Make no mistake, the clash between US Pres. Obama and Israeli PM Netanyahu is not one of protocol, it is one of serious substance. Which is the major power in the Middle East right now? The answer from several points of view is Iran. Not only have the Shia Ayatollahs of Iran consolidated their regime within Iran, a nation of 78 million people, but they are gaining ground, supporting Pres. Assad in Syria, Hizbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi rebels who are now in control of north Yemen, and crucially the Shia-dominated Government of Iraq as their ally. In addition they are preparing to develop nuclear weapons, which would require a major military clash to stop them. Meanwhile the Sunni Muslim states are in disarray, Egypt has been retaken by a military dictatorship, Syria and Libya are engulfed in civil wars and the Islamic State (IS) is ominously growing.
It is no longer a secret that Pres. Obama sent a secret letter to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran last October offering a potential deal, namely an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for cooperation in fighting the common IS enemy. Apparently, a few days ago, Obama received a reply from Khamenei that was mostly non-committal, however, not rejecting the idea of an alliance. Seen from the perspective of a liberal who seeks to be a peace-maker, what better way to avoid both a military clash with Iran and lone American involvement in a war with IS, than to forge an alliance with this burgeoning power? What better way to avoid a clash than to make it from an enemy into an ally? This is based on the simplistic aphorism that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” which in this case is not so. No wonder the details of the impending deal with Iran over the nuclear issue have been kept secret, even from the American people and Congress and from Israel.
There is no doubt that Obama has been trying since the inception of his presidency to completely alter the US power relationship to the Muslim world, from one of distrust and confrontation to one of peaceful alliance. Although he initially started this process in his speech from Cairo in 2009, that proved unsuccessful. So he is now seeking to consolidate this peace-initiative with the Muslim world with the major Muslim power, Iran. How better to do this than in a deal which is mutually beneficial. Basically it goes like this, we let you continue to develop your nuclear program, that you assure us is peaceful, and we remove the sanctions and then we join our efforts in destroying IS in Iraq and Syria. The result would be a radical turn-around in US foreign policy, a rapprochement between the US and Iran and a peaceful ending to years of hostility. In effect, Obama seeks to persuade Iran that he is really seeking a peaceful accommodation with them by accepting that they are the most powerful hegemonic Muslim nation in the Middle East.
But, then comes the fly in the ointment, Israel’s PM Netanyahu, the acknowledged expert on the status of Iran’s nuclear program, who has been summoned by the Republican leadership of Congress to speak directly to the American people and to Congress over Obama’s head. He wants to tell truth to power and make it clear that such a policy would put Israel in mortal danger. Note that Israel has not figured in Obama’s concerns in trying to reverse American foreign policy away form what he considers slavish alliance with Israel and the Sunni Arab world to an independent strategy that ensures a peaceful American relationship to the Middle East. In effect, he will become the radical peace-maker, the dream of his Presidency. No wonder he is trying all in his power to shut-up that pesky Israeli leader and keep the hawks of the Republican Congress at bay. Make no mistake, this is a very, very serious moment in history. Obama has in effect become the guarantor for Iranian power diplomacy, fending off the Republicans and the Israelis. That is why currently Obama and his supporters are looking for ways to punish and trying to intimidate the Israeli leader, for example by refusing to attend the AIPAC conference in Washington, perhaps showing their true colors. Which way this struggle goes will determine the issue of life or death, peace or war, for Israel and for the US in the near future.