During her visit with Turkey’s Islamist Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu last Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn’t even mention the issue of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons. Instead she continued to back Turkey’s sponsorship of the Islamist-dominated opposition and said that the US would be working with Turkey to put together new ways to help the Islamist opposition overthrow Assad’s regime.
Among other things, she did not rule out the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria.
The party most likely to be harmed from such a move would be Israel, which would lose its ability to bomb Syrian weapons of mass destruction sites from the air.
Then of course, there is Iran and its openly genocidal nuclear weapons program. This week The New York Times reported a new twist in the Obama administration’s strategy for managing this threat. It is trying to convince the Persian Gulf states to accept advanced missile defense systems from the US.
This new policy makes clear that the Obama administration has no intention of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Its actions on the ground are aimed instead at accomplishing two goals: convincing Iran’s Arab neighbors to accept Iran as a nuclear power and preventing Israel from acting militarily to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The missile shields are aspects of a policy of containment, not prevention. And the US’s attempts to sabotage Israel’s ability to strike Iran’s nuclear sites through leaks, political pressure and efforts to weaken the Netanyahu government make clear that as far as the US is concerned, Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is not the problem.
The prospect of Israel preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is the problem.
Several American commentators argue that the Obama administration’s policies are the rational consequence of the divergence of US and Israeli assessments of the threats posed by regional developments. For instance, writing in the Tablet online magazine this week, Lee Smith argued that the US does not view the developments in Egypt, Iran and Syria as threatening US interests. From Washington’s perspective, the prospect of an Israeli strike on Iran is more threatening than a nuclear-armed Iran, because an Israeli strike would immediately destabilize the region.
The problem with this assessment is that it is nonsense. It is true that Israel is first on Iran’s target list, and that Egypt is placing Israel, not the US in its crosshairs. So, too, Syria and its rogue allies will use their chemical weapons against Israel first.
But that doesn’t mean the US will be safe. The likely beneficiaries of Syrian chemical weapons – Sunni and Shi’ite terrorist organizations – have attacked the US in the past. Iran has a history of attacking US shipping without a nuclear umbrella. Surely it would be more aggressive in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz after defying Washington in illegally developing a nuclear arsenal. The US is far more vulnerable to interruptions in the shipping lanes in the Suez Canal than Israel is.
The reason Israel and the US are allies is that Israel is the US’s first line of defense in the region.
If regional events weren’t moving so quickly, the question of who lost Egypt would probably have had its moment in the spotlight in Washington.
But as is clear from the US’s denial of the significance of Morsy’s rapid completion of Egypt’s Islamic transformation; its blindness to the dangers of Syrian chemical and biological weapons; and its complacency toward Iran’s nuclear weapons program, by the time the US foreign policy establishment realizes it lost Egypt, the question it will be asking is not who lost Egypt. It will be asking who lost the Middle East.
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