the protector of the Palestinians. But since those concessions are more likely to be interpreted by the Arab world as weakness and an incentive for more attacks on Israel, the moment for the Sunni-Jewish alliance may well never come. Goldberg’s heart may be in the right place with this article but, alas, in the Muslim world, the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy if he’s a Jew.
Making common cause with Israel against Iran would be the smart thing for Arab leaders to do. But despite knowing how dangerous Iran is, assuming they have the courage and the foresight to act in their own interest and cooperate with Israel is probably giving them far too much credit.