Even Mushroom Clouds Have Silver Linings
Unless you are President Obama, John Kerry, or an Iranian theocrat, the recent Geneva nuclear agreement with Iran looks more perplexing every day. Questions abound regarding what, if anything, the Iranians actually conceded in Geneva in exchange for significant sanctions relief. As the answers to those questions trickle in, the situation looks ever more menacing for Israel and Iran's Arab neighbors. But even as the Iranian deal increases the prospect of a mushroom-clouded future Middle East, certain silver linings are emerging.
The deal struck in Geneva is far from settled. It remains unclear when the clock begins to run on its six-month duration, or what terms were actually finalized. The respective sides already disagree fundamentally on what terms are in the accord, even before the ink has dried on their signatures. An interim agreement? This is more like a preliminary introductory provisional interim draft.
Also worrisome is that the Iranians have proven to be more reliable than the Obama administration in terms of accurately reporting the contents of the agreement. Obama and Kerry boasted disingenuously that the agreement "stops advancement" on Iran's plutonium bomb factory under construction at Arak and does not "grant" Iran any "right of enrichment."
Yet they now concede Iran's claims that, under the deal, construction at Arak may proceed and Iran may still enrich uranium. Something is very wrong when the foreign minister of Iran is more credible than the president of the United States.
The larger issue is that this administration has been folding up the American diplomatic and military umbrellas since early in Obama's first term, when it reneged on missile defense commitments to Poland and the Czech Republic. America's unilateral retreat from world leadership became clearer in the Libyan episode, when the administration claimed to be "leading from behind." And in Geneva, the French stepped up and took the lead role in responsibly negotiating with Iran.
Troubling as America's apparent declare-diplomatic-victory-and-get-out approach to squandering Iranian sanctions may be, it is making other countries scramble to adjust. And that may prove useful, especially to Israel.
Recent Mideast realignment has already been working in Israel's favor. Egypt, following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government, has been extraordinarily cooperative with Israel, battling Islamists in the Sinai and clamping down on Gaza smuggling.
Jordan, spooked by hundreds of thousands of potentially destabilizing Syrian refugees and always under threat from Palestinian activists, has also moved closer to Israel. Not only did the Jordanians just announce a joint project with Israel to build a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal, but recently they took the extraordinary step of backing the Israeli position over that of Palestinian negotiators in terms of maintaining Israeli military control over the Jordan Valley.
But most interesting are new developments with the Sunni Arab Gulf states. The Saudis, terrified of a nuclear Iran and sensing American abandonment, have been working to form a joint military command with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar. While Arab unity has historically been bad news for Israel, this time feels different.
In the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend Mideast, the bigger the enemy, the more valuable the friend. As Iran becomes a more threatening enemy to both Israel and the Saudi alliance, Jerusalem and Riyadh become more natural partners, past enmity notwithstanding.
There has been a noticeable thaw between the diplomats of the two countries, including being seen huddling together at various international forums. At the same time, support for bombing Iran expressed by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, revealed in WikiLeaks documents, indicates a heightening of historical Persian-Arab tensions.
The Saudi contribution to a military strike against Iran could be significant. Many observers assume that they would allow Israel access to their skies for a raid on Iranian nuclear installations. Some even suggest they would provide staging areas and logistical support for an Israeli raid.
But largely ignored is the Saudis' own military strength. They have a significant, ultra-modern arsenal accumulated through years of massive military purchases, mostly from America, including 300 combat aircraft. They don't use their military often, but they are well-equipped. As American military action seems more remote, Saudi military capability becomes a bigger factor.
In another unprecedented sign of rapprochement, Israeli President Shimon Peres recently spoke from Jerusalem via satellite to 29 foreign ministers from Arab and Muslim countries at the Gulf Security Conference -- and reportedly received applause.
We should be careful not to sugar-coat the situation. The Arab boycott of Israel is alive and well, and even the Peres address could not initially be publicized. After years of demonization, deep hatred for Israel still exists within the populations of the Arab countries.
But the sands are shifting. Necessity and common interest should lead to greater Arab-Israeli cooperation and fewer public displays of belligerence. That should lessen Israel's international diplomatic isolation and reduce Arab Israel-bashing with the Palestinian issue.
So, for those looking for silver linings to the Geneva agreement, consider this: Iran and America may have inadvertently done more to advance Mideast peace than all previous peace plans, conferences, and initiatives combined.
Abe Katsman is an American attorney and political commentator living in Jerusalem. He serves as counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel. More of his work is available at abekatsman.com.